The Most Important Qualities of a Heavy Duty Sewing Machine

The last time I bought a sewing machine I’d hoped it would be all I would need. I was sewing clothes and toys for my daughters and didn’t think I would ever need a heavy duty sewing machine. Fast forward a few years and my daughters wanted stuffed animals, sleeping bags, pocketbooks and other fun items that caused a lot of broken needles and more than a few cross words shouted at my machine.

Long time readers here probably know my story about getting my first Singer that was as old as I was at the time. It was already a heavy duty machine and worked like a charm when sewing through multiple layers of jeans as I hemmed every single pair. I’m short and at the time clothing manufacturers made one length of jean – too long for me! I really didn’t think about the things I would miss about my old machine until my new machine didn’t have those same qualities.

Fortunately, it is very easy to find an affordable heavy duty sewing machine to handle these projects. If you want to expand your sewing to projects requiring heavy duty material there are certain must-have features for any machine you buy.

  • Machine weight – steel frame
    Lightweight and portable are not important features when looking for a heavy duty machine. The weight of the machine itself serves a purpose when sewing on very heavy materials. A heavy machine can handle the work without bouncing around on the table. This helps  to prevent skipped or missed stitches. Vintage machines may be made entirely of metal while newer machines have steel frames and plastic outer shells.
  • Strong motor
    A heavy duty machine should have a powerful motor to smoothly drive the needle through multiple layers of thick fabric without skipping stitches or breaking needles.
  • Metal gears and parts
    The fewer delicate parts on a machine sewing on vinyl, fur, denim, canvas and other heavy materials the better. Metal parts will last longer and will better withstand the beating they take sewing through multiple layers of thick fabrics.
  • Adjustable thread tension
    Being in control of thread tension is important when working on thick fabrics and materials. Even with metal gears and a steel frame, the heavy duty work the machine does can  cause the thread tension to be off which can cause broken or skipped stitches and poorly stitched seams. Being able to adjust this manually allows you to fix the tension and move on with your project.

Two features that aren’t required but are certainly helpful are adjustable presser foot pressure and an extra high presser foot lift. Being able to lift the presser foot high enough to go over multiple layers of thick fabrics is important. It isn’t always pretty, but it is possible to cram a thick hem or seam under the presser foot. Unfortunately, it can mean missed stitches and broken needles. That isn’t a problem when you can lift the presser foot up and ease the thick layers under the needle as you sew.

Being able to adjust presser foot pressure is important because heavy duty machines aren’t always used for thick fabrics. Think of someone who uses it for sewing backpacks, tents and other equipment for outdoor activities. He or she may go from sewing on very thin netting or fabric for tents to heavy canvas or leather for packs. Manual adjustments will allow for smooth stitches that do not pucker. You can read more about adjusting presser foot pressure in this post.

We have reviewed the Singer 4411 Heavy Duty Sewing Machine that has all the features listed above and sews at a whopping 1100 stitches per minute – faster than most heavy duty machines. You can read that review here. We will be reviewing other heavy duty machines soon and will link to those reviews once they are posted. What brand or specific machine would you like to see reviewed?

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