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Bag Making Essentials: Choosing the Right Sewing Machine

Text says "Bag Making Essentials: Choosing the Right Sewing Machine" next to a photo of a sewing machine

A while back, I posted a series of videos on YouTube called The Bagmaker’s Workroom. The series focuses on the basics of bag making, from equipment to materials to techniques. A lot of you found the videos helpful, so I thought it would be fun to expand on them here!

I have been sewing for decades, but it wasn’t until a few years ago that I began making handbags. Designer bags can be outrageously expensive, and I wanted to challenge myself to create high-quality handbags at a fraction of the price. Since then, I have created my own patterns, made hundreds of bags and wallets, and learned a lot of valuable lessons. Now, I’m excited to share what I’ve learned with you!

In this new blog series, Bag Making Essentials, I will share everything you need to know to begin sewing your own high-quality handbags. This series is geared toward beginners who have sewing experience but are new to bag making. So whether you want to make a canvas tote for a loved one, craft a timeless leather purse for yourself, or even start your own bag making business — this series is for you.

Today, we’ll start with the single most important thing you can invest in as a bag maker: your sewing machine.

What Sewing Machines Are Best for Bag Making?

Often, I'm asked questions like:

  • What kind of sewing machine do you use?

  • What's the difference between a domestic machine and an industrial machine?

  • Do I need an industrial sewing machine?

In this guide and accompanying video, I will answer all of these frequently asked questions. Today, we’ll focus on sewing machines. In the next post, we will look at other useful equipment, like irons and heat presses.

There are so many different sewing machines on the market, but don’t let that intimidate you. You may be able to get started with bag making on the domestic machine you have at home. However, depending on the materials you’ll be working with and the features you need, you may want to invest in an industrial machine. Let’s take a look at the different types of sewing machines, what they offer, and when to use each one.

Domestic Sewing Machines

Domestic sewing machines tend to be smaller, lighter, and quieter than their industrial counterparts. They typically do more than one thing, meaning they can sew forward and backward and have a wide variety of stitches for decorating your projects.

Often used by quilters and garment makers, they are the most accessible types of machines on the market. They range in price from a few hundred to several thousand dollars. Depending on your budget and space, you might choose a machine that is fairly compact, or one that can also convert to an embroidery machine for multipurpose use.

Common brands include Bernina, Baby Lock, Brother, Juki, Janome, Elma, Pfaff — the list goes on! Depending on the manufacturer and motor size, the machine's capabilities will vary. Some domestic machines can only handle lightweight fabrics like cotton and linen, while others can handle heavier materials like leather and faux leather. The needle size you use will also depend on the project. For example, if you want to use faux leather, you'll need to use something larger, like a denim needle or a leather needle.

The domestic machine I use for stitching bag linings is the Janome Skyline 7. With the right needle, thread and a hump jumper, it can also be used to sew thicker fabrics or several layers of fabric at once.

Key Features & Accessories

If you’re shopping for a new domestic machine, look for one that offers the following features and accessories.

  • Needle down position: Keeps the needle lowered in the fabric when you stop sewing, preventing fabric shifts and misaligned stitches

  • Zipper foot: Allows precise stitching near zipper teeth, piping, and other narrow trims

  • Teflon foot: Has a non-stick surface that won’t drag on leather and vinyl

  • Walking foot: Has two layers that pull your fabric through evenly to prevent bunching

  • Hump jumper: Helps you sew over thick seams

I also recommend visiting a local sewing machine dealer with some of the fabrics you plan to use. That way, you can test the machines to see how they work on those fabrics before you make a purchase.

Semi-Industrial Sewing Machines

You’ve probably heard the term “semi-industrial machine,” but it’s really more of a marketing term than its own category. In fact, a semi-industrial sewing machine is simply a domestic machine with a powerful motor. So, if you’re looking for a domestic machine that works on leather and vinyl, a semi-industrial machine may be the solution.

Industrial Sewing Machines

Industrial sewing machines are designed for, well, industrial use. These machines are larger and more powerful than domestics, and they usually come with a table. They also differ from multipurpose domestic machines because they typically do one specific thing and do it very well.

For example, I have a Consew 206RB-5 that I bought about 20 years ago. It is a machine that I originally purchased for sewing slipcovers and bed skirts, but it has become a great bag-making machine! I also have my reliable Techsew 2750 Pro, which has a cylinder arm for sewing bags and sharp curves. It can also be converted to a flatbed machine, so it’s quite a versatile option.

Photos of two different industrial sewing machines

Key Features & Accessories

When you purchase an industrial machine, consider these features and accessories.

  • Servo motor: Offers variable speed control and is quieter than a clutch motor

  • Walking foot: Has two layers that pull your fabric through evenly to prevent bunching

  • Laser light & drop-down seam guide: Helps to create precise and even seams

  • Needle down position: Keeps the needle lowered in the fabric when you stop sewing, preventing fabric shifts and misaligned stitches

  • Automatic bobbin winders: Saves time and ensures consistent bobbin winding

The Final Verdict

My experience has shown that a domestic machine is great for linings and thinner fabrics, while an industrial cylinder arm with a flatbed attachment is ideal for bag making. This is especially true if you’re using vinyl, faux leather, leather, or other thick materials. Having the right machines will set you up for success, whether you're a hobbyist or want to make some money from your bag making.

Next time, we will talk about other equipment you may need in your workroom. Until then, please subscribe to Simply Classic on YouTube for more bag making essentials, tutorials, and tips.

Subscribe to Simply Classic on YouTube: Tutorials, Sew Alongs, TIps & Tricks, and More


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