Machines can be as inexpensive as $50 and as expensive as $10,000. Because a sewing machine is an investment, I recommend purchasing a machine from a reputable dealer; you will pay more, but you’ll get lessons, customer service, and a warranty. A quality machine will last considerably longer if properly maintained. Plus, I believe in supporting local businesses. If you don't have a local dealer, you can drive to find one or you can order something online. Buying online is tempting (cheaper) but you won't have a chance to take it for a test-drive or ask for help.
When you get opinions from others, keep in mind that there is a lot of brand-loyalty. You'll find that everyone thinks that there machine is the best and better than the next person's machine. Also, be careful of online reviews and magazine recommendations. The top selling machines are usually the ones that are cheap and are easy to buy...and not always good quality. I have sewn on almost every brand out there (Singer, Janome, Husqvarna-Viking, Bernina, Brother, Kenmore, and yes, even a Shark!). I own a Janome, a Husqvarna-Viking, and a Bernina. And from my experience (and don't be mad at me!), the machines my students have the worst time with are the ones that are sold at big box stores. The fabric doesn't feed evenly, they won't sew through thick fabric, the stitch quality is poor, the bobbin gets stuck, etc.
Most good machines start at around $400. Cheaper machines will work, but often have plastic parts that will easily wear out; you'll quickly spend your savings in repairs. So what do you get with more $$? Well, three things: features, accessories, and quality.
- Features: machines now come will all kinds of do-dads. Some machines are really basic with knobs while other are computerized and have push-buttons. You find ones that the needle moves right to left, ends up or down, and threads with ease; have variety of utility and decorative stitches; automatically cut thread; include a multitude of extra feet; can adjust the presser-foot pressure, etc. Think about what type of sewing you do and what you'd like to do. If you quilt, do you really need 150 decorative stitches? Make sure you can grow into your machine. Sewing has changed a lot - so you may start with "I want to hem pants"and end up making cute applique pillows! In that case, you may be interested in a sewing machine that also does machine embroidery (a good embroidery machine can start at about $1000).
- Accessories: these are the goods that you get when you purchase a machine: feet, bobbins, table, attachments, etc. So consider the cost of these extras. Sometimes a more expensive machine is worth the added expense (and cheaper in the long run) because of the accessories that come with it. Also consider the feet - I love my feet and use a lot of different ones. Some machines don't have lots of feet. You buy it and get two or three and that's about all you'll ever have.
- Quality: when you take a machine apart, you find lots of metal and plastic. Metal weighs more than plastic - but it also wears better. Cheaper-made machines cost more to maintain because they typically break more often. BTW, in my area (upstate NY), a basic cleaning/service costs $49. I take my machines in every two years. So consider those costs, too.