what is a free arm sewing machine

What is a Free Arm Sewing Machine?

The world of a seamstress can be incredibly exciting as well as incredibly hectic. There’s so much to do, so much to learn, and your brain is a sponge just waiting to soak up all of that information.

However, just like a sponge filled with too much water, your brain can become overwhelmed with all the new information it’s being fed, especially when you’re only a beginner and just learning the trade.

That’s okay because it happens to every beginner, so we will take it slow and start with the basics: the sewing machine. More specifically, the free arm sewing machine.

Looking to purchase a Free Arm Sewing Machine?


You might have already heard of the free arm sewing machine, even in passing, and you also might have heard of the cabinet sewing machine as well as the standard portable sewing machine.

To give a quick rundown on the differences between the three, the cabinet sewing machine actually comes attached to a desk that was specifically designed to hold the machine and accommodate its parts and the projects it could do.

The standard portable sewing machine is just as the name suggests, a portable machine that you can take with you, but the compartment underneath the needle cannot be removed.

As for the free arm sewing machine, it’s similar to the standard portable with the difference being that you can remove the compartment underneath the needle that houses the bobbin (the cone holding the thread), the shuttle (the piece that drives the bobbin) and the feed dog (the metal teeth-like ridges underneath the plate of the needle that hold the fabric from below while you sew).

With the free arm sewing machine, that area that holds the bobbin, shuttle, and feed dog is made longer to make it easier to sew curved pieces such as cuffs or collars. It’s a bit more difficult to do that kind of work on a standard portable or a cabinet machine. It’s possible to do it on a standard, but then you’ll be teaching yourself a fun little technique called “sewing in a teacup” which includes wedging the fabric under the needle and hoping for the best.

We’re not here to make things more difficult for you, though, so let’s stick to the free arm…unless you want that particular challenge, then go for it.

The cons of a free arm, because every machine has its pros and cons, is that it doesn’t offer much of an advantage when sewing a long straight seam such as on the sides of shirts or pants. It definitely doesn’t offer much in way of quilting either, which is all about long, straight lines and thus will need the proper surface to achieve the desired look. It’s possible to get a free arm with a wider bottom plate to accommodate your quilting, but that’s a topic for another day.

In the end, it’s important to do more of your own research to find out what works best for you and your style. You need to discover, for yourself, what kind of sewing you enjoy the most as a seamstress-in-training.

There are a variety of brands to choose from when it comes to picking your sewing machine, such as Singer, Janome, Bernina, Juki, Elna, and so forth. And each brand offers its own variety of machines to choose from, all at differing prices based on their varying degrees of expertise.

For example, a Singer beginner’s sewing machine can be found for $30 at Walmart and a Brother, computerized one at the same place for $100. You can also find these machines, and more about them, on their websites and even compare prices on Amazon or Ebay.

From here, it’s all about you, the kind of work that you want to do and the price range that you want to do it in. Have fun getting started.