How Do I Choose the Best Upholstery Sewing Machine?

Drue Tibbits

Some home sewing machines may be able to handle thin fabrics used in upholstery, but they will not handle the heavier ones. The best upholstery sewing machine is one that has enough power to sew through heavy fabrics, utilizes a specific type of pressure foot, and is capable of sewing in reverse. Industrial sewing machines meet all three requirements. These types of sewing machines come in a wide variety of sizes and styles, including those that are limited to performing a specific task, so not every industrial machine works for sewing these types of fabric. The single-needle style is best suited for handling the demands of sewing upholstery.

An industrial sewing machine can handle the heavier fabrics used for upholstery.
An industrial sewing machine can handle the heavier fabrics used for upholstery.

The motor of an industrial sewing machine is separate from the machine itself, or the head. A circular belt connects the motor to the pulley at the side of the head. The smaller the pulley, the more power the sewing machine has to push a needle through the fabric. Larger pulleys deliver a faster sewing speed but lose power in the process. Look for an upholstery sewing machine with a pulley 4 inches (10.2 cm) or less in diameter.

Unlike conventional sewing machines, upholstery sewing machines may be used to handle thick and tough materials, such as leather.
Unlike conventional sewing machines, upholstery sewing machines may be used to handle thick and tough materials, such as leather.

A walking foot sewing machine is essential when working with thick fabrics. These types of machines use a special mechanism to aid in moving the fabric during sewing. Regular sewing machines use a serrated attachment below the pressure plate to move the fabric. Upholstery fabric is heavier than standard fabric, and the serrated attachment is not usually enough to move it. An upholstery sewing machine with a walking foot uses a special pressure foot in combination with a moving pressure bar to grasp the fabric and pull it along.

An upholstery sewing machine requires an assortment of pressure feet. A flat foot sews regular seams, a zipper foot allows the needle to get close to the zipper teeth, and a cording foot sews the decorative cording frequently seen on upholstery. Make sure the sewing machine has the correct feet as not all pressure feet are interchangeable among machines and not all pressure feet work with a walking foot machine.

Not all sewing machines sew in reverse, but this is a helpful feature when sewing upholstery as it eliminates the extra step required to lock the beginning and ending of seams when sewing with nonreverse machines. Several different designations imply that other machines can perform the same work as industrial machines. They cannot. Semiindustrial, industrial-strength, and heavy-duty sewing machines are inferior to industrial sewing machines for upholstery jobs.

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Discussion Comments


I have seen some fantastic home made upholstery on sites like Etsy. Often I think people look for second hand furniture which still has a nice structure, but needs to be re-upholstered, and they use beautiful material doing it.

Unfortunately, they are almost always really expensive.

I guess if they need to use an industrial machine, and probably a lot of expertise to do it, it's worth it, but it almost seems worth it to get the machine myself and take lessons, rather than pay that much.


@pleonasm - Another option is to try and find a machine that is being sold second hand. If you have a look on a large auction site like eBay, you might be able to find one. Or, if you are lucky you might find a business auction site, or live auction which has some going for cheap.

Just make sure you get a guarantee on your machine, or you might end up out of pocket. You should also make sure you'll still be able to find replacement parts for it if necessary. This is one of the reasons Singer machines are good, because their parts are easy to find.


One thing I would suggest if you are looking to go into sewing upholstery as a hobby is to take a few lessons first.

If you can find a group who meet regularly and offer introductory lessons as well, that's perfect.

This is not so much to get you started, although that is also good, but so that you can enquire as to whether they have a group machine that you can use.

Often an established group will have a machine they share and each pay a small amount when they use it. Considering the cost of industrial upholstery sewing machines, it can be a huge savings, even if you use it regularly.

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