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.
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.
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.