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What is a Handheld Sewing Machine?

By Brendan McGuigan
Updated Feb 21, 2024
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A handheld sewing machine is a sewing machine meant to be operated while being held, rather than needing to rest stationary on a solid surface. The handheld sewing machine is intended largely to replace hand stitching, and is not really meant to replace the type of tight, strong stitching that a true sewing machine accomplishes. A handheld sewing machine may also be referred to as a cordless sewing machine, a hand held sewing machine, or a portable sewing machine.

The main place one sees a handheld sewing machine is on late-night television advertisements, where they have become very popular in the past few years. Promising to take the inconvenience out of everyday small stitching tasks, they appear to work beautifully, creating straight, tight stitches with very little work. Priced quite affordably, at anywhere between $6 US Dollars (USD) and $30 USD, they also seem to be quite a deal.

There are both pros and cons to a handheld sewing machine, and it’s important to weigh both carefully before buying one. Many people expect the machine to be a miracle of sorts, hoping it will accomplish quite a bit more than it is actually capable of. As this leads simply to disappointment and frustration, it’s important to have realistic expectations of what the machine can actually do.

As its main plus, the handheld sewing machine is incredibly portable, usually weighing almost nothing, allowing you to bring it with you almost anywhere. People look to handhelds as a way of getting their stitching done while sitting watching television, sitting on the train or bus, and even camping. For repetitive stitches, the handheld sewing machine can be much faster than stitching by hand, and with a high-quality model the stitch can be as tight as all but the most meticulous of hand stitches.

On the other hand, a handheld sewing machine is markedly inferior to even moderately good stationary machines. While it may compete well against hand stitching, the quality of stitches is nowhere near what a good machine can accomplish. Because it is meant to be held in the hand, rather than sitting sturdily on a flat surface, the stitches are often a bit wobbly or less straight. The tension created also is not nearly as strong, making for looser, less attractive stitches than those created on a machine. The actual feel of stitching is quite a bit different, as well, which can be frustrating for veteran sewing machine users.

One thing to look for when considering buying a handheld sewing machine, is whether it is powered or not. The cheaper models often are powered only by your own hands, which may seem attractive for the ability to work without batteries, but ultimately results in much worse stitches. Battery-powered machines are still highly portable, but create much tighter stitches than those made with hand-powered models. Either way, know that what you are buying with a handheld sewing machine is not a substitute for your actual machine, but a substitute for hand stitching.

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