Q & A: Adapting Sewing Machines

Question: What type of sewing machine is the easiest or best for a Visually Impaired or Blind person to use?

What to Look for in a Sewing Machine

Consider what you will be making and doing with the sewing machine before purchasing a machine for the first time or making a change in the one you may already own. A visually impaired person can use a standard home sewing machine.

It is best and easiest if the machine has manual dials only, without being computerized or without an electronic LED screen panel mixed with dials.

A stitch pattern dial, a stitch length dial and a stitch width dial and needle position knob are very helpful for multiple options. Some machines have dials only for select stitch patterns and stitch length, so be sure the machine will be doing what you would like it to do. Dials are easier to mark using brailled clear plastic adhesive tactile dots or puff fabric paint for the stitch length and stitch width.

If your machine is computerized or electronic with the LED screen, it is important to be very methodical and note what you have set the machine panel for in the way of stitch length, stitch width and stitch pattern. When first getting adjusted to vision loss, it is helpful if someone with vision double-checks the machine settings so you know whether your technique of adjusting is working. As of 2013 I do not know of any sewing machine with speech out-put for panel settings.

Most computerized machines when turned on automatically are set for 2 mm; in other words, 12 stitches per inch. Know what your machine does in order to know what needs to be done immediately after turning on the machine. I recommend 2.5 mm or 10 stitches per inch for standard stitch length. The seam will still be strong, yet, easier for ripping out stitches non-visually.

My Sewing Machine Model Recommendations:

Bernina: 1008, 830 (from1970’s), 910, 930, 1000, 1001, 1006, 1004, 1010, 1030,1031

Pfaff: 1540, 1042 or 1142, 1523, 1528, Select 3.0 or 4.0

Viking: 116 or 118, 120

Janome: 415, 500, 521

Singer: Feather Weight

I know these models have dials and are blind friendly, having used them. Other newer or older models may be out there that I have not used; so use these for examples. Try the machine out for threading and stitching to be sure it is what you want to use.

Dan at The Sewing Machine Shop, listed on the Resources page, has been very helpful over the years with understanding and helping my visually impaired students find machines for their needs.

No matter which machine you have, it is important to understand how the machine works so you are working as a team with the machine. Mark the machine with tactile markings and have the instructions recorded in detail to make problem solving easier. The rest is practicing with patience.

Keep on enjoying needle arts without sight.

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