Upholstery Sewing Machine: A Compelling Guide

Heavier, Thicker, Stiffer—Upholstery Sewing Machine Maniacs, Here’s a Little Something for You!

Whether your new upholstery sewing machine serves your business or pure passion, you’ll have some fun with it either way!

Upholstery is magic. Who would think that using your sewing skill can help you transform not only the content of your wardrobe but even the look of interiors?

Keep reading to have a look into the world of upholstery sewing machines. 

What kind of sewing machine do I need for upholstery?

Upholstery is an activity (and the name of the entire industry) that practices the art of upholstering furniture.  

Upholstery also occurs as an object. It is the fabric and stuffing that add padding to furniture. We use it mainly for our armchairs and sofas, for example, the padded seat of a wooden dining chair.

There are two groups, natural and synthetic, and many types of upholstery fabric (have a look at them on Revolution Fabrics):

    • cotton, 
    • linen, 
    • acetate, 
    • hemp, 
    • silk, 
    • wool, 
    • leather, 
    • polyester, 
    • polypropylene, 
    • acrylic, 
    • rayon, and 
    • nylon;

Upholstery fabric can be constructed from one type of yarn or a blend of yarns. Sewing leather is probably the most talked about and the most common of the materials mentioned. 

Read Baers‘ tips for “Mixing a Leather Sofa with Fabric Upholstery Pieces” if you have eclectic upholstery home decor at your place. 

Upholstery sewing machine
Image source: Baers

So, leather or fabrics? 

The Furniture Academy says microfiber and canvas are the most durable furniture fabrics. Then cotton and linen come with equally strong fibers. To be durable, cotton and linen must be woven tightly.

Think about sewing room ideas when making your fabric choice. Consider that 

    • a sizeable bold pattern will work better in a more spacious room, 
    • a muted or smaller pattern might suit a smaller space better;

Let’s make narrowing the choices between leather and fabric for our upholstery furniture easier with the help of Stillwater Living and the little table below:

Pros Cons
Fabric
    • It has a soft, comfortable feel, 
    • warm and cozy textures (think about how your favorite blanket feels when you cuddle in it), 
    • an array of color and pattern options (unlike leather); 
    • old fabric usually just looks worn out, while good quality leather may develop that exciting aged leather “patina” look over time, 
    • fabric collects more dust over time, and most of them can absorb spills quickly (although there are, for example, bleach-resistant fabrics as well);

Leather 

(Read also about leather sewing machine)

    • easy to clean, doesn’t collect dust, and if it’s protected, you can wipe up spills easily. On the other hand, on more natural or waxed leathers lacking an impermeable coating, skin-originating spills and oils can absorb into the leather. Luckily, this “defect” develops a desirable patina or aged look,
    • wears out much later than fabric (or never);
    • its neutral color goes well with a variety of styles, doesn’t go out of fashion, and mixing it with other pieces of home decor is never an issue; it’s an excellent base for colors and patterns on pillows, rugs, etc.; 
    • with all the different kinds of leather (and imitations), shopping can confuse us; read about leather types on The Back Store,
    • cold to the touch at first—yet, genuine leather quickly warms up to a person’s body temperature; imitation and cheap leathers will feel more cold or hot as they’re less breathable,
    • some people worry that dogs or cats will scratch or tear it, but good quality leather isn’t easy to tear (scratching can make marks, though);

Here’s “How to Reupholster Leather Chairs,” by Hunker

Did our suggestions help you weigh your options?

Karen from Circle Furniture explains the types of leather upholstery in her YouTube video:

According to Boyriven, leather is one of the best materials for upholstery in five points:

    1. aesthetics,
    2. durability,
    3. cleaning,
    4. hypoallergenic,
    5. natural;

Consider that we use leather upholstery not only for classic interior furniture, i.e., sofas, armchairs, chairs, and others but also for covering

    • the interiors of cars (automotive leather hides),
    • the interiors of boats (nautical leather), and
    • specific upholstery fireproof skins for aircraft and hotels; (Buy Leather Online tackles the topic well);

Learn to sew, review our take on sewing machine brands and let’s get down to tackling upholstery!

A guide through “10 Best Materials for Making Upholstery” by Sew Guide may also come in helpful. 

Machine for sewing leather
Image source: Leather Hide Store

Since you are already aware of 

    • what upholstery is, 
    • where it’s used, and 
    • what are the pros and cons of the fabric used for it, 

it’s time to dig into dedicated sewing machines.

Read also how does a sewing machine work and how to find the best sewing machine for your passion and business. 

Regarding business, who doesn’t want to boost their public and enhance their product, even if we’re talking about small, starting brands or even DIY crafters at home. 

We’ll make it easier for you: everyone wants to pump up their professional experience. 

Here’s what to do:

    1. head to Super Label Store, and
    2. choose one of many options to enhance your clothing product or textile accessory with different types of woven labels

Your garments will thank you for:

easy to design and order with the help of the website. 

Super Label Store stands for 

    • super easy to use configurators to help you design and order in minutes,
    • super quality of products from start to finish,
    • super custom to finish your unique projects with 100% custom labels,
    • super low quantities—from big to small, we are happy to make it all;

It’s not a secret that most upholstery fabrics are pretty challenging to handle. They don’t work well with traditional or standard sewing machines. 

Find a solid sewing machine table to make things easier when you’re sewing fabric upholstery. 

With the right upholstery sewing machine, you can expect that your efforts won’t end in disaster, as could otherwise happen with regular sewing devices. 

So if you have issues with your sewing machine when upholstery comes into play, it’s time to pick a suitable upholstery sewing machine. 

Best sewing machine for upholstery
Image source: Sew24

Whether you are in search of the best sewing machine for car upholstery or standard furniture leather upholstery sewing machine, ‌consider a couple of features (here listed by Goldstar Tool):

    1. Walking foot—the right walking foot paired with an industrial device allows the machine to grab the fabric and continue sewing using even pressure to prevent bunching. Ensure that an upholstery sewing machine of your choice has a walking foot; without it, your sewing machine may not hold up through some more demanding projects. 

Auto sewing machine for leather
Image source: YouTube

      2. Bed—another feature to look for in upholstery sewing machines, sewing bed is the section under the foot and needle (we tackled sewing machine needles here). A bed isn’t large on most standard machines, and it depends on the particular project whether you are going to need it at all. Think about the size of your projects to assess how big your bed should be.

      3. Power—it’s the most vital factor to consider when purchasing an upholstery sewing machine. The machine you are going to use for sewing upholstery should be able to sew through thick or industrial-grade fabrics. There are two features to look for:

      • check if it has the motor separate from the body of the machine, connected through a pulley, and
      • a wheel that permits easy change of direction and movement (you can typically find this with smaller wheels, which also provide more power).

      4. Construction—a nice body on a sewing machine is one thing, but what we are looking for here is predominantly a strong body built to last through the ages. Machines with bodies constructed of light materials or most portable machines won’t last within the heavy upholstery sewing sector.

Best upholstery sewing machine
Image source: DIYs

Other factors when arranging your life for a new upholstery sewing machine mentioned by The Funky Little Chair are

    • Dedicated space—some upholsterers set their machines up with extended tables for maneuvering large projects or use wheels to move them around. Keep in mind that working with an upholstery-grade sewing machine is engaging and demanding. This kind of machine isn’t meant to be packed up between jobs!
    • New or refurbished—it’s not a bad idea to purchase a used upholstery sewing machine since there’s a wonderful secondary market for upholstery machines. An excellent machine will last the length of several careers, and every retiring upholsterer owned and loved at least one upholstering device. When you meet them selling their upholstery treasures, ask them what this particular machine does well, what makes it crabby, and what they have to wrestle with regularly.

Remember that to be successful at buying on the secondary market, you need to know what you’re looking for. Otherwise, finding a treasure with value for money is less likely than in the gambling department (and you’ll likely lose). Many machines, even if they’re good brands (Juki upholstery sewing machine and Brother upholstery sewing machine included), they need servicing when you first get them, which costs time and money. 

Used walking foot sewing machine
Image source: Used Sewing Machine USA

    • Reverse—especially if you’re looking at a second-hand, industrial upholstery sewing machine, you want to ensure it has a reverse. It’s rare for upholsterers to claim that they can comfortably work their way around it if there’s no reverse on board. After all, you constantly backstitch to lock your seams—do you think it’ll be convenient to work without the reverse option?
    • Bobbin (have a look at sewing machine parts to tackle them all at once)—many upholstery sewing machines have a bottom loading bobbin that has to be inserted underneath the table. Bobbins that load from the top might be more convenient cause they let you see what’s going on there at all times. It’s all about picking the most user-friendly alternative. If it’s not an issue for you, a bottom-losing bobbin shouldn’t be a deal-breaker. 

With the bobbin size, if the one that goes with the machine you’re going to purchase is common, you’ll later be able to get pre-wound bobbins without problems. That way, you won’t be obliged to constantly wind bobbins, which isn’t the most exciting undertaking when your projects are waiting. The tension of a pre-wound bobbin is more consistent, positively influencing the way machines work. A larger bobbin is worth considering if your machine is here to stay. (read about sewing machine tension)

    • Workload—If you’re an upholstery monster, passionately working with several weight fabrics at once, choose a powerful upholstery machine to handle your workload. Otherwise, if you habitually only slide a polished cotton or drapery weight toile now and then, pick a different model and don’t bother with an upholstery device. Find the perfect machine for you and your sewing specialty because no machine will be perfect for everything. 

Industrial walking foot sewing machine
Image source: Upholster

The best sewing machine for upholstery

Here comes the time for a bit of selection. So, what’s in and what’s out? 

If only it were so easy! 

Deciding “How to Choose the Best Upholstery Fabric” (The Spruce) was a hell of a job already, so we’ll handle also discovering what the best upholstery sewing machine models are. 

Let’s dig in!

Necchi FA16 Sewing Machine

When it comes to the best beginner upholstery sewing machine, DIYs points out Necchi FA16 Sewing Machine as great for beginners and seasoned users. 

Even though you’re taking up a heavy-duty job called upholstery, it doesn’t mean you can’t be a beginner. We all are at some point. Find out our article exploring sewing machine for beginners models. 

Necchi FA16 Sewing Machine is a simplified model of an industrial sewing machine that works and feels a little more like your older regular one.

With its easy-to-use dials and pictorials, you can adjust settings without problems, choosing between 16 different stitches, including an automatic buttonhole setting. 

A drop feed bobbin and thread hook system make Necchi FA16 even easier and nag-free. Read our take on sewing machine thread on the Super Label Store blog.

This machine weighs only 11 pounds and looks like a timid regular beginner’s sewing machine, but its durable materiality makes it stand out. It performs ideally with demanding upholstery projects.

Auto upholstery sewing machine
Image source: The Sewing Flow

Techsew 20618-2

Speaking of the best upholstery sewing machine, we can’t overlook this double-needle upholstery sewing machine with an array of features that upholsterers adore. 

Here’s what we are invited to make use of:

    • compound walking foot feeding mechanism
    • 2-needle (whereas it can be used as a single needle),
    • reverse,
    • variable speed Servo motor,
    • safety clutch,
    • large bobbin,
    • large hook,
    • automatic lubrication,
    • extra-high presser foot lift,
    • stitch length adjustment,
    • vertical hook,
    • maximum sewing speed: 2000 SPM,
    • Limited Lifetime Warranty and free technical support for the life of your machine!

The Techsew 20618-2 sews light and medium-weight materials such as leather, vinyl, upholstery, synthetics, canvas, and various coated and laminated products. 

It is designed as an auto upholstery sewing machine, as well as a marine and aviation one. 

It’s perfect also for leatherwork: belts, vests, leashes, saddlebags, notebook covers, chaps, etc, but also boat covers, awnings, luggage, sports, camping equipment, canvas, and orthopedics;

Do we have to add that it’s an excellent heavy-duty machine? (read more on Tech Sew)

By the way, if you were wondering what’s the best sewing machine needle for upholstery, Made to Sew has the answer.  

For heavyweight fabrics (canvas, denim, and upholstery) pick a larger needle such as

    • 100/16, 
    • 110/18, or 
    • 120/20; 

As a rule of thumb, the heavier the fabric, the larger the needle size you’ll need.

Read how to thread a sewing machine

Sewing in the factory
Image source: Contrado

So what do you really need for upholstery? 

Aimee, on her channel Artisan Upholstery Studio, introduces us to her vintage Singer and shares her upholstery sewing machine hacks: 

Juki DDL8700 Lockstitch Industrial Sewing Machine

This Juki upholstery sewing machine comes with a table that’s not assembled, and this is the only disadvantage we are aware of with this exciting model. 

If you are going to keep advancing your upholstery skill, you’ll need an industrial machine able to handle a load of heavy-duty work, and here’s the right candidate to consider—notices DIYs.

This Juki’s offer is a practically unbreakable machine with an impressive sewing speed (5500 stitches a minute), achieved thanks to its highly durable industrial motor.

Juki DDL8700 Lockstitch Industrial Sewing Machine features 

    • adjustable foot pressure, 
    • adjustable stitch length, 
    • large thread snag-free bobbin systems,
    • a full-sized work surface that resembles an actual tabletop;

Remember, an industrial sewing machine also means industrial power!

Find all about industrial sewing machines here.

Juki upholstery sewing machine
Image source: Sew Much More

Brother XM2701 Lightweight Sewing Machine

Now let’s go back to lighter options. Some of us don’t want to dive into the upholstery department this deep.

Among Brother sewing machine models, here’s something for those starting out in the world of upholstery; a more standardized, quite regular sewing machine design that, however, does the job efficiently. 

There are practically no cons to this machine. It’s lightweight, compact, and affordable. Although it might not look like it can handle thick materials, it features a durable built and powerful motor able to crack this first impression. 

You’ll be also amazed by the array of adjustable settings to account for changes in material thickness and unconventional properties.

Brother XM2701 Lightweight Sewing Machine gets into our upholstery sewing rooms with 

    • 27 built-in stitches, 
    • an automatic single-step buttonhole maker, 
    • six different interchangeable sewing feet for different practical needs, and 
    • free arm capabilities (create sleeves and neck holes without trouble);

This Brother machine is suitable for the lighter end of heavy-duty upholstery.

Check out “Brother XM2701 Sewing Machine Review” by Mattie McClellan:

Janome HD1000 Mechanical Sewing Machine

We haven’t mentioned Janome yet, and we all know these guys are always worth a glance. 

Janome HD1000 Mechanical Sewing Machine gives you a regular sewing experience while being durable enough to withstand heavier-duty materials, such as upholstery.

This machine offers all the basics of a standard, user-friendly sewing machine with upholstery capabilities, but it doesn’t have an over-the-top level of strength to offer. 

Janome HD1000 Mechanical Sewing Machine features

    • 14 built-in stitches,
    • snap-on pressure feet in different shapes for different purposes, 
    • free arm capabilities (sewing sleeves and neck holes on thick material garments made easy), 
    • adjustable stitch length settings, and 
    • a buttonhole setting;

You’ll also get heavy-duty bobbins and some durable needles as an extra. 

Discover this model on Sewing Insight

Industrial upholstery sewing machine
Image source: NY Times 

Singer Heavy Duty 4452

We’ve seen Juki, Brother, Janome sewing machine, Necchi, and Techsew, but at least one big player is missing. 

According to Sewing Land, Singer Heavy Duty 4452 is not only one of the top eight best upholstery sewing machines for your heavy-duty needs, but it’s also the most convenient budget pick. This upholstery sewing machine is one of the most affordable ones in this department. 

Singer Heavy Duty 4452 offers remarkable features, such as

    1. a super-strong motor, 
    2. 32 different stitch types (18 decorative stitches), 
    3. a stainless steel bedplate,  
    4. fully automatic buttonholes, etc.

It gets everything done from crafting to curtain-making and home decor to clothes repairs (check here to learn about sewing machine repair). 

This Singer sewing machine sews at 1,100 stitches per minute, so it’s not the fastest option. 

Yet, this machine comes with a range of useful accessories which upholsterers will appreciate

    • a walking foot, 
    • a non-stick foot for leather and vinyl, 
    • a lint brush, 
    • a quilting guide, 
    • needles, 
    • bobbins, 
    • buttonhole foot, 
    • zipper foot, and others;

All in all, this machine has a lot to offer, being efficient, lightweight, compact, portable, and affordable.

Not to mention the top-notch warranty and a rigid frame able to stand the test of time. 

The only disadvantage is that some users found it a little tricky at first, so you might need some time to get used to it.

There is only one tiny flaw to this device. Some users find it tricky to use and claim they needed a little getting used to before they started sewing upholstery for good with their heavy-duty Singer.

Luckily, people like Yak Texas tackle Singer Heavy Duty 4452 in their carefully mastered videos, so we don’t have to wonder how to make the first step:

Juki DNU-1541S Industrial Walking Foot Sewing Machine

Getting back to industrial models. 

What do we know about Juki DNU 1541S?

It is a single needle, straight stitch, walking foot industrial beast of a machine—as summed up by Juki Junkies.

The higher lift of the presser foot lifts to 16mm/0.63—ideally for heavy layers of material. 

Any flaws? This machine can’t be considered portable—its complete assembly weighs 250 pounds (80, the machine alone).

Features highlighted by Crafts Selection are

    • silent servo motor (with its splendid speed control and power efficiency),
    • 2,500 stitches per minute,
    • variable speed of up to 3,300 RPM (expect to finish your projects faster), and
    • 18.5-inch throat;

Juki DNU-1541S Industrial Walking Foot Sewing Machine features a sturdy build that gives you total control while sewing, thanks to, among others, its double-stitch mechanism. It lets you control the tension of the thread feed depending on the type of fabric you are using. 

This upholstery sewing device has an affordable price tag and can stitch through most heavy sewing fabric types (think leather, vinyl, and canvas). Check our article that explains how to sew

1541S is a lockstitch industrial sewing machine for upholstery that is able to stitch through most fabrics. Its single needle mechanism can cut through vinyl, leather, synthetics, awnings, tarpaulin, camping equipment, and even slippers!—at least, this is what the Juki sewing machine manufacturer claims. 

On the Crafts Selection list, only one model ranked higher. It was a JUKI LU-1508NS Walking Foot Sewing Machine For Upholstery. Although authors found it hard to pinpoint any difference between these two Juki models, it needs to be said that the 1508NS handles materials with more significant weight being more equipped to handle heavier materials like boat fabrics and automotive upholstery sewing machines (car upholstery sewing machine).

Automotive upholstery sewing machine
Image source: Juki Junkies

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