Making your own clothes can be a fun and rewarding activity. Rather than just having the selection of fabric and styles available at the store, you can choose any fabric and any pattern to express your own sense of style.
Sewing is an intricate activity, though, and you’ll need to be familiar with the ins and outs of basic clothing construction. It’s important to know how to connect all the pieces of fabric to create one cohesive garment.
Your biggest help in this endeavor will be your sewing machine. Hand sewing works great for smaller projects and detail work, but a sewing machine is a must-have when it comes to making clothes.
While there are several types of sewing machines on the market, you may want to purchase a free arm sewing machine if you plan to make clothes. The design of this machine is invaluable when it comes to clothing construction.
So, what is a free arm sewing machine? A free arm sewing machine has the ability to remove the flatbed and expose the working surface of your machine. This working surface will be suspended above the tabletop with space all the way around.
Free arm sewing machines are incredibly useful if you do a lot of work with fabric tubes, such as sleeves or pant legs, but they have some limitations too. Let’s explore the ins and outs of free arm sewing machines so you can determine if it’s the right machine for you.
Flatbed Sewing Machine
A flatbed sewing machine is a typical sewing machine you’ll find in a fabric store or with a quick search online.
Unlike the free arm sewing machine, a flatbed sewing machine can’t be adjusted. It has one, large working surface that doesn’t come apart or float above your tabletop.
There will still be a place for you to access your bobbin, but there won’t be space underneath your working surface for fabric to lay.
Flatbed sewing machines are great for large projects with simple, straight seams. This would include blankets, curtains, and even pillowcases.
Free Arm Sewing Machine
A free arm sewing machine is what it sounds like – a sewing machine that has a free arm. The working space extends as a free arm, with space all the way around.
Generally, there’s an extension that attaches to the sewing machine and gives you a larger space. When you take it away, you get the free arm.
With a free arm, your working space will be a little smaller, but you’ll have the freedom to slip tubes of fabric onto it. A free arm sewing machine can help with hemming pants, sewing sleeves, and working on any other cylindrical fabric shapes.
If you’re more of a visual learner and would like to see a free arm sewing machine in action, we’ve found a great video from the Threadistry channel on YouTube below.
This video takes you through the basics of a free arm sewing machine, showing you exactly how it works and how to use it.
Other Sewing Machines
While there are more types of sewing machines than most people realize, we’ll just stick with the main ones for the purpose of this article.
Another main type of sewing machine is the long arm. This machine is similar to a free arm, but the arm is extended to be longer. These machines are used a lot for quilting.
There are also embroidery machines. Some embroidery machines can also do straight sewing, while others are only equipped for embroidery.
The final main type of sewing machine to make note of is a serger machine. Also called an overlock machine, a serger creates professional looking hems. It trims the excess seam allowance while running an overcast stitch over the edge of your fabric and sewing a seam at the same time.
For more information on sergers, read our article Serger Vs. Sewing Machine – What’s The Difference?
Pros And Cons
The main advantage to a free arm sewing machine is its ability to sew tubes of fabric without bunching and constant readjusting.
Working on a small sleeve can be a headache on a flatbed sewing machine. It’s certainly possible, but you’ll spend a lot of time having to pause in your seam to readjust the fabric and keep it from layering on itself.
With a free arm sewing machine, you can slide the tube right over the free arm and sew the entire seam with ease. Of course, the free arm is most helpful for tubes of fabric, but you can also sew any regular project on a free arm machine.
The main disadvantage, though, is that your working space is considerably smaller with a free arm. Unless you have a flatbed attachment in place, your working space will be too small to support larger stretches of fabric.
For long seams on big pieces of fabric, such as with blankets, you’ll have more trouble with a free arm machine because there just isn’t enough space to support the project.
This can cause issues when guiding the fabric and may cause your seams to be crooked, so be sure to keep a close eye on your fabric alignment when sewing.
Is A Free Arm Necessary?
A free arm sewing machine is nice to have, but not really a necessity.
As we mentioned in the section above, you can get by with a flatbed sewing machine even if you work a lot with sleeves or pant legs. You may have to spend more time adjusting the fabric, but you’ll still get the job done.
A free arm is more of a convenience feature, but one you’ll be glad to have.
If you’re a sewist who spends a lot of time sewing hems on pants, sleeves, or creating clothes from scratch, a free arm can be a huge time saver.
Things To Look For In Free Arm Sewing Machines
Even though a free arm sewing machine is more of a convenience and not a necessity, you may still choose to buy one for your main sewing machine.
Since free arm machines have a flatbed attachment, you can use them as both a flatbed and free arm machine, giving you more flexibility for your projects.
If you’re looking into purchasing a free arm sewing machine, the two main things to consider are the length and diameter of the free arm.
The size of your free arm, both in length and diameter, will determine what types of projects you can accomplish and how easy it will be.
A larger diameter might be helpful once you add the flatbed on for long seams, but it may prevent you from slipping on a smaller sleeve if the diameter is too big.
A smaller diameter, though, may inhibit your sewing abilities even with the flatbed. A smaller working surface means less support for your fabric.
Smaller diameters can also help if you plan to make baby doll clothes. Sewing smaller sized clothing is a lot more manageable on a small diameter free arm.
The length will also play a role. If your free arm is more of a long arm, it may be too long to comfortably sew short sleeves. The fabric may stretch and have a hard time reaching to your sewing surface.
On the other hand, a longer free arm can be a huge lifesaver for pant legs. Not just for hems, but for any mending that may need done on the knees of the pants.
With a longer free arm, you’ll have more space to bunch up the pant leg and line up the knee of the fabric with the needle.
Best Projects For A Free Arm Sewing Machine
Sometimes it can be hard to know when to use the free arm and when to use a flatbed machine. A lot of times, it comes down to personal preference.
However, there are some projects that are best suited for a free arm sewing machine. Some of those include:
- Making small clothes (such as for infants or baby dolls)
- Working on sleeves, whether hemming, adding a cuff, or attaching to the body of a shirt or jacket
- Working on pant legs, whether hemming, adding a cuff, or repairing torn fabric in the knee
You can also use a free arm machine to attach existing tubes of fabric, such as small sections of fabric intended to make a patchwork-looking sleeve.
Any type of sewing project that involves cylindrical, or “in the round” sewing, or is smaller in size would be best suited for a free arm sewing machine.
Recommended Product – Brother Computerized Sewing Machine
If you’ve read this article and determined that a free arm sewing machine is the right choice for you, it’s time to buy your machine!
There are plenty of options out there, but if you’re looking for a quick recommendation, we suggest the Brother CS7000X model.
This model has 70 built-in stitches, and LCD display, and 10 included presser feet.
Since the Brother CS7000X sewing machine is also a quilting machine, it will come with a quilting table attachment. You can remove the flatbed attachment and either use the free arm as is, or use the quilting table.
It also has the bonus features of an automatic needle threader and automatic bobbin winder. This takes the headache out of two of the most tedious tasks when it comes to sewing on a machine.
If you’re looking for an affordable yet versatile free arm sewing machine, the Brother CS7000X just can’t be beat.
How Do You Use A Free Arm?
Using a free arm sewing machine is incredibly simple. To start with, you’ll need to remove the flatbed attachment. This gives you the space and flexibility to slide your fabric over the free arm.
Prepare your machine and your fabric. Thread the machine and ensure the correct color thread is loaded in your bobbin. Measure your seam allowance and pin your fabric.
With your thread in place and your fabric pinned, you’re now ready to begin sewing.
Slide your tube of fabric, whether it’s a sleeve or pant leg, over the free arm. Make sure you’re only sliding it on enough to line up where your seam will be with the needle.
Drop your presser foot and start sewing! As with any sewing project, be sure to mind your fabric alignment to avoid a crooked seam. Try to keep it as neatly lined up as possible to achieve a smooth, professional-looking, straight seam.
How Do You Sew Without A Free Arm?
Sewing hems on round pieces of fabric is more difficult without a free arm, but not impossible.
To sew without a free arm, begin by preparing your machine and your fabric as you would with a free arm. Thread the machine, ensure the correct bobbin is in place, and pin your fabric according to your desired measurements.
Rather than sliding your tube of fabric over your free arm, you’re going to stretch one section of the cylinder out and line it up with your needle and presser foot.
It will take some finesse to get the fabric lying right. You want to ensure that the fabric isn’t bunching up underneath or falling over the top.
Sew in small sections, going a little bit at a time to ensure the fabric isn’t bunching on itself. You need to make sure you’re not accidentally sewing the entire sleeve or pant leg closed.
Without a free arm, you’ll want to sew circular pieces of fabric very slowly. It takes more time, but it’s worth it to get it right on the first try rather than accidentally sewing the sleeve onto itself and having to use a seam ripper and start from scratch.
How Do I Choose A Sewing Machine?
With so many different types, models, and brands of sewing machines, it can be difficult to know which sewing machine is right for you.
You have to consider what types of projects you think you’ll be working on the most. If you are a beginner to sewing and don’t anticipate tackling any big or complicated projects, it’s fine to start with a small flatbed sewing machine.
If you want the versatility of a free arm in case you plan to hem pants often (for a spouse, sibling, parent, friend, or other loved one who constantly needs pants hemmed), then go for a free arm machine.
The great thing about free arm sewing machines is that they also have a flatbed. You don’t lose the ability to have the larger and more stable working space. You simply gain the ability to work on the free arm if you choose!
If you’ve been sewing in some capacity for many years and know the types of projects you want to work on, then you’ll want to consider the more advanced features of the machine.
Do you need an automatic needle threader? An automatic bobbin winder? Has it been difficult for you to load the bobbin from the side? If so, there are many sewing machine options on the market today with a top-loading bobbin.
Of course, those who wish to do specialized sewing such as quilting and embroidery need a machine that’s equipped to do those as well.
There are many sewing machines that can do straight sewing plus embroidery or quilting, and even machines that can handle all three tasks.