Frequently, I am asked to recommend a sewing machine that is both suitable for kids and that isn't too expensive. I get it! As a parent with young children that have growing (and ever-changing!) interests, I understand the delicate balance we face when trying to encourage our kids creativity vs. the reality of them loosing interest and having yet another "thing" that you have to look after.
Sewing machines cost anywhere between $10- $30,000 or more. You don't want the $10 one and unless you have very specific embroidery or quilting needs, you won't need the $30,000 either. Lets talk about what's in the middle, or say machines that cost under $300. If you want your child to enjoy sewing and to learn something, you will need to buy a real sewing machine instead of a toy sewing machine. I am often presented with toy machines to fix. These are tiny machines, generally around 2 pounds and not very sturdy. They have a narrow sewing base and are quite loud. While they do sew a straight stitch and you can make things with them, they really end up being a pain and making sewing much more frustrating than it needs to be. A real "starter" machine doesn't have to cost that much money, but it will set you back at least $100. My eight-year-old daughter loves her Janome Hello Kitty Sewing Machine. It is a 3/4 sized machine, with some real weight to it and full of features to grow into. I really like that it is a solid machine (it weighs about 12 pounds) with metal parts. The stitch quality is nice and it sews evenly over a variety of fabrics.
I learned to sew on a Singer machine that I think my mom received as a gift but didn't use. I clearly remember her (finally!) setting it up on the dining room table in 1975 or '76 and letting me go for it. I made a little yellow burlap purse with yarn "embroidery" and a "monogram". That was my machine until college. It was mechanical, which means, there is not a lot to break and I could learn to sew and troubleshoot and fix anything that went wrong. It had two stitches, straight and zigzag, and a buttonhole attachment. Everything that a beginning-intermediate sewist needs. I made everything that I could dream up with it. Clothes, toys, accessories, home decor, bras for the neighbors, everything! The Hello Kitty machine is similar to my old Singer.
At Little Stitch Studio, I have Husqvarna Viking Emerald Sewing Machines (Both 116 and 118) as well as Eversewn Sparrow. The Viking Emerald's are mechanical machines well and offer some convenient features. For teaching sewing, I like that they have a transparent drop-in bobbin case. It helps for kids to be able to see the bobbin and easily change it themselves. (Personally, I prefer the bottom-loading bobbins housed in a metal case. The case keeps the thread tension exceptionally even. Though it is trickier to trouble shoot and if it is positioned incorrectly, the needle jams and breaks.) So for classes, drop-in bobbins work! The machines also have knobs and dials for Stitch Selection, Stitch Width and Length and Speed Control which are fairly intuitive to use. The machines come with several speciality sewing feet and accessories (and a warranty). You will need to purchase from a dealer. When you buy a machine from a dealer, you know where to take it for maintenance and often you get free classes.
The Eversewn Sparrow is a computerized sewing machine made by Bernina. This may very well be the most kid friendly machine that I have found. It has a solid weight, intuitive features and sews like a dream. Though it is a bit expensive it is made by Bernina and built to last.
The Janome Magnolia is similar to the Viking Emerald. It is a substantial machine with a wide, sturdy base. Though it costs a bit less and is available at fine fabric stores and of course amazon. While I do not have this machine, several of my students do and love it. It comes with a bag full of accessories and a nice warranty.
An old, refurbished machine is a great option to consider as well. These old machines are heavy and sturdy. With a good cleaning and tune up, you will be sewing everything you can imagine. The vintage machine bodies are similar in the sleekness of vintage cars. You can tell the decade the machine was built by looking at the paint job and shape.
Brother machines are very popular for their price and convenience of buying them just about anywhere. I have some students (both kids and adults) that have them and have no complaints. They are machines that work and have loads of features. You can buy a fully computerized one for less than $150. You are paying for the features, not quality and reliability. I don't recommend Brother machines because they are made in China and are basically disposable. It will cost much more money to fix the machine when something breaks, than it does to buy it again. That being said, I do have one Brother sewing machine in my classroom because nothing else will sew as slowly as this machine. It makes sewing much less intimidating for a very young child.
While this is not a comprehensive review, I hope whichever machine you choose, that you will sew happily with it for many years to come. Of course, if you have specific questions, I am always happy to discuss with you!