If you’ve ever moved to a new country, you’ll know what a pain it is. Not just getting all of your belongings from A to B, but all the little things you didn’t really think about in the stress of it all. One of those things are electronics. Not only do other countries use different wall plugs, but they also have different voltages.
Thankfully many electronic devices, like computers and cellphones, are now built to take whatever is thrown at them. But other things, like hair dryers and irons, may not be. If you are attempting to move with all your sewing supplies, it can be hard to find answers. Are sewing machines dual voltage? What about other sewing supplies? And what can you do about those that aren’t?
Are sewing machines dual voltage?
Before we get into answering this question (if you just want the answer, skip down to the third paragraph), let’s talk about what dual voltage means. Voltage is way to measure electricity’s ‘pressure’, or how hard electrons are pushed between two points in a circuit (one of them being your sewing machine).
Some countries, like the US, use 110v, but many other countries, like South Korea, use 220v. You can find more about the voltage used in countries you’re interested in here. Using the wrong voltage for an electronic can cause it to break. Thankfully some important electronics are built to withstand both voltages. But what about your sewing machine?
Short and sweet: they can be dual voltage, but not all are. Typically your sewing machine will work in the voltage of the country you bought it, and newer machines are more likely to be dual voltage. But how can you be sure?
How can you tell if you sewing machine is dual voltage?
Figuring out which voltage your sewing machine can take is super simple, even if you can’t read the language your sewing machine came in. On the back or bottom of your sewing machine should be a little sticker; the writing may also be raised in the plastic of your machine. All you need to look for are the numbers around 110 or 220 with the word ‘volts’ or a ‘v’. Below are examples from my machines.
On the left is my Singer that I got ~10 years ago in the US. I found the sticker on the back left of the machine, near the plugs. You can see that it can only take 120 volts. On the right is my Brother sewing machine that I got in Korea in 2019 (the sticker says Japan, but it was just made there). Again, the sticker was found on the back left of the machine, near the plugs. Most of the writing is in Korean, but you can see on the 4th line down it says 100-240V. This means it can take any voltage between 100 and 240, making it dual voltage.
Is there a way to use a single voltage machine in a country with a different voltage?
Yes! There are machines that change the voltage coming out of the wall for you. They are called step down or step up converters. Step down converters change the 220v electricity coming from outlet to 110v. Step up converters take the 110v electricity and change it to 220v. Now, it’s a lot easier to make voltage lower than it is higher, so step down converters are much smaller and cheaper than step up converters.
I have a step up converter for my Brother machine. It cost me about $65 bucks in 2020 and is about half the size of a shoe box. It’s also quite heavy (~5 lbs). I bought it because I didn’t realize my Brother sewing machine was dual voltage and had wrongly assumed that all sewing machines were single voltage based on my internet research at the time. While I haven’t noticed any differences with how my sewing machine functions with the step up converter, I have heard that sometimes a step up converter can make your machine run slower.
But don’t forget about the plugs!
Voltage is only part of the equation. Even if your device is dual voltage, you’ll also need to look up the type of plug the country you are going to uses. The United States use A or B plugs (the two flat prongs or the two flat prongs with a cylinder), but most other countries don’t use those kinds of plugs. For example, Korea uses type C and F, which are 2 cylinders. The simplest way around this is to use travel/plug adapters.
Travel/plug adapters should be dual voltage, but it’s always good to check them too, especially if you’re going to use them with an expensive sewing machine. You can buy them to adapt one specific type of plug to one specific outlet, or you can buy one that can adapt all sorts of plugs to all sorts of outlets. You can find them readily on Amazon, but if you’re moving to South Korea, you can also find them for cheap in stores like Daiso.
Are other sewing notions dual voltage?
Just like your sewing machine, it depends! Your sewing notions can be single or dual voltage depending on how old they are or what kind of device they are. For quilters, one other common electronic devices we’ll have is an iron! My old, large iron is only 110v, but my mini iron is actually dual voltage. Just look for stickers on the devices like you did on the sewing machines.
To be honest, unless my work was paying to ship all of my stuff across the world, I would leave most everything behind besides my sewing machine, fabric, and thread. You can buy irons and other notions most places you go, but quilting is not a worldly hobby. Quilting fabric is few and far between outside the US (at least it was in Korea), and while you can ship it to most places in the world, that will cost a pretty penny between shipping costs and import fees. Do a little research before you leave and see what’s available where you are going.