It's been a a whole 10 years since I appeared on the first series of The Great British Sewing Bee back in April 2013 and then the following Christmas in a Sewing Bee Christmas Special, so when I was offered the chance to be an expert contributor to a feature all about sewing machines on Channel 5's Shop Smart, Save Money show I was super excited!
The segment on the show was all about finding out the best value sewing machine between a 'budget' and 'premium' model. The presenter, Jon, and I completed a series of tests on the machines, looking at how easy they are to set up, how they cope with thicker denim fabric during hemming a pair of jeans, how the buttonhole setting compared as well as how they coped with sewing on an applique patch and stitching around curves and corners.
We filmed back in the summer and the episode was aired just a few weeks ago on Channel 5. You can watch it back on the Channel 5 app if you are here in the UK. The segment I was part of is also now available to watch back on Youtube as well - just click on the image below to check it out!
It took a whole day of filming in the shop and studio here at g&g and the place was transformed into a TV set with big lights, tripods, cameras and sound equipment. I was given the machines a few days ahead of time to have a play around with and get to know them, as both are different from the machine that I use for my own sewing at home and the ones we have here in the studio for workshops at g&g. At home I use the Brother Innovis VQ2 (see my review of this linked below) and in the studio we have the Brother Innovis 1300 machines.
My impressions of this machine were that it looks really nice, the flower design is super fun and cute. However, as its a dark blue casing on the machine, I found it to be quite dark and that the light within the machine that comes on when it's in use wasn't very bright. I'd suggest that you'd need pretty good lighting in the room generally if you were using this machine at night or a bright lamp nearby to make it easier to see what you are doing.
It's more a manual machine so switching between the stitches and settings is a bit more cumbersome as you have to turn the dials to clunk them into the correct position.
It has a front loading bobbin, so that is a little bit more fiddly to get into position and you have to thread the needle manually by eye.
We found that the stitching through multiple thick layers of denim was tricky in sections and the machine didn't cope at some sections.
Setting up the machine to stitch a buttonhole was also more involved as you have to manually set the machine to stitch each of the 4 sides of the buttonhole - know as a 4-step buttonhole. Once the buttonhole was sewn though, it did look good and the stitching was nice and even.
As we stitched around curves and corners, another manual part of the process was to use the handwheel at the side of the machine to lower the needle into the fabric to make it easier to pivot and turn. Sometimes when you stopped stitching the needle would be up, sometimes down. So if it was up, you had to just manually lower it down.The overall speed control is not adjustable, so it means if you want to sew slowly, you have to just press the foot pedal gently - so a bit more coordination needed between your foot and what you can see and are working on.You can find a link to the full spec and description to the machine in this link.
As I've mostly used Brother sewing machines for the past 15 years or so I was more familiar with the set up of this one. It is a top loading bobbin, so a bit easier to place the bobbin into position and when you follow the thread guides on the machine, once you start sewing it will automatically pull the bobbin thread up through the plate of the machine as well.
It has a needle threader built in as well, so once you have brought the thread through the guides you can push down on a side leaver and providing the needle is in the highest position (which is does automatically anyway) your needle will be threaded. As it's a white machine and the light built in is nice and bright, I found it much easier to see what I was doing in general.
This is a more electronic based machine, so rather than dials to switch between settings, you use the key pad and display screen to select from a much larger range of stitches. Altering the stitch length is also easier to judge and measure as you can see a number displayed on the screen, rather than a sliding scale icon on the John Lewis machine.
This machine coped much better with the thick layers of denim fabric and stitched all the way through, maintaining nice even stitch tension on the top and bottom of the fabric.
The buttonhole setting on this machine is a '1-step buttonhole' so once you have attached the buttonhole foot and set it up to fo the buttonhole stitch, the machine will stitch around all 4 sides of the buttonhole in one go, auto-calculating the size needed for the button you have inserted into the foot - super easy!
Stitching around curves and corners was also made easier as when you stop sewing and take your foot off of the foot pedal, the needle will automatically stop down in the fabric. It means it's easier to pivot and turn while maintaining control of the position of the fabric.
The speed and sensitivity of this machine can also be controlled and altered by a sliding switch. This means that by slowing the machine down, it doesn't matter how hard you press on the foot pedal, it won't go about a certain speed. This is especially useful for those learning how to sew while you work on the coordination needed between your foot and hands as you guide fabric through the machine.
You can find a link to the full spec and description to the machine in this link.
SPOILER ALERT! - If you'd rather watch the feature to find out the winner then STOP reading here!
After comparing both machines with the same tests and tasks, Jon and I agreed that the Brother Innovis A150 offered best value for money between these two machines, despite it being the more expensive machine. The set up and general ease of use of the Brother machine is much easier and I think it is more likely to last you a long time and grow with your sewing and dressmaking hobby as it is capable of a lot more, and handling a wider variety of fabrics.
I often get asked which is a good sewing machine to buy. I wish I had a straight answer, but the truth is that as I only have in-depth personal experience of using Brother sewing machines, I can't give a fair and true comparison between a variety of different makes and models. The best place to go to for that is a specific sewing machine dealer who supplies a range of different models and brands. We have Frank Nutt Sewing Machines local the the g&g shop, who have supported us with the Brother machines in the studio and my own machine at home since we first opened, so I would suggest getting in touch with them if you have any specific questions about different types and brands of machine.
The machine I use at home is the Brother Innovis VQ2 and I've had it now for almost 4 years. I've been really pleased with it, it get a lot of heavy use on a wide variety of fabrics. You can see my initial review of the machine linked below. For transparency, have it on long term loan from Brother, through Frank Nutt sewing machines. I have not beed asked by Brother or Frank Nutt to say anything in particular about the machine, all views are based on my own experience.
My general top tips and features to look out for and consider when looking at a new machine are
I hope these tips help you if you are thinking of getting or upgrading a sewing machine. I really is a worth while investment that will help you enjoy this fun hobby even more!