“ Brand: Brother „
I've decided to write a review about something that I have been using for a while now, but it's not something that I would have thought I'd be using quite so often, and quite so well in fact, even if I do say so myself.
The item in question is not something that may men have used, and I'm not being sexist, (I think), but please correct me if I'm wrong.
What I'm talking about is in fact a sewing machine, yes you heard right, a sewing machine, with the very famous sewing machine brand of Brother stamped onto it, with this particular Brother sewing machine being called the Brother XL 5500.
I initially bought this machine for my daughter as she had taken a bit of a route down the road of fashion design and decided to try and make her own clothes, only typical her she soon changed her mind and this sewing machine took a back seat in her cupboard.
But, a few weeks ago, my youngest daughter came home from school and announced that she needed a costume for a Viking day, or some sort of day, at her school, so, instead of spending loads of money on a costume that would only be used for one day I decided to get a bit of material and make one for her using the sewing machine, much to the amusement of my wife and kids, and even the dog had a smirk on his face when I announced my ideas.
So, with material at hand and the sewing machine unboxed, I proceeded to give the Brother XL 5500 a run for its money, and I haven't stopped since.
This machine is defiantly not an industrial machine being a neat size of approximately 400mm long by 250mm high by 160mm wide, so it fits snugly onto most tables. The curvy white plastic body is solid yet lightweight, so it can be moved around to where ever you want to put it, and with the rubber pads on the base being adjustable it can be set up so as not to wobble at all, although when it sewing at full pelt it can vibrate a bit.
As for actually carrying it around there is a very sturdy handle on the top of it which drops down into grooves so that it's not in the way when not needed, but there ready when you want to pick up the machine.
As for computerised technology, well, there is none really, there's absolutely no advanced touch screen technology involved in using this machine. It is controlled by dials and knobs, which do make it seem a little on the old fashioned side, but these controls are so simple to understand and a breeze to use, hearing a very confident, and pretty reassuring sounding little 'clunk' when the settings are changed.
There even a cracking little way to get the thread off the spool and onto the bobbin, filling the bobbin in a matter of seconds, ready to slot into the lower threading position, this again is explained clearly in the instruction manual and some little diagrams on the machine itself.
Plus, there is a rather smart little storage idea, consisting of a draw type unit which clips into place underneath the needle area, doubling up as platform for your material.
Inside this storage section, even though it's not the biggest of storage areas, you can easily fit in the spools, unpickers, pins, spare needles and more, allowing you to keep everything that you may need in one place, except for the material of course.
I don't know if I was given extra bits with this machine but it came with a small white bag which contained many spare parts, such as needles, spools, a cloth tape measure, small screwdriver, bobbins, spare spool pin and more.
There's a couple of little 'devices' that I have yet to try out, those being a button hole stitcher and a zip stitcher, but the instructions make it look pretty easy to use and I will give them a try one day, maybe. I'll let you know what the outcome is and whether I stitch my fingers together whilst doing so.
As for actually setting up this sewing machine, well, I won't go into too much detail about how to do this as that could be classed as 'padding', but I will say that the initial set up can be a bit fiddly, it took me a few attempts to get it right, but once I figured it out I was stunned by how simple it really is. In fact, just do what I did and follow the easy to understand instructions, these, together with the diagrams on the actual machine, show you exactly how to get the thread through the needle and also onto the spool.
For those whose hands aren't too steady, or maybe the eyesight's gone a little bit funny, there's a brilliant aid to help thread the needle, this being called a 'needle threaded' which is positioned next to the needle and does exactly what it's name suggests, with such ease. Again, the easy to follow instructions tell you how to use this aid.
Anyway, once set up properly, with the needle now being able to pick up the thread from the bobbin below, it was time to get sewing, so I grabbed some scrap material and began stitching it together, using the different setting to help get the feel of the machine, to see what sort of stitching is was capable of doing, and there are so many, with there being about 15 different styles of stitching. These stitches are split into two sections, which are all controlled via the knobs and dials above the stitching diagrams. This is where the machine gets a bit complicated but really shows what it is capable of, offering so many different ways to finish off your sewing designs.
Again, I won't go into what the settings are, (padding), or what style of stitching you can achieve, but suffice to say that there's a stitch on here for every one needs, with the opportunity of even setting the actual strength of the stitch itself, the tension I think it's called. So if you want a neat stitch which will look good on you freshly designed piece of art then this will give you that. Or if you're not so bothered about a rough stitch, maybe as it's a quick repair job on your underpants or bra, then this will do that as well.
The material is firmly held in place once the 'foot' is lowered, which is done by using the well positioned lever which is just to the right of the needle area, and with the 'zig-zag presser foot' gently dragging the material along from underneath the sewing action is so smooth and almost effortless, although find that gently pulling the newly sewn material from behind does help stop any snagging.
And for stronger seams there's the option of 'reverse stitching' which is achieved by pressing down the grey lever on the front of the machine, the lever which looks like it would leave a mark on something if you pressed it. You just press this one down and slowly press on the foot peddle, the presser foot goes into reverse and stitches over what you have just done, creating a double seam, thus stronger, hey presto.
Controlling the speed of the needle is done by the pressing of the foot peddle, which only need a very light touch to get going, with an initial grumble of the motor being your first inclination that it is just about to burst into action. As I said the foot peddle is very light on the foot and does take a bit of getting used to, trying to get the perfect speed for the machine to run at, the more you press your foot down the faster the needle stitches and the faster the grips pull your material through. If you want a slow pace you just have to gently touch the peddle and the machine goes very slowly indeed, which I find very useful for the more 'technical' stitching, or for those that are a bit nervous of the faster speeds.
The difference in speeds does affect some of the stitching patterns, leaving different size gaps in certain ones, which can make your stitching look very scruffy indeed. So if you want to use certain stitching then try and keep a constant speed which you're happy with.
Such stitches as the blind hem, stretch blind hem, shell tuck and other similar to these will be affected by changes in speed. ( Core blimey, I sound like I actually know what I'm talking about).
And, if you're working in a dark corner, although I wouldn't recommend that at all, but if you're bulbs have been stolen and you're only light source is a tiny candle, (you know what I mean), then don't worry as there is a remarkably bright light which illuminates the main working area of the machine, the needle and work area around it, so you can see clearly what is happening even if the light in the room is a little dim.
As I said earlier there are a few things on this machine that I have yet to try, such as the ability to darn, embroider, create monograms and even gather, but as I have not used these as yet I can't comment on them. But if what I have used on this machine is anything to go by then I'm guessing that these abilities will be just as easy to use with some quality finishing.
As for maintenance, this machine has to be cleaned and oiled every so often, but the instructions are again easy to follow and the oiling process takes a matter of moments but will keep the machine running smoother for longer. I've not had to change the bulb yet but I have taken the casing off to see how easy it is to get at and, using the supplied screw driver and the clear instruction, it was so simple to do so when the bulb does go I will have no trouble changing it.
What more can I say about this machine, apart from the fact that I'm actually glad that I managed to get the hang of it as since dragging it out of the pits of my daughters abyss of a cupboard, I've used it many time since, actually using it more than my daughter who I initially bought it for.
The outcome being that I can happily say I am getting better at using it to sew such things as pillow cases, curtains and more, and as I mentioned, I've just finished creating that rather fetching little Viking dress for my youngest daughters school project, a new career path looming maybe?. In fact I'm expecting a call from Vivienne Westwood or John Galliano at any moment now.
I nearly forgot about the price of this nifty little sewing machine, this sells for around the £100 mark which, for what it offers and, in the long run, if you really get into making and mending your own things, that £100 could be saved in no time at all.
So for all you budding fashion designers and clothes makers, or even those that want to darn their own socks, try this one out as you'll be amazed how easy it is to actually use, I know I was.
Brother are a well-known brand, which produce overlockers, sewing, embroidery and quilting machines for domestic and industrial use. They also make a range of printers, fax-machines and office equipment. I remember having one of their word-processors/typewriters as a child, which was a solid and dependable machine, so that may have influenced my thinking when choosing Brother for my sewing machine.
I truly deeply love my Brother.
I bought it online from a site called Sewing Machines Direct for under a £100. Their delivery service was impeccably quick. As part of the deal from Sewing Machines direct, I also got a set of 4 high-quality scissors & shears for cloth, which was brilliant as scissors have a nasty habit of disappearing or being irrevocably blunted by chewing through cardboard with various kiddie craft projects in my house. They live in the side pocket of the Brother's storage bag and are strictly off-limits to all comers, even if they *really* can't find any scissors. You can also buy it online directly from Brother for £95.
The sturdy blue bag which came with the sewing machine has Brother emblazened boldly across it in white. The machine is reasonably heavy at about 7kg: the weight is due to the machine's traditional metal chassis. Its two-handled bag is strong enough to carry it in without worry, though. It has a liftable handle as well on the top of the machine for carrying it without the bag.
It was supplied with various bits and pieces: a zig zag foot, buttonhole foot, zipper foot, straight stitch foot, blind stitch foot, button sewing foot, seam ripper, bobbins, needle set, twin needle, screwdriver, extra spool pin, oil, and a tape measure . These are all kept handily in a small white bag which fits into the detachable part of the machine's base. This is rather clever: to enable the machine to do what's called free-arm sewing, instead of the usual flat-bed, part of it is removable so you can spin sleeves and such-like through the machine without restriction. Using this detachable section as storage for the bits and pieces is genius really. It slides out of position and detaches easily when you want to take it off for free-arm sewing or when you wish to access the attachments, but when in place provides a solid and trust-worthy flat-bed surface.
It also came with a white dust-cover to use if you have your own work-room where it can stay out. I never use this, however, since the machine has to go safely back in its bag and into the understairs cupboard to keep it out of the way of children and cats.
The sewing machine is powered by electricity and has a reasonably long lead with the foot-pedal attached. The pedal is a solid-looking attachment in grey, and the lead is strong, flexible and good quality. It plugs into the rear of the machine very simply and the on & off switch is located right next to it. The pedal itself could be used by hand or by foot, depending which you're most comfortable with. I find it much easier to have both hands free so use it as a foot-pedal. It's sensitive enough to pick up on varying pressures easily, speeding up and slowing down accordingly.
The machine came with a DVD and instruction manual, however, the DVD was oddly just about Brother products rather than anything of real use. ("I've already bought one," I ranted!) I had hoped it would show threading the machine and basic set-up, but it was back to the instruction manual for all that. This was a real shame as it isn't always easy to tell which way round things should go from diagrams - and it very much *does* matter with sewing machines. However, once you've done it a couple of times, it's easy.
It has an automatic needle threader, which is simple to use and really does work. I had been somewhat disbelieving that it could - but you simply slip the thread into the wire arm and it pokes it through for you. This saves all my fat-fingered fumbling and squinting (in theory) but I tend to thread the needle myself still as it's as quick.
The machine is capable of being double-threaded using a twin-needle, has fifteeen stitch settings and can also be adjusted for length (up to 4mm) or width of stitch (up to 5mm). The Brother's stitches include ones suitable for use with satin and that sort of slippery fabric, as well as stretchy materials. You can blind-hem and also sew button-holes in four steps, using the button-hole foot that comes with the machine. If you're a novice, the manual that comes with the machine helps you choose the appropriate style of stitch to use for which material as well as helping you get started with set-up and those basics. The dials for adjustment are clearly labelled with their scales and settings on the machine itself (twin needle settings in maroon and single needle settings in black) so it's not difficult to work out how to get the machine to sew in the stitch you need.
It can wind its own bobbins using what's called an "auto declutch bobbin winder", which will automatically stop when the bobbin is ready for use. It's then a simple matter of slipping the bobbin into the front-loading bobbin case and pulling up the thread using the machine needle. The instruction manual is very firm about using the correct size of bobbins for the machine, so I've taken it at its word. It was supplied with 5 bobbins, so I haven't yet had to buy any replacements or extras, but I don't anticipate any problems in cost or supply. You can buy packs of ten online for under a fiver from Brother and other suppliers.
Once you know how it's done, threading the machine's a breeze and so much simpler than previous machines I've used (which I have to say were very old and temperamental beasts). It has a drop feed lever. It can sew forward and reversed: to reverse the feed, you use the lever at the side of the machine.
It also has a built-in light at the front of the machine, which comes on to help you see your work when sewing. It'd be handy if you could turn it on during threading, but it doesn't have a separate switch. This means it only comes on when the machine is fully powered & ready to stitch and you *really* don't want to try threading it then in case of accidental foot-pedal action and gory finger stitching! Eurgh.
It isn't massively noisy when sewing, but if someone's trying to watch the tv in the same room they will look askance at you and turn it up! Any sewing machine is going to make some noise, of course. It's an irritant for the person trying to watch tv, but is fine for the user. You can still hear & indulge in conversation and will be able to pick up on most things going on around you (such as if the phone went, etc).
I've found the Brother XL5500 a great machine, with more than enough functions and hardiness for my purposes. I'm not a great seamstress: I use the sewing machine for occasional projects like making fancy-dress costumes or repair or adjustment to clothes and soft furnishings. Other machines in Brother's range include ones with up to 40 stitches, one-step button-hole making and computerised functions, so this is one of their more basic machines as is reflected in the price. That said, they do some even cheaper ones, so this is really a mid-range machine.
I can't say whether it would be a good sewing machine for heavy-duty regular use or if it offers enough functionality for the expert, but it's definitely been well worth the money for me as a casual and very much amateur user. It's a very usable and reliable sewing machine from the extensive range of a well-known brand.
Free Arm Sewing Machine with 15 built-in stitches and 42 stitch functions