Product Type: Brother Sewing Machine
Newest Review: ... spool and onto the bobbin, filling the bobbin in a matter of seconds, ready to slot into the lower threading position, this again is expla... more
No bother Brother
Member Name: Mephit
Date: 01/01/11, updated on 01/01/11 (323 review reads)
Advantages: Reliable, simple to use, lots of choice in stitch, sturdy & well-designed
Disadvantages: none so far
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.
Summary: Great reasonably priced sewing machine
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