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On my way heading to uni I decided it was a pretty good time to invest in a new sewing machine. As I am doing a textile course, I thought it would be pretty essential, rather than trying to beat everyone else in a queue for a machine (uni cuts, probably less sewing machines!). I currently have a hand-me-down Brother sewing machine, and it is manageable, but on it's last legs and pretty ancient. I had a slight hunt round sites such as Argos, but none really caught my eye. Luckily, I heard a girl talking in my current textiles class claiming she was thinking of selling one. After speaking to her, she then agreed to bring it in for me to look at. After looking, I was convinced it was practical enough for me to use. I paid around £70 and she said she had only used it a couple of times.
One downfall of me buying it second hand is that the instruction manual was apparently lost, but saying that the machine isn't overcomplicated to use. A problem I did come across though was the spool. Previously using conventional sewing machines, it took me a while to crack how the spool fitted in and out horizontally rather than vertically. But when I realised there was a diagram illustrating this on spool lid/cover, my confusion was no longer.
There is a lack of settings and stitch sizes available, which definitely differs from other sewing machines I have used before. This is definitely a limitation, but for my uses it isn't that important, and I didn't have too higher expectations because of the cheap price. I think the stitching quality is quite good (but obviously limited with settings) and it successfully manages stitching heavy layers of material, useful for my more creative textiles activities.
Another feature of the sewing machine is a battery powered automatic bobbin winder. It winds the bobbin about the double the speed of a conventional sewing machine and is much more efficient. I do think this is beneficial, although it will be awkward when I'm trying to do work and my bobbin winder stops as it runs out of battery. It'll be even more annoying when I'm routing through my house trying to find an awkward size of battery. Word of advice, stock up!
This sewing machine is perfect for my uses, cheap, easy to work and does standard things you want sewing machines to do. It does lack specific settings and if you're an advanced machinist you might be a tad disappointed. Overall though no real complaints from me and it is a practical for everyday uses.
Some of my earliest memories are of watching my mother sat whirring away on her sewing machine. It wasn't really her own though as my mum was an 'outdoor' worker so the machine was leased out to her. Mum was what was called, a 'top machinist' which meant she could make all of the garment. As she did this type of work she would be given one of the fiddly bits to make up but many times. She worked for what she called, 'Candas', which some of you will remember as C&A. She had left school at fourteen during world War 11. She was expected to pass the eleven plus but being evacuated at the start of the war, coming back to London and then being evacuated again spoiled this. So she helped her aunt who was a machinist and as school leaving day approached, she announced she wanted to be a machinist. I remember her telling me she earned twenty- eight shillings a week (probably not at first) and she worked from about eight a.m. until six at night. Her wages were handed over dutifully to her mother and a little given back in pocket money. She didn't complain, as her widowed mother had worked hard to bring up four children. There weren't social services then.
Also, my uncle, mum's brother occupied the downstairs of the same house and he was a qualified sewing machine mechanic working with Singer sewing machines. There was a room in our house that often had several Singer sewing machines in as he repaired and refurbished and hired them out. My uncle gave me my first sewing machine.
So with this background one might think I am a good machinist or that I know my way around a sewing machine? Well, not really. At secondary school it took me the whole year to make a simple apron. However, I think this was mainly as I let the 'pushy' girls get in front of me when using the classes sixmachines. Eventually, I took the unfinished item home and finished it speedily. I went on to make a skirt, a smocked dress and more. Of course, mum was there for guidance.
My mum made my wedding dress and five bridesmaid's dresses. I admired this but would never be able to do this and stay sane. But, although I remained an on observer I must have managed to absorb some knowledge for recent use.
When my daughter in year six went to Kentwell House for her 'mock' Elizabethan experience, I made an outfit for her. She wanted to be a 'posh' Tudor, so I bought fabric and a glue gun and press studs and all manor of fastenings. I've got to say the outfit was a sucess and I remember mum was ill in hospital then, so my daughter and I visited with the outfit. Mum told me I was clever and she was proud .But I had barely used the sewing machine as I lacked confidence and the machine, by then, wasn't up to much.
And now, mum isn't with us anymore. I used to rely on her skills to take up hems and make curtains and do repairs. She did try to encourage me to learn.
And my daughter began her competitons and shows. She played Nancy from, 'Oliver' in a summer school production, and impressed with her rendition of, 'As Long As He Needs Me.' Following this, she was entered into competions singing this song. As she reached the semi finals of a competition, she was encouraged to dress in costume.
"Mum!" She said, "I'd love a pretty Nancy dress like they wore for the TV programme, 'I'd Do Anything." I responded that this would be very expensive and hard to find, so she went on to say,"Well, couldn't you make it? You made me a Tudor outfit!"I laughed at her naivety. ME! Make something like that? But I remembered my mum looking so pleased with the Tudor costume and felt her encouraging me.
And so I knew I needed a new sewing machine.
Now I don't know very much about using sewing machines but, knew that with my limited skills, something fairly simple was needed and not too pricey as, it might just be something bought but never used. I looked in a few places and finally decided to purchase from my catalogue, Grattan. Although I don't purchase much from catalogues, as I find them too expensive, there are still some advantages, such as getting ten percent cashback and free delivery, and returns if the item isn't to your liking. Also, of course, the fact that you can have the item quickly, yet spread the cost over twenty weeks or longer.
I liked the look of the Toyota SPB15, mainly because the price of £99 seemed reasonable and could be paid gradually. I wouldn't miss the amount as I would if I'd paid cash. Also it looked quite simple in design.
I didn't want lots of fancy options, just something easy to thread and with an easy to use and wind bobbin. Also with a few different type of stitches and something that could handle different materials. In all honesty though, when I bought this it was a bit of a gamble and I felt a novice.
The machine arrived a few days after ordering, by courier.
I went to Romford Market to choose fabrics, with my daughter. We ended up at a shop selling various fabrics. I felt really stupid as I wasn't using a pattern and didn't know how much material I needed. We bought more than we needed but it still only came to about £14.00 for plenty of this satin type material in a nice maroon colour. I bought wide black elastic for the waistband of the skirt and black lace for trimming.
I asked my husband's help to set up the machine. On first looking at the sewing machine I felt intimidated and wanted to throw the material away!
But we looked at the machine and read the instructions and really it's quite simple. I managed to fill the bobbin and thread the needle. Threading the needle is easy on this, much easier than on my previous ancient Singer model. The only problem being my eyesight. If my daughter's around she has to thread the needle. Really with this machine, once you know the basics you're away!
I soon found my previous small amount of knowledge had returned, and I could remember things my mum had told me about how to operate sewing machines. I knew the basics, such as fastening on and off, and this machine worked nicely on these things.
I found the foot pedal easy and comfortable to use and it was easy to control the speed. I was very hesistant at first but now find I want to go quite fast.
I found, when making the Nancy costume, that the material did tend to bunch up sometimes, and I think I probably need to read up more as I might have used the wrong tension. I also bought some better thread than I had been using, which made the operation better. I now find that the machine works better when working with a cotton material rather than satin or silky types.
When it came to sewing the lace and turning corners as I went, especially on the bustle, everything went well. I could sew slowly and sometimes turned the wheel manually, when nervous. At times when sewing a straight run I could accelarerate and even begun to enjoy myself! It was quite a complicated item, particiularly as it just sort of 'evolved' but myself, and my daughter, were pleased with the finished product. It was admired by others but if they had looked closely they would have seen that I'm a novice. The stitching wasn't neat but mainly covered by lace.
Since making that outfit, I've made a 'Belle' costume from, 'Beauty and the Beast.' This is the pale blue dress with white pinafore outfit. This, being made of thin cotton, was far easier to sew on this machine.
I have also used my Toyota to modify a 'Scarlet Pimpernel' dress. Of course, it's a great machine for altering the length of curtains and clothes. I won't pretend that I use it a lot, as I'm still not overly confident, but feel that this machine suits me and does the type of jobs I need it to do. Anything more expensive with more options would be wasted on me. If do improve my skills this machine will still suffice, as I can sew zips in with it and it has a buttonhole attachment. I couldn't have made the outfits that I had without this machine. Indeed, with my problems, my days of hand sewing are over. Also, before making any costume, I have a good look online to see if I can purchase the outfit at a comparable or even a slightly more expensive price than if making. What I have found is that many outfits on offer are very childish and not suitable for a teenager's stage costumes.
If you can master the small amount of skill needed to operate the Toyota SPB15, then in making your own garments, you will hhve so much choice in obtaining cheap and good fabric, and can sew on all those finishing touches with this machine.
My daughter has also used this machine for her art GCSE and A/S level coursework.
Grattan offers Product Protect - 3 years for only £24.99. However, I rarely take out insurance for this type of product.
Specifications as taken from www.grattan.co.uk
Perfect for the beginner. Simple to use & understand
Quick start feature with sewing adviser
Top loading bobbin with see through cover
15 stitch selections
4 step auto buttonhole function
Easy upper threading
Unique, easy bobbin winding
Short name: Toyota SPB15