Top critical review
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Sturdy and strong, but not a machine for beginners
on August 14, 2016
This is my most recent of many, many Brother machines over the years, so I'm very familiar with the product line and what they can do. My current primary rig (an HC1850) has a lot more bells and whistles, but I thought it would be good to have a backup workhorse on hand in case anything should go wrong. I also would like to help new sewists learn the ropes, and thought this more basic model would be well-suited for that. Well, I was right about the first part...not so sure about the second.
First the good: for the price, this is a well-built, substantial workhorse of a machine. It's semi-well-known that Brother and a handful of other major brands make a separate line of low-priced, low-quality machines for discount retailers like Walmart - those machines are made primarily of plastic, even the important moving parts inside, which makes them prone to early failure and nearly impossible to adjust and repair. Thankfully, this machine is NOT that! Even though it proclaims to be lightweight, it isn't, and that's a good thing. You want a machine with solid metal working parts inside, because that will last longer, work better, take on heavier-duty projects, and that it can be repaired, adjusted and maintained for many years to come. You can feel how solid it is, not just when you move it around, but when lifting and lowering the presser foot. This is going to keep your fabric in place, and handle multiple layers without misaligning the gears. It's also fairly loud when it runs, but this is a workhorse - not a delicate flower.
A few more positive notes: while it only comes with the basic accessories, they are newly designed and very smart. The zipper foot and button foot are now partially made from clear plastic, which is genius: placement on the base fabric is very important for zippers and buttons, and being able to see through the presser foot just makes almost TOO much sense! I don't know why nobody thought of this years ago! It also comes with a tiny smart screwdriver that is the perfect size for removing the bobbin plate. The old screwdrivers were way too long, they only worked for changing machine feet and nothing else! This is such a simple little thing, just a small piece of die-cut metal, yet it makes life so much easier!
Now the not-so-good...
- It has a very short cord. It's one of those combination cords that plugs the power source and the foot pedal into the machine at the same spot, next to the on/off switch. That style in general is a bit limiting, but on this machine in particular the foot pedal cord is VERY short. I have a custom built sewing desk that has easily accommodated quite a few different machines, but the length of this cord forces the machine to sit at an awkward angle. Even if you currently have the perfect place for it, it limits where and how you can sew in the future.
- The bobbin winder is about as stripped-down as you can get, without forcing you to wind your bobbins by hand. All the machines I've used in the last 6 or 7 years have had the empty bobbins sit on a little arm that holds the thread tail for winding and cuts it off after it is finished, and some have had the thread-guide/stopper sit more tightly against the inner bobbin during winding. This one has neither: you must thread the tail through the tiny hole on each clear bobbin, and hold the tail firmly as you begin to wind. For me it's simply an inconvenience, but if you happen to have vision challenges or dexterity issues, it could become nearly impossible.
- It doesn't have an integrated needle threader, not even the most basic spring-loaded arm to get a tiny loop of the thread through the needle eye so you can pull the rest through manually. Again, for me, this is just a bit inconvenient, but for someone with vision problems, needle threading is a HUGE challenge (the needle threader stopped functioning on my mom's machine, and she had to stop sewing because she simply could not see the needle eye well enough to thread it). Even if you don't have vision issues, it can be frustrating. I was teaching a pre-teen girl how to set up her machine, and the whole operation nearly fell apart because she had so much trouble threading the needle manually. Granted, a needle threader isn't an essential component of a basic sewing machine, but for one like this that can do automatic buttonholes, it seems like it couldn't have cost that much more to include it and thus make it accessible to a larger segment of the population.
- The integrated light is not bright at all. The bulb is tiny, and only illuminates the left side of the presser foot. Even with my reasonably-good eyesight, I need to use an extra desk lamp to see what I'm doing.
- No feed dog control: they stay up at all times. Truthfully, you'll want them up most of the time, and you probably wouldn't want to do free-motion stitching on a basic machine like this anyway, but it's nice to have the option to lower them if you're working on a project or fabric that you don't want to have gripped and pulled through for you.
Some of the other features I've gotten used to in my other machines, such as one-touch needle raising/lowering and touch-control reverse stitching, you really wouldn't expect to find on a budget machine. The spring on the reverse-stitching button here is pretty tight, but works well. And, you just have to get used to using the side wheel again to control needle position! These are actually probably a good thing for new sewists to learn, before they move on to a more expensive machine that does too much for them.
At first I was going to give this machine a much lower score, due to it not being as user-friendly or accessible as I had hoped for an entry-level machine. But as I got to use it more, I realized it really is a very sturdy, hard-working machine. You could certainly do much worse for this price. But, if you have any kind of vision or dexterity issues, Brother makes machines just slightly more expensive that include essential conveniences that make bobbin-winding and needle-threading easier for everyone. I will definitely use this as a backup machine only, and would not recommend it for anyone learning to sew on their own for the first time.