Monday, June 17, 2013

Sewing Machine Review: JS110 SE

I've had my machine for a year and a half now and I quite love it despite it being a partially plastic department store branded modern machine that so many disdain. With the exception of a few “I bought it for my niece” reviews, there's not much online about it.

First, I'd like to establish my sewing machine credentials. As an undergraduate I gained a lot of experience on three machines. One was a computerized Brother (something similar to the BC2100) which I ended up pretty much hating what with its crazy computer faults, bad automatic tension and its general inability to handle medium weight fabric not to mention anything automatic. One was a fairly modern slightly above beginner level Singer which was alright but I found had tension problems in the bobbin which no tune up could fix. The final one was a fairly modern Janome which was my favorite and the one I ended up using most of the time. While I was lusting after a sewing machine of my own and using the faker, I took a special trip to Rotherham to spend a day at Lennox Sewing & Knitting Machines shop where I learned a bit more about machines.

Brand and Model:
So my machine, Audrey, is a JS110(SE) from John Lewis. The special edition refers to the color (solid purple).

I ended up getting it more through restrictions and price rather than research but since then have given a good amount of research. Quite frankly, it's remarkably close to Janome's USA-only 2212 in look and capability.

How much did it cost? £99 is the list price, mine ended up being £70 because of sales. (They switched to a color blocked one a few months after I bought mine.)

What do I sew? In general I mostly sew clothing.

How much do I sew? Practically everyday. I've sewn over 10 triple circle skirts on this baby. 

I sew a lot of knits of all weights. I also sew a lot of clothing weight and quilting cotton. It has failed to snag on lace fabrics. It sort of swallowed some of the felt and chiffon but quickly recovered when I started a bit further in. The home dec fabrics that I make my tote bags out of have also gone through this machine without much of a problem. The corduroy and thicker suiting fabrics have also not really given it a problem. 

The only fabric it's ever really had a problem with is this awful completely synthetic slippery stuff that really was so horrible to cut that I wasn't terribly surprised no stitch would stay on it.

User Error
Every time it has given me problems was completely user-error. Like with most machines you have to thread it correctly every time. The three times I've been genuinely worried I'd broken it, it was just late and I'd threaded it wrong.

I use primarily the straight stitch and zig zag stitch. I've had no problems with needle positioning and twin needle use. I like the buttonhole-I practiced it a lot before using it on a garment and find it nice and easy though it's tricky if you have particularly thick buttons and need a wider buttonhole. I've used the tricot/three step zig zag on knits without a problem. The blind hem stitch takes a bit of practice but also works well when needed. The applique stitch is close and tight.

The machine recommends plastic bobbins but takes metal ones too. Elastic thread for shirring runs through just fine.

Other Advertised Functions:
Obviously, you can make it into a free arm for sleeves. And the free arm has a little storage compartment for your extra feet. The drop feed is a little plastic plate that you snap above the feed dogs and it stays in place.

The Good: (that they don't really tell you about)
A. Snap foot. I love snap foots because they make switching feet a cinch.
B. Bobbin tension is good and steady. Top stitch tension is easy to control and tweak. I've managed to troubleshoot all tension problems with just top tension tweaking.
C. Handles knits pretty well. I've sewn with machines that hate knits and whine & tug more than they should. This is not one of them. Also didn't swallow my felt or thin fabric.
D. Reverse button is well positioned. You're not going to accidentally press it.
E. Though John Lewis doesn't sell any branded accessories, it works with the general snap feet and general needles. This does not lock you into branded accessories.
F. Easy to maintain. You can easily reach the feed dogs to clean out the fuzz. It's simple to reach the moving parts for oiling. I've not needed to replace the bulb but I checked that it's simple to unscrew.
G. The warranty does include tune ups. I sent it in out of paranoia because the warranty was about to end telling them something vague like “oh, it was sounding a bit...odd”. They tuned up the tension dial, cleared dust out of the engine, and gave me some oil.

Things to Consider:
A. This is not a machine that sews at 120mph like some machines. Foot to the floor on the pedal at 2 stitch length this machine takes a few minutes for every foot of sewing. This is a relatively slow machine which suits my style just fine since it forces me to actually think about what I'm doing (I used to sew at 120mph and spent a lot more quality time with my unpicker). You don't need a max speed limiter.
B. Stitch length gets a bit vague. It's difficult to get a good machine basting stitch (I baste by hand). Similar problem is regulating the zig zag width. Nice and vague so you need to test it out if you have specific width needs. Buttonholes can also get a bit difficult if your button is not the average width.
C. Stretch stitch has tension problems and often snaps. Really annoying because it means you're often going to have to do some troubleshooting. This works fine for me because I've familiarity with what to do but I can imagine that beginners would have no idea what is going on.

Some Nitpicks:
A. Requires long threads at beginning. Maybe it's because I often get down to the very last 3 inches of thread and hate having to buy a new spool of thread for the last seam but I get a bit frustrated that the machine seems to want such a long tail. If it's even the slightest bit too short, it pulls out of the needle. I'm not entirely sure if this is a general oscillating hook problem though.
B. You need to keep an eye on it while winding the bobbin as the motion can pull the spool of thread right off its spool and catapult it across the room.
C. If you're planning on carrying this machine on the bus, keep in mind the free arm will fall off the instant the bus hits a pothole. Simple solution is to take it off preemptively and put it in your bag of course.

The conclusion:
This is a beginner's entry-level machine and so has all the basic capabilities. If you're relying on one step buttonholes and crazy stitch options and mechanized convenience, this is obviously not the machine for you. However, it is an excellent beginner's machine as it relatively behaves itself and is surprisingly tough. I use mine much more than its description described and it gives me little problem.

I should also mention that I'm the sort who reads the manual which has probably saved me a lot of grief. It's only 27 pgs of a lot of white space so it's no chore in this case.

If I were to buy a new machine, I'd probably go one step above. I'd like a variety of buttonhole styles and the ability to be more specific about my stitch widths and the like. However, I'll happily use this machine until it fully dies as my complaints are minor and are mainly of convenience rather than function.

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