Buying or upgrading your sewing machine, what to look for……

After School Sewing Club

Almost daily I am asked about what machine should someone buy for themselves, or for their children. So I am sharing the advice I give to them with you. I have seen and used loads and loads of different machines, so I am not a technical expert but I know what works for me and my students! This is aimed at people looking to upgrade or purchase a sewing machine (NOT a quilting, overlocker or embroidery machine).

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Nowadays the machines we can buy help us enormously. For those that struggle to thread a needle, we have needle threaders built into most new machines. For those who prefer not to coordinate their foot with their hands, the new machines have a function where you can unplug the foot altogether and just control your sewing with the touch of a button. These machines have thread cutters, drop in bobbins, which are much easier to use than the side loading bobbins of old AND my favourite most used function is the speed control dial! Oh my what a great invention. For those just learning to sew, you can’t run away with the machine, it is really useful. It is great for getting kids started too. These machines are also much lighter than the traditional older ones.

My most used machine is my Brother Anniversary Innovis 10, I use 4 of these machines at school to teach my primary children to sew, and I have one at home that my children use. I usually get my adult students started on this before they purchase their own. These machines are currently retailing at £239 incl. VAT. These machines have seen a lot of abuse from the children I teach in class and never once have I not been able to fix it. It is a strong, durable machine.

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My more recent favourite is a Janome CMX30, again has all these lovely useful functions on it like the Brother and has the added benefit of being sold in Costco, recently reduced to £99 plus VAT. (A month ago it was selling for £159 plus VAT). I love the metal foot that comes with this machine, for if you are using a small footstool for the children to reach with, it doesn’t keep falling off!

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Other things I look for in my machines are a decent button hole foot (the cheaper machines have feet that are all plastic and can only cope with small buttons). I like to have a few decorative stitches, especially a nice scalloped edge stitch. This is really nice when you make jam jar covers! Great gifts for parties and Christmas stocking fillers, and an easy pretty stitch for the children to master. Automatic button hole function is really helpful, even my 7 year old can stitch her own buttonhole now.

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Adjusting the length of your stitch and the width is a must, then you can nicely control your satin stitch how YOU want it for any applique, which both these machines do. Having a dial with a long stitch and a shorter stitch isn’t really enough if you want to have fun on your machine with applique. Hopefully a blind hem stitch will be on there as well, so you can master beautiful curtain hems, although you might have to buy the foot separately. Dont worry about the feet that come with the machine too much (other than the button hole one), as you can buy these quite cheaply separately. Usually as the price of the machine goes up, you will get more feet supplied with the machine, and the number of decorative stitches will go up.

In summary, things to look for in your machine:

  • Drop in bobbin
  • Speed control dial
  • Needle threader
  • Thread cutter
  • Sewing without a foot pedal (if you have kids)
  • Decorative stitches (usually a little star like flower is on there)
  • Scalloped edge stitch
  • Adjustable width
  • Adjsutable length
  • Blind hem stitch
  • Built in lamp

Good makes are Janome (purchased Elna, so now the same brand), Brother, Singer, Bernina (if you can afford one!). There are lots of others out there, but my advice is stay clear of the little machines, you will outgrow them very quickly. They appeal to the kids because of the colours and the price, but they don’t have the functions that the children need to control the machine nicely and they seem to be forever getting jammed up. Mostly because they move around a lot when you are sewing so the thread jumps out of where it is meant to be. However if that is all you have got, don’t let it put you off starting to sew!

The specialist feet that we use the most in my classes are the following:

  • Satin foot
  • Zipper foot
  • Piping foot
  • Teflon foot
  • Open toe embroidery foot
  • Walking foot

All the machines will come with a satin foot (the clear one), and a zipper foot as standard.

Some of my students love the hem guiding foot too, especially if you are making a quilt with lots of squares and your hems have to be 100% accurate, otherwise the squares won’t match up.

Regarding the feet, the manufacturers will tell you to only buy their feet for their machines, but I find that the universal ones available on ebay and Amazon are perfectly fine for all my modern machines. The exception is the walking foot, this is a much more mechanical foot and try and buy a good one from the same brand as your machine if possible.

Before you discard your old machine, please don’t, I also have a fabulous collection of older machines. I use these for things like curtain making. Due to their weight (most are made of metal not plastic), it means they don’t jump around the table when you are sewing fast, and they can cope with multiple layers and heavier fabrics really nicely. So invest in a good servicing of your old machine, and have it ready for those big projects. Another benefit of these machines is that when you think they don’t work anymore, then you can just replace the engine, it is not a big job as they are externally mounted. I have replaced 3 engines, costing me around £40 each. Now they will work for another 20 years or so!

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I do have a number of other specialist machines that I use all the time, such as an industrial overlocking machine, a specialist quilting machine and a digital embroidery machine, however another day, another blog……

Did you find this useful? I would love to hear about your favourite machine in my comments.




How to make a superhero cape

My mum told me about, who are making super hero capes for sick and disadvantaged children in the UK and the rest of the World. So I thought I would make one too, and show you how to do it, so you can make them at home as well.

I cut the fabric out using this pattern that my mum made, you can use the shape in the picture to make your own from newspaper.

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I put the paper on the fabric, pinned it onto the fabric and cut it out. The black rod is an iron paper weight in case you were wondering. I cut out two pieces of fabric, one for the outside and one for the inside of my cape.

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Once I cut them out, my mum embroidered a dragon on her embroidery machine. You could stitch on a piece of felt or fleece with a design instead, like a lightening bolt and things like that. You can download lots of templates on the internet to use or copy one from a book.

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Lay the fabric pieces together, good side to good side, pin them together like shown, and then stitch together, leaving a 10cm gap to turn it the right way around. Once you have stitched, zig zag both layers together on the edges, so that it doesn’t fray in the wash (remember to leave a 10cm gap with the zig zag as well).

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Turn it the right way around and press the edges flat with an iron and some steam. Turn the edges of the opening in and pin it together. Increase the length of your straight stitch on your machine to 3.5 and topstich all the way round the edge of the cape, staying 0.5mm away from the edge. I topstitched to stop the lining from sliding around and it looks nice too!

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After this I had to make a button hole using the button hole foot. If you don’t have one, you can use velcro instead, or  sew on a hook and eye. Then stitch on the button, on the other side. If you want to use your cape on both sides, then sew a button on both sides to make it look nice.

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Here is my finished cape, I loved it so much, I made another one for me to keep in blue!

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Creative Business Start Up Marketing – what works for me, Dotty Bobbin



Hello all, these last few weeks I have been spending time on my business marketing and am now the proud owner of some branded mugs and even my car is branded. I would like to share with you what is working and what isn’t.

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I found an A frame chalkboard in a skip (yes I am a skip raider ), painted some more blackboard paint on it, purchased some waterproof chalk pens and voila I had a chalkboard outside my house 24 hours a day.

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My husband thought I would never get any business from it, but actually I have had one drop in customer who drove by, saw the sign, pulled up the car, checked my website on her phone and then called me to purchase 6 of my lunchplates. How lovely. Then I have had at least 3 enquiries about my classes (it hasn’t been up that long), with one lady Donna, even just ringing my doorbell and introducing herself from up the road, and starting the week after. So roadside marketing does work. However it does have it’s downside, as they might catch you in your dressing gown! I will let you know if I get any interest from the car branding. The mug was just indulgent of me really, but the photo of the mug nicely sums up my classes I think!

I also had two unexpected radio mentions this week, from Heart Watford and Hemel, and Dacorum Radio, these were by one client just telling Heart on facebook what she was up to that morning (which happened to be coming to my sewing class), and the other is, by chance one of my new sewing ladies presents on Dacorum Radio on a Wednesday morning during my class, so we chose a favourite song and sent in a request from the sewing ladies!

All of this marketing is either free or very cheap (the car magnets cost £14 for two). This means I can keep the costs of my classes down, as I want them to be available to everyone.

I am the proud owner of a magnificent digital embroidery machine, so of course I have been doing my own logo on my own clothing and much to my daughter’s delight I have also made her her very own Bambino Bobbin fleece. Probably unnecessary but fun marketing and free.

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What I have found very useful is that my fabulous web designers Stuart and Deborah from SVS Web Design put statistical analysis on the back end of my website for me, so I can see what works and what doesn’t. Suddenly all the marketing analysis that I absolutely despised doing when I worked in the corporate world, is actually fun and would you believe it USEFUL! I can see what the impact of a mention on the radio has to my website hits for example, I can see how many people read the blogs and which pages they visit on my website. I can even see what countries they are from and what search tools they are using (more useful to the web designer this one!).

I have also given some business cards to the local haberdashery store Needlecraft, and have a regular client and her daughter who came from their referral.

By far the most useful marketing tool has been a business facebook account and word of mouth. By publishing lots of pictures of what my fabulous students have been up to, has inspired many others to start sewing classes with me.

I must not forget my website of course. It has proved invaluable, not just in generating business on its own but also by showing potential clients that are interested that I am a viable business, and by giving me a platform to launch new products, new courses, testimonials and so forth. Having a bespoke website built means I am in control of it as well, and I can make changes and tweak the site as I grow, instead of having to fit my business into a standard model built by someone else.

I am compiling a little advert for the local primary school fair brochure, cost £12, mostly to support the school and hopefully it will generate some interest (although most people at the school know what I do already as I run the sewing club there!). I will let you know if it works!

Twitter……three months ago it was alien to me, now I already have 145 followers and growing every day. The best way I can describe it to those who don’t use it for their business is like business networking meetings but online, in your own time. People support other people, show interest in other businesses and they will show interest in yours, and you discover a massive GLOBAL community of people doing what you love to do, you can ask advice, share ideas, showcase what you have done, the list is endless. There are loads and loads of twitter groups where you can showcase your services or products and have a look at everyone else’s. I use two groups mostly , #indiehour on a Tuesday evening and #handmadehour on a Wednesday evening (where I try to do a live twitter feed during my evening class). The downside is that some of the things others are making are too irresistible and I end up spending money!

Pinterest, an endless source of ideas for my sewing classes mostly but increasingly a marketing tool as well. I can post our creations there and I now have a business account (free), allowing me to put ‘pin it’ markers all over my website so other people can share my web content on Pinterest. I also use Pinterest as a support tool for my students at home, where I post things that might interest them, things they can make at home without my help and help them with ideas and inspirations of things to make.

My next task is to complete my outlook contacts page, so I can easily email people. I am trying to keep a list of details of people who have enquired or expressed an interest but not actually booked.

If you have any thing else that worked for your creative business start up please share with us in your comments. Thank you 

Saskia x



Avril Cosh Sewing Debut

Two weeks ago, my Mum and I made our way down to Hemel Hempstead, from Scotland, leaving straight after school. We arrived at Saskia’s at nine O’Clock. The next day Saskia taught us how to make pin cushions and we sewed squares together. After that we went shopping and I bought some zips, elastic and velcro.

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I have a sewing machine at home but I have only had it since my birthday last month and haven’t had much time to use it yet. On Saturday I went to one of Saskia’s sewing classes. I learned to make hair scrunchies and my Mum made herself a new bag.

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On Sunday, our last day, I made another scrunchie and two handy little make up bags with oilcloth. I learned how to put zips on, which is not too hard. My mum made a bigger bag.

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I really enjoyed the weekend sewing and have been doing more sewing since I came home. I am making a pin cushion for my friend at the moment, and hope to do lots more sewing. My Mum has made another bag and took the curtains up in my room. She also plans to make cushion covers.

Avril Cosh x