Another Great Workhorse

Mar 31, 2011
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Cheap, dependable, ergonomically well thought out.

Cons:Lightweight plastic case bounces under extremely heavy loads.

The Bottom Line: This is a great beginner machine, and its a great machine for daily use, as long as you respect its limits.

When my Brother 3500XL was destroyed by my cat a couple of years ago, I was in mourning.  I'd used that machine so much that it had become like an extension to my body, and I didn't even have to think about it while I was working anymore.   I loved that machine.

I allowed myself to be encouraged to buy a used machine, which had been a very high end machine thirty years ago.  It did everything the old Brother had done, and was very heavily made.  Its a stout little machine.  But it isn't as well designed ergonomically as the Brother, and I kept chasing it around my sewing table because of the way the reverse worked.  Instead of pushing down on a lever that was right where your hand falls, I had to stop sewing, locate the button, and push it in, which pushed the machine away from me.  Worst of all is that it constantly snarls thread around the axle in the bobbin case, requiring that I cut my project out of the machine.  I hated it.  I swore at it constantly.  I finally gave in and bought the Brother LS590 to replace it, and kept it only for extremely heavy projects.  Eventually I bought a second LS590 for my child to learn on.  So now I have three machines in the house, and I'm never unable to sew, even if one is being cleaned.

This machine is very similar to the 3500XL.  It doesn't have quite as many stitch options, but all the accesories that I'd kept off the 3500XL fit on it.  All I really need on a sewing machine is straight stitch, zigzag, reverse, button hole and free arm, with the option of a zipper foot.  With those options, I can make nearly anything my family wears.  This machine has all that and more.  There are many more stitch functions than I will ever use.  There are even more available on the Brother website and any low-shank foot will fit.

The main thing is that this machine just works.  There is no fussing with thread tension, no fiddling with complex feet, no unsnarling thread from the bobbin case.  It just does its job.  It stitches neatly, evenly and tightly every single time.  Like my old Brother, it really doesn't like very light jersey knit or really high twist twill.  With time and experience, I've come to see that it is the limitation of the plastic case, which bounces slightly at the impact of the needle at either extreme, and that bouncing action impacts the ability of the needle to get through the fabric.  I've learned more about getting the right needle for the job, and ballpoints do help a bit, but I've just accepted that these are the limitations of the machine.  I've kept that blankety-blank old machine for these jobs.  I use the old metal cased machine for Cordura nylon too.

I use this machine daily in certain seasons, when I'm making up clothing for the entire family for the upcoming changes of weather.  I sew fleece sweaters, wool coats, denim jeans, broadcloth, fleece and flannel pajamas, flannel shirts, corduroy shirts, seersucker shirts and dresses, linen shorts, fleece socks, mittens and hats.  I put rib knit cuffs on those socks and pajamas.  I make crazy-quilt blankets of my fleece scraps.  I use everything from sheer broadcloths to heavy polar fleece.  I'm sewing a lot of denim twill right now, that I bought from a farmer's co-op in Texas.  It is a very heavy denim, and the little Brother just chugs right through it.  I have learned to use muslin for pockets, as it saves it a little on the casing at the outer seam where it has to go through 12 layers.  I make all my daughter's clothing except for socks, underwear, T-shirts and her heavy winter coat and snow pants, which I can't make as waterproof at home. I make all my clothing except socks, underwear, bras and my down coat.  I even made an old-fashioned dress with puffy sleeves for Christmas, navy cord bodice and a plaid wool skirt.  I make my husband's shirts, fleece sweaters, fleece socks and pajamas.  And I make all our hats, mittens and scarfs. I also make curtains, blankets and slip covers.  So this little machine gets plenty of use and has been well tested.  I love it.

There is only one place where I don't like this machine as well as the old one, and that is the buttonhole function.  It has been "upgraded" to an automatic buttonholer, which just means that they fixed what wasn't broken.  There are now seven steps to setting it up, and I constantly miss one.  You have to put a button in the buttonhole foot, attach the buttonhole foot, pull down the automatic lever and push it back to set it, put the knob on 1, set stitch length to F and set stitch width to 4 or 5.  It is too many steps, and I can't control how the button hole turns out.  I used to be able to manually control how thick I made the stitching at the end of the hole, and if I knew it was going to see heavy use, I'd stitch it heavier.  Now I'm stuck with what the machine is set to do.  I wish they'd put it back to the way the old machine worked.
Overall, this is a great little general purpose machine for daily use.  It just works, every time, without fuss.  Like the old machine, if I occasionally get bad stitching, it usually means I threaded it wrong, or it needs a good cleaning.  It is a bit of a pain to clean, but you can keep it going most of the time with a can of compressed air, a vacuum cleaner, a sewing machine brush and a bottle of oil with a zoom spout.  Just get all the lint out of it that you can, and spin the wheel by hand and use the zoom spout to oil anything you see moving.  One time, I've had it to the repairman because I couldn't figure out what was wrong, and he found a little piece of thread in the tension.  I've been sewing with this machine about two years now, and it is just dependable.

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