Last Thursday my beautiful shiny new sewing machine arrived and I had to confront reality. While I had been looking forward to the new garments I would explore with a more advanced machine, I did have a pang of nostalgia when I looked over at my little red sewing machine. Sat next to the almost Sci-Fi sequence frontage of my new machine, it was like looking at a horse and cart next to the Starship Enterprise. Now I wouldn’t say that I regret buying my new machine for one second. No the feeling is more like leaving junior school and starting senior school. It’s not a bad change, its a natural advance but there is still a sense of saying goodbye and it has to be said that I got a little weepy when I boxed up my old red John Lewis model. When I considered how best to process these feelings I hit upon the idea of reviewing the machine I’ve spent so long getting to know. My aim is to provide an honest and hopefully even-handed review highlighting both the positive aspects but also the little irritating things I noticed as a long time user and why I am looking to upgrade.
The first time I saw the red John Lewis JL110SE was in Buchanan Galleries, a huge shopping centre in central Glasgow. My mum had been teaching me to sew at home and I was really starting to enjoy it, to love and be intrigued by sewing. I saw that little red machine and fell totally in love. Next to all the big grown up white machines it looked fun and quirky and friendly. Sewing can be an extremely intimidating world as a beginner, to start with there is a whole language barrier of terms and techniques plus fabrics, patterns and notions the facts that all seem achingly complicated. You look at your ready to wear clothes baffled as to how a person could have actually constructed the grment from scratch. I think that’s why I have such a sense of nostalgia with this machine, I received it for Christmas in 2016 and I basically taught myself to sew with it. It was my friend, albeit one I shouted at a lot and swore at occasionally when my bobbin had run out and I hadn’t noticed. Above all it the was a fantastic machine to learn on as a beginner and that really is where I have to start this review. The JL110SE is the perfect machine for beginners because you can pick it up and start sewing straight away with minimal experience. My machine didn’t even come with a manual and I could still set it up fairly easily. Now that’s not to say that this machine is without its flaws but simple, affordable and easy to use, this machine is the perfect companion for your first forays into sewing.
John Lewis JL110SE
- Weight 6kg
- 14 Stitch Options
- Twin Needle can be used but it doesn’t come with one.
- Special Edition comes in lots of different colours
- Comes With: standard and buttonhole foot, seam ripper, spare bobbins and spare needles.
Top 4 Things About This Machine
In terms of beginner sewing machines, you really can’t beat this model for price. When I first got mine in 2016, the standard white JL110 was £89 and the special edition was slightly more ( I think £99?) now in 2020 the price has risen to £120 but that is standard across JL110 and JL110SE. A price rise of only £31 in four years is not bad. John Lewis are actively trying to keep this machine accessible for beginners which is to their credit.
Honestly in 4 years I’ve not encountered a single fault in the machine or encountered any problems that weren’t actually my fault to begin with. I think of mine as old faithful because it just keeps going. If sewing machines were animals this one would be a cart horse. Just plodding along and doing its job for as long as you need it. I would recommend this machine based on its reliability if nothing else.
3. Very Simple & Easy To Use
There are so few options on this machine that it is almost impossible to set it up wrong. The set-up arrows are numbered, there are two dials, one to select your stitch and one to alter stitch length, there is a tab to backstitch and a stitch tension dial with the standard tension settings ringed in a box. Thats it. The bobbin mechanism is simple; to fill you place the bobbin on the winder on top and slide it to the left and use the pedal as standard. Then you place the bobbin in the metal case underneath, pull the thread through and away you go. One of the joys of this machine is that it is so simple and has nothing extra that very little can go wrong.
4. Stitch Selection Is Surprisingly Good
There aren’t too many stitch options, only 14, which is nice because 60+ stitch options can be very intimidating as a beginner and honestly you don’t need them. Even as an advanced sewist you don’t need most of those stitches but as a beginner it can be absolutely baffling. One of the functions I like about this machine is the sliding scale for zig zag stitches and the variety of basic embroidery stitches. So if you want to start experimenting with decorative stitching you have that option but equally the main range of stitches are solid and simple to understand.
Overall this machine is simple to set up, easy to use, affordable and as there’s very little extra functionality there’s very little to go wrong, it really is the perfect beginner machine.
Why Am I Upgrading?
The machine can’t handle heavy fabrics
This isn’t the fault of the machine, it clearly states on the website that this machine is designed for light to medium weight fabric and now I need to be able to do thicker fabrics like denims, tweeds, wool and coating for the autumn so I need a machine that can handle it. This machine just doesn’t have the weight or the power in the motor to get through thicker fabrics but thats okay because its not meant to! It is however one of the top reasons that I have chosen to upgrade.
The 3 Step Buttonhole is genuinely infuriating
Cards on the table, I’m not a fan of buttonholes and this machine doesn’t do anything to help. Put it this way, one of my big priorities with a new machine was a 1-step buttonhole. On the JL110SE Option 1 is meant to be the left hand side of your buttonhole, its a straight forward stitch that you can reverse, Options 2&4 are bar tacks for the top and bottom of the buttonhole, all good so far, its Option 3 that is my greatest bug bear. Option 3 is a backward stitch for the right hand side of your buttonhole. Here’s the thing though, IT ONLY GOES BACKWARDS. If you try to reverse it with the backstitch tab it still only goes backwards and that is honestly infuriating. There is no world in which you dont need to go over your stitches a few times for a buttonhole so why oh why does this function exist? Can you tell this has been on my mind for a while…!
Bobbin thread catch is really unreliable
The bobbin thread sometimes catches absolutely fine but sometimes it takes over 5 minutes to get the bobbin thread to catch when I replace the thread in the bobbin that has started to irritate me somewhat. This is a little thing but it has started to frustrate me alot because I have to spend a long time staring into my machine and it stops me sewing.
You can’t get into the machine if you do need to make repairs or defluff
I didn’t need to do this until recently but it is a valid point. Its extremely difficult to get into this machine to make repairs or clean it. You would need to pay to get it properly surfaced when all you really need is to get into the workings with an old toothbrush and your machine will be good as new. Although of course it is a beginners machine i do feel that this is a little short-sighted and the cynic in me says its because John Lewis want you to pay them to service it for you.
Pedal and power cable connect on the same lead which makes it hard to set up the machine unless you are the perfect distance from power.
This is a moan for me because I live in a house where the power points were located by a complete idiot. We have loads of plug sockets but they are all in moronic places so this was a problem for me. The fact that the pedal and plug come out of the same lead means that I’ve had a few issues on finding somewhere that my machine can actually get power and I can use the pedal.
Overall I need the ability to do heavier weight fabrics and to move on with my sewing. This is at the end of the day a beginner’s machine and I think when you start to notice flaws like this and start to have a preference on mechanism and functionality then you need to upgrade because you’re not a learner anymore. You might still have green P plates on but you’ve passed into intermediate and need a machine that can keep up.
Does It Stand The Test Of Time?
Yes it does. This little machine is a great companion for your first forays into sewing because so little can go wrong and its just so simple and easy. It will allow you to learn about sewing and crucially to learn how you sew and what you need. When I first started to work on projects that my machine struggled with, I told myself that I wasn’t allowed to upgrade until I actually understood what I needed from a machine. This machine allows you to learn, you can’t become reliant on automatic functions because it doesn’t have any and it makes you a better sewist as a result. The JL110SE may be thoroughly out classed by my new machine but it will always have a special place in my heart as my first sewing machine.