Brother Innov-is 55 Review

Huzzah! It’s that time again! Time for more ramble! It’s been a while now, so I figure you’re all recovered enough to read some more rubbish, so here we go!

Oh how I wish I was clairvoyant. Why? Quite a few reasons actually.

1. It would make me look insanely clever!
2. It would enable me to say “told you so!” much more often!
3. I would now be reviewing the Pfaff instead of the Brother that I’d promised you!

And why number 3, I hear you ask? Well, come on then, ask! I’m clairvoyant, you know, so now that I’ve told you you’re going to ask, you really should to avoid showing me up for the fraud I clearly am not! I don’t even know the meaning of the word!

Well, the why is thus. Because yesterday I attended an all day workshop in which I made something really, really wonderful (obviously it’s wonderful as I made it! Never mind that it might look like a 5 year old’s attempt at drawing, I made it!), and I want to share with you all! But as it was done almost exclusively on the Pfaff, it’s not appropriate yet. Because I learned loads of new way to use feet yesterday though, I’m bursting to share! Ah well, never mind. Next time!

So, to the Brother Innov-is 55. I will start by saying the same thing that I probably will at some point in every review post. Whether companies have given me something to review or not will not change my opinion, or the way it’s come across, one iota. Companies may not like it, but I will tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth! Ahem, sorry, been watching a bit too much CSI I think!

So, with that in mind…

The 55 was the first machine I ever called mine, and I loved it… There’s a good reason for that past tense, but more on that later! It comes with a whole load of accessories that really do see the basic sewist set up for almost any task. It has a few bobbins so you can get started immediately. From memory, it also comes with: 3 spool caps (small, medium and large depending on the thread reel size you’re using), an extra spool pin, a little fluffy thing that I think goes under the thread on that extra pin, a net for stopping metalic or slippery threads reeling off too quickly, small and large screwdriver and a round one (don’t ask me what that’s for!), spare needles, 1 step button hole foot, monogram foot, zigzag foot, blind hem foot, overcasting foot, standard zip foot, button foot (this one for fitting buttons), and a lovely little bag to put it all in… That lasts about 2 seconds because it’s made of very cheap plastic which puckers really easily. In my personal opinion, the whole set up would have felt much more quality if they’d left this out or replaced it with something better. Of course, every machine comes with a sewist’s best friend, the quick unpick! Brother’s one is easy to use and really nice and sharp.

Really, the wealth of accessories that come with the machine are beyond fabulous. Brother doesn’t disappoint in this regard, and they do get top marks here from me.

When I bought the machine, Brother were running a promotion which meant that I got their quilting kit free. This consisted of an extension table, a walking foot, a quilting guide, a free motion foot, and, my favourite thing of all time, the QUARTER INCH FOOT!!!!! Seriously, if I could have this things’ babies, I think I would!

All that being said, if I’d bought these accessories in the kit, they would have cost a whopping £150! Seriously? £150 for 3 feet, a bit of metal bar and a plastic tiny table? I’d not have been happy if I’d paid out full whack, but as they were freebies, I couldn’t complain! As I mostly do quilting, I’ve actually found them invaluable. The walking foot does require you to unscrew and remove the ankle of the machine, then screw on the beast of a foot, then fiddle to get another section over the needle bar, and it needs a bit of practice, but once you’ve got the technique, it’s quick and easy to fit. Don’t ask me about the free motion foot. I’ve never touched it.

The quarter inch foot and all the others snap onto the ankle of the machine with relative ease. Again, if you can’t see it, there’s a bit of practice needed to line things up, but once you’ve worked that out fitting feet is a breeze! The zip foot is fiddly, but all of them are so I don’t hold that against them. They come away with the press of a button.

The interface of the machine is pretty easy to use. On the right, there’s a keypad made up of large press buttons. Whenever you turn it on, it always defaults to the same stitch and the same menu screen, so big brownie points there in terms of accessibility. The machine gives a really defined, positive beep whenever a button is pressed, so there’s no danger of not knowing you’ve triggered something.

There are preprogrammed stitches, so that you only have to push one of the keypad buttons when the machine first comes on to select from 9 of the most popular stitches and 1 button hole. Again, this is a feature that I love, as it means when you first get it, you only have to remember 10 stitches rather than the few hundred million that it seems to possess! Perhaps I’m stupid, but I know it takes me a while to remember everything, and this feature enabled me to use different settings straight away. The default stitch length and width always reverts to the same when the stitch is changed, so as long as you can remember how you altered it for certain projects, then it’s completely repeatable.

Stitching is pretty good on this. When piecing thin layers of cotton, there’s very little slippage, and I sew difficult, slippy mesh to thick velcro with little to no struggle from this beast. Quilting with the walkking foot is also pretty smoothe, with minimal slippage.

The speed control is perhaps the 55’s most attractive feature. At its slowest, it will inch and crawl along so minutely that even a brand new beginner can sew with accuracy and confidence. I used this a lot in the early days. When you want to go faster, the machine copes with everything… Other than quilting. Go more than halfway with the slider with the walking foot on and the fabric slippage increases exponentially. For a blind person, having a slow speed when learning is essential, and it is probably for this reason alone that I would recommend a Brother as a starter machine, as no other that I’ve come across will go so slowly.

Now to the negatives, and I’m afraid there are a few.

Brother’s engagement: This was a big one for me. Their manual isn’t very accessible, and they don’t have an easily accessible stitch list. I wrote to them, as did my mum who is also blind and who got one of these on my recommendation, and all emails were ignored. Even when we spoke to Brother reps in person, we have been promised that we’ll get what we need, and yet there’s been no communication at all on their part. I also wrote to them explaining that I often use feet in a very different way than you’d expect (more on that in another post), and asked whether they’d be prepared to engage with me to find innovative ways for blind people to use them. At the time, I thought their machine didn’t have any massive negatives, so wanted to work with them. Again, I was totally ignored, whereas other companies have been only too happy to help. I know they don’t have to do anything for me in terms of giving me feet, but I bought their machine. the least I should be able to get is an accessible stitch list!

The walking foot: In recent weeks, I have grown to almost hate this thing, not because it’s bad, but because it isn’t versatile at all. The closest stitch I can get is half to 3/4 of an inch which is no good for close quilting. I use the quilting guide to echo quilt, and the edge of the foot for running straight lines, but as it’s so bulky, I’m limited in how close I can get. It also makes threading the needle bar hook by touch very, very difficult, almost impossible, as the prongs that attach to the needle bar stick out and confuse the issue It is sooooo noisy when used at any speed other than a crawl, and it creaks and clanks something terrible. This is not unique to my machine either. The squeaking of a Brother in full quilting flow is very, very distinctive!

Quilting guide: Speaking of this, what on earth were they thinking! It’s tiny, and all scrolled back on itself, and completely nonfunctional. It sits really close to the needle, so if you want to quilt on the right hand side by touch, your fingers will get pulverised by the needle bar, and if you want to work on the left hand side, it violates one of the non-negociable rules when a sewing machine is in motion. Fingers must always be behind the foot. You’re still close to the needle, but at least you know you aren’t going to sew yourself. This guide doesn’t allow that luxury. I ended up changing this out for a Husqvarna guide which I now use upside down so that the downward facing point runs directly in my stitch line. It’s a loooooong guide and really minimalist. Thank goodness for common sense!

Tangling: You can guarantee that if you start a seam with an elastic stitch, about 50% of the time your thread is going to snag and nest underneath, or get caught in the feed dogs. Not the end of the world, but a real pain. I find that if I start the fabric further forward this issue goes away completely, but I then have an 8th or so of an inch at the start of my seam which isn’t sewn.

All of that being said, the Innov-is 55 is a cracking little machine for the money. You get a lot of bang for your buck, and it’s versatile enough to enable a beginner to do basic quilting, quite advanced dress-making and a little name embroidery. There’s loads of decortaive stitches, and the amount of basic and advanced options in there means the machine will grow with you as you advance.

Do I regret buying the machine? Only because of the problems with the quilting foot and the lack of customer service from Brother. If I wasn’t blind, or more specifically a blind quilter, then I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this as a really top end all rounder for relatively little cash. For visually impaired (VI) folks who want to be seamstresses rather than quilters, this beast will do you just fine, and will be a pleasure to work with. Just be sure you have someone around who will read the stitches to you until you learn them, because Brother sure as heck won’t!

So, that’s a wrap! Obviously it goes without saying that the views expressed here are my own personal ones. Brother did not ask for this review, and certainly didn’t supply any of the equipment mentioned to make it possible. Well, they did supply it, but I paid for it, so it doesn’t count!

Thoughts? Comments? Questions? Hit me with it!

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