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Definition of Platforms as it Pertains to Sewing Machines
A platform is a shared set of common design features, engineering, and production efforts, as well as major components shared among distinct models in order to reduce production costs
I think this concept is important to understand because like automobiles, sewing machine manufacturers produce many different models with the same platform. It is not uncommon for five different models to share ninety percent of the same components. I will be using this word multiple times below.
Janome 3160 - $699 | Janome 4120 - $799 | Janome 5300QDC
These three machines are all built on the same platform and offer great value in terms of quality, accessories, and features. All three come with an extension table and walking foot, as well as the needle up/down feature, start/stop button, and automatic thread trimming. The 5300 is designed with the best needle threader out of the three, plus a beefed up needle bar (same size as the Skyline series in the next section) for the ability have greater overall success sewing thicker materials. The 3160 is the most simple out of three, with about 60 stitches total. The 4120 has the double the stitches as the 3160, plus a more detailed screen and the ability to monogram.
Janome Skyline S5 - $1499 | Skyline S6 (in-store model)
This is the price category where Janome starts upgrading their components to a premium level. The Skyline platform is exceptional and value packed, especially the Skyline S6 which also introduces Janome’s dual feed system called Accufeed Flex, which feeds fabric from both above and below synchronously. Janome puts the Acufeed Flex System on their $15,000+ top of the line machine, and they also put it on the S6, making the S6 the definition of a cost-effective machine.
Here is a short video: Acufeed Flex Introduction
Other components that are upgraded are the upper shaft bushings which become sealed ball bearing, a best in class needle plate system for quick change to straight stitch plate, additional led lighting, larger throat to over 8”, hands free knee lift, trimmers, 9mm zig zag, larger step motors, thicker needle bar, and more. Also consider the Skyline S7 which until fairly recently I was able to put into the under $2000 category which introduces another key feature which is presser foot pivot and/or hover. This feature adds a step motor that raises and lowers the presser foot automatically when the needle is down for pivoting and raises it automatically after an auto thread trim. Owners who get this feature love it and wonder how they did without it all those years. It comes loaded with accessories and has a nice intuitive touch screen.
Brother BQ1350 | Baby Lock Soprano (in-store models)
These 2 models are virtually identical and I really like the value. These are the lowest priced models that have 5 of the 6 most important everyday features used every time one sews. Needle up/down, auto thread trimming, larger throat space, hover/pivot, and increased built in led lighting. The sixth which these models do not have is integrated dual feed also referred to built in walking foot system. The Skyline S7 checks all 6 boxes for a little more money.
For Sale: Pre-Owned Baby Lock Soprano
Bernina 435 (Relaunch expected Q1 2023)
I didn’t want to go much longer without including one of my favorite and most unique sewing machine brands so I decided to list the Bernina 435 even though it is currently not available. It will be back in 2023 and I will also list the 475 and 480 in my next category. At about this price point, Bernina starts to get exciting. The 4 series features Bernina’s very unique and innovative B9 hook system (video link to B9 hook). What Bernina claims and what I believe they deliver is a hook system with the stitch quality of their legendary oscillating CB hook (still on the 3 series 325,335) but the innovation of a large hook and large bobbin capacity (Jumbo) rotary hook that has the ability to add auto thread trimming (not possible with CB hook) higher sewing speeds for quilting and embroidery, and 9mm zig zag capability (5.5mm max for CB hook) The bottom line is Bernina machines are expensive, but the 4 series starts bringing Bernina back in line value wise with it’s Japanese competitors without sacrificing innovation and features
Janome Skyline S7
Until fairly recently I was able to put the S7 into the under $2000 category which introduces another key feature which is presser foot pivot and/or hover. This feature adds a step motor that raises and lowers the presser foot automatically when the needle is down for pivoting and raises it automatically after an auto thread trim. Owners who get this feature love it and wonder how they did without it all those years. It comes loaded with accessories and has a nice intuitive touch screen.
Janome 6700P Professional
This is a very unique and popular machine. It is a flat bed machine with an all alloy external metal housing. It is rated at over 1000 spm, has dual feed and is loaded with accessories. The flat bed design allows the engineers plenty of space to put the lower half components in optimum locations for performance instead of having to compromise when the free arm limits their options. This machine does not have presser foot pivot/hover but does have a hands free knee lifting system. Janome quality and premium components are evident throughout. The powder coated exterior housing is a unique thing of beauty that to me highlights the pride of Janome as a serious machine builder
Bernina 475 | Bernina 480
These two machines are built on the same platform. The main difference between the two is that the B475 has 5.5 MM stitch width and the B480 has 9 MM stitch width. You might see the 475 labeled as "quilter's edition" but this does not mean it is a better quilting machine than the 480-- "quilter's edition" is purely used for marketing purposes; it comes with a quarter inch foot, but that's it.
The 4 series features Bernina’s very unique and innovative B9 hook system (video link to B9 hook). What Bernina claims and what I believe they deliver is a hook system with the stitch quality of their legendary oscillating CB hook (still on the 3 series 325,335) but the innovation of a large hook and large bobbin capacity (Jumbo) rotary hook that has the ability to add auto thread trimming (not possible with CB hook) higher sewing speeds for quilting and embroidery, and 9mm zig zag capability (5.5mm max for CB hook) The bottom line is Bernina machines are expensive, but the 4 series starts bringing Bernina back in line value wise with it’s Japanese competitors without sacrificing innovation and features
Best Sewing and Quilting Machines Under $5,000 (listed from least to most expensive)
I am going to speak more in general terms and not get into all of the details of each model I list before. Machines in this price range generally have the following features in addition to the models I listed in the previous under $2000 category:
- Very large throat areas (11+ inches to right of needle)
- Superior LED lighting (located in multiple locations and angles)
- Very large intuitive and easy to navigate color touch screens
- Massive selection of stitches in the hundreds plus the ability to create your own personal stitches
- Large compliment of included accessories and presser feet
- Possible upgrade to embroidery unit (Bernina)
- Built in dual feed systems or ability to add (Baby Lock/Brother)
- Automatic presser foot lifting (Pivot/Hover)
This is Janome’s top end machine with a free arm and without embroidery. It has all of Janome’s premium components and unique innovations. Other manufacturers are challenged to build a more complete machine than this for less money. Refinement at a great price.
Brother BQ2500 | Baby Lock Ballad
Brother BQ3100 | Baby Lock Chorus
These 4 aesthetically beautiful machines are all built on the same platform. They are known for their large and easy to use color touch screens and world class fully automatic “never miss” needle threaders. When you start getting the layers of capabilities that top of line machines offer the sewer, intuitive navigation via the large central touch screen becomes important and nobody does it like Brother software engineers. Simple is always better in our opinion and many of our customers agree.
This Bernina 5-series machine offers incredible value in my opinion and is a very popular machine. Relatively large throat space at 8.5 inches, built-in dual feed (walking foot), B9 hook system with jumbo bobbins, and a beautiful screen. It comes with a Bernina Stitch Regulator in the box, which costs $1,000 by itself if you were to purchase it a la carte. It also has embroidery capability if you decide later on down the road that you want to start embroidery. Essentially, the B570 is a miniature B770+, which you will see in the next section.
Bernina’s 7 series are my favorite Bernina platform and the 735 is its newest member. I will call this a machine designed for the purist. Bernina keeps the price down by including fewer accessories and allowing the owner to purchase only what they need “a la carte” Bernina decides to limit the stitch width to its traditional “old school” 5.5mm stitch width. While this diminishes the larger bold look for decorative stitching, it allows the feed dogs and presser feet to remain narrow which makes the machine very nimble and maneuverable. Garment sewers and Quilters who have owned Bernina machines in the past are flocking to this model to get the large throat space, modern conveniences of trimmers, lighting, pivot etc… while maintaining the precision and feel of Bernina machines of the past. This machine does not have Bernina’s dual feed system. One would have to consider the 770QE or smaller 570QE to get this feature. It does however have the ability to accept Bernina’s new SDT embroidery module and Bernina’s Stitch Regulator (BSR) for free motion sewing.
The Janome M7 is a thing of beauty, winning both the IF and Red Dot Design awards in 2020 so we now have a great history with this platform (link to info re: these awards). It is a huge, rock solid flat bed sewing machine. 18” seamless all metal powder coated external flatbed with 13.5 inches to the right of the needle. The M7 is the first home sewing machine to feature a brushless servo motor which up until now was only found on more powerful industrial sewing machines. It is by far the best and most powerful sewing motor in the industry. The needle plate system of which many are included is also the best system available. The pro plate and foot turns this 1300 spm machine into a versatile high speed powerhouse with an industrial feel . The flat bed design allows the engineers ample space to optimally locate each and every component in the lower half of the machine exactly where it needs to be. An additional step motor lowers the feed dogs every single time the presser foot is raised allowing the fabric to be slid out smoothly without snagging. The machine comes loaded with almost every accessory available. The only thing missing from this model is stitch regulation which we expect to be introduced by late 2023 early 2024. I do not believe this will be an add on. It most likely will be on a subsequent model built on the same platform. This machine embodies everything Janome has learned over its 100 years of existence. This machine says “we are an engineering driven company, not a company driven by the finance and marketing dept.
The 770QE Plus is the upgraded version of the earlier 770QE. The Plus upgrade has a much larger and more capable display. The 770QE Plus has everything a serious sewer or quilter should want in their dream machine. Large throat space, fantastic lighting, the best presser feet in the industry, elegant and compact built in dual feed, commercial quality and feel, BSR (bernina stitch regulation) included as standard, large bobbin capacity, and most importantly, legendary Bernina stitch quality. In addition, this model can become a 770QEE Plus with Bernina’s high performance SDT Embroidery module as an option down the road. I haven't been so excited about a Bernina since the late 80s early 90s when the model 1130,1230,1090, series came about. Everything about Bernina is unique and proprietary. You should not get this machine unless you have a relationship with a competent Bernina dealer. Not anyone can work on these machines. Unique parts, tools and training are required to support these machines. My analogy is that you can often take a Toyota or Ford to a good general car mechanic but you wouldn't want to take a Porsche to anyone other than a factory trained Porsche mechanic.
From a build and materials standpoint, it would be hard to argue a better machine on the planet for the serious sewist. Janome used its extensive experience manufacturing assembly robots to produce an ultrafast and accurate embroidery machine . The quality is evident right away. The innovations on the sewing/quilting side are amazing. The largest throat area in the industry, the only brushless servo sewing motor in the industry, and ASR which is Janome’s stitch regulation system for free motion quilting (better than Bernina’s BSR in my opinion).
On the embroidery end is the largest embroidery field (11.3 by 18.2”) in the industry and the highest quality embroidery module I have ever seen. The machine uses wireless technology and phone apps to allow the user to harness the M17’s full capabilities. If Sewing and/or Quilting is your main hobby and embroidery is secondary, I would lean to this choice. If Embroidery is mostly what you are interested in with Sewing and Quilting less so, you might want to consider my next choice.
Brother Luminaire XP3 | Baby Lock Solaris Vision BLSA3
The machine that has won this category in my review for years just keeps getting better. These two brands and models, built on the same platform are Brother’s 3rd version, with each version adding additional capabilities through firmware upgrades. The two very cool technologies that set this machine apart from any other is the high definition built in camera and the projection system. These technologies allow one to place the embroidery design precisely and also view in full color how it is going to look on your garment or quilt prior to sewing a single stitch. No machine delivers more unique useful technology in a simple intuitive manner than Brother/Baby Lock. For the embroidery especially, this is the most intuitive, easy to use machine there is. Quality components and technology that the owner will use every day make this the co-winner of best combo machine in the world.
This is a pretty easy category for me to recommend because the Baby Lock machines coming out of the Suzuki factory in Yamagata, Japan are, in my mind, are clearly the best sergers in the world. You can see these machines being made by hand here:
These sergers are not cheap and you won’t be able to get a new one under $1000 but if you decide to go for it, you won’t be sorry. If your budget is under $1000, I highly recommend Juki. Their background in high speed industrial overlockers give them the edge over other manufacturers in entry level and mid-priced sergers.
The Baby Lock machines I really like have both Automatic Threading and even more importantly ATD (Automatic Thread Delivery). Don’t get these two confused. These two important technologies address the two biggest hurdles with sergers. The complexity of threading and adjusting tensions on up to 5 different spools of thread. Baby Lock addresses both of these problems with utter perfection. With a lever or dial the upper and lower loopers and with some models the needles are threaded automatically with one of 2 air systems. ATD is a beautiful mechanical system (no electronics!) that measures the amount of thread needed to make a perfect stitch. Tension dials are eliminated and any brand or type of thread can be used without adjustments.
Here is a list of Baby Lock sergers that I sell with some important details:
Baby Lock Celebrate - $1,199 (jet air threading for loopers, conventional tensions)
Baby Lock Victory - $1,999 (jet air threading for loopers with ATD)
Baby Lock Acclaim (extrordinaire threading for both loopers and needles with ATD)
Baby Lock Accolade - $3,999 (combo serger/coverhem w/extrordinaire threading for loopers w/ATD)
Baby Lock Triumph (combo serger/coverhem w/ extraordinaire threading for both loopers and needles with ATD)
Baby Lock Euphoria - $1999 (Coverhem only w/extrordinair and ATD)
If you want an excellent serger in the entry level and midline category, JUKI makes the best sergers and coverhem machines. They also make a very good serger over $1000 with air threading and now a new model with air threading and thread delivery. We carry several different models so call or email to inquire or get advice.
You can’t go wrong with Juki. I carry their TL series which is their semi industrial portable drop feed, straight stitch only machines. They have a large throat for quilting but they are equally good for garment sewing and heavier work such as canvas tote bags, slip covers, and light weight leather and vinyl. Models I like to stock are the Juki TL-2010Q and the Juki TL-18QVP. I also really love the new Janome HD9
Currently I am selling The Juki Miyabe J-350QVP in both the sit-down and frame version. This 18 inch longarm, made in Japan, is a great value. Featuring dual laser stitch regulation in both the sit down and frame version. Some of the external electronics are from Grace (handlebars, display, control box) which are not quite the quality that the rest of the machine is but on balance I see no other machine that competes with this model on total value ( = quality plus price).
Bernina Q20 Sit Down
One of the few Bernina's made in its Swiss Factory, this is one beautiful machine. It's significantly more expensive than the Juki but it does take long arm engineering to another level. This is my favorite longarm in the world.
Industrial Sewing Machines