What is a Sewing Machine Service at Beccles Sewing Machines?

A question which we are often asked, in the shop, is “what do you do when you service a machine?” of something similar and sometimes, “How long does it take?” too. This is a very interesting question and not exactly a simple one to answer as the exact procedure varies from one machine to another. The short answer is probably, “Whatever is necessary.”.


Anyway, to elaborate on this, in case anyone is actually interested, I have thought about it and I shall try to give an account of all the things which may be part of a service that I would do on a machine which finds its way onto my work bench.


First of all I would need to find out if there is any specific fault with the machine, hopefully the customer has given some clue (e.g. It’s skipping stitches, it’s making a peculiar noise etc.) which has been written on the docket although it isn’t essential. I will still go on to thread up the machine and try stitching with it. This will tell me quite a lot about its working condition and any special attention it might need, even if it is actually worth proceeding with the job, or if there will be any extra cost or parts needed. If this is the case we would contact the customer before to get approval to go ahead.


It is now time to begin dismantling the machines casing and/or covers to gain access to the working parts of the mechanism and to examine them to ascertain whether any of them are worn or damaged and therefore need replacement. When this has been done it will be time to proceed with the actual servicing of the machine.


Obviously different engineers will have their own method but I, personally start dismantling the hook (Shuttle) and bobbin area. The shuttle/rotary hook will be thoroughly cleaned and examined for any defects. This will be polished and restored to remove any marks, notches etc. If its condition is too poor to be restored when it would have to be replaced.

Next I turn to the feed mechanism. Once again this is thoroughly cleaned and examined, before being lubricated and adjusted as needed. Anything which is either broken or worn out would, of course, need to be replaced.


I then move on to the lower shafts and other assemblies in the lower part of the machine. This is an area where a great of debris tends to accumulate, including fluff and fibres from fabrics and threads, old oil and grease and even broken needles, pins and glitter from metallic fabrics. I even find the odd insect or spider, or even mice. Usually dead!  All this needs to be removed. An important part of servicing any machine consists of cleaning out old lubrication and dirt, before re-lubricating WITH THE CORRECT LUBRICANTS.

Next comes the top shaft assembly. This will be examined for faults and cleaned, adjusted as necessary, adjusted and then correctly lubricated. The ‘cam-stack’ assembly and attached mechanisms are included in this section. This section of the machine can be quite complicated, especially in certain models, and access to parts of it may be difficult. Therefore quite a bit of time may be taken in servicing it. Following on from this would come the ‘stop-motion assembly, the motor and belt(s) and the bobbin winder. These would, of course, be cleaned, adjusted and lubricated, and any worn out parts replaced as needed.


Next on the list comes the tension unit, which will be dismantled as necessary so that it can be examined for faults and wear. Sewing threads are amazingly abrasive and can wear grooves in tension parts, particularly if they run continuously in one position. This is less likely to occur in the better quality machines but is possible in any model. Any damaged parts can usually be restored, if the damage has not got too bad, but if it has been left too long replacement would be needed. The assembly will be reassembled and adjusted but this is a part of the machine which is not normally lubricated in any way. The thread and any oil/grease should never be brought together. However in some cases there are certain parts of the unit which must be lubricated whilst others must never be. The engineer will know!
The last main part of the machine which requires attention is the needle and cloth presser mechanisms. This includes the needle bar and its driver and sing assemblies, and the presser bar etc. (on machines with dual feed – e.g. Pfaff IDT,  Janome Accufeed etc. – this will be included in this area). This part of the machine can be really messy. I have sometimes found about half a reel of thread wrapped around this mechanism and there can also be a lot of fluff and dirt. All of this needs to be removed, which can involve quite a bit of dismantling. Attention to lubrication of this area is of considerable importance. It is essential that there is sufficient, as this area is subject to considerable wear, however if too much is applied it can easily get on the work. If the machine’s timings are out of adjustment this is when I would set them.


Now it is time to reassemble the casing of the machine,make sure the plug is properly wired, make sure the correct rated fuse is fitted and carry out the Electrical Safety Test (usually called the PAT test).


I would then wind a bobbin, fit a new needle and thread it (with good quality thread, of course) and test the machine with a range of its stitches. Any final minor adjustments will be made, if necessary to ensure correct stitching, the machine wiped over and the docket made out.


I should point out that this is a general description of what a service entails. The order which in these procedures are  carried out can be slightly different from one machine to another owing to differences in construction.


It is probably obvious from this description that all this takes quite a while, about three hours or so, but it is worth it as the machine will work better for it and, if it is serviced regularly, it will also last longer.

Always Have the Right Needle for the Job.

A Guide to Types & Sizes

In our shop we get lots of people who have no idea which type or size of machine needle to use for the particular job the are doing. I have therefore produced a needle guide leaflet to give to customers. This has been so well received and popular, lots of people have commented how useful they have found it, that I have decided to write a blog on the same subject: and here it is!

The needle is one of the most important parts of you sewing machine and perhaps the most often overlooked or taken for granted.

Hopefully this guide will hope to clarify which are best for the job in hand.

Modern home sewing machines require a needle with a flat side to the shank, a ‘scarf’, the cut away ea behind the eye and a groove down the front. This is designated with the system number 130/705, although they are sometimes also marked 15×1. This is the older designation (although still used in Japan) and relates to the fact that it was introduced, by the Singer Company, in 1879, for their ‘Family Central Bobbin’ (CB) machine, also known as the model 15. The modern Singer code is 2020.

There are two principal brands of premium machine needles available today, Schmetz and Organ. Schmetz, in my opinion, just have the edge as regards quality, but they are a little more expensive. The also produce a larger range of speciality types.

There are a very few models of far eastern machine that won’t take Schmetz needles and very few European made machines which won’t take Organ, but generally both makes will fit all makes and models. Schmetz produce a wider range of types.

A quality needle, like Schmetz or Organ will last for 6 to 8 hours of sewing, depending on fabric. After that the stitch quality will suffer and it may even damage the fabric. A cheap needle will not last as long.

                              A Selection of Schmetz Needles



Needle type should be selected according to fabric type and needle size according to thread and fabric thickness.

Universal Needles. 130/705 H
These are general purpose needles with a slightly rounded point, used to sew the majority of woven fabrics and some knits.
They are available in sizes 60(8), 70(9 or 10), 80(11 or 12), 90(14), 100(16), 110(18). They are also available in assorted packs.

Jersey/Ball Point Needles 130/705 SUR
Used especially for sewing almost all Knit fabrics and may be used on some fabrics with stretch. These needles have a medium ball point which doesn’t damage or break knitted fibres. These are available in sizes 70(9 or 10), 80(11 or 12), 90(14), 100(16) and Assorted.

Stretch or Super Stretch 130/705 HS (HAX1SP)
For sewing Elastic fabrics, including those containing Lycra or Elastane, these needles have a medium ball point with a specially shaped eye and scarf. These are designed to help prevent skipped stitches on these difficult to sew fabrics, including very stretchy knits.
They come in size 75(11) and 90(14). This is the needle which should be used in the majority of modern overlockers.

Jeans needles, as the name suggests, are particularly intended for stitching denim, a very thick and densely woven material, and consequently very difficult for the needle to pierce. They are also used to stitch other extra thick and/or dense fabrics. The sharp, semi-ball, point and reinforced blade reduce needle deflection and breakage, and skipped stitches. The smaller sizes are also ideal for quilting. Available in 70(10), 80(12), 90(14),100(16), 110(18).
The shank is colour coded blue.
NB. Do not automatically choose the thickest needle for jeans, it is harder for the machine to push it through the fabric, due to the dense weave, and this will put more strain on the motor.

This type of needle is used for stitching microfibers, silk, coated materials and artificial leather. It has a very slim acute
For perfectly straight stitches when topstitching or quilt piecing. Comes in Sizes 60(80, 70(10), 80(12), 90(14) 100(16) and 110(18).

Needles with an extra long eye, in order for heavy weight multiple or poor quality threads to run through easily when top stitching. Best results are achieved when using the straight stitch needle plate if your machine has one. Sizes 80(12), 90(14) and 100(16).

Produced especially for machine quilting and piecing, the slightly rounded point has a specially shaped taper. This facilitates easier needle penetration of the work and helps stop skipped stitches. In sizes 75(11) and 90(14).

Leather point needles are made for sewing non-woven materials, principally leather, as the name implies. The cutting tip allows the needle to pass more easily through the work and stops the skipping of stitches which often occurs if a pointed needle is used in this situation. Used for Leather, faux leather (not fabric backed) and heavy non-woven synthetics. NEVER USE ON ANY WOVENS OR KNITS, it will cut the threads and ruin the fabric. Sizes 70(10), 80(12), 90(14), 100(16), 110(18).

Whether using an embroidery machine, doing free-hand embroidery or fancy stitching, with rayon or other embroidery thread, these are the needles to use. They are made with a light ball point, a wide eye and groove to protect fragile threads from damage. Available in size 75(11) and 90(14).

Similar to standard embroidery needles but with a special scarf and eye for high speed embroidery machines. I sizes 75(11), 90(14).

Needles designed to sew with metallic and other speciality threads. The elongated eye allows delicate threads to pass trough more easily, helping to prevent shredding or breaking.
Available in sizes 80(12) and 90(14).

These are a special kind of  Universal needle with a slip-in threading slot in the eye, for those who find threading needles difficult. Used as ordinary Universal needles and in sizes 80(12) and 90(14).

              A Selection of Organ An Janome Branded Needles


These have a wing on each side, so that they leave holes in medium weight loosely woven fabrics. This gives the appearance of Turkish hemstitch, or cutwork, inheirloom sewing. Size 100(16) and 110(18).

Designed in cover stitching machines and overlockers which also do cover stitch. They are not suitable for use in sewing or embroidery machines. Size 80(12) and 90(14).

A very useful pack of 10 needles, especially if you are starting out or have run low., as it contains all the most popular types & sizes. This pack contains; one Jeans size 90, one Jeans size 100, one Universal size 70, two Universal size 80, two Universal size 90, two Stretch size 75 & one Stretch size 90.

These Janome exclusive needles are, confusingly, marked with a blue shank, although they are not for denim. They are of a unique design with a pierce point and a longer than normal scarf. They are recommended for problem fabrics, especially synthetics, where they will help to prevent skipped stitches and puckering. Only available in size 75(11).

Similar in design to the blue tip but with a larger eye to handle heavier and metallic threads which split easily. Size 90(14) only.

These needles consist of 2 or 3 needle blades mounted on a single shank to produce 2 or 3 rows of stitching. The are made in Universal, Stretch, Embroidery, Metallic and Hemstitch. They are available in various thicknesses and widths.

                            Twin Triple and Wing Needles


Some people can find the sizing of machine needles a bit confusing, not least because there are two size numbers on each pack. The reason for this is, quite simply, that two sizing systems are commonly in use, Metric and American.

The larger of the two numbers, usually the first, is the metric or European size. This represents the actual width of the needle blade in 100ths of a; so therefore a size 70 is 0.7 mm, a 90 is 0.9 mm and a 100 is 1 mm and so on.

The smaller number is the American size. This is a purely arbitrary system of sizing numbers, which explains why the conversions vary between different makers. For example Organ size 80 are converted as 11, whereas Schmetz  convert as 12.

In both size systems however the larger the number the thicker the needle.


Old style Jones sewing machines, mostly hand cranked or treadle, but some electric, take a needle with a round, instead of a flat, shank. Although many old machines took lots of different needles, the Jones ones are so common, and were made for such a long time, they are the only ones still readily available. These needles are system DBx1.

Changing the needle is the easiest way to improve stitch quality!

Needle anatomy

SHANK. Modern household needles have a flat sided shank.

SHAFT or BLADE The diameter  of this determines the needle size.

GROOVE This is on the front of the needle. It guides the thread and grips it, allowing the thread to form a loop for the machine hook or shuttle to pick up.

SCARF The indentation on the back of the needle above the eye which allows the to pass more closely behind the needle to smoothly pick up the thread.

EYE The hole through which the thread is passed. Eye shape and size varies with the type of needle.

POINT or TIP Length, size and shape of this varies according to needle type

Shakespeare, New Brothers and Industrial Machines

At Last! I can get to writing a new post. I wonder, sometimes, if it may be a mistake to go away on holiday. We went away for a few days in September and it has taken me this long to get on top of things again. Mind you, this feeling soon passes.





We actually went away twice, First of all, on the 4th of September we went to Stratford-upon-Avon to see the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of The Two Gentlemen of Verona. This was the night when the play was broadcast, live by satellite, to other theatres and cinemas, which added an interesting extra dimension to the show.


We stayed over and had a great day out at Warwick Castle the next day, a great day out, although, with all the extras that can add on, it can be a mite expensive. One thing that we discovered there, while we ate our lunch, was that peacocks love crisps, especially Velvet Crunch. When the one we saw heard the sound of a crisp packet, it came over like greased lightning to get them.

Warwick castlePEACKOCK


After Warwick, it was back to the shop for two days and then off for a very relaxing week in Hunstanton. Mind you, the business did intrude on the Wednesday, when we popped off to Stratford again to attend Brother’s dealer day, when they unveiled the latest additions to their amazing range, before getting back enjoying our holiday.

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It was well worth going to the Brother ‘do’ as the new machines they unveiled were amazing, especially the new top of the range model XV. A screen about the size of the one on an Ipad immediately stood out and, among many other features, it can even scan an image and digitize it in the machine. A feature that so many people have asked about for years.


The other range they have brought out nicely fills in a gap in the range, mid way between the NV550/NV1250 models and the V series.

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A customer the other day asked for ‘industrial machine needles’ unfortunately she didn’t know which class. As I explained to the lady, it is not quite as simple with industrial needles as it is with the domestic variety. Whilst there is basically one class of needle (15 x 1), available in lots of varieties of point etc. for different uses, there are hundreds of classes of industrial needles, which are very specific to particular models and sub models of machine. This reflects the fact that the essential characteristic of industrial machines is that they are very specialized, whereas domestic machines are quite versatile.

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Examples of some of the more specialized machines are: the bar tacking machine, The jeans pocket sewing machine, the button sewing machine, the buttonhole sewing machine, the jeans side seam sewing machine, the pleating machine and the lorry curtain side tape sewing machine. A customer was telling me, yesterday, that when she worked in the costume department at the Theatre Royal, Norwich, some years ago, they had a machine which sewed sequins onto fabric. It could do nothing else, but it did that job beautifully.

Industrial machines are not, as is commonly supposed, necessarily heavy duty machines, a model may be specifically designed to sew chiffon scarves. They are fast, specialized and capable of working for long hours, perhaps 24 hours a day.

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Well, we have just had an order of Juki machines delivered, including some of the brilliant little HZL-12Z, which is great for taking to classes and clubs as it is so compact and light. I’d better go and unpack them and put them in the store.

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Have you ever tried to sew materials with a ‘sticky, or ‘grippy’ surface, such as vinyl, leather, suede or some fabrics with special coatings. This morning Kirsty, one of our former staff, came into the shop who was experiencing this very problem, she was trying to sew oilcloth, and I thought I would write a short piece, in the hope that it might be of help to somebody else.


This is where you might find a Teflon foot, also Known as a non-stick foot or an easy-glide foot, could prove to be very useful.


When sewing these difficult materials the machine may have problems feeding the work as it tends to grip the standard foot, resulting in very small stitches, or even not feeding at all, and difficulty keeping seams straight. Sometimes the top layer is held back and the bottom layer keeps moving.


Because of it’s non-stick surface, this foot does not grip the material and, consequently, your task is made much easier, much better for the blood pressure!


You simply need to attach this foot in place of your general purpose foot and sew as normal.


This is what I suggested to my customer and she rang us later on to say she had finished the job and it had had no further trouble.




A Busy Week at BS&H

Once again it has been a busy week here at BS&H, with a steady stream of machines coming in for repair, and fabric and haby departments bustling.


It is always nice to see visitors in the shop and we have such interesting and enjoyable conversations with so many of them, It is also great to see someone who we haven’t seen for some time and to catch up. This happened on Saturday when a Dale, a former regular customer before they moved to Norwich, and her husband Tony, came in with her sewing machine for repair.


We spent at least half an hour catching up and had several laughs, before even thinking about the business of booking the machine in. One thing which particularly amused us was when Tony, who was, until recently, been an independent observer in prisons. He was asked to hear a complaint from a convicted prisoner and, when he asked what was the problem, he was told, “They’re treating me like a criminal!”.


I have just had a Brother Super Galaxie 3100d Disney embroidery machine on the bench, which we took in on a trade in a few weeks ago. I really enjoyed working on it, especially the test sewing, as I stitched out one of the large Mickey Mouse designs. They’re such nice designs and it is a shame that the Disney machines are no longer available, you can do some wonderful embroidered things for children.



Something funny happened last week, when Ian and I were putting up bunting on the shop fascia, ready for the carnival. When we got to the right hand side of the shop I noticed that, on the list of ‘things that we sell’, there at the bottom of the list was the word CRAFS (instead of CRAFTS). This caused quite a bit of amusement among the staff and customers but it set me thinking. That wording has been up on the shop front for about ten years and, in all that time, nobody, family, friends, customers staff nor even passers by, has noticed the error. It makes me wonder whether anyone actually reads the fascia. When it is repainted, I think we will just go for the business name and forget the rest.



                        THE MISTAKE ON OUR FACSIA

A Lady came in the shop yesterday, asking if we had an instruction manual for her New Home machine. It has always amazed me how people lose the instructions when, very often, they are not able to operate the machine without it. I wonder why they don’t keep them together (incidentally, the same seems to be true for foot controls).


Fortunately we have quite a collection of manuals, for machines of all ages, both paper versions and on the computer, and as luck would have it, I had the exact one on the computer. While the lady went to do some shopping, I printed and comb bound a copy and had it ready when she returned.


I’d like to finish with a cautionary tale. One of our regular customers had booked her Juki Exceed sewing machine in for it’s regular service and was due to bring it in last Monday. When she dropped it off she mentioned that whilst using it, the previous evening, it had gone dead.


When I started to work on the machine, I discovered that the power PCB (printed circuit board) was blown and had to be replaced. The Sunday night, along with the previous week, had been stormy, and I think that there may have been a power surge, which could have caused the problem. This is why I would always recommend plugging electronic machines into a surge protector, like you would a computer, to protect the machine. Unfortunately this lady had forgotten to do this. An expensive mistake!



I am often surprised by the variety of machines we get into the shop for repair and servicing. For instance, in the last couple of weeks they have been of all ages, from 70 to 80 year old black and gold machines, through to computerized machines only a couple of years old. Then, on one day last week, after not seeing one for a few weeks, three overlockers came in on one day and then two days later another two.


In the last week and a half I have worked on three Singer 700G series, ‘Touch & Sew’ machines, from the 1970s, two of which had the same fault, the hook drive gear had gone. These were at the top of the Singer Range in their time, and are very well made machines. They can be infuriating if not adjusted properly, or when they become worn – this has given the nicknames ‘Touch & Throw’ and ‘Touch & Swear’ amongst others – but they are often much loved by their owners, not least because of the way they wind the bobbin. This is done in the bobbin case, without removing the bobbin from the machine, as opposed to on an external winder.


Fitting a new hook gear to these models can be a tricky job, as the gear is ‘friction fitted’ onto the shaft, and has to be driven off of the shaft. The new one is then driven on, drilled and a pin inserted to make it secure. On the first of these machines that I did, the old gear was very tight, on the shaft, and took ages to remove and just as long to fit the new one. This is where some amateurs often go wrong, when trying to do this job for themselves, as they tend to hit it harder to shift it. This can often result in breaking the hook, which is quite fragile, and I have had a few broken hooks brought into me, over the years, the cost of replacement adds considerably to the cost of the job.



On the second one it only took about half a minute to remove the old gear, as it wasn’t nearly as tight on the shaft. Mind you, it wasn’t any quicker to fit the new one. It is, however, quite satisfying when the job is finished and the machine is tested, and sews beautifully.



We recently took in a nice hand cranked Singer 201K machine, made in 1953, in part exchange against a new machine. This is a wonderful model of straight stitch machine, possibly the best Singer ever made, which was made from the 1930s to the 1960s. They were made when Singer still made to a standard, instead of to a price. I have read that, because of the standard of manufacture, towards the end of their production, Singer made a loss of $10.00 for every one that they made. That was when they began making to a price instead.



I really enjoyed working on this machine, because it is so well engineered. It was originally made as electric, as evidenced by the smaller solid flywheel, hand and treadle ones would have the larger, spoked wheel. At some time somebody has converted it, by cutting a notch in the wheel for the hand attachment to engage in (see picture). This is quite unusual, you often see hand machines that have been converted to electric. It is much less common to see electric ones converted the other way. Once it was overhauled it, it makes a perfect straight stitch in all weights of fabric from light to heavy, it takes most low shank attachments and is a great machine for quilting. You can tell I like these, can’t you? I’ll just add one of Helen Howe’s facsimile instruction manuals before I put it in the window.



Helen Howes came in while I had this machine on the bench and voiced her approval of the model, being quite an expert on older machines (and quilting). She has an amazing range of parts and accessories for older machines on her website

www.helenhowes-sewingmachines.co.uk and is also very knowledgeable on what is what. If I haven’t got something, I always refer customers to her.




Helen is hosting a Treadle On TOGA at her workshop (at the Raveningham Centre, near Beccles) on August bank holiday weekend, which should be very interesting, especially to anyone with an interest in old sewing machinesTreadle (www.treadlon.net).


We have just had an order of quilt fabrics in, so I had to have a look at what there was. Most of them were plains, nice colours though, but there are a couple of nice cat ones. The one that caught my eye was a Disney Monsters University design and I asked Sue if she would make me a shirt from it: she didn’t seem very keen.



Today I had a Babylock evolve overlocker, on the bench, which was well overdue for a service. Unfortunately the small shaft which retains the needle bar had become detached due to a screw working loose. This caused the needle bar to crash down and smash the upper looper, an expensive repair. In nearly 20 years, this is the first time I have replaced a looper on a Babylock Jet Air machine, even Baylock were surprised when I ordered a replacement, they couldn’t remember the last time they supplied one.


If I had serviced this machine sooner the fault wouldn’t have occurred, because I always check that that screw, which is only accessible with the covers removed, is tight, as I am sure other repairers do.


We love it when customers bring in projects they have made from materials and/or patterns they have bought from us, this week we have seen two very different bags made by two of our regulars.


The first was decorated with a cross of crocheted poppies and had a matching purse attached by a chain inside. The second, today, was made, using a free pattern and bag handles in ’Love Sewing’ magazine, with a brilliant word map fabric, which has been extremely popular. Both ladies allowed me to photograph their creations and here they are.




Welcome to Beccles Sewing & Handicrafts

Hello, please let me introduce myself. I’m Steve Taylor and with my wife Sue I run Beccles Sewing & Handicrafts. The business was set up by my late father, Joe and my mother Molly, in Lowestoft in 1967. I became pa partner when we moved to Beccles, in 1978, when I was a mere lad of 19. Sue became part of the firm when we married in 1989 and she and I took over running the business about 12 years ago.

                                                               OUR SHOP

Our shop is located in the lovely and thriving market town of Beccles (from which we take our business name) which is situated on the Suffolk side of the river Waveney , the boundary with Norfolk, about 10 miles from Lowestoft, and at the southern edge of the Norfolk Broads. Beccles is often known as “The gatewayto the Broads”

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                                 BECCLES FROM THE WAVENEY

I have wanted to start a blog for some time, to tell people about the interesting and amusing things that occur in and around the shop and to keep our friends and customers up to date with what’s going on.

Sue and I are aided and abetted in our endeavors at BS&H by a small and highly select? team of helpers. There is Tracy, a skilled sewer, who is largely based in the fabric department three days a week. Emily, another skilled sewer who also mostly does fabrics, on the days that Tracy isn’t here. Claire (our daughter) who is our haberdashery person and Ian (our son-in-law) who is my assistant in sewing machines, and does a lot of the stuff on the computer, including the web site.

Sue runs the fabric and haby parts of the business whilst i am the sewing machine engineer and deal with that department. We are kept nice and busy with a steady stream of sewing machines, coming into the shop, which need servicing and repairing.

. I don’t mind at all, as I really enjoy my work and I get such a varied range of machines in that I can never get bored. For instance, this week I have done, amongst others, a Singer 28K long shuttle hand cranked machine, a Brother Innovis 700E embroidery machine, a Babylock Evolve 8 thread overlocker and a beautifully engineered little Elna Lotus, how’s that for variety!


Well, I am going back to the workbench now, to start on the next machine, a rather nice Frister + Rossmann 503 from the 1980s. These were really well made machines and, as long as they are looked after, and this one has been, they last for years. It will be a pleaasure to work on.


                        FRISTER & ROSSMANN 503