Brother PQ1500SL – a review of sorts

I realised that I have actually bought three sewing machines whilst I’ve been over in Canada, and not reviewed any of them. I find the review posts have been some of my most popular, so I guess I’d better do something about that.

My first purchase was a Brother Innovis NQ700. This is known as something else in the UK (don’t ask me what), and in the US I believe it is branded as Project Catwalk. I sold it after discovering I was too fast for my machine. I was making rapid points in FMQ on my animal quilts and I wasn’t happy with the stitch quality in the points. It was a nice machine otherwise, but I needed more speed and more power. Lea at My Sewing Room recommended I try the PQ1500 for the insane speed I sew at.

Here it is:

dscf1406As you can see it is very simple. It’s a mechanical, non-computerised machine. There’s only straight stitch, so the shank is super strong because it doesn’t have to move anywhere for zigzagging and the like. Bu since I mostly piece 1/4″ seams and free motion quilt, I use this machine 95% of the time. For the other 5% of the time where I need to do a blind hem or satin stitch applique for instance, I use this cheapo machine from Walmart. It’s also a Brother (since that’s my brand now) and it’s called the CE8080. It’s very lightweight for classes but if it breaks, it’s a goner. The stitches are pretty tidy. I keep it on the floor most of the time and when I need it, I unplug the power and foot control leads and plug them into this one, so I only have one set of wires on the go.

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Back to the main review. This machine is HEAVY. It’s all metal and it has suction cup feet so it likes to attach itself firmly to a table. I don’t mind this because it’s not a machine designed for workshops and I only have to move it to the floor to swap it out for the Walmart machine. Because it is mechanical, I don’t really have to worry about it breaking down. I do have to remember to oil it a couple of times a month (a simple task). You have to be committed to cleaning it out on a Brother machine because it takes more effort than say a Husqvarna. There are screws to remove on the stitch plate to get in there and brush it all down around the bobbin area.

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As for features, it still has the ones I liked in my NQ700. It has a knee lift (mechanical, not electric so it feels a bit…. manual), needle down feature (again, this is mechanical so what it means is needle stays down when you stop, not the needle goes down when you push it) and thread cutter. The bobbin is side mounted and there is an extension table which is good quality, with little fold out feet. There’s a trap door in the extension table to access the bobbin. You do have to open three doors though…

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There’s also a needle threader. It’s a bit more primitive than some of the swanky ones our there, however I really like it. My reason being is that it works however high you needle position is. It comes down to meet your needle and as someone who has broken needle threaders before, this is excellent and makes it live much longer. It doesn’t need to be flashy to be perfect. Also, you don’t need three hands to operate it as it stays in place!

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There are four feed dog positions. Most of the time though I use the feed dogs all the way down or all the way up. The other positions are pin feed – for sewing velvet and stuff, there’s a short needle like thing that comes out to spear it through – and half dogs, which would be used on fine fabrics that don’t need all of the force of full feed dogs. You can change this with an easy dial at the front of the machine, not a switch around the back.

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There’s also the option to change the presser foot pressure. The colour coding refers to the position of the feed dogs.To be fair, I’ve not really had to move away from N = Normal for my uses.

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If you are used to machines like the Sweet Sixteen, you totally can thread this machine right away, but for the first time it looks scary. I can do this in just a few seconds now. I’ve found that most threads like going through all three holes (in the bit that looks like a piece of Meccano), but I skipped the middle one for cheap and crappy metallic thread, and it was more than happy. The tension is a bit tricky to get the hang of to start with, and I’m still not sure whether the correct number is the one the dial shows when the presser foot is up or when it is down. Once I find a good stitch though I just don’t touch it! Some different brands of thread I have to turn it up or down a quarter turn depending on how the stitches feel on the back, but generally it stitches lovely.

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It is fast and furious! It stitches 1500 per minute – hence the name – but I don’t recommend going top speed if your machine sits on a cheap Ikea desk on a third floor of a newbuild house (second floor for those in the UK that call the first floor the ground floor) – like I do. It vibrates and I assume annoys the neighbours. They just put their house up for sale, I hope it wasn’t me! I still can go faster than my old machine without much trouble, but I do occasionally lose control of my foot and go a bit crazy. I’ve put the foam pads for washing machines to stand on under the suction cup feet. That way I can move it off my table easier, but it also helps a little with the vibration. The plan is to sew in the basement on a quality table when we buy a house in the future.

The machine comes with lots of feet, which is good because it doesn’t take “normal” feet. These are high shank, speciality Brother feet. It comes with a walking foot, 1/4″ foot, free motion foot, two standard ones of different widths (not sure why), adjustable zipper foot and invisible zipper foot and…. something else I don’t use. It takes special bobbins (metal of course) too, but five are provided with the machine. It can also take both normal needles with the flat edge and the round Organ ones. Those ones last a bit longer in the machine but old habits die hard!

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My husband was surprised – and a little concerned –  I brought home such a “basic” machine (that cost $1300), but it does me just fine most of the time and I have had to swear at it minimally, which is the most important. I’ve had some real machine frustrations in the past. The only thing I found so far is sometimes when I cut the thread and the spool is running low, it will suck the thread back up out of the needle and a guide or two. I found a fix for this is to not use the really stubby spool stand on the top of the machine, but to buy and use a cone stand for all sizes of thread. I go through the antenna style guide on the top of the machine as normal and I’ve not had this problem since! Also I had a tendency to over oil it and get marks on my fabric to start with, but that was user error.

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So if you’re thinking about getting a more powerful, faster machine and you’re contemplating a mechanical one, but not wanting to go industrial, give this one a try at your local sewing shop. It’s the same as the Babylock machine but at a lower price point. What’s not to like?

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