One of the things I love about making bags is that they are so newbie friendly. The idea of sewing a bag is far less scary than the idea of sewing a shirt or even a simple dress. This must be why I get lots of emails from newbie sewists saying "I've never sewn a stitch before, but I really do want to make a bag (which is wonderful to hear!) can you recommend a user friendly machine for me?" I must get around 60 emails like this a month. I usually recommend the make of sewing machine that I began sewing with (if you like you can email me to find out what it was), but after testing this machine I would happily recommend this one instead.
Before I start, I just wanted you to know I'm NOT being paid by Toyota or anyone else to review this machine . I don't do paid reviews - it's not what I'm about :)
In the box: Sewing machine, dust cover, battery, pedal, and a one of the best sewing machine manuals I've ever seen (more about that later). Overall the build feels fine (not flimsy) and it's light too. There are also bobbins, a stitch ripper (best friend), zipper & button hole foot, and needles.
Close-up: all the important stuff is close at hand and there is a roomy sewing base. At first I wasn't sure how the machine was 'ergonomically designed' but it became apparent how when I started to use the machine. The way that the arm is set back from the stitching area makes viewing your sewing much easier so you don't have to slouch or lean forward (I'm always slouch at my machine).
Machine Info Guide: Lift the flap on the top right and you are presented with handy flip guides on how to get going, trouble shooting, and sewing info. These 3 steps to sew are helpful if you are new to sewing - I tested this on Al and he managed to thread the top thread, the bobbin, and pull the bobbin thread up (by himself) without swearing once!
Bobbin winder: Al threaded this bobbin. One thing I really like about this machine is that you can wind bobbins without having to unthread the top thread, because the motor for the bobbin and the sewing machine are separate from each other. There is a separate battery for the bobbin winder (which is soooo fast!).
Manual shots: I was SO impressed by the machine's manual, there has obviously been a lot of thought put into writing it. I mean a good manual can result in you becoming a confident sewist extraodinaire, a crap manual on the other hand could have you turning to drink! This manual is written in good English, clear and simple terms, and there are plenty of clear diagrams - heavenly!
"Yes all very good, but can it handle (bag making standard) layers?" I hear you ask. The answer is definitely a yes! In this pic I have sandwiched 2 layers of Timtex-like interlining (and you know what a cow that can be to work with) in between 2 layers of thick home dec. fabric and the sewing machine sailed though it all like melted butter - and this machine is faster than my beloved Janome :(
Stitches sample: The stitches all work great and I even did my first machine button hole (yep it really was my 1st, have you ever seen button closures on any of my bags? Nope?) so I'm very happy about that. You get this button hole machine foot guide and the instructions are (again) clear as day.
Ultimate Newbie test: Al (who wasn't too keen on being photographed whilst sewing...) is a genuine sewing newbie so I made him: thread up a bobbin, the top thread, and pull up the bobbin thread and sew his choice of stitch by himself. Didn't he do well?
My verdict of the Toyota SPA15: I was pleasantly surprised. I tried to approach the machine as a newbie might and I found the machine to be very user friendly, predictable (which is important when you're a newbie), and simple to use. The layout is good and the manual is fabulous. Another thing that I like is that it sews like the wind and it sails through bulky layers! The machine is also reasonably priced - you can't go wrong! A newbie could purchase this machine and very successfully make all manner of bags and what not on this machine.