Prototype for a beginner's sewing machine

I've taken sewing lessons a few times, but I quickly forget how to use the machine - threading it, winding a bobbin, setting the tension, etc. Sarah Dickins has designed a new sewing machine for beginners. It's nice looking and her mechanism demo is cool. Good luck to her!

Sarah Dickins, a designer from Loughborough university, tackles beginner frustations with sewing machines. 'Alto,' her innovative touch-controlled sewing machine, simplifes speed control by eliminating the pedal and also guides the user through threading.

(Via Adafruit)


  1. This is really cool!  I’d like to learn to sew but the investment you need to make in hardware has always been a little off-putting for me…  Maybe I should see if my mom still has her sewing machine.

    1. Hardware? There are plenty of decent starter machines under $100 and used options at local sewing repair shops. Craigslist and thrift stores are also great options. And if you don’t mind asking I’m sure someones Mother, Aunt or Grandma has one you can borrow just catching dust in the garage.

  2. That is super cool!  I love how much space it has.  Not having a pedal would take some getting use to, though!

  3. It’s really attractive. I seem to be ok with loading the thread and whatnot. It’s just that when I sew things they tend to look like crud :( Not sure what I do, but I do it wrong. I’ve managed a few projects. But clothes seem beyond me other than the occasional taking in or up of a hem or straight seam.

    1. I never had to much trouble winding bobbins or threading the machine. I wonder if her design addresses any of the issues I have with thread tension and uneven stitches (possibly a byproduct of a sub-par machine).

  4. I think this is a beautiful, well-thought out machine.  Frankly, though I worry about marketing it to “beginners”.  Beginners who want to actually get into the hobby and not just hem a costume that one time, are frequently frustrated by the limitations of cheap, machines that may not allow the control or features that allow the machine to grow with them.  While this machine looks like it will be sturdy, I do not see how they might reverse using this machine or how to adjust tension for different fabrics, or even a simple zig-zag stitch. I’m not saying a beginner needs a $1000 electric sewing machine.  They just have varying levels of needs and they should have those tools available to them.  This machine would be great for the zen crafter or someone who already has a collection of machines, looking to have a machine for super simple straight stitches.

    I wish that sewing stores had a bank of machines where you could bring your own materials (thread, bobbin, possibly needles) and rent by the hour.  I am comfortable with a machine, and I’ve been lucky to have been given two over the years by my mom (she’s one of those crazy people with like three modern electric machines, an antique machines and a serger/overlock, not to mention all the accoutrements), but I frankly don’t know if I would want to invest in another, heavy-duty machine for bigger, intensive projects or if I can afford repairs ($50-100 easily) if the need ever arises.  I would be happy to know that, just as I could go to the library or an internet cafe if my home computer isn’t cutting it, I could go to my local craft store and finish a project.

    1. Every town I’ve ever lived in had a fabric store somewhere that would rent sewing machine time.  Maybe not the big chain stores like JoAnn but the independents often do.  I’m sorry you haven’t had that experience.

      As for this machine, I agree.  You can sew a lot with a straight stitch without a free arm, but why would you want only that as your sole machine? 

      As for the ease in threading issue, this woman’s experience is likely with an older machine with a quirky thread path.  As we both know, there are basic machines out there now which are both inexpensive and easy to thread.  Heck, the Singer 2277 can be purchased new for about $100 and has an automatic needle threader.

      It’s pretty though.

  5. As a relatively experienced seamstress, I love the arch – that would be so useful for so many things!  But, I would be incredibly frustrated by the foot pedal replacement/pressure sensitive body – more often than not, both my hands are busy guiding fabric, and would have no way to make the machine go!  Also, I would be concerned about how it would be possible to guide fabric with the left hand while pressing down (through the fabric), vs. letting the fabric be pulled through by the feed dogs (that’s the grabby bit underneath the foot)

    It’s neat to have things targeted towards beginning sewers, however, once you get to a certain point, you’ll have to re-learn certain motor skills (I’m thinking specifically foot pedal, here) and learn how to thread a normal machine (it’s not that hard, to be honest!)

    1.  >>Also, I would be concerned about how it would be possible to guide fabric with the left hand while pressing down (through the fabric), vs. letting the fabric be pulled through by the feed dogs (that’s the grabby bit underneath the foot)<<

      That was exactly my first thought when I watched the video. And I used a sewing machine twice in my life. Maybe an optical sensor which senses the motion of the fabric would be an alternative?

      But it surely looks nice :)

    2. 1) Actually came here to say that the ‘feature’ to press on the table was a bad idea.  Sometimes, an un-obvious user interface is designed that way for a reason, and sometimes, it’s designed that way because “it’s the way we’ve always done it”.  Speed control by foot on a sewing machine is an example where both apply. 

      Yes, sometimes/often you need both hands to pull, stretch, and guide the material through.

      2) Where is the ‘under’ thread, er, threaded?  That’s the part that usually drives me batty.

      3) Inexpensive decent-quality sewing machines that will handle most/all of your home needs are easy to find.  It’s best if you can inherit someone’s sewing machine kit.  It’ll save you finding all the other stuff you need: chalk, thread ripper, good scissors, bobbins, thread, etc, etc.

    3. It seems to cater to a mistake a lot of beginners make – that of trying to forcefully push the fabric through the machine instead of simply guiding it. Perhaps by connecting the push to speed, it could encourage people to push less forcefully (to make the machine move more slowly), but it doesn’t suggest that pushing is wrong, so the mistake is just reinforced. 

  6.  May I ask: do you wash and press your cloth before you cut and sew?  Do you press out hems?  Sometimes using an iron to get the fabric to preliminarily do what you want it to makes a huge difference.

        1. It’s the reason that sewing velvet drives people to suicide.  Since you can’t really iron it, you’re operating without a safety net.  Unless you’re willing to pin it every half-inch.

  7. Beautiful machine! The petal to me is pretty natural, but I drive a stick shift and have played piano and noodled with guitar FX boxes. I haven’t had a problem threading the top, but the bobbin on some machines have given me much grief having lots of extra parts and latches that can be fastened incorrectly. My other difficulty was on that machine there were 3 knobs unlabeled but with pictographs of stich attributes and a numerical reference that would have items like “1, 1-2, 2, 3, 4”. My girlfriend after telling me RTFM (as a revenge to my usual answers) got tired of me ranting about how poor the UI was and got me an all digital machine.  

    I have always wanted sewing machine manufactures to develop an open source sewing machine hardware platform and software API and “guycentric” machines that are Tonka yellow and boxy, or black, chrome and with flames painted on the side (Like Alton Brown’s Kitchenaid). 

    1. The Bernina 215 can be customised with your own graphics. The Bernette series is wonderfully designed without being ridiculously gendered. 

  8. This is like Philippe Starcks citrus juicer. 
    Beautiful design but not much functionality.
    A pedal and hand wheel are essential in my opinion.
    I learned machine sewing on a Singer treadle machine that I found in the garbage. Soon I needed a free arm, zigzag and reverse so I upgraded to a used Pfaff (<100$). It is super easy to thread and has an upper and lower transport (the 4-wheel drive of sewing machines).

  9. As well as agreeing with others about problems with the speed control and lack of hand wheel, I wondered about the feasibility of the  flexible drive. Any twisting of the flex-shaft will result in the needle and bobbin being out of sync. Speaking of bobbins, figuring out how to put it in place and get it working can be pretty frustrating for a beginner. (Only thing I’ve ever sewn are repairs to a boat sail!)

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