Meet Jay the Janome CXL301, my new friend 😀
Jay and I came together just before Christmas 2016, although we didn't formally meet in person until I allowed myself to take him out of the box after finishing my tax return in January. The perfect incentive. I would have to say that after 6 months of constant sewing together, we are most definitely the best of friends!
I decided to buy a new sewing machine about a year before I actually bought a new sewing machine. No, I don't make decisions quickly. I did a lot of research on the different types of machines available for my likely budget, but there are so many options out there that I felt frequently befuddled by all the choice.
What features did I want? – what features you got?
Which make do I like? – maybe Janome, but are there better ones?
What kind of sewing do I want to be able to do? – everything – obvs!
Eventually, I managed to digest the masses of information out there enough to break it down to my priorities: ease of use, reliability, quality stitching, and the ability to sew through multiple layers for bag making and quilting. After reading lots of reviews posted around the internet by other stitchers (thank you all for taking the time to review your machines!), I also started to realise that there were other features that I wanted and didn't even know I wanted:
Some help with threading – a tedious and sometimes irritating job on grey English days
Top loading bobbin – who wants to fiddle with the bobbin in an awkward position if you don't have to?
Speed control – I have a very heavy right foot on any kind of accelerator pedal, which can make for masses of unpicking when the pedal is attached to a sewing machine.
Now this list might not be the most ambitious, but when you think that this was my first step up from John, my super basic £99 John Lewis sewing machine, they're really quite the leap. John is based on a basic Janome, although he is the most delightful shade of purple. He's one of those 'do what it says on the tin' machines – he sews – mostly in a straight line and usually pretty evenly, and he gave me several years of really reliable and basic service, more than earning his keep. But John wasn't without drama. Anything more than a couple of layers of cotton and some interfacing between and he began to get sulky. He didn't like any bumps in his sewing road and became practically hysterical around zips. I did learn to work around his dramas with the help of a walking foot, but it was a tiring experience at times. As for speed control, it was kind of like Lewis Hamilton driving a Smart car – funny and exciting, but ultimately dangerous and a bit disappointing.
I'd be lying if I said I wouldn't like a sewing machine with a massive range of stitches, embroidery ability, full quilting ability etc., but I really didn't need all that, which was a good job, considering my budget of £400. I definitely had a bias towards Janome at the outset of my search. I figured that if John had been reliable and hard working, I could realistically expect the same from another machine from that stable, but I didn't immediately count other manufacturers out.
There is a lot of choice in the section of the market I was shopping in. The first hurdle was working out which of the machines I liked the look of from what I read on the internet were actually current models, but once I'd done that by cross referencing my top 10 against the stock in a big online retailer, I could then focus in on my top 5. With the help of lots more reviews, I brought this list down to a top 3, which had 2 Janomes in it and I finally plumped for Jay, which I bought from GUR Sewing Machines, a long standing online retailer. I generally have a bit of an internal rule for choosing where to buy online for most things – I tend to choose those retailers who are established, have a site that is easy to access and navigate with lots of good content, and who have good reviews over a period of time. GUR's content was particularly good with plenty of information arranged in a practical and accessible way. At that time of year, they also had some attractive deals and offers, which always helps when you're spending a significant amount!
What most surprised me about my choice was that the 301CXL is a computerised sewing machine – something that I thought I definitely didn't want. What I was basing this bias on was the idea that anything computerised would be more likely to go wrong and be expensive to put right, but this isn't really the case at this level – the computerised element really just gives you a quicker and easier interface for sewing and greater needle penetration ability – hurrah for that!
Once I actually started using my new machine, I was initially really disappointed with the general experience. There I was expecting lots of fun with my new friend, and it really wasn't fun to begin with – getting a new machine is quite an adjustment – you don't realise how you've got all the little foibles of your old machine ingrained in your sewing habits! I'd say that it took a couple of weeks for me to get used to the way Jay does things and then another couple of weeks to get comfortable with him. I guess it would have been more enjoyable if I was just sewing for fun, but I had to put Jay straight to work making pieces for my shop orders and, since I have very high standards, we had to both slow down massively to make sure that what we were making was of the usual quality. Within a very short time though, we were speeding through orders at a great rate and achieving the quality was completely effortless.
Jay is a consummate professional and the truth of the matter is that the reason it was difficult for me to get comfortable with him in the beginning was that I had to step up my sewing skills to get to his level. There's really a very solid feel to this machine, which might not give me so many laughs as John the hysterical did, but there will be a lot less frustration too! The main features I love are:
Needle down button – something that is so standard and basic on sewing machines these days, but new to me. What fun! Quite aggressive and powerful too. When you manually lower the needle, you get a feel for when it's all the way down and ready to start sewing, but there's no doubt with this little button – when it's down its down, which is also a great help when pivoting. It's a bit of an adjustment to get used to most of the controls being on the front of the machine and hardly ever touching the wheel, but I got used to it within a week or so.
Tortoise and Hare speed control – fantastic! My heavy accelerator foot can be as heavy as it likes when I've set the upper limit of the speed to running tortoise 😉 This is super useful when I'm sewing around curvy and tight shapes, like when I'm sewing my catnip cuddle whale tails. There is a little 'but' to this enthusiasm though, and that is that I've found this isn't so crucial with this machine because the foot pedal is also awesome – much, much easier to control speed with it and after 6 months, I don't really need to adjust the slider very often, I just use my foot on the pedal and the whole experience is now much less Smart car and more Aston Martin Vantage.
Tension – I was always fiddling with the upper tension on John and it was frequently a battle to find the right setting for anything other than sewing together 2 pieces of cotton. My tension with Jay is usually on 4 and I've found this does a great job for most of the things I sew and at the stitch lengths I tend to use for piecing and top stitching. Reverse stitching is lovely on Jay and it's so easy to reverse stitch over your first few stitches to lock them in a perfect line.
Case free top loading bobbin – so much easier to load the bobbin and thread the machine and you can see how much thread you've got left on the bobbin whenever you like, although I do sometimes still forget to look…
Needle threader – never used one of these before but couldn't do without it now – so quick and easy to thread without squinting under the machine. The light on the machine is also fab, which helps with everything too.
There are a number of other features on this machine that I haven't even used yet, but now that we're really comfortable with each other, I will need to try them out. I've tried out a few of the 'fancier' stitches for decorative finishing, but there are lots I haven't tried yet, including the whole button hole experience, which is something I've never done on a machine, mostly because I'm not a dressmaker. The Start/Stop button on the front of the machine will be great if I need to do long lines of sewing – you just set the speed with the slider and the machine sews without the use of the pedal. It does seem a bit silly that I have lots of new features and stitches that I haven't used in the first 6 months of our relationship, but we're mostly work and only a little play!
Admittedly, there are a few little niggles I have with Jay:
The spool holder is horizontal – this is a great look and nice and tidy when you put the machine away with a spool still loaded, but it's not good for loading the bobbin unless you're using a 'proper' spool of thread. I tend to use threads loaded onto cops, or Aurifil, which are like a cross between a spool and a cop. If you're using something like a Gutermann spool, everything is fine, but for cop types, the thread tends to get stuck on the spool end holder. I'm not entirely sure why this happens, but it does. Fortunately, there is a great alternative on this machine – you can't see it in this picture (although you can see some dust – Jay is due for a clean!) but there is a little square hole on top that takes a removable additional spool winder. This is actually intended to allow you to load a bobbin with thread without unthreading the main spool, but it also works great with cops since they are loaded on upright rather than horizontal. The only tiny downside to this that I've found is that the bobbin doesn't get 100% full of thread – probably more like 90 to 95%, but that's fine.
Automatic needle threading isn't exactly what it says on the tin… I really didn't know what this feature was and as I said earlier, I didn't even know that it was something I wanted, but it isn't exactly automatic. I don't know if there are true automatic threaders out there, but this one is really a machine mounted needle threader – you drape the thread across it and push it forwards to get a little hook to come through the eye of the needle and pull the thread through. As I said, it's great to have, but 'automatic' it ain't.
All in all, I am absolutely delighted with Jay and wouldn't hesitate to recommend him as a 2nd level machine. Since buying him I found out that there is a feature called 'auto tensioning' that I would have loved to have and, I can't lie – I would have liked him to be purple, but I think that we're set for a very happy relationship for the foreseeable future!