By J.G.C. Wise
You’d think that if you plucked a young man from his dreary, grey cubicle in a New York City office and plopped him down in the middle of a Project Runway VIP gala event, his primary occupation would be the obscenely beautiful women balancing atop shoes that should require a license for wearing, holding drinks they inexplicably manage not to spill. With most young men, you’d probably be right. But not this guy. This guy wouldn’t even realize he was surrounded by grotesquely gorgeous ladies until the dedicated champagne toast. No, this guy would just meander over to the waiter, collect his own drink, and then begin drooling not over New York’s most stylishly clad, but over the machines capable of thus adorning them.
Such was the case at the celebration of Project Runway’s 10th anniversary, hosted by Brother International at New York’s Lord & Taylor earlier this month. While Project Runway’s Tim Gunn and other PR celebs, designers, models, executives and friends met to pass hugs, kisses, congratulations and cocktails, I stood at the Brother International setup, a row along the back wall showcasing the company’s newest line of sewing and embroidery machines. Even in that room of celebrity, I think Brother’s line stole the show.
It helps, of course, that I found Brother’s new machines as visually stunning as the models parading around them. But that’s really only the beginning of why the products stood out so much. What I think draws fashionistas, quilters and other sewing aficionados to the Brother’s line is the exceptional balance between cutting-edge technology, user experience and perhaps most importantly, the company’s belief that sewing is, first and foremost, a means of artistic expression.
“Sewing machines are a mechanism for people to create history through fabric and thread,” said Dean F. Shulman, senior vice president of Brother International Corporation. He likens it to painting, except that instead of a brush and oils, sewists use a needle and thread. Otherwise, the general philosophy is the same—the artist uses raw materials as a means of self-expression. In this way, sewists “document life events while building something that is one of a kind.” (Having designed and sewn my bride a quilt to showcase her engagement ring, help me propose undying love and oh, by the way, pop the question, I’m pretty familiar with how sewing can document life. But that’s another story.)
Now, as a quilter who regards his sewing machine as one of the ultimate power tools, you’d think I would gleefully accept whatever new tricks designers can build into a new machine. But really…why does sewing require advanced technology? Legions of quilters and sewists before us (and maybe even some of us) express ourselves in fabric without all of the bells and whistles.
For that answer, Brother is looking to the mind of the modern sewist. Says Dean: “The next generation of quilters is frequently using their smartphones, or in front of computer screens. They are used to the immediate gratification offered by new technology, and they look for that in everything they do, including sewing.”
For better or worse, he’s right. And even beyond immediate gratification, the reality is that the next generation of sewists is living in a world vastly busier than previous generations. That is a huge part of our story. To properly tell it, I think we need to embrace those very characteristics in our craft. That’s why new generations of machines, including Brother’s line, will woo us with precision, speed and diversity.
One of the simplest machines on display in this celebrity-studded cocktail party was the limited edition Project Runway Innov-ís 40. It appears to be a fine choice for beginners, which would certainly be appropriate given its built-in needle threading system and Quick-set™ bobbin. But according to June Mellinger, director of education for Brother International, the machine also appeals to returning sewists—those who’ve been away from the needle for a while and who may be intimidated by new sewing technologies. The Innov-ís 40 also has 40 built-in stitches and free-motion stitching, and its compact size will appeal to quilters who are short on space or patience for wrangling a more heavy-duty machine.
If you’re looking for a bigger gun, the Dreamweaver XE, quilting, sewing and embroidery machine is a compelling option. Among its most impressive features is the Laser Vision Guide. Built-in sensors are programmed with a V-Sonic™ pen to yield the most precise lines imaginable (which appeals to a quilter like myself who in 14 years of practice has yet to stitch a single straight line). The laser/pen combo can also be used to set needle position, which is then identified by a red LED dot, making it impossible to miss your mark, no matter how blurred by whiskey your vision may be. Other mouth-watering technological features include USB ports through which you can import designs, digital previews and the ability to customize stitches right on the LCD screen with the V-Sonic™ pen. And did I mention the 11.25-inch surface? Shoving a king-size quilt through the machine without violence just became a feasible
My favorite machine, though, was the Quattro 2 6700D, probably because I care more about glowing lights and automatic functions than I do about precision. Lucky for me, the Quattro 2 offers all three. With 57 needle positions, seven directions of movement, and a fabric thickness sensor, this machine is as concerned with your sewing process as you are. Heck, the Quattro 2 can actually see what you’re doing as you do it—literally. A built-in camera captures still images of your project while you are working on it. (Please excuse me while I wipe the saliva off of my keyboard.) Obviously, one of the many advantages this offers the whiskey-sipping quilter is the ability to correct the measurement against the edge when it’s getting late and you’ve chewed your cocktail ice to death and straight lines have become a myth instead of a reality. The drop position can also be located through the camera, so you can actually set the machine to embroider or sew a stitch in a place that may be off-center, but in-line with an already established border or line on the fabric.
If the demonstrations I saw during the Project Runway hoopla were any indication, Brother’s new machines are definitely worth checking out. Whether you are a professional designer, an amateur quilter, or any variation of sewist who finds self-expression through needle and thread, you’ve got to agree that the magic of technology amps up the fun factor in sewing. And that, my stitchy colleagues, is what it’s all about.
About J.G.C. Wise:
New York-based J.G.C. Wise (“Josh”) has been a quilter since 1999 when he was unwittingly duped into a project one spring morning. Most of his projects since have been of epic proportions, namely because he likes big quilts, complicated patterns and generally doesn’t budget enough time to finish anything.