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A New Sewing Machine Concept

Aug 01, 2012
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Industrial designer James Wood created this prototype of his freshly engineered sewing machine concept, Sue. From left to right: Sue from the front, the reversible foot pedal, Sue's right end showing the winder and hand-crank slot, the hand crank, and Sue from the back.

I recently came across an online news article explaining new product concepts created by graduating industrial design students, one of which was a very attractive and interestingly conceived design for a sewing machine. For his final-year project, freelance industrial designer James Wood, who lives and works in the United Kingdom, not only gave his sewing machine a fresh and aerodynamic exterior, he completely re-engineered the machine’s functions and operation from the ground up. He dubbed his machine “Sue.”

James decided to design a sewing machine after visiting a sewing shop with a friend. “It was obvious to me that many aspects of industrial design had been entirely neglected in modern sewing machine design and I felt it would be a great challenge to tackle this,” he says. “The idea was to create a machine that could possibly make a new user feel more confident to take up the hobby.” He evaluated the features available on modern sewing machines, and then stripped them back to the bare necessities to avoid overwhelming new users with functionality.

This video on Vimeo shows exactly how Sue would differ from traditional home sewing machines. James focused on creating a user friendly, intuitive operation. “I felt a lot of controls in current machines benefited the mechanics of the device, but were impractical to the user. For example, holding a lever down to sew in reverse whilst using the pedal in the same motion associated with sewing forwards-so not only is the user an arm down, but the controls also instantly lack intuition,” he says. Instead, James gave Sue a pedal that the user would push forward to sew forward and pull backward to sew in reverse. The foot pedal is also cordless and nests into Sue’s frame for storage.

Sue’s slick, modern design is visually interesting and would definitely hold some aesthetic appeal to users of cutting-edge electronic devices. James says he has no plans for the machine to become a reality, but it’s a great combination of form and function, and definitely offers a different vision of sewing machine usability.

What do you think of Sue’s design? Do you think its an interesting concept?

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  1. Jenerator September 18th

    my brother used to own a car that ran on lawn-mower fuel and to make it go in reverse you had to turn the key backwards. Sounds a little familiar?

  2. user-2005167 September 18th

    The reverse pedal idea is excellent. I'm an experienced sewer and actually like the weight of the current machines. I wonder about the stability of lighter machines when working on larger pieces - like full skirts or even lightweight curtains.

    As a second (or third) machine to use for quick fixes, Sue might be terrific.

  3. User avater SLMiller August 22nd

    Wow! Lots of opinions on "Sue" from Threads readers. She's a very interesting concept. It's too bad James only made a non-functioning prototype for his design project.
    I was in an Ikea store recently and saw that company's basic sewing machine offering, and I was disappointed because Ikea usually has such great design as well as great functionality. But their sewing machine was boxy and quite dated looking and appeared only to provide a few basic stitches. I would expect something a lot more like "Sue" from Ikea.

  4. ArtsySharon August 12th

    James Wood's recognition that sewers would like to be able to buy a lightweight machine is excellent. At home, it is great to have a heavy, full-featured sewing machine. However, I would like to have a second lightweight sewing machine, without dials, to take to class that is no more than eight pounds. Sue has some good features. However, I am not interested in hand-cranking nor Sue. I am fine with the traditional shape of sewing machines.

  5. prairiesewist August 10th

    Really cute! Small and portable. I agree with the comment about asking machine users for ideas similar to the way software designers use business experts but admire this "out-of-the-box" design. Other computerized equipment is getting smaller, but sewing machines seem to get bigger and heavier and not changing all that much. Let's encourage designers like this to come up with much better models than we are used to, computerized or not.

  6. rr528 August 8th

    How do you guide the fabric if you're using one hand to crank the machine?

    I suppose if one just needs to repair a seam or do a straight, sewn-through hem, it could work. But for any kind of serious sewing, it's not really workable.

  7. at_clearing August 8th

    I could pull that puppy out and virtually sew anywhere . . . makes me think of a treadle operated machine I had years back in the beginning! While capability has increased, basic functioning has not; and a reverse from a foot pedal is clever indeed. And a hand crank . . . so green & just like the radios that run from either solar or hand cranking. I wonder if they could put solar on the top?

  8. lennie77 August 8th

    I think it's a great concept and would be particularly good for beginners because of it's simplicity. The fact that it can be used manually appealed to me too b/c electricity sometimes goes off for days when there's a big storm. Does it REALLY WORK???

  9. Pippinsmum August 7th

    Interesting sleek design. How does the bobbin work? Did anyone else notice that the needle did not travel while the crank was being turned? I know it is a prototype idea and not a working model but I kinda like my sewing current machines especially my new (used) embroidery machine with all its flashy bits. As for newbies, there are some really basic modern looking machines out there now that are easy to use.

    James has done a lovely job with the aesthetics of the machine, but I question magnets near electronics? I can't even use a magnetic seam guide on my newer machines.

    I'm reminded of the newer electric knives we have a work. They look funky but I'll bet the designer never had to cut sandwiches for 60 people using one. Our old 1970's version is much lighter and user friendly. This little machine doesn't seem much different.

    I applaude you James for looking at the sewing machine and desiring to apply modern design aesthetics to it. But you have to use it to know it.

  10. user-1150674 August 7th

    Back in the 70s, I had a home ec. class in India. We had to hand baste everything and used a hand crank machine that only did a straight stich forward and back. No zigzag stitch available. I gave up trying to sew until after college and back in the USA when I got a basic machine that had zigzag and could sew on stretch fabrics. I am glad someone is looking at redesigning the machine but it needs to be made better. Would like to see more sewing quality done.

  11. user-965719 August 7th

    I have to agree with Howtosew... this machine seems excellent for third world countries where a simple straightforward design would be easy to manufacture. The hand crank is a good option. I wonder whether the stitch selection requires electricity?

  12. user-1126254 August 7th

    why make a sewing machine aerodynamic?

  13. User avater leap August 7th

    I also love the hand-crank, but I feel the forward/backward control looked a bit too accident-prone. Can imagine myself slipping and sewing in the wrong direction accidentally!
    It's nice that someone has an interest and a fresh eye on the design of machines, but the whole thread set-up looked impractical, top and bobbin. The innovations on machines over the years come from people who use them a lot. The current machines are really pretty wonderful now!

  14. MicheleLommasson August 7th

    I certainly think it's cute, but have serious questions about is functionality. How does the machine sew, when the bobbin is so far away? Is the hook still under the throat-plate? How do you hand-crank it and sew at the same time: the demonstrator held the machine down with one hand while she cranked with the other. It is too light to hand-crank without clamping it down.
    I think my interest in the machine reflects a heartfelt desire to see a simple, easy-to-use, and I hope inexpensive, machine for new and experienced sewing machine enthusiasts. Too bad it is only a concept machine. It would be nice if it could go beyond concept into reality. It would be nice if it were then produced not to be a use-it-up-and-throw-it-away machine; there are too many of those out there already.

  15. user-766440 August 7th

    Everything old is new again. There were hand crank machines in the early 1900's. Obviously designed by a non-sewer with limited understanding of the craft. Does not look to be very functional but rather very frustrating to use. Keep on trying after you take some sewing lessons.

  16. cloff August 7th

    I'd like to see it sew before I make up my mind about it. The small size could be handy, especially if it stood up to real sewing. Don't care for the pedal - looks awkward. But I love the hand crank! More sewing machines should come with the option. Why be tied to sewing only where there is electricity?

  17. Kimstu August 7th

    Yup, I want to see what the machine actually does too, but I'm all in favor of the basic sewing machine design getting a rethink. Lots of devices nowadays are picking up on the design principle of sleek-and-simple for the novice with more sophisticated features accessible to advanced users; the sewing machine could benefit from this too.

    Lose the fabric panel, though, or replace it with one that can be easily removed and replaced. Sewing machines get dirty/dusty and need to be easily and efficiently cleaned, so no part of them should be permanently upholstered in dust-collecting felt.

  18. User avater Mannogre August 7th

    Well, it looks fine, now what can it DO?

    Can it make any other stitch besides straight stitch?
    Can it balance upper/lower thread tension automatically?
    Can it sew silk and 5 layers of jeans equally well?
    Can it make buttonholes?
    Does it have extra presser feet that make life of any experienced seamstress much, much easier?
    How many stitches per minute can it sew?
    Does it vibrate at top speed, jump across the table, is it noisy?

    The beauty of a sewing machine is not only in the eye of the beholder. The beauty is in the stitches. It is not a vase, it's not intended to sit on a tabletop and look pretty. Most of the "confusing" features dropped in the process of creating this prototype were actually the reason people buy sewing machines.

  19. user-279249 August 7th

    It's awesome, sign me up. It looks like it would take a lot of frustration out of basic sewing. I'll bet with a little help James could start a great revolution.

  20. gailete August 7th

    Very insteresting concept, but I would have liked to see the machine sew and what kind of stitches it can do. I'm concerned about how tiny it is and whether it could hold up to large jobs or is this concept mainly for beginning sewers. I could see this as a marvelous way for women in thrid world countries to be able to sew and support their families especially since the machine can be hand cranked so no electricity is needed. Personally I love my sewing machine, but I can certainly see that this one could make a huge impact for many of those who sew or want to sew! Hope he tries to take it public.

  21. velogiant August 7th

    Does it really work?
    I'd love to use this and see how it works. This would be worthwhile trialling on standard projects and those curves and small projects that normal sewing machines makes us struggle with.
    I'm definitely going to glue some felt onto my machines. That's such a great idea to have the pin cushion on the machine:)) Just brilliant James.

  22. User avater poppykettle August 7th

    I LOVE it! Especially the hand crank for manually winding the machine. This is one part that I find really frustrating, especially when I want to sew slowly for fiddly bits!

  23. rhodaloo August 7th

    Interesting. I'd like to get my hands on it to see how quickly I can wear it out. Wonder if it does more than a straight stitch.

  24. babsas August 7th

    Love the hand crank concept.

  25. howsew August 7th

    Amazing concept! I immediately saw it as a viable product for use in third world countries. We need more free thinkers like this designer.

  26. user-2037421 August 6th

    What a lot of thought has gone into Jame's design! I think it is fantastic! Would have loved to have seen Sue in action though!!!

  27. user-1145743 August 5th

    Thanks for sharing Mr Wood's forward (ahem)-thinking ideas. Hope some manufacturer will pick up the ball - or foot - plus ask a few sewists about our machine fantasies. Two thumbs (feet?) up!

  28. User avater katiebodle August 4th

    Sounds great that someone is thinking outside of the box. I agree with CarrGrand on that. The sewing machines have become so expensive --I had a bernina 200---no longer, had to sell---
    I am glad someone is working on another concept---maybe the cost of a good , and fun machine might be available to the middle class (now poor) We want to sew also. Keep encouraging people to create new and exciting affordable sewing,embroidery equipment.
    Thank you for sharing the extremely interesting designs.












  29. LuvThreadsMagazine August 3rd

    Amazing reinvention!

    The hand crank and foot pedal are both brilliant.

    Total flexibility with this iteration.

  30. sewersteph August 2nd

    I would like to try the machine!

  31. SwansFly2 August 2nd

    I love that someone finally realized the foot pedal should control the stitching direction. Bernina, are you listening?

  32. User avater CarrGrand August 2nd

    Great design for the new sewist or child! It would have been nice to actually see it sew! Kudos to him for thinking outside the box!

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