Saturday, November 22, 2008

Product Review: Oh Brother! Brother Innov-is 80, that is.

I got a new sewing machine! It's a Brother Innov-is 80 Project Runway Limited Edition. I'm just so thrilled I can hardly type!

It is a major upgrade from the basic White model I have been using since 2003. That was a gift from my mom because I was "getting married and you should have a sewing machine". It was true... Lord know how many times I've needed to darn some holes in my husband's church-league softball jeans. I learned how to sew on my mom's Viking... a 20 year old workhorse that is only now needing to be replaced. The White was good for learning too, but I'm definitely at a point where daily use will kill one of us, and I'm betting it's not going to be me. Dropped stitches, lack of creative potential, frequent bobbin jams... I was losing hair and sleep.

But I went to a local Brother dealer called Leabu and bought the new Brother with my hard-earned Etsy profits. It was priced $100 less than I was expecting to begin with and came with a $40 rebate! That dealer has truly excellent customer service and offers lifetime sewing lessons by appointment with any sewing machine purchase, so I was happy with the whole process.

It has sooo many utility and decorative stitches, one step buttonholes and eyelets, an alphabet and a 7mm stitch path. I'm in love! It has a button for start so you don't even need the foot pedal. That was strange at first but I have to say it is a nice thing if you have kids literally underfoot... less unexpected sewing when some be-diapered baby sits on the pedal. The LCD screen is handy and shows what you've selected, and I've found it to be pretty intuitive and easy to use. I've completed some orders on it, and every stitch is perfect. The thing beeps if you've made a selection that is incompatible with other settings or if you forget to lower the presser foot, for example. I would love a serger too, but this machine has an optional foot that can cut and would give similar results if used with an overcast stitch. The bobbin apparatus is a 360 degree movement instead of oscillating, which causes less jams and is easier to clean. Top-loading the bobbin is a cinch and the clear window lets you know if you're about to run out of thread. The upper thread pulls off the spool instead of turning the whole spool, so the whole process of sewing is a lot quieter now. And did I mention it's self-threading? I have no trouble threading the needles myself, but it is faster.

So far, I am completely pleased with my purchase and I look forward to using it instead of fearing the jams like I did with my White for the past couple months. In it's defense, it could use a tune up beyond the disassembling and cleaning. It was not made for the abuse I put it through and I'm looking forward with a smile at the new and exciting things I will be able to produce with my new machine. I'd recommend it!

*Update 1/23/09: I'm still in love! It's been a couple months of daily use and the machine is wonderful. I have not yet broken out the foot pedal and am very happily using many of the functions regularly. Not as much decorative stitching yet, but the basic functions are like gold and everything works as perfectly as I could have hoped. It has already paid for itself in the amount of work I have been able to accomplish, jam-free, since I bought it. If you are thinking about purchasing this machine, I would definitely say go for it!*

*Update 3/24/09: Someone asked about using this machine for thicker materials... I have not tried thick leather myself (jacket suede was no problem), but I have used it for sewing some very thick items using 3-4 layers of duck cloth and it worked like a dream. I woud assume that if you use leather needles, it would do fine on leather. The foot lift can go up extra high to get really thick stuff in and out, and I know there is an adjustment method for the foot height so you can theoretically get over a thick bump (welt, thick seam) in the sewing path without causing bunching or uneven stitching, but I have yet to use that (and I use it everyday). Like any non-commercial machine, however, I'm sure it has limitations and you'd want to be careful not to burn out your motor by making it work too hard. Hope that helps!*

*Update 4/8/09: In response to the comment question about the Innov-is 40 vs 80 for a beginner... after reading a good initial review of the 40 here by Consumer Reports, I would recommend getting the best one you can for the price. I have my own business based largely on sewing, and the Innov-is 80 purrs like a kitten on a daily basis and has paid for itself many times over in the six months I have owned it. The machine I used for the prior 6 months was as basic as basic can be, so I'm sure the the Innov-is 40 would be great choice for a beginner. It got great reviews, has many stitch functions seen on more expensive models and is a great price for a computerized machine, priced around $400. The 80 has more built-in functions, including an alphabet and a keypad stitch selector instead of a dial, but the price goes up to $600. I got mine for a lot less, but barring a super deal, the 40 would certainly suit a novice and many dealers will accept trade-in upgrades for a year after purchase, so if she really loves sewing and wants the 80, that could be an option. Hope that helps!*

*Update 6/15/09: For Nichole - My machine was a floor model that had been used as a "test machine" for a few weeks or a month at Leabus, so that accounted for a big chunk out of the price (and basically guaranteed that the machine was in perfect running order!). There was also a Brother rebate going on at the time. If I had it to do over and knowing what I do now about the quality of the machine and the truly great support and customer service at Leabus, I would have bought it there at full price. It's worth it. It's still very quiet, I still have not used the foot pedal and I am loving it even more as I learn more things I can do with it (vs the very basic White machine I had prior). I have not needed any of the lessons there (the machine is running perfectly and I'm not new to sewing), but I'm keeping my eye on the classes in case something catches my eye. The owners have been helpful every time I've gone in, and I've gotten advice from them that was so honest it kept me from purchasing a poorly designed sewing machine foot from them (they seem to have a very steady business from returning customers... always a good sign!). I will be buying a serger later this year and I am going to buy from them again. Hope that helps!*

Friday, November 21, 2008

Etsy Thoughts: Taxes on my Mind

Since I started by shop in February, this is obviously my first year that a schedule C will be required. I started the shop for fun but I was clearly doing enough business to file taxes on it. I have registered for an Employer Identification Number (EIN) with the Federal government, obtained a Michigan State Sales Tax License and submitted a "doing business as" (DBA) form to get a Certificate of Assumed Name. And, since I'm consigning items at various boutiques around the country, I will have 1099s. And I have a work area in my house... what about business use? Life has gotten a little complicated.

I suppose the thing that keeps me feeling okay about it is that I have been keeping good records. I may very well have to wade through excess amounts of receipts and statements to assess my tax liability, but at least they are there. It would seem fortunate too that my dear husband's employer always withholds too much any way (or we have enough kids that the child tax credit does us good) so I am not likely going to have to actually pay anything, we will just get a smaller return than normal. I am in luck when it comes to outside advice as well, since both of my parents are self-employed, my mother-in-law used to work for H&R Block and my father-in-law is a tax attorney. But I'd like to be self-sufficient in this area. I file our personal taxes each year using http://www.completetax.com/ (as recommended by my mother-in-law), and that has made the past 4 years much simpler than it could have been. I'm not sure what this tax season will allow... I might not be able to do it that way again since I may have "earned income in a state in which I do not live" via consignment... I'll have to figure that one out.

There must be a good way to keep track so taxes aren't a pull-your-hair-out stressfully loathesome thing to do. Maybe I need tax software that I know how to use (I have Quicken but cannot figure out how to reconcile things!). Maybe I need a legder and an extra 2 hours a day to keep track of daily business. Suggestions? I'm listening...

TheJuneBride News: On the front page, finally!

It finally happened! After months of working much harder at treasuries and making friends on Etsy, I was featured on the front page. Thanks to fiveforty, an awesome Canadian rugweaver/jewelry designer. So what if it was 3 AM. So what if it was an item I don't carry in bulk. Since mid-summer, my goal was to be on the front page by the end of the year and that it actually happened is a huge morale boost. Here it is!