All posts by Jen Skedd

Husqvarna Viking Emerald 118 Sewing Machine – Review

Best Sewing Machine?

Husqvarna Emerald 118 Sewing Machine Review

I had to find the best sewing machine for my teaching studio. I needed something that was easy-to-use,  versatile, robust, and great value.  My local specialist dealer Andrew Pemberton recommended the Husqvarna Viking Emerald 118.  Prior to that, I was aware of Husqvarna as a high-quality brand but I hadn’t used one before.  So I was happy to go along to test it against some of its closest rivals in the same price bracket.

I tested the Janome CXL301, and the favourite of the Great British Sewing Bee, the Janome 525. I also tested a Singer and a Brother. The best sewing machine I tested overall was the Emerald.  I chose them for their ease of use, pleasure to use, and durability.  My previous high-ranking favourite brands, Pfaff and Bernina, make top-class quality machines too but are a little on the pricey side by comparison.

Best sewing machine - image shows a Husqvarna-Viking Emerald 118 sewing machine
Best sewing machine for me – the Husqvarna Viking Emerald 118

Swedish Design

Husqvarna are a little-known manufacturer of sewing machines. In fact they’re better known for ride-on lawnmowers, chain saws and power tools for the construction-industry.  But that tells you the quality of their engineering is first class. The company was in fact born in Huskvarna, Sweden in 1689 as a royal arms factory. However, they have been making sewing machines since 1872. The first model was given the name “Nordsjernan” (The Northern Star). And they have been pioneers in this field, being the first to introduce innovations like the free-arm, and a jam-free ‘no oil’ rotary mechanism and are market-leaders in the field of computerised sewing machines.

But they control sales of their sewing machines closely; only registered specialist sewing machine dealers can stock them.  This ensures that buyers receive the very best of advice and care.

Best Sewing Machine for …

Best sewing machine for beginners – the machine had to be easy to use and robust as I teach lots of Beginners sewing classes. The motor had to be smooth and responsive so novices feel confident using it and learn good foot control. Read more about my Beginners Sewing Classes.

Best sewing machine for children – the sensitive foot control is easy for children to learn to use. Having the speed control helps too. The dials are not too fiddly for small hands.

Best sewing machine for dressmaking – the range of presser feet including the zip foot and two buttonhole feet makes this the best dressmakers choice. It can handle every fabric from fine georgette to heavy-weight denim and wool. The variety of stitches it can achieve give a professional result without puckers. Find out about my range of Dressmaking classes

Best heavy-duty sewing machine – the robust motor can sew thick layers of denim, upholstery fabrics and even leather easily. Learn to make your own soft furnishings.

Best sewing machine for creative embroidery – the strong motor can run smoothly at high speed for long periods of time. The feed dogs can be dropped which is essential for free-motion embroidery. See my range of creative workshops.

That was back in early 2015. Since then, my Emeralds have helped hundreds of students learn to sew.  They are patient, dignified and forgiving. The students love them too, and many have bought one for themselves, either as a first machine, or as an upgrade from their starter models.  And this is why…

Features of the Husqvarna Emerald 118 sewing machine

Weight and stability

With it’s metal internal frame and metal innards, the Emerald weighs in at 8kg (around 16lbs). That’s a decent weight but not too heavy to carry to classes if you want to. Be wary of machines marketed as ‘lightweight’. That usually means they have a flimsy plastic case, no metal internal frame, and the motors and gears are choc-full of plastic too.  Sewing machines are sophisticated pieces of engineering and they require precise mechanisms to sew well. Think of a Swiss watch. Plastic parts will flex and vibrate when in use.  This will affect stitch quality and ultimately the longevity of the machine. Sewing machines need a certain amount of weight for stability and to provide a high-quality, evenness of stitch.

Motor Quality

When you’re buying a sewing machine, it’s what under the bonnet that matters. But few novices would even know to consider this. The Emerald’s powerful 75W motor means that the machine is smooth to use and the foot pedal is responsive. The motor is quiet too. There’s no whining or rattling which makes it an absolute joy to use. It makes easy work of multiple fabric layers. I’ve sewn through 10-12 layers of denim easily, without even using a special jeans needle. Many lesser machines would struggle to sew less than half that much.  This little baby purrs!

Stitch Selection

The Emerald has 19 stitch options, including a fully-automatic buttonhole and 4 decorative stitches.  Stitches are selected by turning a clearly marked dial so it’s intuitive to use. In addition, there are independent stitch length and width controls. Stitch lengths of 0-4mm, and widths of 0-5mm  enable sewing all weights of fabrics. Important for dressmaking, soft furnishing and most types of crafts.  Very few machines in the ‘starter’ range have this function. Most have just one dial to select a small range of stitches but the quality will be compromised. Easy to learn on but as your experience grows, you’ll find this limiting and frustrating. Chances are you’ll grow out of these ‘starter’ machines very quickly. The Emerald will enable you to develop your sewing skills and will grow with you. Only then will you appreciate just what a good all-rounder this machine is.

Variable Needle Positions

The stitch width setting also enables you to move the needle position on straight stitch anywhere within that 5mm range for greater flexibility. This is useful when sewing zips and also to achieve a perfect topstitch in exactly the place you want it.

Speed Control Slider

Good machine skills come primarily from controlling the machine with the foot pedal. But if that powerful motor, which can achieve speeds of up to 1000 stitches per minute scares you, then the Emerald also has a speed limiter control.  This handy slider lets you control the speed, even when pressing hard on the foot control. So this machine will never run away from you. Some machines aimed at the beginner market aren’t easy to use as the foot pedal lacks sensitivity and you have to press hard to get it to go. Then off course it rattles away at top speed. If you’ve experienced that, then you’ll appreciate the Emerald’s smooth and responsive approach. Press a little, get a little, press more to go faster. Like a finely-tuned sports car. This actually makes the speed control redundant but it’s there as a safety net if you want it.

Needle up/Needle Down

When you stop sewing, the needle will always stop in the ‘up’ position. This is handy for taking your work out the machine quickly.  But for intricate corners, there’s a ‘needle down’ button. When you use this button, the needle will always stop in the ‘down’ position, letting you re-position or turn the work without losing your place.

Automatic Needle-Threader

An automatic needle-threader lets you thread the needle quickly and easily without screwing up your eyes. Or having to suck on the end of the thread. Just push down on the lever and a tiny hook will reach through the eye of the needle. Just lay in the thread across the hook, and your needle will be threaded. This is a must-have feature on any sewing machine in my book.

Thread-Cutter

The side-mounted thread-cutter is a similarly invaluable time-saver. Just draw your threads from back to front when removing your work from the machine.  The thread will be cut. But don’t forget to trim them right back to fabric level so they don’t get tangled in your next seam.

Presser-Foot Pressure Control

The Presser foot pressure control does what it says on the tin.  It controls the downwards pressure on the foot. Why is this important? If you’re sewing thin or slippy fabrics, you’ll need more pressure so the feed dogs get a good grip. When sewing thick fabrics or lots of layers (as in Quilting),  you can lessen the pressure so the layers aren’t pushed apart. The settings range from 0-3. Although the instruction manual recommends a general setting of 3 for most medium fabrics,  I have mine set to ‘2’ in the main.  I find that prevents the common problem of slippage. Or when the top layer is pushed forward and you end up with excess fabric on the top at the end of your seam.

Top Loading Bobbin

Top load ‘drop-in’ bobbin. The bobbin is easy to insert and the clear cover lets you see when it’s getting empty. The full rotary hook has an anti-jam mechanism. Under the bobbin case there is an oil well so this machine never needs oiling.

Twin-needle

The Emerald 118 can be fitted with a twin needle which I use a lot for sewing hems on jersey knit fabric. It gives a professional finish.

Free-Motion or Darning Function

For creative Embroidery fans, the feed dogs can be lowered. This function is crucial to me as I do lots of free-motion embroidery.  There’s a lever at the back of the machine to flick and it’s done. It’s equally as quick to raise them again.

Presser Foot lift

A little known function of some machines is that a secondary manual presser foot lift gives extra height. When you’re trying to insert an embroidery hoop under the foot, sometimes it’s a tight squeeze. Just push up on the presser foot lever and this will raise the foot higher so you can slip the ring under. It’s also handy to manage thick and bulky layers.

Free-Arm

You can remove the extension bed for free-arm operation.  This feature is available on almost all sewing machines now but some are not so easy to remove and replace. The Emerald’s extension table slides off and on again easily. It’s also robust so unlike some, doesn’t feel like it would break.  The free-arm allows small areas such as sleeves and necklines to be sewn easily.

Hard Protective case

The Emerald has a hard protective cover with a moulded pocket. This is unusual in machines at this price range as many only have soft covers. The hard case protects against dirt and knocks either when the machine is being stored or transported. The pocket takes the power cable, foot control and the instruction manual.

Accessories

The Husqvarna Viking Emerald 118 comes with an impressive selection of sturdy accessories.

There are 8 presser feet included, listed below.  They are either all-metal,  or metal with strong clear plastic sections. where good visibility is important. There is a snap-on system for quick and easy changing.  There’s a foot for every common sewing function, but plenty of additional feet are available for specialist tasks. Therefore this machine will grow with your sewing skills and aspirations.

Utility Foot A

For standard straight stitch, zig-zag and utility stitch sewing. I love this foot as it has lots of notches and edges which act as guides for your seams and topstitching. The side edge of the foot gives 7mm, the inner toe gives a 5mm edge, and the inner notch gives a fine 2mm guide for edgestitching. If you combine this with the facility to move the needle to the left, then you can achieve any width of stitched line you desire. No other machine I’ve seen comes with such a handy standard presser foot.

Utility Foot B

Foot B looks quite similar to A but the underside has a trough cut in it. This enables the foot to sit over the stitches you’ve just done, instead of flattening them against the fabric. So it’s better for the decorative stitches.

Buttonhole C

This is for sewing a semi-automatic buttonhole for buttons over 2.5cm (1”)

Blind Hem D

The little red wheel on this foot enables you to change the position of the foot for Blind hemming, thus you can sew a perfect invisible hem on woven or jersey knit fabric.  And if you don’t know how to sew a blind hem, the manual explains it well.

Zip foot E

A zip foot has channels cut into the sides so your can sew to each side, rather than through the middle. This allows you to sew in a zip and get close to the zip teeth, without the foot sitting on them.

Non-stick glide foot H

This is also known as a ‘teflon’ foot. It has a non-stick surface for sewing oilcloth, PVC, faux leathers and other difficult surfaces.

Edging foot J

My next-favourite foot after ‘A’.  This clever little device has a metal pin that prevents the thread from pulling on the fabric edge whilst neatening raw edges with zig-zag. It therefore gives a straight neat fabric edge instead of that puckered, scalloped look.

Automatic buttonhole foot R

Insert the button into the slider and this clever device will measure the length of the button hole required. The machine will then stitch the buttonhole in one operation. The foot will accept buttons up to 2.5cm in diameter (1″). For larger buttons, use foot ‘C’ and the semi-automatic buttonhole process described in the manual.

Edge/quilting guide

Slip this bar into the plastic ankle to sew parallel rows of stitching or wide seam allowances

2nd vertical spool pin

Insert into the top of the machine to use thread reels vertically. This also allows you to use two reels at once for bold topstitching, or colour-blend effects in embroidery.

In summary

If you’re wondering which is the best sewing machine to buy, then the Husqvarna Viking Emerald 118 is a good-all rounder.  The controls are easy to understand and easy to change.  It’s one of the most intuitive machines I’ve ever used. In my opinion, it’s the best sewing machine for Beginners, the best sewing machine for children and the best sewing machine for professionals. Berninas used to be the machine of choice in schools and colleges as they were solid and strong machines, and could stand the harsh treatment they had to suffer there. But Bernina aren’t what they used to be, and they are more expensive than many equivalent models. Go into many educational establishments now and you’re  likely to see Emerald 118’s.

Best Value Sewing Machine

The Emerald 118 is approximately £329 from registered sewing machine retailers.  That’s quite a bit more than most beginners spend on their first sewing machine. Hobby shops sell a large range of ‘starter’ machines,  priced between £70 -£200 but these will last you perhaps 3-5 years. If the machine doesn’t give up by then, you’ll definitely have grown out of it and become frustrated by its lack of versatility. So if the sewing bug has bitten, then do yourself a favour and invest in quality tools. Your sewing will thank you for it. Unless you graduate to programmable embroidery machines, the Emerald will be the only machine you will ever need for general purpose sewing. This machine will reward you with at least 30 years of faithful service if you look after it.

Other sewing machines to consider

The 118 has a couple of siblings, the 116 or the 122. The 116 has all the same stitch functions and the same generous range of presser feet. But for around £30 less, you get a less-powerful motor, and miss out on the needle up/down function and the speed control. For an extra £30 over the 118 price, the 122 offers extra decorative stitches, and 3 extra feet (1/4″ Quilting foot, a transparent embroidery foot, and a gathering foot).

Other cousins in the Husqvarna family which are suitable sewing machines for beginners or for children are the Husqvarna E10 at around £100, or the E20 at around £250.

Links:

Pembertons Sewing Machine Centre

Husqvarna Sewing Machines

 

 

 

Pattern Ease – Why is my sewing pattern bigger than my measurements?

What is ‘Pattern Ease’ and why do I need it?

Pattern Ease is the allowance made over and above the body measurements when making a pattern. It enables natural body movement. If patterns were exactly the same size as your body measurement, the garment would literally be skin tight. Pattern ease is added to the body circumference measurements, but not to any vertical measurements.

Although your shop-bought clothes may say ‘to fit bust 36″‘, if you measure them, you’ll find that they are considerable bigger.

There are three basic kinds of pattern ease:

(1) Wearing ease
(2) Design ease
(3) Negative ease

 

Wearing or fitting ease

The minimum amount added to enable comfortable movement and sitting. This is usually no less than 5cm (2″).

Design ease

The extra amount added to create a particular shape or silhouette.

Negative ease

Applies to garments made from stretchy fabric such as jersey or lycra. It is a deduction from the actual body measurement so the resulting pattern is smaller than the wearer’s measurements. The garment will therefore stretch to fit and be tightly-fitting. Negative ease applies to sportswear, swimwear and underwear.

Guide to the amount of Fitting and Design Ease

The average total amount added to body measurements to allow for wearing and design ease is as follows:

Close fit 9cm
Easy Fit 13cm
Loose fit 17cm
Baggy 21cm
Oversize 25cm

How do I know how much ease has been added?

Paper Pattern manufacturers don’t make it easy to know how much ease has been added. Sometimes the garment might be described as ‘Easy fitting’ or ‘Loose fitting’.  But each manufacturer will have their own idea of what those words mean.  Just as they all have their own set of sizes!  They usually won’t tell you on the pattern envelope how much ease has been included but they may tell you the finished garment measurements.  If it’s not on the envelope,  look at the pattern pieces themselves.  Generally upper body garments such as blouses will show the finished bust size, whilst skirts and trousers may show the finished hip measurement. For example, the hip measure of an A-line skirt in size 14 will actually be 110cm, although the pattern envelope suggests it’s to fit a size 97cm hip.

Another very general indication will be the nature of the garment.  Underwear or tops worn close to the body will have less design ease, and an overgarment such as a coat will have much more design ease included to enable it to fit over several other layers of clothing.

The design itself should tell you whether the item is supposed to be close-fitting or baggy. So if you’re making a cocoon dress, don’t skimp on that ease, or it will be a sheath dress instead!

To learn more about pattern ease, why not take a dressmaking course?

Songs for Winter is an exhibition by Quiltmaker Pauline Burbidge and sculptor Charlie Poulson

Songs for Winter; a two-person exhibition by Quilter Pauline Burbidge and her sculptor husband Charlie Poulson

Songs for Winter

At: City Art Centre, Market Street Edinburgh  until 4 March 2018

Wed-Sat 10am-5pm, Sun 12 noon-5pm.  Free entry

I was lucky enough recently  to be invited to a curated viewing of ‘Songs for Winter’.  The special viewing was organised by Thistle Quilters, and limited places were offered to Embroiderers Guild and EDGE Textile Artist members. So I obviously jumped at the opportunity.  The Textile Artist Pauline Burbidge was giving the tour herself.  It was insightful and inspiring to listen to Pauline talking about her techniques and working processes, and to have the opportunity to ask questions.

Read more

Travelling Books Project

Travelling Books Project

I’ve often mentioned the Embroiderers Guild ‘Travelling Books’ project on my Facebook page. There’s about 24 members of our Guild branch involved and we started last October by all being given an A5 sketchbook. The idea is that we each chose a theme for our book, and do a small piece of embroidery inspired by that theme.
Read more

Sewing bad habits you should avoid

Sewing Bad Habits

Everyone has sewing bad habits.  Some of these I can smugly say that I never do. But there are a couple of these 12 sewing crimes that I commit frequently. How do you measure up with my ‘Dirty Dozen’? Are you guilty as charged?
Read more

Sewing jersey fabric. A dresssmkaing pattern for jersey stretch knit fabrics

Sewing jersey fabric

Sewing jersey fabric can be fun and very satisfying.  You can make all types of clothes from T-shirts, leggings, dresses, tunics, pyjamas and more.  Jersey fabric is soft to wear, drapes well, and tends to crease less than wovens.

Read more

Academy awards for sewing patterns

Academy Awards – for Sewing Patterns

The talking point of last night’s Academy Awards ceremony was undoubtedly the announcement of the wrong winner of Best Film.  But my attention as always was on the stunning gowns. So I thought I’d take a look at some of the sewing patterns around that are worthy of an Academy Award themselves.
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Beginners Sewing Patterns

Beginners Sewing Patterns

Beginners Sewing Patterns

Beginners sewing patterns may not be the most glamorous or fashion-forward designs. But when you’re just starting out on your sewing journey, it’s easy to get carried away with your ambitions and take on too much.  Perhaps you aspire to design Oscar-red-carpet worthy frocks for A-list celebs. Just take a look at the gorgeous outfits worn by Emma Stone on the Golden Globes La-La-Land tour.  But Prada and Gucci gowns such as these are highly-technical feats of textile engineering requiring the very best of precision cutting and sewing techniques. My advice is to take a Beginners Sewing Course to learn the correct techniques.  Concentrate on learning foundation sewing techniques and doing them well. Then building up your skills by making simple shaped garments in easy-to-handle fabrics. Gradually, you’ll increase your repertoire until you can take on the more advanced projects.
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