Blogging about my sewing has led to all sorts of wonderful gifts - like the online sewing community’s unwavering support and encouragement, the unexpected generosity of strangers in terms of giveaways and other thoughtful gestures, having makes appreciated enough to be featured elsewhere and forging beautiful friendships. It has also led to some rather interesting surprises, like this...
Meet my new Brother Innovis 10A gifted to me by Alan Bamber of Bamber Sewing Machines. I say 'new', but I've actually been test-driving this baby for months now, after Alan came across my blog, liked what he saw and asked if I'd like to review this machine. But, I figured it might be more helpful for beginners (or experienced stitchers wishing to switch machines) if I did a series of posts about what you might look for when choosing your first or a new sewing machine.
What I want to know is - would you find these posts useful and if so, are there any burning questions you'd like me to try and answer? If I can help anyone to make an educated decision about what sewing machine is going to suit their needs best, I'd like to try!
For now, I have an interview with the man himself. After chatting a fair bit to Alan, I became intrigued by the family business from its humble post-war beginnings to its successful development over the years. I hope you find it an interesting read!
Bamber Sewing Machines is a family-run business spanning almost 67 years - tell me about its rich history.
My Dad Roy started the whole thing off back in 1946 when, as a boy in post war Salford, he scrambled up a bomb site and rescued a sewing machine. He wheeled it home on a hand cart, cleaned it up, got it working and sold it. From that one machine he built up our business through hard work and determination. Dad is 81 now and while he may not run the day to day business any more, my brother Steve and I take care of that, there could be no better man to turn to for advice or guidance.
We're agents for the top brands of domestic sewing machines - Bernina, Janome and Brother. Steve takes care of the retail side of the business. The general public can visit our Manchester store where we have around 70 sewing machines, overlockers and embroidery machines on display. They're all set up and ready to go so people can sit down and try any machine.
Also on the ground floor, we have a large workshop where we carry out all our repairs. We receive around 35 - 50 sewing machine repairs each week from everyday sewing enthusiasts as well as from schools and colleges. So, we have a very busy workshop. Steve, myself and Shahid all work in the workshop repairing and servicing all these machines.
You also offer workshops to the general public. How does that fit in to the business?
Caring about our customers means offering an all round service beyond just the sale of any sewing machine. So on our first floor – alongside our haberdashery, range of fabrics and sewing machine accessories – we have a classroom which is another busy place. We hire out this classroom and Lorna Knight and Celia Banks are just two of the well known sewing teachers that have made good use of it, passing on their wisdom to many, many people. Two of our own girls (they like being called girls!), Maggie and Kathryn, also run an overlocker course and our quilt club. I would encourage anyone who has a sewing machine to sign up to a sewing workshop in their area. Not only will you make new friends, you will enjoy using your sewing so much more if you learn some new techniques that help develop your ideas.
Just like the business itself, your own role is pretty varied. Tell me a bit about it.
My side of the business is dealing with the education sector and developing our online presence. I arrange the service of sewing machines for schools and colleges in the Northwest region. That's about 300 or so schools, colleges and universities. I know hundreds of teachers and quite a few of them I've known for 30 years. They usually book their classroom sewing machines in for service at least 12 months in advance, which is a good indication of the level of service we offer.
I also organise the supply of new sewing machines, spares, accessories and haberdashery supplies to schools throughout the UK. I produce a small education supplies catalogue and post it to around 6,000 schools and colleges. This brings in orders from around the country and keeps me out of mischief.
Finally, I maintain our websites and blogs and I keep an eye out for interesting people developing their own blogs concerning all things sewing. I like to help and encourage as many of these people as I can, because it's not only good fun, it's the future!
You seem to have your finger on the pulse regarding the online sewing community. Why is connecting with bloggers so important to you?
I understand that anyone that sews and then blogs about their adventures is enormously important. Their posts reach thousands of people and encourage other sewing enthusiasts. I found your blog and liked the way you offered sound, practical advice. I would also throw this question back to you in a way and ask you - do you realise that you are not just blogging, you are teaching?
I wanted to offer you the Brother Innovis 10A to help people make a decision about what to buy. Too often I see people bring in a machine for repair that is such poor quality it isn't worth repairing and it's so sad to tell them they've spent all their money on a rubbish machine. This machine is relatively low cost, but it's very good quality, will sew a wide range of fabrics and will last. In other words, it's good value for money. My hope is that you will demonstrate, over the coming months and years, that here is a sewing machine that people can trust and have faith in as you use this machine with your many sewing projects.
I would also add that anyone who is considering buying a sewing machine should find a local dealer and call in for a demonstration before spending their money.
A lot of my readers will be interested to hear that you’re launching a vintage site soon. Is there anything you can share about it...or is it strictly top secret?
Keeping an eye on blogs helps me identify current trends and, well, I'm sure most of your readers will know that vintage is huge! I enjoy using the internet so the idea of creating a space about vintage patterns, sewing machines and people was right up my street. It will be called Vintage Persuasion and I hope to make it as interesting as I can, even adding listings of vintage events around the country. Not only will I be showcasing all the current collections of vintage patterns we stock - from Vogue, Butterick, McCall’s and more - I have also approached a few sewing bloggers to demonstrate their experiences as they make up some of these patterns.
Roy, Steve and Alan Bamber - check out the two shelves of beautiful old sewing machines!
I hope you’ve enjoyed taking this virtual tour of Bamber Sewing Machines!
Please remember to let me know if you'd like me to cover anything specific in my upcoming posts on what to look for when buying a sewing machine. And of course, if you already have a Brother Innovis 10A, I'd love to hear what you think of it!