Juliette loves crafts and manual activities but she's yet to take an interest in needlework, which is a real shame, as I used to spend hours doing cross stitch and patchwork, so I have a huge stash of material and threads waiting for her when the urge takes her. When the opportunity arose to review the Shimmer 'n' Sparkle Sew Crazy Sewing Machine from Character Options, I thought she might like it and I was quite right - she got really excited when she laid eyes on the box !
Unpacking the box, we discovered the main sewing machine unit, a foot pedal (just like real, grown-up sewing machines, so it's a nice touch), 2 small pieces of material and a storage box with 3 spools of thread, 4 needles and a pattern sheet. The sewing machine requires 4 x AA batteries which aren't included, but it can also be used with a mains adapter, which, sadly, isn't included either - luckily we had one kicking around in a drawer (from a remote-controlled car charger, I think) which worked perfectly. I'd definitely invest in an adapter if you haven't got one because it would be really frustrating for the batteries to run out mid-project because you'd have to turn the sewing machine upside down to change them.
It comes pre-threaded which is great news, because you're ready to get started immediately. Unfortunately, the thread tensioner (the purple knob) was really tight so the thread didn't flow freely and quickly snapped, meaning that we had to rethread the needle. Luckily, the Madhouse grandparents were visiting, and Madhouse Nanny knows all about sewing machines so she knew what to do. I'd have been a bit lost because there aren't many instructions and the ones that are there are a bit confusing if you're a total novice.
The sewing machine has a safety guard which is a brilliant idea for protecting little fingers from the needle and eyes, if the needle should snap and ping off (which happens sometimes with proper machines, apparently). However, this feature makes it very tricky to rethread the needle because you have to unscrew it with a screwdriver, rethread, then screw it back on.
I couldn't work out where the thread was supposed to go but Madhouse Nanny stepped in and soon had it back up and running again ... until the thread snapped again just a few minutes later and we had to start all over again ! In the end, we decided to leave the safety guard off while we got to grips with it because it was too frustrating to keep unscrewing and screwing it back on, but this did mean that Juliette was under close supervision and constantly reminded to keep her fingers out of the way.
She soon started to get the hang of it, although the thread did still snap as it got stuck in the tensioner or tangle up a few times. I'm sure as we practise more, this will happen less and less though so I've put the safety guard back on, as it's a great way of keeping little fingers safe.
The sewing machine has two speed settings and can be operated using either the foot pedal or a button. Just like a full sized machine, the Shimmer and Sparkle sewing machine has a double stitch, winding mechanism to top up new bobbins. I had no idea what this meant but Madhouse Nanny nodded knowingly when I read it out !
The sewing machine is designed for children aged 5-11, which I would say is a bit on the low side. Juliette is 11 and still needed a lot of adult supervision and intervention, mainly when things went wrong with the thread, so it's not something you'd be able to give them and let them get on with it by themselves. I'd say it would appeal to girls aged 8-15 as it doesn't look at all babyish. Some minimal knowledge of how a grown-up sewing machine works (or a visiting nanny with some !) is also a huge bonus and will avoid endless amounts of frustration !
Juliette was really proud when she started sewing complete lines with no problems and was over-the-moon to have completed her first project within a few minutes.
What did she make? A little quilt for Pierre's house fairy friend ! Aww top marks for big sister duties there !
It's a fun piece of equipment that has a lot of potential, but be prepared for a few teething problems as you get to grips with it. To really make the most of it, I would definitely find or buy an adapter to use with it instead of batteries, and start off by checking out some of the tutorials on youtube so you can see how it all works and how to rethread it. There aren't many videos specifically relating to this model yet, because it's a new product, but I'm sure that will change soon, and even watching a tutorial with a different brand will give you an idea of how to get started if you're an absolute beginner.
star rating : 4/5
RRP : £29.99
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Disclosure : We received the product in order to write an honest review.