If you are a novice or intermediate sewist, acquiring a heavy-duty sewing machine probably isn’t at the top of your list. And why would it be? Not everybody needs to deal with thick fabrics such as leather or denim, much less multiple layers of those. Also, you probably don’t need a performance monster that would allow you to stitch for hours on end. However, the truth is that a powerful workhorse is something every sewist needs, regardless of his or her skill level. Compared to the heavy-duty machines, ordinary sewing machines look and feel like toys. Today, we are to decide if Brother ST371HD, the so-called “Strong and Tough” model, belongs to the former or the latter category.
But before I cut to the chase, I need to consider an important point. Why would a machine prove unworthy of its name? The answer is, it shouldn’t. But it still happens quite often. Simply put: if you want a real heavy-duty workhorse, it’s best to opt for an industrial or commercial sewing machine. Those will always deliver with the same power, swiftness, and precision. Made with commercial sewists in mind, they will stitch consistently for hours without breaking a sweat.
However, that isn’t to say that there aren’t semi-industrial or even domestic (portable) sewing machines with some limited heavy-duty functionality. Even if you aren’t a professional sewist, you still might need to deal with heavy-duty fabrics every now and then. That’s where such machines can come in handy. And Brother ST371HD purports to be one of these machines.
In this review, we will delve into its features, performance, and user experience. Then, we’ll outline the pros and cons, and pass a verdict if this machine is worth your money.
Brother ST371HD Overview & Features
On the surface, this Brother ST371HD machine appears to be nice equipped for most tasks a sewist meets on a daily basis. Let’s see what you’ll get as you unbox this machine.
- 37 built-in stitches, including most common ones such as zigzag, decorative, blind hem, stretch, reinforcement stitches.
- Six presser feet that are very easy to attach. The snap-on feet you will get are buttonhole, zipper, blind stitch, button sewing, spring action zigzag, and nonstick feet. You can easily adjust the feet for an extra height, so you could deal with many layers without any issues.
- The maximum stitching speed is 800 stitches per minute. Enough for most hobbyists or enthusiasts, far from enough for commercial sewists.
- Drop feed option, a feature crucial to free motion sewing and quilting.
- Three needles, the size of #16 (for thick fabrics such as canvas, denim, duck cloth, burlap, leather), #14 (for multiple layers), and #11 (for lightweight fabrics and everyday sewing tasks). Plus, you will get a twin needle.
- Half-automatic needle threader saves tons of time. You just need to push the lever on the side and the thread will go through the needle. It’s not as easy as fully automatic threading, but it still does the job more seamlessly than doing everything manually.
- Metal needle plate. Machines within this price range usually come with plastic needle plate, which can cause a world of pain if (or rather: when) broken.
- Stitch selector will make the process of selecting your stitches very easy. Just turn the dial knob on the side to the right number. The numbers, along with the stitch designs, are printed below the selector, so you won’t have to do any guesswork.
- Top drop-in bobbin. Apart from being very easy to place and remove, the bobbin is also jam resistant – or so it should be.
- Free arm option. The default sewing surface is flat-bed, but you can easily remove a portion of the base to uncover free arm. You will appreciate it when it comes to sewing cuffs, sleeves, or tiny and tricky areas such as in baby clothing. And voila! This removable portion will also serve as a small storage for your spare bobbins, needles and other small items.
- Extra accessories. Apart from the machine itself, the needle set and the presser feet, you will also get four bobbins, an extra spool pin, two spool caps, an instructional DVD, a screwdriver, and a dust cover. The tiny accessories come in a little pouch, which is also convenient.
The fact that you will get heavyweight needles doesn’t automatically make this machine heavy-duty. Let’s see what else it has and can do.
Even though it’s mostly made of plastics, Brother ST371HD has a metal interior frame and a metal needle plate. Both parts are extremely important, the first contributing to the machine’s sturdiness, stability and durability, and the second to better stitching speed and consistency.
As most sewists know, the high stitching speed is a must when it comes to real heavy-duty machines. This little guy won’t be able to sew at more than 800 stitches per minute. That should suffice for most amateur sewists. But it’s far from what a professional needs.
However, the machine is pretty lightweight. With slightly below 19 pounds, it’s light enough to carry around, which is good. But is that enough to prevent wobbling and shaking of the table as you stitch? Let’s look into user reviews.
What Do Users Say?
Judging by the users’ experience, Brother ST371HD has managed to balance stability with light weight in this model. In my experience, that’s not an easy thing to do, and they deserve every praise for making it possible. The machine has a rubber base, which is responsible for reducing the vibrations level. And frankly, it is a few pounds heavier than most entry-level machines.
When it comes to the heavy-duty part, there are no great complaints about Brother ST371HD. According to the reviews on Amazon, the machine stitches through both thick and difficult materials. You don’t have to stress out if your corduroy will get pierced through, or if your silk will get spoiled. That’s of course if you pay attention to your needles. Take this as a rule of thumb: no needle is a jack of all trades. You need to pick them carefully, in accordance with the manufacturer’s recommendations.
Other users claim that it’s a baseline model. Well, of course that’s true. Would anybody expect anything else from a machine that is more than reasonably priced? I think it would be unrealistic to look for miracles within this price range.
However, the machine has quite a lot of negative reviews too. Some sewists report that it broke on them within first hours or days of use. When they called Brother’s customer service, they were told to bring the machine to their certified repair shop. In some cases, it costs more than a new machine. Those customers might have done something wrong, but it’s still worth to keep their experience in mind when making your purchase decision.
- Very affordable. I would even say it offers one of the best ratios of quality vs. price that I’ve ever seen. Call it heavy-duty or not, it still delivers better results than a regular, light-duty sewing machine.
- There’s no need to oil the machine. So, it requires little to no maintenance. Just remove the needle plate and clean the lint from time to time.
- A decent quilting functionality. Not only will this machine handle thicker materials, but you can also do free motion quilting. To drop the feed dogs, open the storage area and you will uncover a lever.
- The setup is easy, as with most mechanical machines. Once you unwrap it, you will start stitching within half an hour. For those who have never had a chance to use a Brother machine, the instructional DVD will be of great help.
- It goes through thick and thin without much effort. Even though the stitching speed isn’t great, it will do the job without skipping stitches. At least most of the time.
- It’s sturdier than most machines within this price range. Both the needle plate and the chassis are made of metal. Theoretically, this machine should qualify for your sewing companion for many years to come. In practice, we have yet to see if it’s worth the name “Strong and Tough”.
- It’s not really a heavy-duty model. In spite of performing better than most models at this price, sewists who are after a true heavy-duty machine won’t be very satisfied. For example, it won’t do much justice to very thick seams. And, if you run a sewing business and need to sew for hours without a break, the engine may tire and slow down a bit.
- There is no up/down needle button. It’s a feature that would come in handy when you need to pivot the fabric without losing your stitch.
- The LED light illuminating the stitching area isn’t bright enough. Admittedly, it’s even expensive to buy an additional light. But still, it wouldn’t have been expensive for Brother to build in a brighter light bulb.
- Some customers report that certain parts broke or malfunctioned within first months – the timer, the plastic hand wheel, the bobbin winding shaft.
If you constantly work with heavy-duty fabrics, this is not the right model for you. Even though it outperforms most of its peers, Brother ST371HD will still feel a bit like a toy when compared to an industrial or semi-industrial machine. Then again, it’s a few times cheaper than the basic industrial models.
But in terms of getting your money’s worth, I can safely say that you will get even more than what you paid for. You can opt for a mighty machine that will stitch through thicker fabrics if and when needed. Or you can spend the same amount of money on a computerized, feature-rich model that will struggle with tougher projects.
Simply put, this machine should be ideal for sewists who work with a wide variety of fabrics, and are not exclusively committed to working with denim or leather. Those of you who find the number of stitches unsatisfactory, take a look at my review of Brother ST531HD. It’s nearly identical to ST371HD, except that it features 53 built-in stitches, and a couple other bells and whistles.