To put it simply ~ Sewing machines are ugly and complicated which puts beginners off sewing and re-usable clothes are thrown away.
Alto is a revolutionary new sewing machine which simplifies threading and speed control to improve ease of use for the beginner. With an elegant vintage/contemporary aesthetic, Alto invites its owners to keep it on display for frequent use.
To simplify threading, a metal guide runs from reel to needle for the user to follow. Speed is controlled by pressing with the fingers through the fabric and the patented force sensor technology in a rubber foot underneath the machine allows the beginner to control speed from whichever hand position they find most comfortable. A flexible drive shaft replaces the traditional pulley system to form Alto’s distinctive arch, increasing room for the fabric and improving visibility of the sewing area. The functional prototype (see video) proves the flexible drive shaft and force sensor technologies and was successfully trialed with the target audience.
By increasing the appeal and accessibility of sewing, Alto encourages users to ‘make do and mend,’ inspiring them to recycle, customise and repair clothes which would otherwise end up in the bin.
Far from the iconic Singer machine which sits proudly displayed on the sideboard, the modern day sewing machine is more often consigned to the under-stair’s cupboard. Inspired by the iconic Singer design, Alto is designed as a ‘feature’ product, for display, rather than hidden storage to encourage a sense of user pride due to resourcefulness and creativity.
Observations and interviews with beginners and their instructors highlighted issues which are off-putting for the first-time user:
Beginners often get ‘lost’ whilst threading the machine and find coordinating the foot pedal and fabric movement difficult when controlling stitch speed. A lack of room for fabric on the right of the needle and poor visibility of the sewing area were also highlighted.
With traditional brands threatened by the entry of general retailers to the market, the opportunity emerged for a strategic product which would draw upon vintage influences to foster familiarity and trust, giving the impression of quality.
Inspired by watching beginners struggle with existing machines and hearing about the difficulties that they often face from sewing teachers, early concepts used lighting to guide the user, needle ‘cartridges’ for threading and turntables for turning corners. Development focused upon the two main usability issues: threading and speed control: resulting in ideas such as touch control for the speed and having a continuous line for the user to follow whilst threading. Following further technical development, users simulated sewing with touch sensors in different positions on the machine. It became clear that using a small sensor in a rubber foot under the base would not only be more commercially viable than a large bespoke touch pad on top of the base, but would allow the beginner to move their hands freely without the risk of moving off of the pad.
Finally, appearance and functional prototypes were built for testing with target users. (see video) The results were very positive, indicating particular interest in both the touch control system and the appearance of the machine.