In the Sew4Home studios, we’re dedicated fans of Janome sewing machines and sergers; in fact, they're our exclusive sewing machine sponsor. So we were delighted when Janome offered us a brand new Skyline S5 to test drive! They call the machine, "Anything but Average," and we could certainly see why. This computerized sewing machine has many features previously found only on Janome’s most top-of-the-line models. And like all the Janome models, the precision and ease-of-use right out of the box doesn't disappoint.
We put the Skyline to the test and found it won our hearts without even trying. We’ve outlined below the features that excited us most and why – whether you enjoy fashion sewing, home décor or quilting.
In addition, if you’re in the market for a new sewing machine, you’ll find TIPS throughout the article designed to help you understand what to look for the next time you head out to your local sewing machine retailer.
You can imagine our excitement when the delivery truck stopped in front of the Sew4Home studio. Yay, a new sewing machine to play with!
Upon opening the box, we were captivated by the overall design of the machine. Its sleek appearance and curved edges were slightly different than what we’re used to seeing from our friends at Janome.
Immediately, our eyes went to the soft blue accents that draw attention to the LCD screen and touch panel on the front of the machine. This pretty blue also accents the frequently-used operating buttons, (needle up/down, lock stitch and reverse), the front threading channel cover, the handwheel, and even the stitch reference chart in the lid of the machine. The two-tone case adds a distinctive appearance to the Skyline S5.
A quick tour from top to bottom
Under the top lid you find: the automatic thread tension (which you can adjust if needed), a foot pressure dial (can be adjusted from 1 – 7), the independent bobbin winder (with 5 built-in thread cutters on the base of the bobbin winder), and an additional independent thread cutter (to cut the thread tail from the spool).
TIP: The settings on the pressure dial assist in sewing varying thicknesses of fabrics. If you like to sew with a variety of fabric substrates, be sure to look for this feature.
At the spool pin is where the numbered thread paths to the needle and bobbin winder begin. We’ve become so accustomed to numbered thread paths on all Janome machines, we almost forget to mention it, but it is such a handy feature.
TIP: Proper threading is vital to the function and longevity of any sewing machine. The numbered thread path helps prevent threading errors.
Heading down toward the needle, you see the blue operating buttons we mentioned above, the lower automatic thread cutter button (we love, love, love this), and the start/stop button. Once you’ve had a machine with a lower thread cutter, you will never want to be without one again. The start/stop button enables you to use the machine without the foot control. Using a machine in this manner is something that takes a little getting used to; but it can be very helpful for certain techniques and is considered a “universal” feature for anyone with certain physical restrictions.
In the center of the machine is the speed control slider. This is a great feature for new and advanced sewers alike. Depending on the speed at which the slider is set, it doesn't matter how hard you press on the foot control, the machine will only go as fast as it is set. It also controls the speed of the bobbin winder. Why is this so cool? Because sometimes when using specialty threads, you have to wind them more slowly than at full speed.
TIP: A computerized sewing machine gives you the ability to set the machine to your specifications. Adjusting the speed is a great feature for those who are new to sewing and don't want to go faster than their comfort levels.
At the needle itself is the built-in needle threader, which has also spoiled us. We almost can't remember what it's like to thread a needle without this feature.
The needles themselves are easy to change as are the presser feet. The feet that come with the machine are snap-on, excluding the Even Feed foot and Darning foot.
Below the needle is the needle plate and bobbin holder. If you don’t pay close attention to this area, you could miss some exciting features. The needle plate has seam allowance markings that extend beyond the plate onto the bed of the machine (to both the left and right of the needle). Plus, there are angle and pivoting markings – no more guessing seam allowances when turning a corner or patchwork piecing.
The bobbin simply drops into the bobbin holder with no need to remove a bobbin case from the machine (another "gotta have" on our list).There’s a second numbered thread path at this point, so you don't accidentally put the bobbin in backwards. Come on, admit it, we all do that now and again and it is not pretty. You'll be hard-pressed to make that mistake on the Skyline. Plus, there's a built-in manual thread cutter at this level.
We love how Janome provides an area to store all the standard accessories that come with the machine right in the bed where they are easy to access. When this extension table/storage compartment is removed, you have free-arm capability – perfect for sewing cuffs, smaller projects, etc. The photo below shows the compartment about half way off.
On the side of the machine, in addition to the blue accented handwheel, is where the power cord and foot control are connected. This is also where you find the on/off switch and drop feed lever. Often, this lever can be tucked away in a hard-to-reach place. Not on the Skyline. We really liked how the drop feed lever was so easy to access and use.
TIP: Drop feed is an important feature. It's sought-after by quilters who like to free-motion quilt, but is also used for other sewing techniques, such as sewing on buttons by machine.
A feature we’ve come to rely on is the knee lifter/lever. It attaches to the right front of the machine. When doing an application that requires you to hold onto the project with both hands while stitching, the knee lifter is like an indispensable third hand. The best feature about Janome’s version is that it is adjustable, therefore, ergonomic.
TIP: Once you own a machine with a knee lifter, you'll wonder how you ever sewed without one.
Easy touch panel navigation
Now for the focal point of the machine. The touch panel can be operated by finger touch or with the provided stylus. It displays buttons for changing stitch mode, adjusting stitch width and length, and programming the lower thread cutter. There are cursor keys for creating stitch patterns, and easy navigation indicators for stitch selection, elongation, twin needle compatibility, mirror image, general settings, start-over-in-a-stitch pattern, memory, and direct pattern selection. There's even a lockout key for safety purposes.
Above the touch panel is the backlight digital LCD screen, which tells you all you need to know about each stitch. It shows the stitch mode, the selected stitch within that mode, the recommended foot, and the exact stitch width and length. In addition, it displays icons for the foot control, programmable lower thread cutter, and twin needle indicator. This is all outlined in the very detailed Instruction Manual.
TIP: Here’s where the computerization adds to your creativity. You can make many adjustments to the built-in stitches, using the commands on the touch panel. The settings help take much of the guesswork out of sewing so you can focus on what you’re sewing instead of how to sew it.
What comes with the Skyline S5?
There is so much you can do with this machine because Janome provides such a wide range of sewing machine feet and accessories with the Skyline S5. Let’s take a look at just what you get.
Lots of feet
As we mentioned above, the presser feet that come with the Skyline S5 are snap-on, with the exception of the Even Feed foot and Darning foot. Each foot is marked with a letter, which corresponds to the letter indicated on the LCD screen for each stitch selected. Therefore, you know which foot works with which stitch. Easy, right?
Here’s a quick breakdown of the feet by name and use. There are 11 total:
- Standard foot – used for most utility stitching
NOTE: Be sure to check out the little black button on this foot. When pressed, it stabilizes the foot for going over humps, such as flat felled seams.
- Satin Stitch foot – this foot is clear so you can see through it, especially handy for sewing decorative stitches.
- Rolled Hem foot – you can guess this one.
- Blind Hem foot – same here.
- Overcast foot - used with overcasting stitches.
- Quarter Inch Seam foot – quilters love this foot because it makes sewing ¼" seams easy and precise.
- Darning foot – this tends to be high on the list for quilters who do free motion work, but you can also use it for decorative applications like thread painting.
- Even Feed foot – sometimes called a Walking foot; everyone loves this foot. It has a set of feed dogs built-in that help to evenly feed fabrics from the top and bottom, great for specialty fabrics like velvet or laminate or when seaming plaids and stripes to get a perfect, no-slip match.
- Automatic Buttonhole foot – use this foot to sew all the buttonholes on the machine. It's called automatic because the buttonholes are sewn in one-step with the help of built-in sensors on the machine.
- Buttonhole Stabilizer Plate – a fairly new attachment for Janome, this special item is used in conjunction with the Buttonhole foot to help stabilize certain fabrics (such as super thick) to create beautiful buttonholes.
- Button Sewing foot – If you’ve never sewn on a button by machine, you’ve been missing out. We use this one all the time.
Some of these may or may not look familiar to you, but they all serve a distinct purpose.
- Basics – extra bobbins, needles, lint brush, screwdriver, seam ripper.
- Thread caps – we believe this proves how well Janome machines sew with various threads; they provide you with three different thread caps/holders to best fit the various thread brands/spool types available.
- Extra spool pin – In order to use a twin needle, a second spool pin is required.
- Quilting guide bars – there are two; one is to use with the Even Feed foot and the other attaches to the back of the foot holder for use with other snap-on feet. These are great for keeping lines of stitching evenly spaced, such as for quilting or decorative stitching.
- Single hole needle plate – we'll tell you more about this below.
- Knee lift - we already mentioned how much we use this.
- Instructional DVD and Manual – these are invaluable reference tools when using your machine. We watched the DVD and found it to be very helpful, especially to someone new to sewing and/or Janome machines.
- Foot controller and plug – of course.
- Semi-hard cover – it's always good to have a way to protect your machine when not in use.
TIP: Why all this detail? It’s important to know exactly what comes with a sewing machine, not only as a financial comparison, but also to understand if the machine is right for you and the type of sewing you like to do. Don’t forget to consider what you might want to learn in the future too!
Features we can’t be without
Now, that we’ve thoroughly examined the physical appearance of the Skyline S5, along with all that comes with it, we can finally tell you what we discovered when we actually turned it on. Not too surprisingly, we found features we just can’t be without.
Boy is this machine quiet! We were so impressed with the sound, or should we say, the lack of sound. It’s super quiet and smooth. What impressed us even more is the speed. The maximum sewing speed is 1000 spm (or stitches per minute). No need to worry, you don’t always have to sew at maximum speed; you can adjust the speed using the speed control slider shown above.
The Superior Plus Feed System (or SFS+) is a key feature of the Skyline S5. Thanks to this Janome technology, sewing through all weights and textures is easy. Combined with the pressure dial settings mentioned above, you do not have to fear taking on more challenging sewing projects and/or tricky fabrics.
TIP: The ability of a sewing machine to feed a variety of fabric types and weights is very important to how well it functions.
The Skyline S5 has a 9mm maximum stitch width. What does this mean? It’s the size of the hole where the needle goes down into the machine. The 9mm measurement is the largest Janome offers on a machine, and it allows the needle to move to 91 points within the 9mm space. Are you still not sure why this is so exciting? Although it’s very technical, in essence, it's how the machine can create such beautiful, wide decorative stitches and lettering.
The single hole needle plate that comes with the machine is used when sewing fine fabrics and/or when using the specific straight plate stitches. On the stitch reference chart you will see an area on the left that indicates which stitches can be used with this plate. Best of all, this and the standard needle plate are quick-change! Simply slide off the storage compartment (as if exposing the free arm), and press the needle plate release lever on the front of the machine to switch from one needle plate to the other. To protect the machine from any damage when the single hole plate is on the machine, you will not be able to select certain stitches that require the standard needle plate. We just love that the Skyline S5 helps us keep track of what we’re doing.
Now, for something you may have overlooked on other sewing machines. The pressure foot lift has a built-in “extra high” lift. What’s the big deal about this? It makes it much, much easier to place bulky items under the foot – think quilts, home décor projects, etc.
If you’re of a certain age (we’re not admitting that we are!), the six ultra-bright LED lights provide abundant illumination in the work area of the Skyline. Like the technology in the machine, the lighting is top notch.
One final cool feature. You can customize the machine's general settings using the Set Key on the touch panel. Which settings specifically? Needle stop position, start up speed, buzzer sound and key position calibration for the touch panel. Each is explained in detail in the instruction manual.
Look at these stitches
One of our favorite features is the ever-reliable stitch reference chart in the lid of the machine. Here is where you can see all the Skyline S5 has to offer: 170 stitches plus 10 buttonholes and 4 stitch letter styles! Each stitch mode is separated by “type” of stitches.
Mode 1 – Utility and Decorative stitches: Here you will find the most common stitches; straight, zigzag, knit stitches, buttonholes, quilting and heirloom (or smocking) stitches, and satin stitches.
Mode 2 – Decorative stitches: Yep, that’s right! There’s a whole other mode with even more decorative stitches. This is where you’ll find some truly irresistible stitch goodness!
Mode 3 – Numbers and Letters: This mode contains numbers, punctuation marks, and upper and lower case letters. You might not think you’d want stitch lettering on your sewing machine, but we’ve used it to make labels for our projects and quilts, personalize items, and more.
Mode 4 – European accented letters: Similar to Mode 3, there are upper and lower case letters.
Mode 5 – Cyrillic letters: Again similar to Mode 3 and 4, you will find yet another selection of upper and lower case lettering.
Mode 6 – 9mm Monogram letters: These are generally larger than the options in Mode 3. However, you will only find upper case letters and numbers.
To clearly see the size difference between Mode 3 and Mode 6, we took this picture for you.
TIP: Quickly understanding how to navigate a machine is important to your comfort level. In addition, identifying the type of stitches you like to use is vital to how well the machine will work for you. Don’t discount the importance of having a stitch package you can grow into as you advance your sewing skills.
Default settings versus customizing stitches
Computerized sewing machines are preprogrammed to default to specific settings depending on the stitch selected. What does this mean exactly? When a stitch is selected, the machine will automatically adjust to a specific width and length for optimal stitch results. For instance, the center needle straight stitch or stitch #1 (in Mode 1) will default to a stitch width of 4.5 (which is dead center of 9mm) and a stitch length of 2.4 (which is an average stitch length or halfway to the 5mm maximum stitch length).
In general, the default settings are a great guide for how to adjust your stitch settings in coordination with your selected fabric. Using straight stitch #1 and sewing with a finer fabric requires a shorter stitch length; if sewing bulky fabric, you would lengthen the stitch.
Whether going stitch by stitch or randomly selecting stitches from the various modes, you will immediately notice how quickly the stitch width and length adjust. But what if you really want to change or customize a stitch? Well, you can do that too!
This machine has the ability to elongate stitches, mirror image stitches, and memorize stitch combinations within each mode and between modes. Wow!
For example, you use the elongation command (or key) with satin stitches. When pressed, it automatically adjusts the overall length of the specific satin stitch selected in set increments, which is shown on the LED screen. The elongation ratio is from L1 (original length) to L5. This function provides additional creativity; it's like getting whole extra set of decorative satin stitching. Below is Stitch #70 (Mode 1) elongated from its original length to L5.
The mirror image key will flip a design horizontally. You wouldn't choose this for something like a straight stitch, because it would look exactly the same in its mirror image. Use it instead on stitches with a specific direction, such as heart stitch #47 (Mode 2). In our example below, the heart in the middle has been mirror imaged. Once again, this expands your overall stitching and embellishing options.
Using the memory or stitch combination feature on the Skyline S5 can be very addicting. You can select up to 50 stitch patterns from within a mode or across modes. Below, we combined stitches #79, #80 and #81 (not in that order) to illustrate this feature. In addition, you can memorize a lock stitch, automatic thread cutting, and/or mirror image within the pattern. Now we’re really cooking with creative options!
Learn even more
Want to know more about the Skyline S5? Visit your local authorized Janome dealer for a complete demonstration. Don’t forget to ask to "test drive" the machine. This is absolutely the best way to get a feel for how the machine works, sounds, etc.
If you like to sew with specific fabrics, take scraps with you to try. Don’t be afraid to ask lots of questions, especially about service and support. Buying a sewing machine should not be a one-time purchase. You will continue to need needles, thread, etc. as well as to expand your toolbox with compatible optional accessories.
The MSRP on the machine is $1,499; check in with your Janome dealer for introductory offers and trade-in opportunitites. To find a local authorized Janome dealer, visit the Dealer Locator at Janome’s official website.
To learn more about the Skyline S5, optional accessories, projects and more, take a spin through the special Janome Skyline site.
We really enjoyed trying out the new Skyline S5. Various members of our team sewed with it, using a range of fabric types, such as cotton voile, denim, canvas, cotton velveteen and more. Everyone truly found it an enjoyable sewing experience. We recommend you give it a try too!
If you want to see more project ideas for using those fabulous built-in 9mm decorative stitches, take a look at some of these recent Sew4Home projects: