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From Straw Hats to Stitches: The Inspiring Story of Brother Sewing Machines

The company we know today as Brother Sewing started in Japan in 1908 as Yasui Sewing Machine Co. Today, Brother is one of the leaders in the sewing machine market bringing new technology to the sewing world. Let’s dive in to see how this company went from repairing machines for making straw hats to introducing the Scan N Cut.

Brother sewing history

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Brother Sewing Machine Company – How It Started

In 1908 Kanekichi Yasui started his sewing company. He focused on repairing chain stitch sewing machines for straw hats and making parts for sewing machines. Mr. Yasui was in poor health and his oldest son spent a lot of time helping his dad and would take over the company when his dad retired in 1923.

Masayoshi was just 19 years old when he took over the company. In the 1920s the company started making presses for straw hats using his designs. Around 1926 his younger brother joined him and they started researching sewing technology and mastering how to produce sewing machines.

Two years later the brothers started Yasui Brothers’ Sewing Machine Co. and launched the first Japanese sewing machine. It was a chain stitch sewing and they named it Brother to show that both brothers contributed to the machine. Source The official name of the company changed over the years but for this article, I will refer to the company as Brother Sewing since that’s what the majority of us know it as.

In 1932 they successfully created their first class 15 sewing machine for home use and in 1947 they produced 200 HA1, aka Singer 15 clones. During this time they also changed names and added divisions. They changed the company name to NIPPON SEWING MACHINE MANUFACTURING CO. in 1934 and added Brother Sewing Sales in 1941.

Brother Goes International

The 50s were huge for the Brother company. Masayoshi came to the USA and after his trip, he decided it was time to diversify the company. Brother would start to make knitting machines, washing machines, electric fans, refrigerators, and 80 cc motorbikes.

The Men That Brought Brother Sewing Machines To The USA

Brother USA lists Roy Nakagawa, Max Hugel, and Bernie Etzin as the three who brought Brother sewing machines to the USA. In 1954, Brother International was established in New York. All three were still with the company in 1959 when the FTC brought suit against them and Brother over pricing and giveaways.

I couldn’t find anything on Roy outside of the suit, the name appears to be fairly common and nothing else mentioned Brother Sewing which I thought would at least be worth a mention. Max Hugel left Brother and went on to work for both Nixon and Reagan administrations in various capacities. I found Bernie Etzin mentioned in a bio of his son. Bernie started as an assistant to General Eisenhower according to the article but the article also states that there were three Yasui brothers but I only saw mention of two on the Brother websites. Bernie became a multi-millionaire hotel developer.

Outside of Japan & USA

Brother International would make Dublin the home of the European division in 1958 and in 1959 they would open in Canada. In the 60s they would add Paris, Frankfurt, and Amsterdam as regional sales headquarters.

Brother Sewing Machine Advancements

In 1968 Brother purchased the Jones Sewing Machine Company. Brother says that in 1974 they produced the first NC sewing machines. After a bit of reading NC is numerical control a type of programmable automation that uses numbers, letters, and symbols to control a process. I’m not sure how that was used in straight-stitch sewing machines though. Brother also claims to have introduced the first computerized home sewing machine in 1979, Necchi makes the same claim.

In 1983 Brother would add sound to sewing machines for the first time. Computer-controlled embroidery would come onto the market in 1991 and at the same time, Brother would move sewing machine manufacturing to China.

It wouldn’t be until the 2000s that Brother brought new technologies to the market. They introduced the first sewing/embroidery machine with a color screen in 2000. They introduced garment printers in 2005, I still want to play with that. For their 100th anniversary in 2008, Brother Sewing released NV6000D, known affectionately as The Dream Machine. This sewing/embroidery machine brought to the market the ability to see where your design would go on the fabric and a 12×8 inch hoop. They introduced their own embroidery software, PE-Designs, in 2010. In 2013 they gave the world the Scan N Cut.

Timeline of Brother Sewing Machines
Click the image for full-size easy-to-read version.

Brother Sewing Manufacturing

Brother Sewing did not produce sewing machines exclusively under the Brother name. I have a class 15 machine that has the name Bendix on it but the parts underneath are marked Brother. This is not something that is exclusive to Brother, over the course of sewing machine history manufacturing companies have made machines for other companies.

Generic Sewing Machines

In some cases, the manufacturer made a bunch of sewing machines and then put whatever name was wanted after they were purchased. Think of it like a grocery store brand item. We know Walmart isn’t making sugar but you can buy Great Value sugar, because Walmart has paid a sugar manufacture to put Walmart’s name on their sugar. My Bendix machine is an example of this, it’s a generic class 15 sewing machine but the parts are marked Brother.

Manufacturing For Other Brands

The other way this happens is when brand a hires the manufacturer to make something to their specs. Kenmore sewing machines are probably the most widely known brand that has done this. Kenmore never made their own sewing machines but they did design them. The company would take those designs and shop for a sewing machine manufacturer that could produce what they designed.

Brother Sewing has done both types of manufacturing. I’m not aware of them making generic machines anymore but they do manufacture for other brands though what brands they produce for is pretty hush-hush. There is a rumor that Brother makes the Baby Lock sewing machines for Tacony but there isn’t any concrete proof. The new Brother PQ1600 and the Babylock Accomplish look extremely similar.

Brother Sewing Machine Models

Unlike my exhaustive list of Singer Sewing Machine Models, there isn’t one for Brother. Brother did not keep or they did not share that information with anyone outside of the company so it isn’t possible to put a list of sewing machine models together. They do have a discontinued section on their website.

Brother makes sewing machines for big box stores and for dealers. There typically is a price difference between these machines and that boils down to quality. Your big box stores are looking for a lot of product and cheap so they can move a lot of product. The dealers are wanting to keep you happy and keep you coming back, WalMart doesn’t care if you come buy another sewing machine. The local dealer cares if you come back and if you say good things about them.

I know not everyone has a local dealer and it’s so easy to grab a sewing machine from Amazon or Walmart. If that’s what your budget allows then please buy one of those, I would rather have you sewing and quilting than not because of budget constraints. You can order from online dealers, I recommend Carolina Forest Vacuum and Sewing and Sewing Machines Plus. They both offer refurbished machines which might help you stretch your budget.

Frequently Asked Questions About Brother Sewing

Before we go I wanted to cover some questions that get asked a lot.

Is Brother better than Singer? Is Brother better than Janome? Does Brother make good sewing machines?

I’m lumping all of these questions together. I’ve covered Brother vs Singer in a separate post. Brother, Singer, and Janome all make sewing machines that will serve you well in your quilting and sewing journey. Some models might last you longer, might fit in your budget better, or might have more local support but all of the companies have good machines.

Are Brother Sewing machines made in China?

Brother has manufacturing facilities in China, Taiwan, and Vietnam.

Do Brother and Baby Lock use the same bobbin?

The majority of sewing machines today use class 15 bobbins. Be sure to check your user manual to make sure you are using the correct bobbin.

What is the best sewing machine?

The one that you will use! I do have some recommendations if you are interested.

Dive deep into the transformation of Brother Sewing Company. Watch how it stitched its way from a local repair shop to an international brand pioneering in the field of sewing technology.

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