Who would have guessed that the world's first transformer was actually a sewing machine? Meet the Elna Lotus SP, the first sewing machine to incorporate its own case in its design. This clever little piece of Swiss engineering represented the peak of innovation in the late 60s and can be found on permanent display in the New York Museum of Modern Art.
Folded up, the Lotus looks like a little lunch box. Weighing in at 13.6 lbs fully loaded, this is the lightest of all the non-toy portables that I've worked with. And unlike toy-sewing machines, the Lotus SP is loaded with features.
The Lotus line comes in four different flavors: Lotus EC, Lotus ZZ, Lotus SP and Lotus TSP. SP stands for special and comes equipped with 4 useful stitches: straight stitch, zigzag, multi-step zigzag, and blind stitch. It is capable of left and right needle positioning as well as making a 4 step buttonhole. Stitch length and width can vary from 0 to 4 and the machine is reverse ready.
These features, don't come without their quirks. The stitch length mechanism is operated by a dial. Unfortunately, the same dial controls reverse, which requires the operator to 'turn through' all the stitch lengths in between to get there. As a result, matching forward and reverse stitch lengths is impossible without stopping. The dial does not lock into particular stitch lengths, so matching reverse stitch lengths, even while stopping, can be tricky if you use something like 2 1/4 stitch length. That being said, the previously reviewed Kenmore portables do not having matching reverse stitch length or needle positioning capabilities at all.
Stitch selection is accomplished by the left most dial. While the stitch selection is minimal, they are all practical stitches. The Lotus TSP includes 4 more stitches and is stretch capable. Another quirk to note, stitch selection can only be changed when the zigzag width is set to zero.
Despite some of these short-comings, the build quality of the case is amazing as it's entirely made of metal and feels much more robust than its more modern cousin, the Elna Stella. There is even a nice little locking mechanism in the back of the machine to ensure your thread take-up stays put when in storage. This Lotus is missing its sticker, but you can see there are 3 settings. One to lock, one to sew, and the other to disengage the clutch to wind bobbins. Neat!
There's even a clever little compartment up top to house all of your accessories. The felt covered accessory tray is molded specifically to fit Elna accessories: two bobbins, a pack of needles, needle threader, seam ripper, oil tube, lint brush, small screw driver, zipper foot, darning foot, satin stitch foot, and darning plate. As you can see, this particular Lotus is missing a number of accessories. Unfortunately, searching for aftermarket parts that fit this tray is next to impossible--consider yourself lucky if you find a Lotus that comes with all the original attachments. The inclusion of a darning plate also means that the feed dogs do not drop.
Another cool feature is that the foot control can be stored inside the machine when you close it up! These foot controllers come in two varieties, the more modern version has a separate speed control switch for fast and slow speed sewing. This one does not. Functionally they are very similar to the Singer rheostat controllers, but I feel they are not quite as ergonomic. They are also prone to losing sensitivity due the way the contacts are laid out. More on that in a later post.
The Lotus SP features a super smooth, top loading rotary hook capable of achieving speeds well over 1000 stitches a minute. After many hours of TLC, this little beast now clocks in at 1150 spm! That's faster than my cast-iron Singer 201! Due to the minimal vibrations of the rotary hook, the Lotus is just as stable as the Kenmore 1040 and a heck of a lot quieter, especially at high speeds. It also has four grippy diamond shaped feed dogs to help material through. I prefer this setup over the Kenmore three piece feeder as it pulls fabric consistently in both forward and reverse.
The Lotus gets its power from a .75 amp internal motor that drives a cleated nylon belt. Below you can see its freshly polished commutator.
This is the top of the machine with the accessory tray removed. It's pretty crammed in there, and there's a good deal of plastic. It's important to note that the plastic parts do not take lots stress and are much less prone to cracking than say Bernina Record cam gears (more on that in a future post).
What I do find inexcusable, is that the presser foot raiser bar is made of plastic! Speaking of which, the presser foot height is a little lacking. I've maxed the presser bar height and it just barely gets 4 quarters under, even with the feed dogs in their lowest position. Presser foot pressure is not adjustable on this machine.
In case you're wondering, the tube shaped apparatus just behind the presser foot is a bobbin extractor. The Elna Supermatics and SUs have this feature as well.
- Extremely portable
- Light-weight at 13.6 lbs
- Built in accessory tray
- Sturdy construction
- 3 needle positions
- 4 step buttonhole
- 4 practical stitches
- Rotary hook
- 4 grippy feed dogs
It saddens me to say this, but the biggest draw of the Lotus is also it's largest drawback. The foldable Lotus petals were marketed as 'extension trays' but in practice, only serve to get in the way of sewing. This machine, despite its diminutive storage profile, takes an exceedingly large amount of space to sew with!
I wanted so badly to love this machine--a lot of thought went into its design and I absolutely love the aesthetic. Too bad the impracticality of the (non-removable) extension trays prevents ascension into the 'must have' category. I can only recommend this machine with some reservation.