Want to get into machine embroidery, start here!
Oct 1, 2001
The Bottom Line I have done my best to explain Embroidery Machines in a clear and concise manner that will be helpful to the newcomer to machine embroidery.
So, are you interested in learning about machine embroidery? If so, I think I have some information you will find helpful. This review will focus on embroidery machines for the home market since that is the area I have experience in.
What types of home embroidery machines are there?
You'll find that there are two main types of home embroidery machines. There are those that strictly embroider and then there are those that are combination machines that can do machine embroidery *and* regular sewing. Which kind you might want will depend on a number of factors. One important fact is that currently the only embroidery-only machines available for home hobbiests have small embroidery fields -- typically in the area of 4" by 4". This may or may not be an issue, but it is definitely something to consider. If you have your heart set on embroidery large designs in one hooping and/or if you are also interested in a computerized sewing machine, a combination machine may be the best choice for you.
How exactly does a home embroidery machine work?
For the most part, the general concept is very similar from machine to machine and from brand to brand. What most of us think of when hearing machine embroidery is a picture that the machine stitches out through the use of an embroidery hoop that is moved via an embroidery arm.
The machine's built-in brain (ie. computer) controls the movement of the embroidery arm so that a pattern can be stitched. These patterns are usually fed to the machine via a proprietary card, floppy disk or direct-link to a computer. One style of machine (Singer EU, Toyota POEM, Viking Huskygram..all made by same manufacturer) actually needs to be connected to a computer to operate at all, as these embroidery-only machines do not have a built-in computer on board.
The embroidery arm holds a hoop which typically snaps onto the arm or attaches in some manner. The hoop is a two-piece frame with an inner and outer portion. The user "hoops" the item to be embroidered by putting it between the inner and outer portions and setting them together to hold the fabric tautly in the hoop. The use of stabilizer is also necessary in most cases to get a good result. There are as many types of stabilizer available as there are embroidery machines, but I won't get into that now! ;)
Embroidery machines usually have some sort of display or read out and many have touch-screens. These provide information valuable to the user and they often list the colors of the design and many allow for editing and combining or creating layouts right at the machine without the need for aditional software.
Home embroidery machines will stop between colors in an embroidery so the operator can manually change the thread at each color change and this is what allows these machines to stitch out multi-colored embroidery desigs even though they only have a single needle.
How do I know which type of machine is right for me?
It will depend, again, on your needs. If you are not a sewist, but interested in doing some machine embroidery, or you already have a sewing machine you love, or you are on a limited budget or skeptical of whether or not you will like machine embroidery, then I would most likely recommend you start with an embroidery-only machine, as long as you do not mind being limited to the smaller embroidery field that I mentioned earlier.
Embroidery-only machines can be extremely affordable -- I have seen them for as little as $499 new for machines such as the Brother PE-150. Brother also makes embroidery-only machines for Babylock (Accent) and Simplicity (SE-x). Bernina has an embroidery-only machine called the Deco, and it uses the same format as the Brother-made machines, meaning that embroidery cards for all four of these machines, as well as software and reader/writer boxes are completely interchangeable with the exception of a few embroidery cards.
If you are already in the market for a computerized sewing machine or you feel that you desire a larger embroidery field and more advanced features, then a combination machine might be what you are looking for. There are many more makes and models of combination machines available with new, updated models being introduced quite frequently. Although many of the current and recent combination models also have small embroidery fields, there are many with large fields that range from 5" by 7" to 6" by 9" or 10" and beyond. These machines quite often also include top-of-the-line sewing features. The price range for combination machines is from about -$1000-$5000+.
Where do I start in my search for the right machine?
The internet is a great place to get general information on the different brands and models of machines available. All the manufacturers have excellent websites where you can get excellent info on the features of the various models available. Here is a list of manufacturer website addresses:
Epinions.com is also as excellent place to read reviews written by people with hands-on experience with certain machines.
Once you think you have narrowed the playing field on what you want, visiting local sewing machine dealers is an excellent way to get additional information and actually get hands-on experience with different machines.
Where should I buy my machine?
Many people feel that having an excellent local dealer for lessons and support is as important as the machine you choose. I do agree with this for the most part and I usually buy machines and accessories locally from a reputable dealer. I did buy one machine from an out-of-state reseller and did so only because I was able to get a $2400 machine for $900. Please be aware that most manufacturers prohibit dealers from mail-order or internet sales and prohibit them from selling outside their local area. They also often state in the warranty information that machines not purchased from authorized dealers will not have valid warranties. While there is much in the debate sewing community over whether or not this is fair or legal, I will say that I have heard stories from both sides....people who had trouble with their warranties after buying from unauthorized dealers and people who still got factory warranty service even after buying from an unauthorized dealer. Local dealers also often have a large selection of more-afforable used machines that were trade-ins on newer or better models.
Sears markets a full-line of Kenmore sewing machines and you may be interested to know that their embroidery machines are currently made by Janome. The Kenmore 19000 is the Janome 5000 and the Kenmore 19001 is the Janome 5700. Janome also makes Elna's embroidery machines...the Janome 5000 is also very similar to the Elna 8006, the 5700 is very similar to the Elna 8007 and the Janome 9000 is closely related to the Elna CE-20. Accessories for these machines as well as peripherals (including software and most cards) are fully interchangeable in most cases. Please note that many Sears stores do not have knowledgable staff and don't offer lessons -- though some certainly do. If you do plan to get an embroidery machine at Sears, you may want to be aware of this. I have also seen Brother and Simplicity embroidery-only machines and accessories for sale at Sears.
Ebay.com is another place you can buy new and used embroidery machines. I would advise caution in this situation, but certainly wouldn't advise against it. I understand the need to get an excellent price. Pay close attention to seller feedback and consider using online escrow or a credit card that will offer you fraud protection if you buy a machine from Ebay.com or elsewhere online or by mail-order.
What else will I need once I get my machine?
Well, you definitely will need embroidery thread and stabilizer. Embroidery design cards are a definite necessity for most, although some machines come with built-in designs and most come with at least one card of designs. If you wish to buy designs on diskette or CD, or use freebies or for sale designs from the internet, you will need a reader/writer for your machine and/or software to make your own cards or floppies compatiable with your machine. These packages range from about $300-$600 depending on manufacturer. If you want to make professional-quality designs on your own, you will need digitizing software which ranges from about $200-$2000 depending on type and brand.
I hope this essay has been helpful to you -- if you do decide to enter the world of embroidery for the first time -- have fun! =) But beware...it is VERY addictive! =)