Pros: It's a strong machine with good features, well built and fun to use.
Cons: As a stand-alone embroidery machine, you'll have to have a sewing machine as well.
"Donna--the very best kind of friend". That's what the embroidery on the dish towel said. My buddy Toni's daughter Amanda had sent it to me. It was made, Toni said, by this sewing machine she had that would embroider for her. At the time that I learned this, I was doing some hand embroidery on a crazy quilt. But I couldn't do anything like that. The lettering was tight and precise, the satin stitching smooth, the rose that accompanied the saying looked like something out of the Craftsman catalog. I asked what kind of machine this was. Toni said, "It's a Brother, PE180D."
On the Hunt
I thought it would be very hard to find one of these Brother 180D machines. I also thought it would be prohibitively expensive. I'd seen the Viking and Bernina machines, at a cost similar to that of a new car. At new car prices, I'd embroider by hand forever. But, I thought, a cat can look at a king. So, on the hunt I went.
When I tracked one down at Sears, of all places, I was pleasantly surprised. The cost was under $600! Not $6,000, no, but one tenth of that. It looked like a solid machine. I liked the way that the horizontal bobbin was placed under a clear cover so you could see the amount of thread left over. (Later as I learned embroidery I appreciated it even more!) I liked the look of the huge computer screen across the machine, and the simplicity of the form suggested it would be easy to thread. And...the clincher...built in embroidery designs including Mickey and Minnie and Donald, the Disney characters I grew up with! I was sold.
No Buyer's Remorse
Out of the box, the pleasant surprise turned to admiration. This is a well designed machine. This is an easy to use machine. It's not quite fool proof, but for the most part, if you make an operator error you can correct it. For instance, if your thread breaks, after you have rethreaded, you can backtrack in the design with relative ease and stitch over the area that has had the break.
One thing I find useful is the on-board help section. For instance, let's say you haven't read the manual. You come across something that confuses you, like threading. The help section in the machine's computer portion will walk you through the threading. The help section covers the basics of operating the machine remarkably well, although I'd also suggest reading the manual and using the help as a refresher.
The machine threads easily,with a wonderfully simple thread path both upper and lower. The upper thread path resembles that of some Bernina sewing machines I've known, with the tension discs situated in the interior of the machine. This makes it difficult to thread it through the upper tension without getting it between the discs, which is a good thing. The bobbin case threading is also simple, but slightly less intuitive, if you haven't read the manual, you won't know how to correctly insert the bobbin case. Once inserted, however, threading through the lower tensioning is simple. For me, the hardest thing is always threading the needle, but there's even a needle threader that works well on the machine.
Choosing your design from the library of designs that is resident in memory on the machine is simple, as is adding designs from a design card, or importing designs using a card reader/writer (more on that later). The designs that are resident on the machine are numerous and varied, and include Disney characters, floral designs, butterflies, designs of interest to adults and children, fonts (lettering) and frames. Once you've chosen your design, you can get the details of the colors to be used, and the display read out will specify which color to thread up next. You can also get an estimate of how long stitching the design takes by touching a small hourglass on the screen. You input your commands directly to the screen on the machine. When you're ready, with the machine threaded, the cloth hooped up, and the design selected, a simple touch of a button will start the embroidery process.
Operating it is so simple that you can have the kid on your lap choose all the options and start the operation. Believe me, having a little one choose and make their own patch is a great rainy day activity and one that they will remember for a long time. If you lack a lap sitting kid, you can do it yourself and have a good time.
I've had mine for almost a year now, and I'm thinking of getting a backup embroidery machine. It's that good. Brother makes these embroidery machines for a lot of other brands, and those brands sell the machines at a much higher price. The reason those other brands use Brother embroidery machines is because they're good.
Look at it this way, the money you save you can spend on thread and stabilizers, and still have a high quality embroidery machine, plus the goodies.