Pros: Price and built in functions.
Cons: Quick Load Thread Cassette.
I'm not married to Martha Stewart, but I could very well be. My wife is a domestic diva in her own right-a self-taught quilter who also sews home decor items that are constantly admired when guests visit our home. She has been valiantly sewing her creations on a low-budget, but dependable Janome sewing machine. For her autumn birthday, I surprised her with the Brother SE-270D that I ordered online at Amazon.com. I thought that the embroidery features would give her even more creative opportunities to broaden her skills. The following review is based on her direct experiences with the Brother SE-270D.
I was in love with the machine before I even opened it. The carton featured an image of this Combination Sewing/Embroidery machine and a list of computerized features:
o 97 built in embroidery designs featuring Mickey Mouse & Friends
o 5 Built in embroidery Monogram Fonts in 3 sizes
o LCD touch screen for stitch selection
o 98 built in Stitch Functions, 10 styles of one-step auto-size buttonholes, built-in stretch stitches, garment construction stitches, decorative stitches, heirloom and quilting stitches.
o Memory card slot for additional designs
Inside the box, I found the sturdy 23-lb. machine, one instructional CD, two separate operation manuals (one in English and the other in Spanish), a 4X4 embroidery hoop and guide sheet, white bobbin thread, foot pedal, vinyl sewing machine cover, and a softcover bag of accessories (presser feet, bobbins, spool pins, scissors, etc.)
Although the product comes with a quantity of extras, there are definitely some additional items you will need to purchase in order to take full advantage of the embroidery functions. You will definitely need fabric stabilizer material to ensure that your embroidery stitches are consistent and to prevent your fabric from bunching up. (Brother recommends water-soluble on thin or high-nap fabrics. I use a medium weight iron-on tear-away for my cotton fabrics).
In addition to the stabilizer, you're going to need good quality embroidery thread. I personally use polyester (though some folks swear by rayon). I find polyester thread is colorful, colorfast, and threads through my machine and needle easily (although it took me a while to get the threading rightmore on that later). You will probably also wish to purchase a pack of extra embroidery needles and plastic bobbins. Finally, if you want to download designs from the Internet (including many freebies), you will need to purchase the companion software programs; PE-Design or Brother PED Basic . Alternatively, you can also purchase any of the design cards from Brother's or Disneys Embroidery Card Collection.
Once I had thoroughly read the manual from cover to cover, I purchased some embroidery thread and pre-cut stabilizer (ThreadArt.com). Armed with my supplies, I cut a large square of fabric, ironed on the stabilizer and began to test a simple design.
The process for threading the bobbin was straightforward and self explanatory. I had no problems with the bobbin at all. My first problem was threading the machine itself. The Brother SE-270D has a thread cassette cartridge which I had never encountered before. The instructional CD shows you how to thread the cartridge; however I soon discovered that my newly purchased embroidery thread was too large to fit in the cartridge. Brothers solution is to use the extra spool pin (included) on top of the empty cartridge and then continue threading the cassette. I found this to be a tricky and unnecessarily cumbersome way to thread a sewing machine. (Not to mention, it looks completely ridiculouslike using duct tape and a screwdriver to replace a door handle).
The big problem with this threading "system" is that you have to insert the cassette with just the right amount of force, at just the right speed and angle, and hold it in just the right place so that you dont damage the unit. Oh, and you can only insert the cartridge when the green light is on. If you do it correctly, it will self thread your needle and all will be right with the world. If you dont, nothing happens and you have to keep trying till you get it right. It generally takes me 3 tries to get the cartridge in and the needle threaded. Seriously! This is not a feature that I enjoy.
Anyway, my next problem was getting the hang of using the hoop. The material needs to be stretched taut over the frame, and then the hoop gets screwed on top. It took me about 15 minutes to get it right, and then I was ready to go. I find that the more you practice, the easier it gets.
Following the directions, I set up the machine for the embroidery function (changing the presser foot, checking the needle and bobbin thread, attaching the embroidery unit (a little tricky getting the hoop under the needle), selecting the pattern, and checking the layout). My pattern was a cute little frog that only required three color changes, so I thought that would be an easy way to try out the machine. I hit the start button (no foot pedal required!) and the machine began to move. Everything was fine for about 15 seconds, and suddenly the machine began to make a clunking sound. The LCD screen indicated that there was a problem with the upper thread (not surprising) and so I re-threaded. I tried to continue the pattern, and the same problem happened. After three tries, I got the unit moving again, but the needle snapped and had to be replaced. I tried rethreading the unit several more times, but it kept coming unthreaded or breaking the needles. I was so frustrated and disappointed because I had had such grand hopes for the machine. I couldnt figure out what was wrong.
My husband helpfully suggested that before I hurl the machine out of the window, I go online and see if I could find an embroidery forum. Perhaps someone else had the same embroidery machine and had posted a solution to my problems. Sure enough, I came across SewForum.com which had an embroidery section: "Poor stitch quality, not sure which stabilizer to use, what about metallic threads? Ask or answer embroidery questions here..." I spent an entire evening reading the question and answers relative to my specific machine. I came away from the website with a whole new attitude and plan of attack:
1) Buy new embroidery-specific needles
2) Adjust the upper tension on the machine
3) Purchase an inexpensive cone holder to help the larger spool of thread feed correctly through the cartridge.
Happily, my new approach worked wonders. What I discovered from reading the forums are the little nuances that are never mentioned in instruction manuals. My frog design embroidered beautifully, and I had no more threading problems, needle breaks, or interrupted stitches. I was able to pause for threading changes and the Brother SE-270D started right back where it had left off, all without missing a stitch.
I have since used the alphabet fonts to personalize a sweatshirt for my nearly-two-year old grandson. I also embroidered Mickey Mouse on his clothing and it came out perfectly. I did purchase the PED Basic software, so the frog design and other freebies that I downloaded from the Internet can be transferred from my computer to the memory card. The designs I select from the memory card seem to work equally as well as the designs that are programmed in the machine.
All in all, the Brother SE-270D is a great starting point for anyone wanting the ability to embroider without committing to a high-end machine. Because it is a combination sewing/embroidery machine with many built in functions and designs, you really don't need separate machines to create a wide variety of projects. You can sew apparel, quilting, and home decor projects, and add embellishments and embroidery as final touches.
On the negative side, the "Quick Load Thread Cassette" cartridge is anything but quick. It wastes more time than it saves, and you have to be very careful in handling it. The Brother SE-270D comes with many standard accessories, but you will need to buy a few more basics to get started with the embroidery features. As you gain confidence and skill, you can always purchase add-ons and more elaborate patterns at a later time. Finally, the manual and CD are adequate, but you will get the most out of your machine by networking with other users either locally or online.