Have you been thinking about buying an embroidery machine?
Perhaps you’ve worked your way through your sewing machine’s decorative stitches and you’re wondering what’s next.
Or maybe you’ve noticed other people’s cute embroidered designs and thought about creating your own.
For that, you’ll need an embroidery machine.
The problem is, there’s a huge variety of machines that can do different types of embroidery. Some also do regular sewing, but many do not.
On top of that, you’ll find a dizzying array of prices, technologies, and available features.
But don’t worry. If you know the basics, you’ll be able to figure out the best machine for you.
How is an Embroidery Machine Different?
A sewing machine stitches pieces of fabric together. An embroidery machine sews images, letters, and decorative stitches onto fabric.
Combination embroidery and sewing machines do both. But few do both at a professional level.
Are you buying an embroidery machine because you’re interested primarily in machine embroidery? Then you may have to buy a dedicated embroidery machine.
On the other hand, if you’re looking for a sewing machine first, but with designs and lettering, you’ll find it. Although you may have to sacrifice the most advanced embroidery functions.
There is a machine out there for you, however. If you know what you want and know where to look (and how to look).
Different levels of embroidery machines
Numerous types of machines can do embroidery at a variety of levels.
Most computerized sewing machines, like the Singer Quantum Stylist 9960 can do both regular sewing stitches and decorative embroidery stitches.
You can do a lot with decorative stitches, from crafts to clothing and housewares — even crazy quilts. But you won’t be able to do images.
Some higher-end computerized sewing and embroidery machines, like the Brother SE600, can do regular sewing, decorative embroidery stitching and can also do lettering and images.
You may also be able to alter the size and orientation of built-in stitches, lettering, and designs.
Dedicated embroidery machines like the Janome Memory Craft 500E do only lettering and embroidery designs. You cannot do regular sewing with a dedicated embroidery machine.
However, you will be able to import your own embroidery designs, as well as designs you purchase elsewhere.
You may even be able to convert photos and sketches into embroidery patterns and send them to your machine from your phone.
Once the designs are on your machine, most higher-end embroidery machines will allow you to further edit your designs via a large color touchscreen.
Embroidery machines are computerized
Sewing machines come in mechanical and computerized varieties.
Mechanical sewing machines have a limited number of stitches. They also have manual controls, that is, knobs, dials, and sliders.
Embroidery machines are all computerized. Their memory allows them to store designs, lettering, and sometimes stitches.
More advanced machines also store information about color, size, stitch type, orientation, and so on. They can even store imported designs.
Advanced embroidery machines will allow you to edit your designs right on your machine as well.
They’re built differently
There are a few physical differences between embroidery machines and sewing machines.
Dedicated embroidery machines also come in a few different forms.
Sewing and embroidery machine
A sewing and embroidery machine is a regular sewing machine with some built-in embroidery functions.
Some models may come with a removable embroidery table and one or more machine embroidery hoops.
Sewing and embroidery machines may also have a longer throat space to give you more room to work.
A sewing and embroidery machine may or may not have a built-in method for design transfer.
Single needle embroidery machine
A single needle dedicated embroidery machine often has a larger work table to accommodate different sized hoops.
Many models have a touch screen that allows you to perform advanced editing functions such as:
- Moving the image around the workspace
- Adding or removing design elements
- Programming different colors
- Programming various stitch types
- Combining designs
Almost all models will have a method for design transfer.
Multi-needle embroidery machine
A multi-needle embroidery machine like the Janome MB-7 is an investment. If you’re buying an embroidery machine to start a business, this is the type of machine you’ll need.
This type of embroidery machine works with several needles and several threads at the same time. This allows the user to create unique, complex designs with ultimate precision and at lightning speed.
A multi-needle embroidery machine will always have design transfer technology and will almost always have a touch screen.
Embroidery machines are connected
In addition to built-in designs, many embroidery machines have a way to import outside designs onto your machine.
You might buy designs from the manufacturer or a third party. You might also create them yourself using special apps or software.
Some design transfer technologies include:
- Embroidery cards
USB connectivity is the most common for mid-range machines. Higher-end embroidery machines often have apps, as well as USB and Wi-Fi connectivity.
Embroidery cards and card readers/writers aren’t used much anymore. Some older machines use them, however.
How Embroidery Machines Work
Machine embroidery involves four main functions: acquiring your design, transferring it to your machine, editing it, and embroidering it.
Acquiring your design
There are three types of embroidery machine designs: built-ins, pre-made designs, and designs you create yourself.
Built-ins, obviously, come programmed into your machine’s memory. Here’s how the other two methods work.
Buying embroidery machine designs
Once you’ve downloaded your designs onto your computer, you can transfer them to your embroidery machine via an app, USB, Wi-Fi, or a card reader. The specific transfer technology will depend on your machine.
However, you must be careful. Embroidery designs come in a lot of different file types. Not all of them will work with all machines.
So before you press “buy,” always double-check that the file type will work with your embroidery machine.
Creating your own designs
If money is no object, some ultra-premium machines allow you to create embroidery patterns from photographs and sketches and transfer them wirelessly to your machine.
Check out this top-of-the-line Brother embroidery machine, for example.
Most of us, however, don’t have several months’ salary to spend on a crafting machine.
Fortunately, there are other ways to create your embroidery designs.
First, you can use special software to create designs and digitize them. That is, turn them into a file type that your embroidery machine can read.
One software suite that does this is Embrilliance.
Another option is an online service like PhotoEmbroidery.com. This service turns your uploaded photos into machine embroidery files.
There are also a number of freeware options. But quality can vary, so be careful.
Once you’ve purchased or created a design, you may want to edit it.
High-end dedicated embroidery machines will allow you to edit your designs extensively on the machine. However, mid-range sewing and embroidery machines will have limited editing functions.
You may be able to resize, reposition, and rotate the image, but probably not much more than that. You’ll need to do more advanced editing on your computer before transferring the design to your machine.
As we mentioned before, once you have your designs ready to go, you’ll need to move them to your machine. How you accomplish this will depend on your machine.
Your machine may have a USB connection or Wi-Fi connectivity. Alternatively, the manufacturer may offer a design transfer app. Some older machines may also have a slot for embroidery cards.
You’ve acquired your design, done any necessary editing, and transferred it to your machine. Now you’re ready to embroider.
The exact process will depend on your machine. If you have a combination machine, you may have to attach an embroidery unit. You might also have to set up an embroidery hoop.
And then it will be time to use your machine’s computer to position your design and do any last-minute alterations.
Buying an Embroidery Machine: A Guide
That’s a lot to keep in mind! But don’t worry. Here are the highlights. If you’re buying an embroidery machine, these are the main questions to consider.
How will you use this machine?
This is the most important question. On one hand, you don’t want to buy a machine that’s too limited for your needs.
On the other hand, you don’t want something that’s so complicated you’ll be afraid to use it.
If you’re a home sewist interested in dipping your toe into machine embroidery, then consider a combination sewing and embroidery machine.
- A generous selection of built-in embroidery designs
- Lettering fonts
- Sometimes have the ability to import new designs
- Limited editing such as rotating, resizing, and repositioning
- Sometimes include machine embroidery hoops
Some combination machines are simple. Others, on the other hand, can be quite sophisticated and powerful. There’s also a wide range of prices with no upper limit.
Either way, a combination machine has plenty to keep a hobbyist happy for a long time. Plus, if you discover that machine embroidery isn’t for you after all, you’ll still have a high-quality regular sewing machine.
Buying an embroidery machine for business
If you’re starting a business, or if you’ve hit the limits of what you can do with your combination machine, then you need a dedicated embroidery machine.
You can’t do regular sewing with a dedicated embroidery machine. But if you’re serious about machine embroidery and want maximum creative control, this is what you need.
There’s a wide array of available features at this level. Not every machine will have all of them, though. Therefore, it’s important to think about which features are most important to you.
That said, some features you may find at this level include:
- Advanced on-machine editing
- Design creation, digitization, and transfer via app
- Multiple needles
- Large color touchscreen
- High-speed stitching
- Large embroidery area
What are your must-have features?
A closely related question is, what are your dealbreaker features?
Of course, when looking at complex options, it’s tempting to pick fast and hope for the best. But when you’re investing this much money, you want a machine that does what you need it to do.
Therefore, think about the following:
- Do you want to create from scratch?
- Would you rather start embroidering right out of the box?
- How much control do you want over your designs?
- What level of complexity are you comfortable with?
- What transfer technology works best for you?
- How much money do you have to spend on your machine?
Because there are so many available combinations of features, it can be very helpful to have a good picture of what you want to do, and what you’ll need to do it.
What is your technology comfort level?
This is a big one.
Some embroidery machines are complicated to use. Others practically run themselves.
The best embroidery machine is the one that you will use. So it’s important to be comfortable using it.
If you like a challenge, a more complicated machine can stretch your abilities and help you to grow in your craft.
On the other hand, if you don’t want to mess around with complicated equipment, and just want to start embroidering, you’d probably be happier with a model that’s easier to use.
So trust your gut.
How much do you have to spend?
Some embroidery combination machines cost about the same as a mid-range sewing machine. Others, however, can cost as much as a compact car.
It goes without saying that the more you spend, the more features your machine will have. But most of us don’t have an unlimited budget.
If you shop smart, you can often find a good combination of features for less than you might think.
But how much should you spend?
A bit of simple math can help.
First, ask yourself, realistically how many hours you’ll use this machine in any given month. If you’re a serious hobbyist, that may be around 20 hours.
Next, look at how much it costs to rent a similar machine in your area. At the time of this writing, sewing machine rentals range from $10 to $30 per hour. So let’s use an average of $20 per hour.
So, if you were to rent a machine for $20 per hour, and use it for 20 hours, that would be $400.
Therefore, you could look at it this way; you would be getting $400 of use out of your embroidery machine in the first month alone.
Does that mean you should only spend $400? Frankly, that wouldn’t get you very far in terms of an embroidery machine.
But if you thought about the amount of use you’d be getting in six months, well, that $2,400 could buy you a very decent machine indeed. And after six months, your usage will have justified the purchase.
Also, if you’re looking at pricier equipment, consider alternatives, such as:
- Small business grants and loans
- Company financing
- Purchasing pre-owned or refurbished machines
- Using makerspaces rather than purchasing
Buying an Embroidery Machine for Your Sewing Room
It’s always exciting to consider buying a new piece of equipment. Especially when you can use it to create beautiful and unique works of art.
At the same time, even inexpensive embroidery machines will cost you a healthy chunk of change. So it’s important to get the one that’s right for you.
First, know your needs as a crafter. How are you planning to use your machine? Which features are your dealbreakers? And how much money can you realistically justify spending?
Next, consider your crafting personality. Do you want a machine that will grow with you and stretch your abilities? Or do you just want to get started right out of the box, with no fuss?
Also, which is more important? Ease of use or ultimate creative control?
Do you have your lists? Great! Now it’s time to go shopping!
Do you have a favorite model? And do you have any advice for people buying an embroidery machine? We’d love to hear about it!