I get quite a lot of comments asking about embroidery sewing machines, so today I am writing an article to help you choose the right embroidery machine for you.
If you are just getting started or thinking about trying machine embroidery, all the information and choices available can seem daunting. Whether selecting your first machine or upgrading to a new one an understanding of what the experts are saying is key. With a few explanations of the key terms unique to embroidery sewing machines, you can start to understand how your machine works and how you can make the most of your new sewing tool.
I’ve assembled this primer on the language of embroidery sewing machines here for you.
Armed with your new understanding you can make the most of the great tips and reviews here at Sewing Machine Judge.
With your new knowledge, 2016 can be your best embroidery machine year ever!
- What is an Embroidery Sewing Machine?
- The Parts of Your Embroidery Machine
- More Unique Terms and Techniques From the Machine Embroidery World
- Talking to the Computer
- Choose Your Features
- Choose Your Machine
Learning the Language
What is an Embroidery Sewing Machine?
First, an embroidery sewing machine is part sewing machine, part computer. Modern sewing machines have long allowed for special stitches and even some small design work. The embroidery sewing machine just takes these options to the next level. Because it can actually be programmed to perform a series of stitches in a specific pattern, the machine will create a finished design at the touch of a button. This programming is the computer part. Specific computerized instructions from the design are read by the computer which then directs the machine to perform all the steps necessary to create the design with thread on your fabric.
Achieving quality results depends on learning to manage both the computer and the machine. To do this, it is helpful to know the specific terms that you’ll encounter as you read embroidery machine reviews and learn about your embroidery sewing machine.
The Parts of Your Embroidery Machine
There are a few parts to an embroidery machine that you won’t find on your regular sewing machine. The list below explains what those parts do:
- Embroidery Arm– The embroidery arm of the machine is the part that moves in response to the pattern instructions to execute the pattern.
- Embroidery Head– The embroidery head of your embroidery sewing machine is the part that houses the needle or needles. The bobbin, thread and other parts of the needle assembly for each needle will be found in the embroidery head.
- Frame – This is a specific piece of equipment that holds your fabric and stabilizer in place while the embroidery is being completed. The frame you use must be the correct size and compatible with your embroidery sewing machine. This piece will be attached to the embroidery arm and move with the arm during the stitching process.
- Also, Cap Frame– If you want to place embroidery on a cap or hat, this frame will hold the cap flat in order to allow the machine to embroider the design on it.
- Frame Sash or Pantograph– This is the piece of the machine that actually holds the frame. The frame will be affixed to this part in either one or two places so that it remains still during the stitching process. The entire pantograph or arm will then move as the design is stitched.
- Hoop– Sometimes called a frame when used with an embroidery sewing machine, the hoop is actually two pieces that nest together to hold a piece of fabric tightly. The inner hoop will press the fabric down into the outer hoop so that the fabric is nestled flat against the embroidery machine bed during stitching. When you place your hoop and fabric on your machine for stitching, the fabric should be right side up, but concave- the hoop should form a well with the stabilizer under the fabric and pressed against the machine bed.
- LCD Display – The LCD display is a screen where pattern information and in some models pattern previews are displayed.
- Memory Card– Memory cards may be used to hold additional embroidery patterns and transfer or load them into your embroidery sewing machine’s computer.
- Needle Bar– The needle bar is the movable part of a machine that controls the needle’s up and down movement. Depending on the model, a single embroidery machine may have several needle bars.
- Reader/Writer Box– The reader/writer box is a computer accessory that can be used to write embroidery designs onto a memory card which can then transfer the design to your embroidery sewing machine.
- Stitch Selection Display– This display on your embroidery machine will allow you to select specific stitch styles and make other selections for your stitches.
- Thread Break Detector and Thread Break Indicator– These handy features of embroidery sewing machines will save you a lot of trouble. If a thread breaks during the stitching process, the machine will detect the snap and stop moving. The indicator light will alert you to the problem so you can replace the broken thread, rather than having a finished design with missing colors or gaps.
For useful terms that apply to all sewing machine types, you can check out this article here at Sewing Machine Judge.
More Unique Terms and Techniques From the Machine Embroidery World
Here are a few more terms you can expect to encounter if you are reading embroidery machine reviews to get tips and inspiration for using your own machine.
1. Hoops and Hooping
The act of preparing your fabric and placing it in a frame ready for the machine to stitch is called “hooping.”
Each embroidery sewing machine will have a maximum hoop size that can be used with that machine, if you select a design that is larger than your machine’s allowable hoop size, the embroidery sewing machine’s computer will reject the design. So it is important to know your machine’s hoop size and specifications before selecting your embroidery design.
Hoop burn is a mark left on some fabrics by the pressure of the hoops. Washing may remove hoop burn from some fabrics, such as a sweatshirt-style knit. But, for fabrics such as velour or leather, hoop burn may be permanent. To avoid marring these sensitive fabrics, you will have to learn how to hoop only your stabilizer while using other methods to secure your fabric.
2. Stitch Count and Design Splitting
Another term, and a factor that will influence your design selection, is stitch count. As I mentioned before, your machine is also a computer. As a computer, it has a limited memory capacity. The computer portion of your embroidery stitching machine can only hold a certain number of stitches per design. While 50,000 stitches may seem like a lot, it is possible that you may select a design that is too large for your machines memory capacity.
You need to check the specifications for your machine to determine how large your design patterns can be. If you want to load a design onto a memory card, your stitch count will be limited to the memory card’s capacity which may be smaller than your embroidery machine’s own memory.
A design that has too many stitches may be rejected by your machine with an error message, or the computer may engage in a little self-help and simply quit stitching once it reaches the maximum number of stitches it can handle. If this happens and you want to save your project, you will have to figure out where in your design the stitches stop and separately reload the ones that weren’t completed.
To avoid this problem with a large design, you can choose to split the design into two parts before getting started. But, once the first portion is stitched you will have to rehoop your fabric. Some of the best embroidery machine blogs offer descriptions on just how to split your design and rehoop your fabric. But if you are just getting started, I recommend you select designs that are within your machine’s stitch count limit. There will be time later for bigger more complex projects.
Terms to Know: If you have to adjust your fabric or move it after a portion of the design has been completed, this is called “re-hooping.”
3. Stabilizers and Stabilization Methods
When sewing a garment, very seldom do we worry about adding anything extra to the fabric. The fabric is the main medium for our work. Only specific parts such as collars or plackets receive special attention or added materials.
This is not so of embroidery machine sewing. When you use an embroidery sewing machine, you are using the fabric not as the primary medium for your art but as the canvas. You add to the fabric, changing its weight and form, with each embroidery stitch. For this reason, you will usually need to use something to stabilize or hold your fabric’s shape as your machine works its magic. For a quick description of the different types of stabilizers available, take a peek at this article.
As you’ve learned, the 4 main types of stabilizers are cut-away, tear-away, wash-away and adhesive. Sometimes you may use the adhesive stabilizer with one of the other options. Based on the best embroidery machine tips I’ve found, when in doubt use the cut-away stabilizer. You may have to work harder to remove the backing once your project is done, but the results will be worth it.
Talking to the Computer
Once you have your basic supplies- your fabric, your hoops, threads, and stabilizers- it’s time to select a design. The design you select is up to you. You get to choose the color and placement of your design and then tell your machine to bring it to life on your fabric.
1. The Digital Design
Registration– This is your designs final appearance once stitched onto your fabric. When machine embroiderers refer to poor registration, they mean that something has gone wrong between design and final product. If you are having a problem with the appearance of your stitches, you may want to search for tips using the term “poor registration.”
Gapping– Gapping in one type of poor registration. When gapping occurs, you will see spaces or misaligned stitches in your embroidery. Often this problem will result in open spaces or gaps in the stitching.
Digitizing– Digitizing is the process of translating an image into a set of instructions your embroidery machine can use. Digitizing not only directs the color and placement of stitches but the size and type as well in order to create a final design that is attractive and workable by your embroidery machine. Remember, the final design must fit your machine’s frame size and stitch count.
Punching– Punching was the term used for digitizing in the past. Before computer digitizing using graphics programs was available, a digitizer would actually punch holes in a specialty paper, called a tape. This tape was then read by the embroidery machine to direct the placement of stitches.
Push and Pull – Designs sometimes move while being embroidered, resulting in some stitches being shifted. A quality digitized design will include methods to compensate for the potential distortions caused by the push-pull effect.
Scaling– Scaling a design involves changing its total size up or down, skewing the design or rotating it so that it is no longer aligned with the grain of the fabric.
Stitch File– A stitch file is the name of a file that contains the digitized design that you can upload to your embroidery sewing machine. Stitch files may be prepared using a number of formats including JPG, GIF or TIF. Specialized embroidery files may carry the suffixes DST, EXP, CND, PES or HUS.
Outline File– This type of file also directs the stitching of an embroidery design, but allows the end user more flexibility. An outline file provides the programming to outline each shape in a design. The user can then determine which stitch to use to fill each outline. Outline files are usually created and modified using a specific set of software and aren’t easily converted to other formats.
File Format– A file format will either refer to the software used to create the file or the format that is necessary for a particular embroidery machine to read the file. When you are reading, editing or viewing a stitch or outline file on your computer, it will need to be in a format compatible with your embroidery digitizing software. When you are loading a stitch or outline file into your embroidery machine’s memory, the format must be compatible with that machine.
Special Note: In order to make it easier to transfer and download very large files, the file may be “zipped” or condensed. The resulting file is called a zip file and will have the suffix .zip following its file name. Your embroidery machine cannot read zip files. To use a file that you have downloaded as a .zip, you must unzip the file. The unzipping process usually happens automatically when you double click on the file. If you aren’t able to unzip a file, you will need to do some online research to learn the steps of unzipping.
Keyboard Lettering– Sometimes referred to as just “lettering,” keyboard lettering is simply creating embroidery designs for letters, words or phrases using a lettering program on your computer or another device that allows you to select different letter styles, sizes, heights, and stitch density.
2. Machine Embroidery Stitch Terms
SPI/SPM– These are measures of stitch size and speed of production. SPI refers to stitches per inch while SPM refers to stitches per minute.
Jump stitch– When the pantograph moves while the needle is suspended this movement is called a jump stitch. The machine is jumping from one point in the design to another without making a stitch.
Short Stitching– When filling curved or tight spaces with stitches, digitizers will make use of short stitches to avoid creating a bulky thread density in the confined space.
Steil Stitch– The Steil stitch is similar to the standard satin stitch that is commonly used to fill spaces with a solid color in a design. Unlike a traditional satin stitch which can vary in width, the Steil stitch width is fixed during the digitizing process. If a design using satin stitches is resized, the stitches width will be changed proportionately. If a design using Steil stitches is resized, the width of the stitches will not change. The effect of resizing a digitized design will be different depending on which of these stitches was used.
Underlay Stitch– The underlay stitch is embroidered prior to the other design stitches. This stitch may be used to stabilize the fabric or to add extra dimension to the final design.
Lock Stitch– This stitch is also called a lock-down, tack-down or tie off stitch. The end of columns or fills or any other place in the design where a jump stitch will follow must be locked down to prevent the unraveling of the work. The lock down stitch consists of three or four stitches of at least a 10-point movement, or 1 mm in length each. The final appearance of the lock stitch will be triangular, starred or straight.
Stitchback– The stitchback features allows the embroidery machine to trace back through a design in order to locate and repair any skipped stitches or thread breaks.
If you decide to look for designs online, you may choose from stock designs that are premade and may be purchased or downloaded free for anyone to use. Or, you can find a digitizer who will custom make a design just for you. As you gain more skills, you can combine designs and lettering to make your own unique creations. Even a common design will become uniquely yours once you select your own color and fabric combination and choose what the final garment will look like.
Using What You Know
Choose Your Features
Now that you know what all those embroidery terms mean, it’s time to use what you know to select the best embroidery machine for your needs. Start with the latest embroidery machine reviews and weigh the pros and cons of each machine against your own list of desired features. Personally, I would want a machine that had the automatic stitchback and thread break detector. Having the largest hoop option for the best price would be important to me as well.
Deciding whether to have a single head machine or one that holds multiple needles with automatic color changes would be my next big choice. Though I would really like to have the convenience of several needles and colors stitching at once, I would rather have a quality machine with fewer features than a fancy machine that doesn’t last. The Sewing Judge offers some tips for selecting the best machine here.
Choose Your Machine
Taking a look at the reviews for the top embroidery machines of 2016, there are some clear standouts.
Brother Combination Sewing, Quilting and Embroidery Machines
- Several of the Brother embroidery machines have made the list of best in 2016 and Brother offers you lots of affordability. Brother machines come with a set of built-in designs and simple to use features. Even better, Brother has paired with companies such as Disney and Project Runway to create specialty machines that come with pre-loaded themed embroidery designs.
- The Brother PE770 is the big brother of single needle Brother embroidery machines. Used by home entrepreneurs, this machine is a workhorse.
- This embroidery-only machine has lots of ways to upload designs and will last through lots of projects. The Brother PE770 also offers animated set up guides on its LED screen to help you get started.
If you are attracted to the features and quality of the Brother machines but aren’t quite ready to invest in the top of the line model, you are in luck! The Brother SE400 is affordable and versatile and makes the list of best embroidery machines for 2016.
With this combination machine, you can sew, quilt and embroider all with one machine. This is a great deal for someone who doesn’t have a lot of space or money to spare but still wants to explore their creative side with stitching.
Singer Futura Sewing and Embroidery Machines
If you recognize the Singer name, you know that Singer is sewing. If you want both embroidery and sewing features, then the Singer Futura series of machines has you covered. Available at a wide selection of price points, there’s a machine for everyone in the Futura set.
The Singer Futura XL-550 offers and incredible number of built in stitches, plus nice extra features like automatic threading. The Singer Futura CE-250 is slightly smaller but still does a lot for one little machine. I am amazed that with the Singer Futura multi-hooping capability you can create designs that double the width and length of the single hoop field. These machines will let you do some really big projects. The Futura machines can also read nearly any stitch file format. However, you do need to read the manual carefully and understand how to use the software in order to get the most out of the Futura line of machines.
Janome Single and Multi-head Machines
Janome machines, notable for the sophistication and professionalism of their function and designs, are always a popular choice with professional embroiderers. The Janome machines offer single head machines with large workspaces and multi-head machines for beautiful color work. If you are going to invest in a Janome, invest big or you may be frustrated by the small field size, just 5 by 5 inches, of the Janome starter models. Janome was one of the first manufacturers to offer a multi-needle machine for home use. The cost is still high for someone just getting started. I would put the multi-head Janome machine on my wish list and start with a Brother or Singer model instead.
Professional models like the Janome might be financially out of reach, even if they do offer a huge selection of features. But, if you develop your skills and begin to earn money from your embroidery hobby, maybe someday the embroidery machine you buy now will be your back-up machine and you’ll have one of those 12-color professional machines!
For a first machine that is intended for home use, you have plenty of solid, affordable options to choose from. Now you get to decide how much convenience and flexibility you ultimately want in your embroidery machine. You know the language, so you’ll be able to compare features with ease.
Once you’ve found the right machine, start with a simple project, but don’t be afraid to let your imagination free. It is your embroidery machine after all.