Saturday, August 29, 2015

What is the best machine embroidery program?

I took a little break from my machine embroidery posts, but I'm back today to talk about embroidery programs. Once you get an embroidery machine, you are probably going to want a program to create and edit stitching files.

What confused me most when I began researching the different programs is there are different companies, and those companies offer several different types of programs. There are lots of options available, but I'm going to discuss the most popular ones.

Here are the companies and their programs I researched when I was deciding which program to purchase.

S&S Computing
Embrilliance
Embird
Monogram Wizard
Bows and Clothes
Super basic

Express- free


Combine Design $11
Basic
SewWhat-Pro $65
Essentials $150
Embird $164


Stitch Editing

Enthusiast $180



Digitizing
SewArt $75
Stitch Artist $170
Studio $150


Words
SewWrite $40
Alpha Tricks $105
Font Engine $145
Monogram Wizard $249

File Images
SewIconz $25
Thumbnailer $45
Iconizer $20





When you are first getting started, you want to look at the basic programs, something that will allow you to create words and combine several pictures(stitch files like .PES not jpegs) together. So let's look at the different basic embroidery programs. Please keep in mind I'm still a beginner myself, so I focused on what features were important to me as a beginner.  Also, expensive is a relative term, I have a feeling I'm going to get a comment saying that $200 is very cheap for a good embroidery program. Perhaps it is, but it's still a lot of money to me ;)

SewWhat Pro
Cost
$65
Pros
·         A lot of features for a great price
·         Includes density adjustment and pull compensation- you have to pay an extra $150 for this feature if you go the Embrilliance route
·         While not as amazing as using BX fonts in Embrilliance, the feature View>Album Icons for merging letters is very useful
Cons
·         Workspace is outdated (it looks and feels like a program from the 90s)
·         There is a bit of a learning curve, most features are not intuitive (but there are plenty of youtube videos to teach you the program)
·         Offers the ability to convert any True Type font into a stitch file, but looks HORRIBLE. I thought people were exaggerating on this until I tested it out for myself. It really is bad, you need to purchase embroidery fonts. You won’t ever use the true type feature
Testing
Download a free 30 day trial with a limited 60 number of saves
Link
http://www.sandscomputing.com/id66.html
*You may notice S&S also offers a program called SewWhat, in my opinion if you are going to buy SewWhat, you might as well spend $15 more and get SewWhat Pro

Embrilliance Express
Cost
free
Pros
·         It’s free!
·         Uses BX fonts  to allows you to type words with the keyboard, instead of placing each letter individually like the other programs
·         Easy to use controls for manipulating words like line spacing, letter spacing, word spacing, and slant
Cons
·         Limited features. Pretty much only good for using BX fonts
Link
http://embrilliance.com/store/index.php?main_page=product_info&cPath=3&products_id=6

Embrilliance Essentials
Cost
$150
Pros
·         Easier to learn
·         Workspace is more intuitive than the other programs
·         Easier to manipulate objects, more control and options
·         If you have a Mac, this is the only program that is native to macs
Cons
·         Expensive
·         Does not include density adjustment and pull compensation tool, must buy Enthusiast in addition to Essentials
Testing
Download Express version for free, no trial version for advanced features. You’ll have to watch youtube videos to get a feel for the upgrade
Link
http://embrilliance.com/store/index.php?main_page=product_info&cPath=3&products_id=6

Embird
Cost
$164
Pros
·         Includes all the basic features like resizing, editing, splitting,  and printing
Cons
·         Expensive
·         I personally hated the interface. Not intuitive at all. I gave up learning this program because it was too frustrating.
·         Offers nothing better than the other programs. Essentials is so much better, and SewWhat Pro is so much cheaper. I personally didn’t even consider purchasing Embird
Testing
Download a free 30 day demo program
Link
http://www.embird.net/index.htm

Combine Design
Cost
$11
Pros
·         Able to combine multiple designs and save as a single file. Very useful.
·         VERY affordable
Cons
·         Only saves PES files, make sure this is compatible with your machine before purchasing!
·         Very limited features
·         Slow to merge each individual letter- BX fonts (Embrilliance) or View Album Icons (Sew What Pro) are much faster
Testing
No trial
Link
http://www.bowsandclothes.com/index.php?url=sewing/CombineDesignSetup.php

So which one is best?

Embrilliance Express is pretty close to 1st place because it's free and works so well. It ALMOST convinced me to buy Essentials. Go download it right now, there’s no reason not to. You’ll love it. You'll need to get some BX fonts to use it, but most shops offer BX files with their fonts now.

If you are tight on funds I suggest Combine Design. You can create your words in Embrilliance Express, and combine them with other .PES files in Combine Design. This will keep you happy for quite a while I imagine.

I almost got Combine Design because it was so cheap and I didn’t need anything fancy at first, but I knew I’d eventually want to upgrade so I decided I might as well put the $11 towards SewWhatPro.

Why did I buy SewWhat Pro instead of Embrilliance Essentials? Essentials really is much nicer than SewWhat Pro but the price difference (HALF the cost!) was big. The kicker though was the Density Adjustment/Pull Compensation tools. They aren't a vital tool but useful when you need to fiddle around with a poorly digitized file or when working on a difficult medium.

I hope this helps you decide what program is best for you.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Farewell Summer: Embroidered Top and Box Pleat Shorts

Project Run and Play's theme this month is hand work! So much fun. My readers know how much I looooove embroidery. Remember this dress? or this hoop art? Swoon. I should embroidery more.
For my entry I wanted to sew something that could be worn to preschool, so a top and shorts it was. I've been dying to use this beautiful blue floral print that I picked up at Joann's a few months ago. Doesn't it look Liberty-esque? I picked out my embroidery floss to match the colors of the fabric.
I wanted a tunic that would highlight the embroidery. I wanted to make it obvious that the whole outfit was inspired by the embroidery design and feel. I didn't own anything that fit to my vision so I ended up drafting my own. It's a basic bodice with cap sleeves, the bodice is angled down to a point in the front and back to add interest (and make sure this tunic didn't look too similar to my KCW dress from last spring)
I debated on the closure for the back of the dress for a while. Just ask my sister Jessica. Here's our texts from a week ago:

Me: "What do you think about exposed zippers? Does it look cool or like I don't know how to sew a proper zipper?"

Sister: "I just bought a shirt with an exposed zipper that I love, but it I think it might look weird on children's clothing. You should do a regular zipper"

Yep. Exposed zipper it is. Thanks Jessica!
I like how the modern element keeps the outfit from looking "little house on the prairie"


And the shorts! Anyone recognize them? They are my box pleat shorts pattern from FOREVER AGO! These shorts have a special place in my heart. I graded them up, and they look just as adorable on Christine as they did three years ago. I've wanted to make these shorts into a real pattern for a long time, but I wanted to get a couple easier patterns under my belt first. The pattern is almost ready for pattern testing except it's the end of the summer. I kinda missed the seasonal pattern deadline there. Well, next spring the box pleat shorts are coming to the world!

I wanted to add embroidery to the shorts back pockets to add more handwork to my look. I tried, multiple times. First with a fairy, then a unicorn. I hated them all. It just wasn't meant to be. I think it was the thickness of the twill fabric. It was too thick and made my stitching look terrible. I'll post pictures of the fails soon so you can see what I mean.
Last, but certainly not least, the embroidery. I have so many embroidery patterns I've collected that I have yet to stitch up, it was hard to choose which to use. I ended up choosing to stitch this adorable one by Sarah Jane. I love this illustration, it reminds me of Christine gathering up her summer wild flowers. The butterflies floating away as the last days of summer float away.


As always, check out more fabulous outfits at the Project Run and Play link up. Be sure to check back and vote for the top ten next week!

Thursday, July 9, 2015

What machine embroidery thread should I use? and where can I buy it?

There are a lot of different types of embroidery threads you can use. Today I am going to share all I know about embroidery thread. I'm still learning myself but I hope this can help you get started.


There are different brands of embroidery thread and different fiber content. Some embroiders have some very strong opinions about them. Some embroiders say their machines are picky and will not sew with poor quality thread. If you are having trouble with your machine (thread shredding, breaking, puckering, looping), try out some higher quality thread and see if that fixes your problem. Of course the higher quality stuff costs more, so try to find what you like best that fits your budget. Just make sure you always buy embroidery thread, NEVER regular sewing machine thread, and especially not serger/overlock cone thread. Those threads are not made for embroidery machines, they have a LOT of lint and will gunk up your machine.

These are the brands I have heard most about, and what people generally say about them.

I hear the best things about
Isacord
Floriani
Maderia
Polystar

I've heard good things about
Mettler
Metro
Sigma
Exquisite
Gunold

I've heard complaints about
Sulky
Embroidex
Brother
Coats and Clark

Besides brands, you need to be away of fiber contest. Machine embroidery thread can be made out of polyester or rayon fibers. Polyester threads are stronger, won't shrink, fade, or bleed, holds up to chlorine bleach, and usually is cheaper. Rayon, on the other hand, has a beautiful sheen and is softer on your machine for less wear and tear. There isn't a right or wrong on Polyester verses Rayon, just personal preference. Even the experts disagree. Allstitch has an interesting article on it here if you are interested in more. There are other threads like polyneon that is made from polyester but supposedly offers the same silky shine as rayon. Like I said, it's all personal preference.

Personally, I have tried Coats and Clark polyester, Sulky rayon, Gunold polyester, and Maderia polyneon. I like Maderia the best. Gunold and Sulky are tied for second, they are great but I have had some thread breaks. Coats and Clark goes in third place, it works well, but I've had some thread breaks and a teeny bit of looping. I plan to try Polystar thread next. I am going to recommend what others told me. Try out several brands before investing in an entire collection of thread. You would hate to buy a 100 spool set only to find out that your machine hates it.

*Some threads just shred more easily such as reds (not sure why) and metalic thread. For those, you will want some Sewer's Aid but I'll talk about that tomorrow

One more thing about thread weight. Embroidery thread usually comes in 40wt or 50wt. The bigger the number, the thinner the thread. Your bobbin thread is 70-90wt and is very fine.

Now that you know all your options of WHAT you can buy. WHERE can you buy it?

Local Shops
Embroidery Machine Dealers: going to be a little more expensive here but they are more likely to carry the nicer brands and it's always nice to see a color in person when you are looking to match a certain shade.

Joanns or Hancock: You will find the machine embroidery thread right next to the regular sewing thread. They carry sulky and coats and clark brand thread. Their threads occasionally go on sale and and they offer 40% coupons. (note that Hobby Lobby is not included- my local HL does not carry embroidery threads perhaps yours might though?). The cost of a 180 yds 30wt sulky rayon thread at Joanns is $3.59

Walmart: if your Walmart has a fabric section, you will probably be able to find a limited number of Coats and Clark brand embroidery thread. Not my top choice, but if I'm in a bind and need thread quick I'll pick some up from Walmart.

Online
Shopping online is great. You can find higher quality brands for MUCH better prices. The downside is you'll have to pay for shipping and you cannot see the exact color you are going to get (it can be frustrating to realize that the cream you thought you were buying is actually a very light gray!). Most of these shops also sell other embroidery supplies like stabilizer.

Allstitch This is where I purchased my 40wt 1,100 yd cones of Madeira thread. I was very happy with the fast shipping time, though their packaging was a little funky to be honest. It seemed like they pulled a crumbled box from their recycling pile to shove my threads into even though they didn't fit. It just didn't look very professional, but if it saves me money I'm happy. They carry Madeira polyester, polyneon, Rayon, and even glow in the dark thread. The 1,100 yd cones cost $2.26

Mr. Vac & Mrs. Sew: I've never purchased from them, but they come highly recommended. They carry Polystar thread. A 50wt 1000 meter cone is $2.99

Ken's Sewing Center: Again, never personally purchased from, but have heard very good things. They carry Exquisite and Madeira thread. A 1000 meter cone of Exquisite cost $2.50 right now

Wawak I love to buy sewing supplies from Wawak (like zippers, serger thread, woly nylon thread) So I tried their Gunold embroidery thread. They also carry a small selection of Mardeira colors. A 1,100yard spool of 40wt Madeira thread cost 4.89, a 1,100yd 40wt polyester Gunold thread cost $2.19

Metro Embroidery Never purchased from these guys either, but this is where you can buy metro thread. They are very affordable and come recommended from other embroiderers. Their metro mini spool (1000m) 40 wt polyester thread is marked at .89 a spool right now.

Thread Art was also recommended to me. A cone of 1000m Rayon thread is currently $1.49

I hope this helps to get you started. Try some out and let me know how you like it in the comments. I will update this I as I try more brands.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

What is the best affordable embroidery machine?

If you want to get into machine embroidery, the first thing you are going to need is a machine. When I started researching machines, I knew I wanted an inexpensive machine (under $1,000) but not a piece of crap either. The most popular models that sell for under a thousand are the Brother se440, pe525, pe770, Janome MC200E, and Singer Futura XL400. (There are more models, but these are the ones I focused on). The most important aspects of a machine (in my opinion) are the price, the size of the embroidery field, how it connects to a computer, and the quality. If you have never machine embroidered before I strongly recommend starting with something under a thousand dollars to learn on and make sure you enjoy embroidery before investing in a multi-needle machine that costs as much as a car. (I've totally seen people ready to buy a $20,000 embroidery machine who know nothing about machine embroidery. And by "buy" I mean commit to years of payments and interest. Not the wisest financial decision).

Here's a summary graphic that you can print out and write your research notes on. Click on the graphic to view larger.

A few notes about other similar models:

  • The Brother PE525 is the newest upgrade of the PE500 (instead of a pink swirly design on the outside there is now a purple flower design)
  • The Brother 540D is basically the SE440 but with Disney stickers on the outside and includes 35 Disney designs and costs $70 more.
  • The Brother LB6800PRW is basically the SE440 but with a Project Runway sticker on the front

Pricing
For this chart, I used the prices that Amazon listed the day I wrote this. The prices fluctuate all the time, and vary by stores as well. Embroidery machines DO go on sale. Last Black Friday (day after Thanksgiving) Walmart had the se440 for only $199. Amazon had the pe770 for $500 on the "flash deals". Just a few months ago (in March) Overstock.com had a sale on the pe770 for $480 and just an hour later Amazon matched their price. So it is definitely worth watching the prices if you are willing to wait to save some money. 

Do I want a combo sewing machine and embroidery machine?
Do you already have a sewing machine?  then get an embroidery only machine. If you don't have a sewing machine, then it seems to be an economical choice to get a two-in-one. Although, I have heard that the combo machines are more likely to have problems.
Do you have room enough for another machine? I used to sew from my kitchen table, I know I could not have had a sewing machine AND embroidery machine with that set up. I have a small sewing room that I had to squeeze my serger over next to my sewing machine to make room for my embroidery machine. I thought I might put my embroidery machine up in the closet and pull it out occasionally, but I found I liked it better set up all the time. Even better, I can sew on my sewing machine while my embroidery is running.

USB verses Cable Connection
When you purchase an embroidery design you need to get the embroidery files onto your machine. For the machines like the pe500 you have to connect it directly to your computer with a cable. Essentially you will need a laptop to sit right next to your machine. I don't have that kind of room in my sewing room and sounds like a hassle to me. Others will probably disagree, but for me it's worth the extra money just to have the USB option. With the USB option, you place your files onto your USB memory stick (aka jump drive or flash drive) and then plug the USB into your machine.

What about the included designs and fonts?
All the machine listings talk about so and so many designs and fonts that are included on the machine. This should not affect your decision making process. You really don't need to worry about those numbers because they are all ugly (with maybe a couple exceptions). You will want to purchase some nice fonts, and pretty designs online. (post on where to buy coming soon).

About Singer
The Singer Futura has some extras worth mentioning: an automatic needle-threader,  included software, and multi-hooping capability to make designs up to 12"x 20". Those features sound very nice, but be warned  Singer has a very bad reputation for making piece of junk machines. I have never used the Futura machine so I cannot say from experience, but I would be wary. Just look at the Amazon reviews (Futura on the left, PE770 on the right).

Multi-hooping Capability
Embroidery machines have the option to buy larger repositional embroidery hoops. To use them you must have computer software to split a larger embroidery design into portions for each position (peg) on your repositional hoop. (Post on what software should I buy coming next)

I just purchased this set from Amazon for 5X7 machines: I paid $58 for it, though prices do fluctuate. It comes with four embroidery hoops. The larger 5"x12" (giving an extra 5" of embroidery space) A 5"x7" (I already have one of these that came with my machine so now I'll have an extra) a 1"x2.5" and a 4"x4" which will be great for saving stabilizer when embroidery smaller projects. For the 4x4 machines you can get a set like this one giving you a maximum of 4"x 6.75" space

I have only used my 5"x12" hoop a few times, so I'm still learning, but from my limited use I think it's great to be able to stitch larger designs. The process does take more time, but it's not very hard. Here is a great youtube video to give you an idea of what I'm talking about 


Where do I buy?
You can purchase from a dealer's shop, you will pay a couple hundred more dollars but you will probably get free lessons to learn how to use your machine which may be worth it to you. There are plenty of youtube videos out there to help you, so you don't really NEED the lessons. For me, a mom of two crazy kids and a husband who works 80-100 hours a week, there is no way I could go to a shop and take lessons. So I purchased mine from Amazon.  Amazon usually has the best prices and I've been very happy with Amazon's return policy so I knew if I got a lemon I could easily return it with no hassle. I know several people who have purchased their machines from Overstock.com, Walmart, and Joanns. Always check the prices, because sometimes there is $50-$200 difference in costs between the stores.

What did Zuzzy end up buying?

I chose the Brother PE770. In the end it was between the PE500 (the 525 wasn't out yet) and PE770. I talked to several embroiderers who own both machines, and they told me they really liked their 500s and could do a lot with a 4x4 field BUT they almost immediately wanted to upgrade, and most did within a year. I was convinced that the larger embroidery field was worth the cost. So far I have been VERY happy with my machine.

Monday, July 6, 2015

All I know about machine embroidery

I've been promising this post for a while. But there is so much information to include, I'm going to split it up into several posts and answer the follow questions:

-What embroidery machine should I buy?
-What embroidery supplies do I need, and where do I buy them?
-Where do I get cute embroidery designs?
-What embroidery software should I get?

For the first post I want to share how I got into machine embroidery.

It started with a shirt I saw on Etsy. I was looking at Frozen themed birthday ideas for Christine and I saw this amazing embroidered frozen birthday shirt on Etsy. I fell in love with it. I NEEDED that shirt! Except it was $30, which seemed pretty expensive to me. In retrospect I probably should have just bought the t-shirt instead of the $600 machine, and several more hundred dollars in supplies!
The shop is on vacation right now, but it looked like this shirt

I belonged to a facebook sewing group that had a lot of embroiders in it and I started paying more attention to embroidery posts. Then I started looking at etsy shops selling embroidered items. Looking at all the amazing things they were making, made me just HAVE to have an embroidery machine.
My husband was working a pretty bad rotation at the hospital at the time, so I think he was feeling bad about his work schedule and the impact it has on me. He knows how happy my hobbies make me. So he encouraged me to get the machine.

Why should YOU get a machine?

Because it is FUN
You can make ADORABLE things
It's a new CHALLENGE. I sew and I do hand embroidery, but machine embroidery is a whole new crafting world.
So you can have MORE sewing machines! Because the more sewing machines you have the cooler you are!
 
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