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

I've heard good things about

I've heard complaints about
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 (shiny!) 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 more brands. 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. Updated to add: I tried Metro thread and I really liked it. I would put Metro in 2nd place.

*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 in another post.

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.

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 tings. They carry Exquisite and Madeira thread. A 1000 meter cone of Exquisite cost $2.50 right now

Wawak I like to buy sewing supplies from Wawak, stuff like zippers, serger thread, woly nylon thread. So I tried their Gunold embroidery thread. I must tell you, their website is terrible. It's really difficult to find what you are looking for. The best way I have found is to just get their catalog and then use the catalog to look up the product numbers. They also carry a small selection of Mardeira colors. Honestly, I probably won't buy Gunold again. Not that it's bad or anything, there's just better thread out there. 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. Update: I purchased from Metro Embroidery and had a very good experience. They offered a lot of shipping options, the cheapest for me was $10 USPS priority express. Honestly, I'd rather wait two weeks for my package and pay less, so I wish they had offered that option. My thread came very quick and nicely packaged. I liked their website too. Their metro mini spool (1000m) 40 wt polyester thread is .89 at the time of writing this post. This is probably the cheapest thread I have found, and I liked it better than Coats and Clarke, Gunold, and Sulky. I'd definitely recommend purchasing this thread.

Thread Art was also recommended to me, but I have not tried yet. The cones are not listed as any brand, so I'm not sure how to describe it, generic? store brand? 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 keep updating 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

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) 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, 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!