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) 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.


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  2. Examples of Home or Family machines include Bernina, Janome, etc. Examples of commercial embroidery equipment includes Tajima, Barudan, SWF, Melco, Toyota, Brother. Note, that Brother also makes home and family machines.

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