Monday, 16 March 2020

Buyng an Embroidery Machine

One of the biggest decisions anybody who does Machine Embroidery will make is to buy a new machine. Like any decision, however, you have to come to some conclusions as to what you need, as opposed to what you want and what you can afford.

Prices for machines that can handle embroidery can start from a couple of hundred dollars, up into the thousands - and usually the price is reflective of the capabilities of the machine.

Firstly - any sewing machine that can do zigzag, and has a variable stitch width and length can do embroidery. In fact, normal sewing machines were the first ones used to do machine embroidery, long before the digital age dawned.

My own sewing machine (a mid-1960's Elna - and I wouldn't part with it for any price!) was touted as a major advance in sewing machines when it came out. It relied on interchangeable cams for specialty stitches (including one that lives permanently in my machine that does what is virtually an overlocking stitch!) and a booklet with designs that you could trace onto fabric to then embrodier. It also came with several different feet, including a "satin stitch" foot. My mother also has one of these (which began my love affair with the particular model) and I remember as a child in the mid 1970's, when embroidered jeans and jackets were all the rage, that she produced a masterpiece of an outfit for me using this machine.

For my money, a simple sewing machine, good imagination and patience brings you to the true artistic value of machine embroidery. You are doing, making the decision to change colours, the stitch length and width and following the design.

Machine Embroidery as an artform has taken off in recent years, and most of the artists use simple sewing machines, so that they are an integral part of the creative process.

Ok - that's my bias aside. I will now admit to being a dedicated hand embroiderer whose only foray into machine embroidery is using my own machine.

However, I am fascinated by gadgets - and really, the modern specialised embroidery machine is the ultimate gadget! I am absolutely astonished at what these machines can do, and it's that I want to look at to help you to make a decision.

You have to look at practicality. Do you already have a machine? What format does the digitised designs take? How easy or hard is it to get them changed to the format of another machine? What special software or connections do you need with your PC or Laptop to make it work? Or, whatspecial hardware do you have to buy to interface?

It's all these things that can make the price add up. You may find an excellent machine for $300 - but if you need to spend another $800 on additonal software, changing formats, or special hardware or connections, then your bargain suddenly becomes a major investment!

Questions to ask when you start to shop around

  • How much can I afford to pay?
  • Does it need to be compatible with my old machine?
  • How big does the embroidery field need to be?
  • Do I need automatic colour changing?
  • How do I interface with the machine?
  • What built in designs do I want?
  • How easy/hard is it to thread?
  • Will I be using it for straight sewing as well?
  • How easy/hard is it to get service if something goes wrong, or for regular maintenance?
  • How easy is it to use? Are the instructions clear, and is the help function easily found and used? Can I get free lessons when I buy it?
  • What is the warranty on the machine, and what does the warranty cover?
  • How hard/easy is it to create / digitise designs for it yourself?
By making a list to answer these questions, you start to build up an idea of the machine you are looking for.

I would suggest that you draw up a table from your answers - have the answers accross the top, and then leave plenty of lines down the side to put the details of the machines you are looking for, then use a simple system of ticks or crosses to see how they measure up.

Where do I start looking?

Personally - I would start my information gathering on the internet. For your ease, I'll list at the end of this article some of the websites for the major sewing machine makers.

If you know of one that I've missed, please 
e-mail me and let me know.

The next step would be to find somewhere that you can go and look at the machines and, if possible, play around with them.

You should be warned: most stores have a deal with one or two companies to only stock their machines, so you may have to shop around.

Alternatively,look out for sewing or craft shows in your area. These shows usually have representatives from the major companies there, with hands-on displays and plenty of information available for you.

Another great place to visit is a specialty sewing machine shop. They usually have a nice range of machines on display and often have a technician on hand who can answer questions about servicing, etc. These specialist stores often offer free lessons or tutorial when you buy a new machine from them.

For my money, I would always prefer to buy from these specialist stores, because of the service they offer, as well as the fact that I am supporting a small local business.

Thirdly, ask around. Post on any mail lists, or notice boards/forums you belong to. Ask what other people use, and what they recommend and why. If they can't tell you why they recommend, or don't recommend, a machine, then their advice isn't really worth much. Remember, they may have different needs from their machine than you, so their recommendations will be dependent on their needs and preferences.

And finally...

If you are buying online, always read the description carefully. If you have any questions, ask. Check what the shipping rates cover, and if they include insurance.

Be especially careful in buying from online auction sites, or from newspaper or online classifieds.

These machines are often second hand, and come in what is known as an "as is" condition. Always ask questions to make sure exactly what comes with the machine, and what exactly the condition is. After all, you have no recourse if you buy a machine only to discover that half the accessories you need to use it aren't included, if you didn't ask in the first place.

The golden rule is always "buyer beware". If you can't see the machine yourself, then always ask detailed and in-depth questions. These should include:
  • Find out for yourself what would be included if you bought the machine new.
  • Ask the seller exactly what comes with the machine. Send them a list, and get them to check off what comes with it, then print and keep the response. That way, if something is missing when you get it, then you have a recourse
  • Ask when was the last time it was used, and why it's being sold.
  • Are there any faults (major or minor)?
  • When was it last serviced?
  • Is it still under warranty?
If you shop carefully, you will find a machine that will meet most (if not all!) of your machine embroidery needs.

Some Helpful Websites

  • Brother Before you enter, you have to choose your region, but once inside, they have a great club you can join as well as some free designs. It also has a nice comparasion of their machines and both manuals and software can be easily downloaded
  • Janome. Offers good details on the machines and their capabilities. It has a regular newsletter that you can subscribe to, and easy to download software updates, etc. It also has some free projects and lessons.
  • Elna. Ok - I'm a little biased towards Elna machines. This is a searchable website, with nice information on the machines, as well as the peripherals and also some free projects. Not as well laid out as the other two websites, but practical!
  • Singer. Ok - you have to get past the flash intro for this website, and choose the region you live in before you get any information. The menus are mouseover navigation, and have a very small font and are difficult to read. However, there is good information on the products. Remember, though, Singer does not specialise in embroidery machines.
  • Barudan. Barudan is more of a specialist commercial embroidery machine manufacturer, but their website is interesting to look at some of these massive machines!
  • Husquvarna. Another well known brand that has been around for years. The menus are easily navigated, with a wealth of products to look at, as well as accessories, pattern cards and they also offer a free project every month. You can also sign up for a monthly e-newsletter from them.
  • Bernina This website was not as easy to navigate as the others. The main website does give you a link to download a free pattern, but you have to choose a country, then click on another link to get anywhere with any real information on their products. Once there, there is a lot of information with lessons and other information, however.
  • Melco. Melco is another primarily commercial machine embroidery company, but it has some great embroidery systems, and you'd be surprised at just what they do supply that you use every day in your embroidery!
  • Babylock. A very attractive website, with good, easy to follow menus, and product comparasions. They offer a free e-newsletter and free projects. Downloads of software and details of accessories are all there as well.
  • PfaffVery easy to navigate website, with a good list of products and features. Free projects and downloads and a forum for users.

Saturday, 28 January 2017

Five Basic Freestyle Embroidery Stitches

When looking at a piece of freestyle embroidery, many people think, “that’s too hard – I can’t possibly do something like that” and never take their interest in this technique any further.

They couldn’t be more wrong!

Like all forms of embroidery, there are some basic stitches that you can master that will enable you to produce freestyle embroidery pieces as intricate and stunning as those that you have thought “too hard”.

I’m not going to deny that you will instantly be able to produce these – the trick with all of them is practice. You need to keep practicing to ensure that these stitches are worked as evenly and carefully as possible.

Stitch 1 – Stem Stitch

Stem Stitch is the most commonly used “line” stitch used in freestyle embroidery.

As the diagram shows, this stitch is worked over the line of the design. The width and length of each stitch depends on the angle it is worked over the line.

The thread can be kept either above or below the needle (it’s a personal preference and you will need to experiment to see which you prefer. I prefer below, myself), but it must remain in that place at all times whilst you are stitching to ensure that the stitches all look the same.

The beauty of this stitch is that it can also be used as a filling stitch as well as an outline stitch. When you use Stem Stitch for filling a pattern, the easiest way is to work it in rounds – complete the outline, and then work inwards from there. Ensure that you keep all your stitches going in the same direction, and that each line is worked as close to the first as possible. I always try to start each stitch in the “down” hold of the stitch in the previous row.

Stitch 2 – Chain / Lazy Daisy Stitch

This is the first embroidery stitch that my grandmother taught me. Once you learn this simple stitch, you will discover all the other stitches in this family seem easier!

As you can see from the diagram, this stitch is worked in much the same way as Stem Stitch, except that the thread is looped under the needle and not pulled right through the fabric. The back of the fabric shows a neat line of back stitches.

Again, this stitch takes practice to ensure the chains are the same size and not too loose. This stitch can also be used as a filling stitch and, when using it to fill, use the same technique as with Stem Stitch.

Lazy Daisy stitch is also called Detached Chain. It is worked in the same way as Chain Stitch, except a small “anchor” stitch is worked at the end of the loop to hold the thread in place.

This is a very effective and simple stitch to use for both petals and leaves of flowers.

Stitch 3 – Satin Stitch

Of all the stitches, Satin Stitch (and it’s derivatives) is the one where you absolutely must take care and put in plenty of practice to make sure it looks its best.

Satin Stitch works best when it is worked with the fabric in a hoop or frame, and great care must be taken not to pull the threat too tight or the fabric underneath will buckle. Correct tension is vital, as loose stitches will wear and not have that “satin” look about it.

There are several ways to do this stitch. The most common (and that also uses the most thread) is as is shown in the diagram – where the stitch is made, and the thread carried on the back to the top of the shape, and the next stitch made. This will give an identical back and front.

The other way (and the way I tend to stitch it) is to stitch from both the top and bottom of the shape – when you place a stitch, bring the needle up as close as possible next to where it went into the fabric, and make the next stitch to the other side of the shape. This will leave, on the back, a series of small dots.

It is important with Satin Stitch that you keep your stitches along the outline even – I often stitch around the outline once I have finished satin stitching it with either stem or split stitch.

Padded Satin Stitch raises the stitch over the fabric. To stitch this, outline the shape using stem stitch, and then stitch over the shape, bringing your needle in and out of the fabric as close as possible to the outside of the stem stitch outline.

It is important to remember not to try to stitch too large a shape or the stitches will not keep their flat shape. If you have a large area to cover, either divide it into smaller areas, or use Long and Short Stitch (see below).

Once you have mastered Satin Stitch, you will find Long and Short Stitch easy – and this particular stitch is the basis of intricate needle shading.

As you can see from this diagram, the satin stitches do not cover the whole shape, and the first row of stitches alternate in size.

This means that the subsequent rows of stitches (the stitches should all be the same length) are still long and short. This enables very effective shading techniques to be used, with very little effort.

Stitch 4 – Buttonhole Stitch

I love Buttonhole Stitch! It’s so versatile, and is used in so many different embroidery techniques that it’s probably the most used stitch ever!

Buttonhole Stitch is very effective used to edge a raw fabric edge, and it is used extensively for this purpose in cutwork embroidery.

It is also used in Crewel embroidery as Detached Buttonhole Stitch, which is a filling stitch (I will cover this in a later article).

Buttonhole stitch is a knotted stitch, and is simple to do. As you can see from the diagram, you simply stitch along a line, bringing the thread underneath the needle as it comes out of the fabric, causing a “knot”. It can be worked either upside down, as in this picture, of top down (with the “knot” at the bottom of the stitch). It all depends on how you are comfortable in stitching it.

Buttonhole Stitch is also called Blanket Stitch – although in that variation, there is usually a small space between each stitch.

Once you have mastered this stitch, there are many variations that you can explore.

Stitch 5 – French Knot

I feel a real fraud telling you about this stitch – it’s one that I’ve never really mastered and always find difficult. My embroidering friends tell me it’s easy.

With this stitch, how you’re comfortable in stitching it is important. It’s also very important that you keep the fabric taught, so that the stitch sits correctly.

Bring the needle and thread up, holding the fabric with the second and third fingers – leaving your thumb and first finger free to hold the thread. Hold the thread securely about an inch from where it came through the fabric and then use the point of the needle to wrap the thread twice around it. Keep the twist tight on the needle by ensuring the thread is held very taught. Turn the needle back on the thread axis until the point of it is close to where it first came through the fabric. Put the tip in as close to this point as possible (though not in the same hole) and, still holding the thread taught, draw the needle and thread tight. The result should look like a small bead on the fabric.

Yes – this one does require a lot of practice! However, it is the basis of the bullion knot stitch as well, which leads you to the beautiful grub roses made out of bullion knots.

And one day, I’ll master them both!

Like all embroidery, these stitches require practice – which is where your sampler comes in very handy. Practice to see how you prefer to stitch them, and experiment with shapes and designs, as well as different threads. You won’t be sorry to have mastered these five basic stitches!

Recommended Reading

Stitch Sampler: The Ultimate Visual Dictionary to Over 200 Classic Stitches by Lucinda Ganderton

Mary Thomas' Dictionary of Embroidery Stitches

Elegant Stitches: An Illustrated Stitch Guide and Source Book of Inspiration by Judith Baker Montano

Is there anything that you would particularly like to see an article on? If so, please contact me with your suggestions.

Happy Stitching

© 2008 Megan McConnell

*This article was previously posted on the Embroidery Site at when I was the Embroidery Editor*

Saturday, 3 December 2016

2016 - I am so OVER you!!

So we are in December of 2016 and it has been a pretty shitty year, and the last month looks like it will be shitty too.

After moving at the beginning of the year, things have gone pretty much downhill since then.   I do love whee I am living, and have fantastic neighbours who have helped me so very much.

And I've needed help.  My health has been not good.  And it's frustrating the hell out of me.

I can barely walk due to having a wound on each foot.  And that is annoying.   My blood sugars are well under control, I try to do all the right tings, and yet I still got ulcers on my feet.   

One of them is really worrying.  I am basically under the care of the Podiatrists at the Prince Charles Hospital now, as well as the Northside Community Health Centre (part of the prince Charles Hospital) and that includes an Orthopedic specialist, and my GP.  I suspect that the only way I could be more closely monitored is if I was actually in hospital.

Which is the last thing that I want.

But I am terrified.   I went for a bone scan of my right foot on Friday - and I am hoping that there is no bone infection at all.   

It's also going to confirm how damaged my right foot is - though we already know that it is pretty well permanently damaged.  

I am terrified that I won't be able to walk.   Terrified that I will need to have a serious operation on my right foot - and so have to miss even more work.   I already have no leave except for 10 days rec leave.  If  have to take more, I am hoping that I can get early access to long service leave, as if I have to use my super (which is 87% of my pay) I may not be able to ay all my bills each fortnight.  

So I am hoping that 2017 will see things look up.   I want to be able to do little things - walk without pain.  Walk without having to use my cane.   Be able to attend a tourney.  

I want to be able to be at History Alive 2017 and be able to actually walk around and visit my Stallies and Display people.   

I'd like to be able to go one day without crying.

I shall try and see how I go.

Friday, 26 December 2014

Embroidery Accessories I Love!

I love embroidery accessories, and there are some that are more useful than others.  This is a list of accessories that I love and why.

Please be aware that I have linked to particular items - that does not mean I endorse the brand.  It means that this is an example of the item.  I encourage you to use the item, but to shop around and find what suits you best.

  • Embroidery Hoops of various sizes   You can never have too many of these.  I recommend wooden hoops with screw clamps.  There are a number of different types - plastic, metal and PVC clamp types, but I prefer wood.  The wood is as flexible as needed and they are gentle on the fibres of the fabric you are stitching with.  I don't recommend metal at all - it can be too harsh on your fabric, and also many plastic hoops have an inner hoop of metal.  I also find wood grips the fabric better than any other material. 
  • Magnetic Board  If I am working off a chart, this board comes with strip magnets to hold it in place securely.  It also provides a solid surface for me to mark off what I have stitched, or to make any notations about changes I have made.  These boards come in various sizes (this is the largest size).
  • Magnetic Line Magnifier   Another essential for me!  My eyesight is getting worse as the years pass, and this gadget gives a great level of magnification and the line ensures that you don't loose your place in your chart.  
  • Light Box/Tracing table   Do yourself a favour.  Buy one of these.  This will make transferring designs to your fabric simple.  Over the years, I have used a number of different methods of transferring designs to fabric, but this is by far the easiest and best way.  A light box can also be used if you are doing counted work on dark fabric.  Place it on your lap and let the light shine upwards through the fabric.  It will make it easier to see the weave in the fabric. and allow you to count your stitches.
  • Transfer Pen   I use this in conjunction with my light box, or even for drawing a design freehand onto fabric for stitching. Look for a pen that is water erasable as it means that any visible lines can be removed by either dabbing damp sponge/cloth or by running under cold water.  A warning - if you wash this in laundry detergent or hot water, the lines will turn permanent, so always rinse your work in cold water before final laundering when you are finished.
  • Magnetic Needle Case   OK - I have to owe my good friend Ringwar for introducing me to these.  I hadn't seen one before, and when she pulled hers out I fell in love!  All of these cases have a strong magnet in them to hold the needles firmly in place.  The one above is fairly deep and holds a number of needles - plus it's very pretty! The one linked to will also hold pins. The one I have is smaller and only one needle deep and is perfect for me as I use it mostly when I am on the go, and don't have my regular needle case with me.  
  • Needle Case   Which brings me to this.  Thee come in very handy to keep your needles in.  I always drop a little foam in the bottom and top to cushion the ends of the needle and prevent them from burring, blunting or bending.  I actually have a couple of these - one that is similar to this, and a lovely carved wooden one that is considerably larger.  I use the wooden one for my larger and longer needles, and the smaller one for the embroidery needles I used often.  When I buy a new pack of needles, however, I don't immediately put them in the case.  In only add the needles when I have used them.  A needle case is better than the plastic and cardboard boards you buy needles in as they are easier to get the needles out of, and prevent you from sticking yourself as you rummage through your accessory box looking for a needle!
  • Emery Pin Cushion   You will be very familiar with these - the small strawberry shapes that often come attached to pincushions.  Don't be without one of these, and use it each time you pick up a needle to stitch.  These are filled with very fine emery powder and pushing your needle through this before you start to stitch, and after you have finished stitching, will ensure that the needle is kept sharp.  It will also remove any specks of rust or burring that may occur with use.  Using one of these regularly will extend the life of your needles - and pins!  
  • Thread Snippers  Not scissors, or a thread cutter.  Thread snippers are a design that goes back to the ancient Egyptians and examples are often found in many archaeological digs around the world.  This style has no hinge, but they also come with various style hinges that enable more control.  The design of these allows you to slip the threads very close to the fabric, and they can also be used to unpick small areas.  
These are just a few of the embroidery accessories I always have close to hand when I stitch.  Feel free to comment on what accessories you wouldn't be without when you stitch.

Saturday, 30 August 2014

In 2000, I joined a wonderful group of people in a fairly new venture.  The venture was  It was only a small site at the time, and was looking for women writers to take on specialised topics and write articles on those topics using their experience.

At the time, the internet was full of cross stitch - if you searched for embroidery, all that came up was cross stitch.

I decided to change that, and, with the support of Bellaonline, I would like to think that I did have a hand in bringing the many techniques of hand embroidery to the notice of the internet.

I have made the very hard decision to stand down from being the Embroidery Editor at Bellaonline, not because my love of embroidery has changed, but because my life has, and I cannot keep up my obligations of writing and posting one article per week.  

That doesn't mean the end of my writing about embroidery - it just means it is moving to a different place (here) and I will be able to write at my own pace.

I hope that those of you who have followed me on Bellaonline will continue to do so here, and will share your love of embroidery with me and the world.

Sunday, 13 June 2010

No phone or Internet sucks and History Alive 2010

Well, since 5 June, I've had no internet or phone connection. It took them a week to work out what I knew on 5 June – that's not the modem, it's actually a line problem. As it's a long weekend here this weekend, no chance of a technician until Tuesday. If I'm lucky.


Of course, if they don't come Tuesday, then I will probably have to take another day off to wait for them. Added to the fun of, if the problem is actually in the building I live in, then I have to pay $230 for the technician.


Just what I needed! NOT!!


As a result of this, I've been haunting the local Maccas using their wifi, and have no discovered that BCC libraries now have free unlimited connection (when I last saw the info, you had to book and it was an hour – just like using their own computers).


So – library was a bugger to setup (make it easy? Why would they do that?) but now am here and computing.


I hope that this gets fixed soon – I am not coping too well, apart from missing Ste so much that I've been crying myself to sleep.


Fortunately, this morning at 6.30am (too cold, too dark, but worth it) I was back at Maccas because he could get online (don't go there – he's having computer problems too) and we could talk. Which we did. Until the batteries on my laptop ran out. It was good though. Long, long chat about him moving out here. Am so looking forward and needing that too!!


Yesterday, Mari and I went to History Alive at Fort Lytton – and it was fun to go to something like that when I didn't have to garb up, or have any responsibilities. Where else would you see a Roman centurion taking to a WWII digger??


The funniest bit, though, was just as the High Medieval (15th century) tourney was starting, a navy patrol boat came up the river! Great fun!


It was good to see friends there, although even with sunscreen I go a little burned (yes, Mari. I know), and the rough ground had my knee protesting towards the end (I actually had to go sit down for a while) and I ended up last night using a heat pack on it as I could barely walk.


Still – worth it for a good day.

Saturday, 29 May 2010

Getting down to cooking...

I am totally in love with the Mixed Box from!


For the last two fortnights, I'm getting one automatically delivered and it means I've been doing so much more cooking each weekend – but it also means lots more healthy eating!!


The crock pot (slow cooker) is out and has been busy the last couple of weeks. Last weekend I did both Potato and Leek soup and Pumpkin and Bacon soup. Yummy to get home from work and have a nice mug of home made soup!


I wasn't as happy with the Pumpkin soup – not enough pumpkin to make it really thick and it was a little sweet (used butternut pumpkin) for my taste. Next time I'll use Kent or Qld Blue. However, the Potato & Leek was terrific (had the last of it for lunch today).


Today the crockpot has been really busy making curried sausages and I'm looking forward to some of that for lunch tomorrow.


I'm getting a good variety of fruit and vege in each box. There is some wasteage – I just can't eat it all in the fortnight (specially a whole lettuce – I'm not overly fond of lettuce) but with winter a lot of the vege can be turned into soup towards the end of the fortnight.


I am looking forward to seeing what I get as the seasons turn!