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?
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.
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?
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.