You've discovered the exciting world of machine embroidery, and
you've decided you want in. Welcome! Unless an embroidery machine
has fallen out of the sky and into your life, you now have a
decision to make.
An embroidery machine is a big investment. If you find a good
deal on a lower-end machine you might spend as little as a few
hundred dollars, while top-of-the-line home embroidery machines can
go for $10K and up. (And then there are the multi-head industrial
machines, which cost more yet -- but you probably won't be buying
those as a newbie.) With price tags like that, you'll want to be
really sure you're making a good choice.
We get asked this question a lot -- which embroidery machine
should I buy? There is, of course, no one right answer. Which
machine is right for you will depend on a lot of factors.
Here are some things to consider:
Business or Pleasure?
How do you intend to use your embroidery
machine? If you're just starting out and approaching embroidery as a
hobby, a home machine should be nifty. Going into business? Look
into commercial machines, which are built to hander higher workloads
and have features such as multiple needles to increase productivity.
Each model has a set embroidery area -- the largest size it can
embroider in one shot. This area can range from 4"x4" to 8"x12" and
up. The single most common piece of advice we hear from longtime
embroiderers is this: get the biggest embroidery area you can
For many machines, there are hoops available that are larger than
the machine's embroidery area (called things like Mega Hoop, Giga
Hoop, etc.) These are used for embroidering multiple areas without
re-hooping; they do not increase the size the machine can embroider
at once. Make sure you understand the actual embroidery area of the
machine before you buy.
Once you figure out what your budget is and roughly what features
you're looking for in an embroidery machine, check out the different
brands' lines to see what they have to offer in that range. The major
brands of home embroidery machines on the market today are
Ask embroidering friends and internet strangers what they think of
the machines they have, and of the brand's quality overall. Research the
brands you're considering online to see what support and community the
companies offer, and how others have reviewed their machines.
It's possible to buy an embroidery machine
online, but we strongly recommend purchasing from a
bricks-and-mortar dealer you like. Good support, education, and
maintenance make becoming an embroiderer much more enjoyable. This
is a relationship you'll have for years to come, so take the time to
visit shops in your area and find someone friendly and knowledgeable
whom you'll enjoy going back to. Ask questions, and take a couple
machines for a test drive. Many dealerships offer classes to help
you learn how to use your new machine -- take them!
Sewing/Embroidery vs. Embroidery Only
Some embroidery machines convert into good ol' fashioned sewing
machines. Others stick to the business of embroidery. If you already
have a sewing machine you know and love, you might be fine with
embroidery-only. If you want your machine to sew too, decide that up
Design Transfer Media
For many machines on the market today, you
can download an embroidery design file from the internet, save it
onto a USB stick, and plug the stick into your machine to open it up
there -- pretty simple. Other machines take memory cards, floppy
disks or CDs, and you might need a card reader/writer or software to
help with the process. A few models must be connected directly to a
computer. Ask your dealer to show you how to transfer designs to the
machines you're considering.
Many machines will advertise that they can resize designs up to a
certain percentage larger or smaller than the original, with or without
a corresponding change to the density of the design. Keep in mind that
this has limitations.
Urban Threads sells several size options for most designs, and
don't recommend resizing these designs. Each is digitized to stitch out great
at a certain size, but if they're made too much bigger or smaller the
stitching may get too thin or too dense, and we can't be responsible for
the quality of a design once another program/machine has made changes to
it. In practice, we hear that people often do fine changing them +/-
5-10% -- if larger changes are made, quality may start to fall.
Long story short: just because you can make a design lots bigger or
smaller (on an embroidery machine or in software) doesn't mean it's
necessarily the best idea. That said, resizing is a feature you'll
probably dabble with at some point, because experimenting can be fun, so learn about exactly what the
machine you're considering will do.
Other Editing Capabilities
Basic features such as mirroring, rotating,
and repositioning designs within the embroidery area can be handy.
Most embroidery machines should have these, but ask about details.
Some machines let you rotate designs just a
couple of degrees at a time; others only allow rotating in preset
increments such as 90%. You can, of course, also control the
positioning of a design by how you orient the hoop on the fabric.
In general, the more advanced the home
embroidery machine, the more on-screen editing features it'll have.
You may also be able to combine designs, or add text to a design via
built-in fonts on the machine. Keep in mind that these likely are
things you could also do in embroidery software on your computer
(which we tend to prefer; your mileage may vary).
Embroidery Editing Software
In addition to your embroidery machine, you may wish to purchase
embroidery editing software. Even if you're not going to be creating
your designs, it can be handy for tasks like arranging multiple
elements into a single design. Once you've chosen a machine, learn
about any software that brand offers -- and also research other
programs (Embird and SewWhat-Pro are a couple of popular options
that aren't tied to any particular machine brand, and they have
free trial versions). Note that you don't
need to have software unless it's necessary for transferring
designs to your machine.
Mac vs. PC
The majority of machine embroidery software
is PC-based, though there are Mac programs too. If you're a Mac-only
user, talk to your dealer to make sure everything will be
Stitching custom text can be pretty
exciting for new embroiderers. Monogram all the things! Keep in mind
that there are several ways to accomplish this:
Built-in fonts on your machine. These tend to come in a few sizes and
Built-in fonts in embroidery software. Similar to fonts on the
machine, though you might
find more editing options here.
Software that digitizes text from any font on your computer.
Since this is done automatically by computers it's probably not
going to look quite as artful as embroidery designed by humans,
but can be handy if there's a specific font you really want to
stitch that's not already available for embroidery.
Embroidery alphabets -- designs of
individual letters that
you'd arrange to spell words. More elaborate letters tend to be
of this variety, and since they're created by human artists,
they can look more interesting than automatically generated text
embroidery. These are the only kind you can't type with -- you
must arrange them using embroidery editing software, combine
them on your machine if that feature is available, or simply
stitch them next to each other.
Many embroidery machines come with designs
built right in. If you like the designs that come on your potential
embroidery machine, nifty! If not, hey, there's a whole wide
internet of designs out there. :)
Screens on embroidery machines can vary a lot -- some are tiny and
black-and-white, others are big, high definition color displays. The
bigger and more detailed the display, the easier it will be to use those
higher-end editing features. If you do this sort of work in embroidery
software on your computer, this might be sort of a moot point. Check out
your options and see what feels right.
Available Hoops and Accessories
What sizes of hoops
come standard with the machine? Are other optional hoops available?
(And again, which of these are multi-position hoops that are larger
than the machine's actual embroidery area?) Having a lot of hoop
available can be handy, especially for embroidering on already-made
What other accessories are available for the machine?
Bells and Whistles
Learn about the available "bells and
whistles" -- then decide which ones you actually care about.
Our very favorite special feature is the automatic thread
trimmer. If you don't have this, you'll need to manually cut
jump stitches with little scissors. Completely doable, but
Some machines have automatic needle threaders, or perhaps a
magnifier to make the job easier. If you can't stand threading
needles, this might be a feature you'll like.
Some machines will warn you, or stop, when the bobbin thread is about to
run out -- useful!
There are lots more "bells and whistles" out there. Some will
definitely be more useful to you than others, so learn and
Other Questions to Ask
What file format does the machine use for embroidery designs?
Can it use prewound bobbins, or will you need to wind your own?
Will the machine let you skip past certain colors?
(This can be a simple way to stitch only specific parts of a
Will the machine tell you how many stitches are left in a
design, and how much time it will take to stitch?
Will the machine let you move backward or forward just a few
stitches? (This is useful for making sure you don't have a gap
after a thread break.)
Can you adjust the machine's stitching speed? (When you're
stitching with metallic thread, or seeing thread breaks, in can
help to slow the embroidery down.)
How can you update the software/firmware on the embroidery
What warranty is available for the machine?
There's a lot to think about when you're
choosing an embroidery machine ... this should give you a good
If you know any machine embroiderers, ask them to give you a
crash course before you even visit a store. You'll be a smarter
shopper when you know what to expect, and your friends' experiences
and opinions can give you new things to think about.
Once you've narrowed down your choices to a
couple candidates, ask your dealer to help you take them for
a thorough test drive. Pretty soon you'll be stitching away
on your very own embroidery machine. Enjoy!