There comes a time in almost every crafty person’s life when the call of the embroidery machine becomes a little too loud to ignore. Hand embroidery is beautiful and it can be fun, but for many of us it’s just plain tedious and hard to learn, to boot.
But machine embroidery? The appeal is obvious: any pattern you want, no matter how intricate or colorful, can appear at a mere press of a button! You can turn ordinary napkins and pillowcases into one-of-a-kind works of art, and hats and clothes can become fun, personalized gifts.
It’s enough to set any crafty heart a-flutter. Of course, reality is a bit more complicated.
Embroidery machines are expensive; even on sale, they require an investment of at least a few hundred dollars.
Plus, there are so many different options and features that a beginner might feel legitimately frustrated. Which brands? How many needles? What software? We put together this little buying guide to help you get started.
Best Rated Embroidery Machines
Several companies make embroidery machines, but two brands stand out in terms of number of machines sold, availability and ease of use: Brother and Singer.
The five machines we’ve chosen to highlight here are made by these companies, but that’s not to say other companies don’t make good machines. It’s just that Brother and Singer machines are easy to find and try out, have both cheaper and more expensive models, and can generally be serviced by local dealers.
We even have an article dedicated to nothing but the best Brother embroidery machines that you may want to check out.
Singer Futura XL 580
The XL-580 Futura is one of the higher-end models produced by Singer, usually coming in at just under $1000, but it has a number of features that make it worth the price—and it can be found for almost half that on sale. The 580 is ideal for creating borders, since its “endless hoop” feature does not limit the sewer to a small frame.
Its 250 built-in patterns are unusually charming and up-to-date, and it has a knee-powered presser-foot lifter, which is a terrific feature: it means you don’t have to let go of your project to lift the foot, so you never lose control of your design.
Brother LB6800PRW Project Runway
This machine is a combination sewing and embroidery machine, which might make it redundant for those who already own a sewing machine they love. However, this Brother machine comes with some very appealing features, including a rolling case that makes it easy to bring to sewing classes or club meetings.
The case also keeps out dust and it’s cute, which doesn’t hurt. Brother machines are fully compatible with the iBroidery.com website, which offers a ton of new embroidery designs that are easily downloadable.
This machine is a reliable work horse which will stand up to a lot of use.
This is another sturdy, hard-working machine made by Brother. It has a larger hoop size than the LB6800, 5″ by 7″ compared to 4″ by 4″. It is an embroidery-only machine, however, so if you also want to make your own garments and household textiles, you will need an additional machine.
If you get tired of 136 designs included, it’s easy to import more via a USB stick. It comes with a handy little accessory bag, as well.
Best Affordable Embroidery Machines
The following machines are less expensive than the above, but they offer good value for the money. If you are just getting started and don’t feel comfortable shelling out more than $500, the machines we’ve chosen either sell for less than that or can be frequently found on sale in the lower range.
They are limited in terms of hoop size or built-in designs, but not in quality.
Brother PE 525
Check price on amazon This is one of the most affordable machines available, but it delivers consistent quality and ease of use.
The embroidery area is limited to the 4″ by 4″ hoop size, but it is perfect for monogramming or making cute designs on children’s clothing, napkins and so on. Clearly, a budding embroidery artist will want to go with something more elaborate, but depending on your embroidery goals, this might be the right machine for you.
Like most embroidery machines, it functions much better with high-quality thread than with bargain basement spools. Using embroidery stabilizer makes it all easier, too.
Singer Futura XL 400
While this machine not have the “endless loop” capacity of the Singer above, it is a quality machine and can usually be bought for around $500-$600, which is a great deal. It sews as well as embroiders, so you can save space and money with this machine.
However, it does require a PC to get full use out of it; you should have a certain amount of software and computer confidence. It also has the reputation for being a bit finicky if the user doesn’t follow the directions exactly, uses non-Singer needles or decides not to use stabilizer.
There is a rumor that some shipments of this model have had problems; however, this issue seems to be resolved. Singer is a quality brand in the realm of sewing and embroidery and it is a good company in which to put your trust—and your money.
What’s Your Budget?
While a decent-quality, multi-needle machine designed for commercial purposes will cost several thousand dollars new, a single-needle machine made for the home sewer generally costs less than $2000, and you can even find a pretty good machine for under $500 on sale.
Deciding just how much you’re willing to pay is a great place to start as you begin shopping around. Higher end machines will often be easier to use, be more reliable and include more built-in features.
Which Brands Have Local Support?
One of the biggest complaints new buyers of embroidery machines have is that they can’t get parts or service locally. Do yourself a favor and check out which brands can be serviced by a dealer in your area.
You don’t want to have to send your machine away for several weeks while you sit at home alone, dying to put your monogram on things! Embroidery machine dealers often offer their buyers classes, as well. Classes can make an otherwise steep learning curve a breeze.
The most basic machines will have a hoop size of 4″ by 4″, which means that your design can’t be any larger than four inches by four inches. This is fine for some crafters, but those who are more ambitious might want a machine that can handle multiple hoops and the ability to produce designs up to 12′ by 20″ – basically the size of the back of a jacket.
You should also think about the kind of software you’re comfortable with. Brands and individual machines can have different ways of moving a design from your head, a book or the computer to your machine.
Where to Go Now?
Once you fully explore the capacities of your home machine, you might be thinking of, oh, the pleasures of a multi-needle machine that can embroider several colors at once without changing spools. This kind of multi-needle machine is a necessity if you are planning to take your embroidery hobby to the next level and start a small, or not so small, business.
Brother’s Entrepreneur PR-650 is a powerful machine that can handle hundreds of specially designed hats or shirts, and keep on going. Janome and Babylock are other brands that offer high-tech machines for starting your own embroidery business.
Can you picture yourself designing club logos, making shirts for the local bowling team or making hats with your city’s slogan on them? You might need an industrial strength embroidery machine to make this lucrative fantasy a reality.
You might be an especially creative person who wants to design your own embroidery patterns and download them using the specialized software used for this purpose. If so, there is no end to the designs you can come up with and, with a certain amount of effort and skill, render them in the right software for your embroidery machine.
Brother machines are specially designed to work with iBroidery.com, which provides tons of new pattern ideas. Brother machines are also designed to work with software that helps you digitize your own designs.
Don’t feel limited by existing embroidery patterns. Use artwork, architecture, design elements from nature, clothing and housewares, and your own imagination to come up with fresh designs.
Your Embroidery Machine Arrived… Now What?
Once you bring your machine home and learn to use it, you owe it to yourself to get your money’s worth out of it. Lucky for you, creating home-embroidered crafts is extremely fun!
Don’t limit yourself to monogramming tote bags or putting flowers on napkins—although that is a lot of fun for sure. But a little creativity can go a long way and help you get the most out of your new embroidery machine.
Do you have a plain black skirt that’s almost too frumpy to wear? Consider using your embroidery machine to add a red or white Scandinavian design around the hem.
There: you’ve turned a blah skirt into something trendy and eye-catching. Do you have nieces or nephews that are impossible to buy for—because you just can’t keep up with what they’re into?
Embroidering their names or initials onto a set of towels makes a great gift—no one else will use them! Baby gifts with the newborn’s name can become a special heirloom.
And of course, you can make an endless number of quilts, bags, curtains, aprons and wall-hangings featuring your own unique embroidery patterns, which can enrich your life, work as loving gifts or even be the highlights of a local craft show. Enjoy your new embroidery machine. And stay crafty!