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Apr 9, 2018

Is There an Embroidery Machine in My Future?


Readers, embroidery machines -- I can't stop thinking (and reading) about them.

Maybe you own one, or know someone who does, and have seen what they can do.  They're pretty amazing.  Among the many things they can create are...

Embroidered hats!


Personalized dish towels!


Baby bibs (I have two one-and-a-half year olds -- my niece and nephew -- in my life, remember)!


Endlessly custom-izable toddler clothes!



They can make patches!


Combine embroidery and applique!


And you can find infinite number of downloadable designs online; plus you can design your own.

The quality of the embroidery on most of the machines, even the low-mid-priced ones, is outstanding (if online Amazon reviews are to be believed).  The model I've been looking at most closely is the Brother PE700, a popular model on the lower end (around $500, refurbished, from Ken's Sewing Center).

Much of the higher cost for the more expensive models (and they can cost as much as a car) seems less about the actual technology and more about the size of the computer screen (and if it's black-and-white or color) and the size of the largest embroidery hoop it can accommodate.  The PE700 can handle a 5" x 7" design, which seems pretty big to me.


Needless to say there are countless YouTube videos and Facebook groups devoted to these machines.  There's a steep learning curve but clearly a lot of people are available to help you get up and running.

Aside from making cute things for my niece and nephew, I think an embroidery machine would be a wonderful way to customize my sewing projects both for myself, Michael, and for clients, even if it's just a label, a patch, or a back pocket.

In addition to Brother, I know Janome, Bernina, Babylock, Pfaff, and Singer make popular models.  I think this is a very profitable area for the sewing machine companies; I mean, how many zigzaggers can you sell?  (BTW, I'm only interested in machines that are embroidery only; I already have the regular sewing covered, he he).

I guess my only concern is the age of some of the most popular models.  The Brother PE700 seems to have been around since 2009, nearly a decade.  I wonder if it would be wise to invest in something more recent, given that we're talking about something computerized.

In closing, do you own an embroidery machine you'd recommend?

Do you find you use it as much as you expected you would?  (More?  Less?)

What kinds of things do you make with it?

Jump in!


51 comments:

  1. I thought about it. Happy with my used Bernina 1230, I bought a Bernina embroidery machine, watched the video on buttonholes, and tried to return it. No returns. Working with the machine, I learned it threads in a counterintuitive manner. After a solid week, I managed to get it to sew. AT that point I determined to find it a new home with someone who likes working puzzles.

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    1. Can I ask which Bernina embroidery machine you purchased?

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  2. I would contact an embroidery machine repairman to ask as many questions as he/she is willing to answer. The last time I had my animal machine serviced the guy offered to buy it. After I gave him the stink eye, he explained that my 2001 machine is in high demand as it is an original (made and assembled in Japan). The newer ones are being manufactured in China and Korea. He told me that he thinks they are junk and not worth the money. I am a hobbyist and use my machine in fits and spurts; I love it. I will leave it to my family to sell/dispose of it! Good luck��

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    1. Is your model a home machine or meant for professional use?

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    2. It is a commercial machine I bought off eBay. It is quite large so it resides in our barn ( air conditioned office). Not for everyone because of it's size, but it has 15 needles and can accommodate a large hoop.

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  3. Tajima machine! Auto correct strikes again😃

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  4. oh dear -- i didn't need to be reminded that such a thing exists... i can think of so many uses for an embroidery machine! i think i'll force myself to be content living vicariously through you, Peter. i'm definitely interested in hearing which machine(s) are worth it and why.

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  5. I have a Babylock Destiny with all the bells and whistles. This is my 4th embroidery machine I have traded up from my first machine. They are fun to use and there is a learning curve but it is not too difficult. It can be expensive. Quality thread, stabilizers designs, I have a great dealer that helps. The larger machines are heavy and take up space. I would get one with a least a 6x10 hoop. The brother machines have Disney designs. I use my machine quite a bit but not as often as I would like. I hope this helps

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  6. Hi. I have no experience with embroidery machines, I just own a couple of normal sewing machines (one no brand, one Janome, and one 1920s Singer treadle). But one thing I have found very useful is to go to a seller that allows you to try several machines out as many times as you like. Videos are great, but nothing beats trying it out. When I bought my Janome (second hand, in Europe), I also tried a new Brother at the same store, almost bought it, until the sales lady showed me how the Brother could be moved with one finger. I then went poking every sewing machine in the store. The Janome I bought was quite stable, which has come in handy when I sew with heavy fabrics. Another thing to check is how loud they are, with a normal sewing machine this might not be an issue, but with an embroidery machine that works for longer it might be. So my two cents would be to check if the machine is stable, and how loud it is. Hope this helps.

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  7. Ive had several machines. Love them all. If you plan to embroider garments you may want a larger hoop. The 5x7 is good for pockets, towel toppers. Serious embroidery takes a serious hoop. My PE770 has a Multi-position hoop ie hoop fabric once stitch 2 hoopfuls by moving the hoop to a new position. That works for me most of the time. As for the the newer more expensive tech, they offer larger hoops, faster stitching speed (which often must be slowed for fabric and thread), and more built-in digitizing. Check Embird before investing in a machine for your digitizing. Personally I prefer to buy digitized designs and make minor edits to color and position. I do like larger hoops and the auto trimming. Good luck, once they hook you, they are a money pit (which Iam happy to throw money into)



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  8. I have a PE770 purchased new from Amazon. If you are seriously looking at the PE700, consider the 770 because it is only a little more expensive. I started with the PE150 which I bought at Walmart. I still have it but don't use it. The 150 isn't as crabby about bobbins as the 770 is. I buy bobbins at a sewing machine store in Redlands because it doesn't like the Joann;s bobbins or the self wound bobbins. I bought the four hoop set from Amazon also. I agree that it is easier to buy designs that to digitize them and I own Embird. Designs are definitely a money pit. My big complaint is that once I buy a machine I want the machine with the next size up hoop, even though I probably don't need it.

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  9. I have the PE 770 and at first I was very happy with it. Now I find that it has limitations for what I want to do. When I first purchased it I wanted to customize clothing, etc. and it's good for that. The thing to know is that there is a stitch limit for the frame size - for the PE 770 the max number of stitches you can have in a 5x7 design is 50,000. For most designs you won't have that many - that's pretty dense, stitch-wise. Because I started doing Irish dance dresses and vests, I have to split designs for size and stitch count in order to fit them. The problem with this is that you have to be able to line up split designs so that they look seamless when you're finished. For me, a commercial-grade machine is too expensive an investment currently, so I do a lot of re-hooping. I recently did an Irish dance vest and the front of it required me to hoop it 9 separate times; the back of the vest took 11 separate hoopings. So there's something to be said for a larger embroidery field. If you're not planning on doing large designs or continuous motifs/borders, a 5x7 field is reasonable. That and you can learn to re-hoop. The other thing is that there's a 5x12 hoop for the PE770 which is supposed to allow one to combine designs or repeat them, without too much re-hooping. It didn't work for my last project - I just couldn't get it to line up and that was disappointing, since the difference was only .5 mm!

    There is a learning curve - I usually stitch out bits of a new design a couple of times to make sure that I've got the appropriate thread tension, the right stabilizer, etc. Once you've done a few, though, it's pretty straightforward.

    The most important part, I feel, is having a USB port. The older machines needed cards/card readers to get designs. Newer ones have USB ports that allow you to buy a design online, download to a thumb drive and then plug in the thumb drive and stitch. You could probably find an older machine with a card reader for a very reasonable price second-hand, but I think you would be limited in your design choices. The price on the PE 770 has dropped by about half since I got mine, and I think it's at a more affordable price point now.

    If you have any other questions, please ask!

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  10. I have a PE-780D. I bought it used from my local sewing dealer. It was only used 3 months before the buyer returned it to upgrade (perhaps not a great selling point!) I wanted to be able to offer basic embroidery for clients rather than taking my things to a local embroidery shop. Often it's a name on a blanket or a saying on a pillow. Small things. For this, I didn't want to have to invest a lot of money because I wasn't sure I'd recoup it. The "D" is for Disney and it includes a bunch of Disney designs which I have not used yet. Overall it has worked well. Finding the right combination of stabilizers is important so I mainly use two that my dealer recommends.

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    1. Thanks, Jane! It's interesting how many similar Brother models there are. Some seem to be available on Amazon and others not at all.

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  11. I used to have a brother such as the one you're looking at, and now have a very fancy bernina (I married an enabler). The brother's embroidery field was ok, but editing designs on that little screen was challenging - think of it of it being akin to sending a text on an old flip phone vs to today's smartphones. Also keep in mind that the simpler the machine, the more you'll need software on your computer to edit designs. Software can be very expensive.
    My bernina cost as much as cheap clown car, but goes far beyond embroidering bunnies. The screen makes it a lot easier to just sit and embroider something without to first going through the computer. If the thread breaks and I have to find my place, its not a problem - the brother made something like that more challenging. So, my recommendation would be to try out different types and test out different scenarios: combine designs, change colours, trouble shoot different scenarios, etc. And check out accessories available: mine can paint, bedazzle and cut fabric. I'm sure other brands have similar options available.

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    1. Indeed, I've read a few complaints about the size of the small black and white screen on the Brother.

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  12. I have the Brother PE-770 and I really like it. (Full disclosure - it's the only one I've ever tried, although I've seen others in action.) I got it because it looked like fun, though, not because I was going to sell anything embroidered. The screen is a nuisance - I find that keeping an Excel spreadsheet of all of my designs (along with size, etc.) is the only way I can keep track of them all - the designs turn out to be black blobs (or squiggles, or...you get the idea).

    The things I like about my machine are the cost (it was about $700 maybe 5 years ago, bought on Amazon); how easy it is to use (after sewing complicated garments, it's really not difficult if you follow the directions); the ease of getting designs (the Brother uses PES designs, which means there are millions of designs out there the machine can do); the size of the embroidery (as usually I don't need a massive thing to embroider); and the overall design capability. The bobbin isn't too hard to wind (and I've frequently had to take it apart to get to the bobbin, then wind the bobbin, then reassemble again - a PITA, but not terrible). It's not hard to thread - it has an auto threader - and it has the USB capability (which as someone else commented is definitely needed). Again, I'm doing stuff for gifts or for fun, not for selling.

    The things I don't like about it are: That little screen (not in color and terrible resolution); the way it "sticks" when the thread density is high (I've had upper threads break on me before because of the high tension); the need for so much stabilizer; the fact that it codes for specific colors differently from every other place (besides the Brother site) that sells designs, which can make color matching tricky; and the cost you have to put into it (which is true of every machine).

    You can get lots of free designs (urbanthreads.com or emblibrary.com, for example - a new design or two every month!) and as others said, there are tons of designs out there, both free and not, and you can easily manipulate colors or sizes on the machine itself. It's a lot of fun and not too expensive in the general scheme of things.

    I hope this helps!

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  13. I purchased a Husqvarna Viking #1+ embroidery machine many years ago and what I didn't realize when I first purchased it is that the programs that run the embroidery units get updated regularly and you need to upgrade them to keep up. Technology also changes and to keep up you might also need to upgrade (for example, my machine reads embroidery programs from a card--I had to replace the contraption that transfers the embroideries to the card for around $150. It's now obsolete again and I would need to replace it again which I refuse to do). None of these upgrades come cheap. I suggest looking into the various software/hardware that you need for the embroidery machine and take into account their price and the cost of any potential upgrading a few years down the line when making your decision.

    I embroidered quite a bit at the beginning and the results are really quite lovely and it's fascination to see how a sewing machine can do this, but as time went on I stopped embroidering. Probably because I spend more time on achieving a nice fit and want to do so before spending time embroidering on the outfit. Thankfully, my machine is an awesome sewing machine so I'm still glad I bought it, I just never realized that the embroidery feature makes the machine a small computer that needs upgrading just like any other computer.

    Joanne in Montreal

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  14. Really!?! A new, technologically out-of-this-world embroidery machine when you might find one from the 19th or early 20th century? But then, in NYC you don't need a car anyhow ;).

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  15. Serendipitous! I just bought one yesterday. I splurged big with a multi-year tax return and bought the Brother Innovis 800e. I'm now paralyzed with fear over the amount of money I've spent and the amount of learning I have to do... so it's out of the box but I haven't turned it on yet! I sometimes get this way with an expensive piece of fabric too 😂

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  16. PETER!!! You are BACK! Haven't even read the post.

    JUST EXCLAIMING MY JOY!!!!

    A raving fan!

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    1. ...and you are a Digital Ambassador at Threads Magazine too!!

      I Luv Threads Magazine - it's even better because of you.

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  17. Like Testosterone, I am glad to see you back!! I have a Babylock Destiny, which I am learning to use. So far I've only done quilt labels and some napkins, but I have visions of what can be done with this wonderful machine. I love your pic of the oval labels... just like my Dad had on his coveralls, got to make me some of those!. My biggest hurdle so far is stabilizing to avoid puckers. The machine itself is easy to use. A big screen with color display is helpful to avoid frustration, I think. I did have an old Pfaff 7570 long ago that had some embroidery function and it was hard to see what was going on, let alone adjust the patterns onscreen. I'm so excited to hear what you do, do keep us posted.

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  18. I'm so glad you're back (I was scared)! Now I'll read your post :-)

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  19. I bought the project runway brother model. I cannot say I've done much more with it than a few monograms (3 to be exact) and a few custom designs. I'm grateful for the capacity but I use it very rarely. That being said, if you have the patience and the correct software you can achieve a lot.

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  20. Get the machine that will give you the largest hoop within your budget but you will likely find yourself wanting another machine with the next largest hoop whatever that might be than what you bought once you get an embroidery machine because that is just how it is when you have one. LOL

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  21. Babylock Destiny is my best friend's favourite. And she has been through them all over the years. What she creates for herself and for gifts are truly amazing and I know she loves this machine the best.
    Good to hear you are alive and well in NYC. Miss your blog....

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  22. I got a Husqvarna Topaz 25 a few years ago. My niece needed an Irish Dance costume so I offered to make on and ended up buying a machine. It was probably the same price as dress 1250euro but I have since made a second dress and a dance waistcoat for newphew and got to experiment a bit by using embroidery on some of my own sewing.

    I thought I would be able to design more but the software is the same price and a different learning curve. That being said, its easy to tweak some of the downloaded designs with some free edit software, and I digitized a few things recently on a month trial of Hatch.

    The machine needs professional servicing, and I now sew on my featherweight more, and use the emb machine only for embroidery or special button holes.

    At the time I went with the mantra to get the biggest hoop I could get on my budget, and also talked it over with a knowledgeable dealer who sells a lot of them.

    best of luck - looking forward to seeing what you do on your new machine when you decide

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  23. Peter, I too have been hearing the siren song of the embroidery machine. I'm trying to resist. I've been stalking the Janome Skyline S9 online (haven't checked it out in person). I love the idea of it having Wifi, and it sounds as though there are lots of other nice features and a good big largest size of hoop. It's not embroidery-only, but sewing/embroidery.

    I'm down to one machine, Bernina 1090, which I love, but I do think eventually I might be facing a need for a repair or replacement due to the electronics giving up the ghost. They are working perfectly now, but one doesn't know. If I were to get the Janome, it would probably become my main machine, with the Bernina as backup.

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  24. I have one..it's tedious to use. The professional machines have 7+ heads and colors switch between sections automatically. The home machines stitch one color at a time and need to be re-threaded for the next color. More colors takes more time. Takes forever. It's not really that creative to watch a machine stitch.

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    1. S.A.B.L.E.!

      (for those who are unaware of, or don't treasure all things, Phyllis: that's "Stash Acquisition Beyond Life Expectancy")

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  25. I have a Brother Innovis Laura Ashley Isodore 5000. It is very adequate for everything I do. I honestly don't use it as much as I expected.
    I had a previous one where you had to use a cable to attach it to a computer to transfer the designs. (that is a PAIN.) At a minimum you want one that can take a USB drive or an SD card.
    Design software can cost as much as a car. (seriously!) I make do with Embrilliance Essentials for editing designs. (Mac OS software - if you are a Mac user there is limited software that is Mac native.)

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  26. I have a Brother PE770, and while the designs I can make are beautiful, I have mixed feelings about it. I like to sew, making something from a flat piece of fabric. I feel "involved" when I sew, and feel as though I am creating something. I don't have the creativity to make my own embroidery designs, so I am implementing someone else's creativity, if that makes sense. I feel like I am just doing the grunt work, hooping, and babysitting the machine while it stitches. Some designs take hours, and you have to just sit there. If you look away, something bad will happen, like thread breaking or fabric falling under the needle getting into the design, or some other issue. I have come to terms with my love/hate relationship with my machine, by being honest with myself and focusing on sewing, and using the embroidery machine sparingly. If I had to do it again, I might not have purchased it. I just don't feel as though I have any part of the creative process with it. That said, there are an infinite amount of designs out there and many are free.

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  27. I started machine embroidery almost 20 years ago. I started out with a used machine with a 4"x4" limitation thinking that is all I'd need. I quickly outgrew that in a couple of months and sold that machine to buy one that could handle 6x10, sold that and now have a Husqvarna Diamond and Ruby. Babylock makes a wonderful embroidery only machine called Spirit which my friend has and I would highly recommend it. I often see it on the "Sewitsforsale" yahoo group at a reasonable price. I use my machine as much as I thought I would. I've made quilts, dishtowels, tea towels, monogrammed hankies, table runners, appliqued quilts, Christmas tree skirts, designs on apparel, college graduation sashes, monogrammed towels etc etc. Urban Threads if my favorite website for embroidery designs. Their designs are modern and not so hokey. You want to be sure and purchase well digitized designs. And like buying computers, buy all that you can afford. An outdated machine will be frustrating for transferring designs. I use 6D Embroidery Extra software which meets my needs. I can easily copy the design to a jump drive, connect it to my machine, retrieve and I'm good to go. Embird is a less expensive option. And of course, there's the start up of buying embroidery thread. I buy Madeira Rayon because I like the price that I can get it for on Allstitch.com. Good luck!

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  28. My first machine was the Brother Innov'is NQ-1400E, which I believe is what you have pictured above. It has a large hoop - 6x10 - and a USB drive; my only complaints were that the screen was so small, and it didn't cut jump threads. A few months ago, I traded it in on the NQ1600E - they improved by enlarging the screen and adding jump thread cuts, as well as some great button holes, which my sewing shop folks tell me are better than any sewing machine buttonhole. I have yet to try that! I take advantage of the monthly classes at the shop where I bought the machines, and learn a lot there (we usually do a different project each class).
    Last week, I attended a 2-day Anita Goodesign event at a shop (not mine), and we used the Babylock Destiny. The controls were essentially like my Brother, and I believe the embroidery field was the same (maybe a tiny bit larger). That machine also sews, but I would NEVER take the time to convert it to sewing vs embroidering. The screen was ginormous and easier to read, and it has limited editing capabilities. (I already sunk $1000 into editing software, so that shouldn't matter to me LOL.) The fact is that I paid $2k for my 1600E, and the one I used at that class was half price if you bought it then - for a whopping $7500. I just can't justify that unless I win the lottery!! If you can get a decent machine with a 5x7 hoop for $500, I say do that to see if you even use it! Then get a bigger, better model down the road if your use justifies it. Good luck!!

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  29. I am not creative enough for an embroidery machine, although I wish I were.

    In other commentary, I'm glad to see you back! I've missed you . . .

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  30. No input on the embroidery machine question, never understood the attraction. However, I am so, so happy to hear from you again! Welcome back!

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  31. I thought you were up to something. I was right!

    Cindy is right. All the things, ditto. They also suck up large quantities of thread. How many colors do you want to buy? I have managed to find enough places where someone has one that will do the thing I need done properly (shopping mall kiosks are half embroidery businesses), and I don't have to learn and swear at a new machine. And yes, most of that is a red oval with a script name in the center. It just makes a pair of coveralls look right....

    You know, the heart wants what it wants.

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  32. I used to want an embroidery machine, still do on occasion, but then I calmed down and looked at the specialty stitches on my regular machine that I just had to have and never use. I gave it more thought, considered the amount of thread, the stabilizers, patterns, software and whatever all else that goes with an embroidery machine and decided if I ever really really need something embroidered, I'd be far ahead of the game to pay someone to do it for me. And that decision didn't even include the time to learn how to use the machine, or where to put it and it's accessories.

    Sorry, I'm not much help on deciding which machine to get, am I? But it IS nice to see a post from you again!

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  33. sigh. that should be "put it and its accessories"

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  34. I bought the sewing part of Bernina's first embroidery machine a few years ago; they still sell the embroidery part for $2,000. I am not interested; I love embroidery that is nicely done by hand, but most of the designs available online and with the machines are easily done at a mall kiosk. They just don't do a thing for me. I have precious little time to sew, and I am happy focusing on quality clothing well fitted. It is not that hard to play with free-needle stitching; just use the darning system on a sewing machine and you can do plenty.

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  35. I love love LOVE my Brother (VE2200....it's a pricey beast) embroidery machine. I embroidery entire shirt backs with it and all sorts of other things. Just super handy for making fancy looking gifts at not a fancy price.

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  36. Interesting reading the commments as I have wanted one in the back of my mind....thinking of how easy it would be to embroider western shirts! But then after reading, I don't think it would be that easy...or cheap...or fun. Perhaps I'll work on doing some dang hand embroidery which I'm scared of because of my patience level!

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  37. Occasionally I think I want an embroidery machine, and then I remember an employee who worked at my local fabric store. She was wearing a very nice, beautifully made outfit. Except it was embroidered to death. Ruined the whole thing, she should have just worn a t-shirt that said "I just bought an embroidery machine". It takes a careful hand not to overdo it.

    However when the lottery comes through for me, I'm off to get a top of the line Bernina! Which costs more than my car and my husband's combined.

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  38. If I were that interested in embroidering projects for family, friends, clients, and perhaps myself, I would find someone who is already set up to do custom designs and save myself the headaches associated with machine acquisition and repair, expense, and the learning curve. Then I think I would prefer to do a bit of hand embroidery which is both beautiful and calming, and pay someone else to do the professional stuff.

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  39. My mother in law gifted me her old Viking Designer 1 about two years ago and I just started messing around with the embroidery function about 4-6 weeks ago. I sew clothing for my wife and daughter regularly but the embroidery element has honesty thrown me a bit. Th machine does a pretty amazing job with embroidery (and they’re readily available s cons hand at a reasonable price) but the bigger limitation I have with it is that the file format is obsolete. I can’t recall what the old Viking embroidery file extension is, but it’s not the same as used on models made after the D1.

    All in all, the idea of embroidery is pretty cool, but I just don’t see it as something I’ll do a whole lot with in the immediate future. I’ve always built furniture as a hobby and I can see and improve I use structure but my head doesn’t dig well into detailing furniture. I think I’ve maybe got the same thing going on with the embroidery machine. I like making garments, but when it comes time to add embroidered details, I just can’t envision anything I really want to do.

    I hope you find the right machine for you and that you get a lot of enjoyment out of it. The only thing I can offer though is a recommendation that when you go for it, look into not only a machine, but be clear on the file format, availability of embroidery files online and know that there’s modern software available that you can use to create your custom designs in the format you need. Good luck!!

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  40. Hi, long-time lurker here!
    I saw in your later post that you're not considering getting an embroidery machine right now, but since you like vintage machines I figured I'd point out another option (for anyone who isn't aware of it). You can do pretty impressive embroidery on regular machines, including old straight-stitch ones. There are a lot of interesting videos on YouTube if you search for things like vintage machine embroidery and free motion embroidery. I've never done much and there's a learning curve for sure, but you might find it interesting to try.

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