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Hand embroidery may be a dying art (probably because we now have more entertainment options than sitting around the fire with their embroidery hoops), but that doesn't mean we have to say goodbye to embroidered clothes and linens. With the help of an embroidery machine, you can apply intricate stitching to almost any fabric item — no sewing skills required. But how do you pick the best machine to fit your needs? Whether you're new to the world of embroidery machines or looking for an upgrade, it can be difficult to sort the wheat from the chaff, and find a quality unit that offers good value for money.
If you're struggling to make a choice, the good news is, you're in the right place. We at BestReviews are dedicated to helping you, the consumer, find the perfect products to fit your needs. We test items in our labs, gather information from experts, consult existing customers, and do piles of product research — all so we can craft fair and thorough reviews that cut through all the jargon. When you're ready to make a purchase, consult our product matrix above, which features our top five product recommendations. But first, read on for our full guide to embroidery machines.
If you didn’t guess from the name, embroidery machines are machines that do embroidery. They look similar to regular sewing machines, but are more high tech.
The machine's onboard computer contains a range of preprogrammed patterns and fonts (and most models allow you to add more via your computer, a USB stick or WiFi), which it embroiders into fabric automatically, with minimal user intervention.
All the user has to do is set up the fabric on the hoop, select a design, change the spool of thread as needed, then clip the threads, and remove the fabric from the hoop when the machine has done its work.
Your embroidery machine will prompt you when it's time to change the thread. You just need to clip the old one and put a new spool on the machine for the next color.
You can find two main types of embroidery machines on the market: single needle and multi-needle. Here we learn more about each.
As the name suggests, single needle embroidery machines have just one needle on the head.
Pros: Tend to be fairly easy to use, readily available online and in sewing shops, much more affordable than multi-needle models.
Cons: Much slower to finish more complex designs with multiple colors, since you need to manually change the thread each time you move onto a different hue.
Price: Basic models can cost as little as $200 to $300, but you need to pay closer to $400 or $500 if you want to advance beyond an entry-level model — high-end machines can cost more than $1,000.
Multi-needle embroidery machines have multiple needles (usually between four and eight) on the head.
Pros: Automatically changes colors, so no need to change threads manually. Tend to be faster and more precise than single needle models.
Cons: Fewer multi-needle models are available so there's less choice and they're harder to find.
Price: Between $2,500 and $10,000 — but bear in mind, these are professional-quality machines.
A decent single needle embroidery machine will more than suffice for home use — it's mostly professionals who use multi-needle models.
The maximum embroidery area is the amount of space in which you can embroider a design. Basic embroidery machines tend to have smaller maximum embroidery areas than high-end models.
Check the specifications of the embroidery machine you're considering to find the maximum embroidery area and decide whether it's large enough to fit your needs.
Be sure to change your needle regularly — we recommend doing so after every ten hours of use, and at the start of every new project.
The speed of an embroidery machine is measured in stitches per minute — the more stitches per minute a machine can do, the more quickly it will get through a design.
You can find embroidery machines that work at anywhere between 300 and 1,000 stitches per minute, with anything from 650 upwards considered high speed.
The throat width is the term given to the amount of space between the body of the machine and the needle.
The bigger the throat width of an embroidery machine, the more likely it is to have a large maximum embroidery area, as there's more room to fit a larger hoop.
When embroidering towels, we recommend using an iron-on stabilizer on the reverse of the towel to help get a sharp design.
All embroidery machines come with a number of built-in designs and fonts.
Basic models tend to have just a few fonts, and fewer than 50 pre-programmed designs, whereas high-end models can have 10 to 12 fonts and well over 100 built-in designs.
Of course, you always have the option of downloading designs online, or creating your own using special software, but some people find it easier to use the pre-programmed designs, and therefore like to have a larger number to select from.
If you're a beginner, start small, then work your way up to more complex designs once you're confident about how your embroidery machine works.
If you find threading needles a chore, look for an embroidery machine with an automatic threader, which threads your needle for you at the press of a lever.
While it's a time-saver for anyone, this is an especially useful feature for anyone with dexterity issues, or those with sight problems that make it more difficult to thread a needle.
You can find embroidery machines that automatically clip all your threads, saving the hassle of doing it by hand.
A hoop is what holds your fabric taut so the embroidery turns out even. Hoops come in a range of different sizes, with some of the most common being 4” x 4”, 5” x 7”, 6” x 10”, and 8” x 12” — though not all embroidery machines have a large enough embroidery area to facilitate all these sizes. Some machines come with a range of different hoops, but sometimes you have to buy them separately.
The digital display screen is where you scroll through, select, and (in some cases) edit your designs. The best embroidery machines have fairly large digital displays so you can see your designs in more detail and can edit them more easily.
Some embroidery machines allow you to combine more than one design on a screen, so the machine can stitch the whole thing in one pass, rather than forcing you to reset the machine and do the second part of the design separately.
Some embroidery machines allow you to put a curve or arch in your fonts, which gives you more design freedom than simply having straight lettering.
If you're completely new to the world of embroidery machines, look for models that have an automated help feature, teaching you how to use them right there on the machine's screen.
Make sure you know how to hoop your fabric correctly. If it's loose or wrinkled in the hoop, the design won't turn out right.
Cut the thread between any jump stitches as you go along to avoid it getting tangled in the machine and causing problems.
If you buy stabilizer on the roll, be sure to flatten it out before use. Either press it between the pages of a heavy book for 24 hours, or use an iron if you need it more quickly.
Q. Can I use my embroidery machine for regular sewing?
A. Some basic embroidery machines also double up as regular sewing machines. The trouble is, these machines tend to do both jobs worse than units designed to do one job or the other. What's more, most (though certainly not all) people interested in buying an embroidery machine already have a regular sewing machine, so they don't need the sewing function, anyway.
Q. Do I need a computer to use an embroidery machine?
A. While it's not essential you have a computer to use your embroidery machine, it will certainly give you more design options. Embroidery machines come with a set number of preprogrammed fonts and patterns, but you can find thousands more to download online, plus you can design your own, if you have the right software. So, if you don't use a computer, your choices will be much more limited.
Q. Do I need any special skills to use an embroidery machine?
A. You don't need any special skills to use an embroidery machine, as it does all the work for you. That said, you'll find it easier getting started if you already know how to use a sewing machine, as you'll know how to thread needles on a machine, change the spools of thread, and so on.
At BestReviews, we purchase every product we review with our own funds. We never accept anything from product manufacturers. Our goal is to be 100% objective in our analysis, and we do not want to run the risk of being swayed by products provided at no cost.