My Sewing Machines – Part 2: The Embroidery Machines

Just in case you missed the first installment of this post:

My Sewing Machines – Part 1: The Beginning you can click anywhere on this to go back and read it first.

My Sewing Machines – Part 2: The Embroidery Machines

(Updated: June 13th, 2105)

My first embroidery machine:

I watched the evolution of the electronic embroidery machine with close attention for several years before I finally bought one. I was always stopping by my local sewing machine stores to see what all the different manufacturers of embroidery machines were up to, and what great new features they had been adding. And of course asking for demos of these wonderful new machines to see what they could do first hand. Embroidery machine technology has moved forward at a very rapid pace since the 1990’s. They haven’t advanced quite as fast as computers have advanced since that time but it’s close, since the computer control of the machines motors, steppers, cutters, and the robotic embroidery arm were the most important parts of the embroidery machines.

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My first embroidery machine was a Brother PE-200 Snoopy Design machine.

Brand new it was $1500, but I got it used for about $800 with shipping and I just loved it. I could have gotten the PE-150 or PE-180 models for less money but it wouldn’t have had the Snoopy designs in it and at the time, that was important to me. It had about 24 Snoopy and Peanuts designs and about 24 other designs built into the machine.

All of the designs were 4″x4″ (4 inches square) or under in size.

At the time that was the largest design that any embroidery machine could create in one field without using special hoops and tricks. It is comparable in 2009 to the Brother PE-750D Disney machine. Because it was an embroidery only machine, you had to have a separate sewing machine if you wanted to sew something once you had done your embroidery with it.

The problem with this machine and other smaller less expensive embroidery machines that you might purchase is the small number of built in designs they have and the high cost of purchasing more designs.

To stitch designs other than those that are built into the machine, you needed to purchase designs on design or memory cards that could be read by the machine directly for somewhere between $50-$150 each for 10-15 designs per card, or if you wanted to download designs from the internet or take some off a cd or design your own, you had to have a card reader/writer and a blank writable memory card to get the designs from the computer or cd onto the card and then to the machine. To get the box you had to purchase the very expensive software that went with it for another $500, which you needed anyway to digitize or resize your own designs. Luckily for us home embroiderers, things have gotten better, easier and less expensive. Besides putting out all the money for the equipment, you still have to figure out how use it all. Thank heavens for my husband and his skills on the computer because he did all of this hard part for me. He tried on more than one occasion to show me how to create and transfer the designs myself to those fiddly memory cards, but I just could not get it. So when I needed something new he was kind enough to put it on a card for me and all I had to do was stitch it out.

It did not take very long before I had outgrown this machines abilities.

It became apparent to me early on that as long as your design had only 3 to 5 colors like Snoopy or Mickey Mouse you would be ok with the 5″x1.5″ inch monochrome screen, but after purchasing a teddy bear card where each design had 15 to 20 colors per design, it became very difficult to figure out just what color I needed and which part of the design was going to be stitching next. So, with all the knowledge I now had about embroidery machines and knowing a little more about what I wanted in a machine, my search for a new machine began.

My second embroidery machine:

After much research and debate, especially on my husband’s part, I became the proud owner of a Brother Ultimate 2001 on Christmas Day 2002. Wow! This was such an upgrade from what I had that I was overwhelmed with everything it could do! This machine is a combo machine, and could do both embroidery and sewing just by removing the embroidery arm, so that was the end of my original little Brother sewing machine. It was moved to the attic for storage just in case.

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From an embroiders point of view, it exceeded the little Snoopy machine at every turn.

It had a large color touchscreen display making it easy to decipher a design with 15 to 20 colors or more. Designs were easy to load from a computer to the machine by using a normal 3.5″ floppy disk which I even finally learned to do myself. You could also still use your older design cards from the older Brother machines if you wanted. Designs could even be edited and resized directly on the machine using the touchscreen, something the Snoopy machine could not do, and don’t forget the much larger hoop size it offered. The larger hoop now allowed for designs up to 6×10 inches in size to be stitched all at once in one hoop.

From a sewing point of view, the machine was wonderful to use as well.

It had a top loading bobbin and a sensor to tell you when the bobbin was getting low. It had many built in stitches and a ton of other features that my little Brother did not have.

I was in heaven and it changed my sewing quality and quantity dramatically.

Previous to owning this machine, my sewing always involved a fight between me and the machine. With this new machine, the fights were less and when they did happen they were less severe. This is when I truly began to enjoy sewing. Life was good but then the Brother Innovis 4000D came out and replaced the Ultimate 2001/2002 model.

My third (and still currently in use) embroidery machine:

Although I loved and still do love my Ult-2001 machine, the Innovis 4000D offered many new embroidery features that I wanted. When I purchased the 4000D in 2004 I paid  just under $5000 for it. This was quite a deal at the time as they were selling in the shops for somewhere between $7500-$9000 depending on what accessories that you got with it.

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Since the 4000D is also a combo embroidery and sewing machine, it was meant to replace the Ult-2001. But that didn’t happen, and I’ll tell you why a little later in the story.

From an embroidery stand point the 4000D did surpass the Ult-2001 with great new time saving features like auto threading of the needle, auto cutting and knotting of jump stitches, and a faster stitching speed. It also had better precision in the stitched designs and a better bobbin sensor with a larger bobbin. A larger mega hoop was also included which let me now stitch designs as large as 7×12 inches in size and it had a larger/brighter touchscreen which was nice on my aging eyes. Loading a design into the 4000D machine is now done using a USB memory stick thumb drive or a normal SD memory card, which are very inexpensive and available everywhere unlike the older brother memory cards which required a special reader/writer and were very expensive to purchase.

Although it will still take the older 3.5″ floppy or brother memory design cards if you wish to use them.

You can also load designs directly from a CD-ROM drive plugged into the machine. My 16 gigabyte USB memory stick will hold thousands of designs and you can file them into folders to find them easier, plus it is fairly easy to load the designs on to the stick from a computer. The new PE-Design digitizing software for the 4000D had improved in several places as well so I decided to pick it up too. The cost to upgrade the design software from my old version which I got with my Ult-2001 machine to the new version was $500. If you were not eligible to upgrade it was $2500 to purchase it new.

From a sewing stand point, the Innovis 4000D slipped a little in my opinion.

The biggest issue I had with it as a sewing machine was the manual threading of the machine when you wanted to use a double needle. This is due to the new auto threader. A feature that added to the embroidery part really took away from the sewing part. Without  having the cover stitch feature on my serger, sewing with a double needle is important to me in the construction of my husband’s shirts and other knit projects that I make. I just do not prefer to sew on the Innovis. Lucky for me, the Ult-2001’s were not selling well used since everyone was trying to get rid of theirs to purchase the new 4000D machine, so my husband decided that I could just keep both machines, one to do embroidery with and one to sew with. And this worked out way better than I ever thought it would!

Life is good once again. Really good in fact!

I now have a serger that I have loved for years and is still going strong, a sewing machine with fabulous features that does exactly what I want, and a very fancy embroidery machine that does everything I want it to do as well. And if I ever needed or wanted to I could use either machine to sew and/or embroider with at the same time! It hasn’t happened yet, but in case one of them needed to go to the shop for repairs, I always have a backup machine. Over the last couple of years, Brother has introduced a few new embroidery machines but their features have not enticed me to purchase one over what I already have. I must admit though that the built in camera above the needle so you see a zoomed in view of what you are stitching on the touchscreen is a cool feature in the new 6000D, but not worth me coughing up another $7500+ for it. I also had a demo of the new Viking Designer machine that has a 15×14 inch hoop. That’s BIG! Now keep in mind it does this by using a special hoop and tricks like making you sew half the project and then flip it around and then sew the second half. In my mind I can do that on my machine too by using my current 12″ hoop without having to go through the hoops and using the tricks. So in conclusion: As you can see, I really like the Brother embroidery machines. I have tried and read and researched the pros and cons of all the other brands through the years and I like the Brother’s as they seem to have the features that I want and need.

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Keep in mind here that I am not a quilter, and if I was I might have chosen a different brand of machine like the Viking #1 which was a beautiful sewing and quilting machine, but I never felt like it had the embroidery capabilities of the Brother’s. Today looking at the quilting features of the new Brother Innovis 6000D Quattro I think I would still choose the Brother even if I was a quilter, but I probably wouldn’t have 10 or 15  years ago as several other brands of embroidery machines back then had better quilting features than the Brother’s of their day did. Now as you are deciding to purchase an embroidery machine for yourself, you need to decide what you’re going to do with it.

Here are some great questions to get started in your journey:

Would you be limited by the features of the smaller less expensive machines? Will you be quilting more than sewing? Do you just want to try this as it might be a passing thing for you and a little machine will work just fine as a starter machine? Or, are you in this for the long haul and a larger fancier machine would be money better spent? One note I would like to make here is that if you don’t require the support of a dealer for help and classes you can do some digging on the internet and ebay and get a new or nearly new embroidery machine for thousands of dollars off of the retail (dealer) price.

They will still have the remainder of the factory warranty on them too which any dealer will usually honor.

I personally have never lived close enough to any dealer for support so I have always searched out a deal to purchase my machines rather than purchasing them from a local dealer with support included.

Coming up next week: Part 3 and the Art of Embroidery.

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28 thoughts on “My Sewing Machines – Part 2: The Embroidery Machines

  1. Hi, I too have upgraded, as I’m a newbie here from the Brother 270D which by the way I HATED, HATED HATED!! The Cartridege threading on this machine should be OUT LAWED!!!! to the Brother ULT 2002D sewing embroidery machine. I for the price think it’s the best deal I’ve ever gotten and Love I mean Love my 2002, what super quality sewing/embroidering it does and the big hoop is awesome.
    I’ve been so busy using the card I forgot about the floppy, lol thought that was gone. So I proceeded to copy to the floppy, I still had some in storage. I downloaded 2 designs to the floppy and then inserted into machine and pressed the floppy tab to open it and it’s not reading the floppy, it appears blank.
    The book mentions nothing about preparing the floppy before adding designs, or that there’s a special size floppy if there is such a thing.
    I’ve read some response on questions on other sites and I just hope “stitchintime9” isn’t reading this, this person is very hard on newbies. Just because we know the computer, doesn’t mean we know the actions of computerized sewing embroidery machines. If you are reading this please go easy on us newbies.
    I would just like to know how to use the floppy to get designs to my machine.
    You were talking about an upgrade, would you be talking about USB too? Is there a such thing as to upgrade and put in a USB into the 2002? At this time I’m very pleased with my ULT2002 it’s a keeper.
    thanks,
    Judy

    • Yes luckily I got my Ult 2001 way before those came out thank goodness! I saw the new cartridge threading on the lower end beginner machines and that would have driven me batty! I know it was to help people get sewing faster but it was a step backwards to me.

      It’s been awhile since I used a floppy in mine but it was simple enough at the time. The disks were standard 1.44MB 3.5″ floppy disks formatted for FAT (NOT FAT32 or NTFS!) Everything had to be stored on the disk in DOS/FAT format using the DOS/FAT 8 character only filenames. Something like 12345678.PES. FAT32 or NTFS formatted disks can store filenames longer than the 8+3 character names but your machines cannot read this format or those files. Your machines will only read things in PES or PEC format so it needs to be in that format and if it is in that format it should already have one of those file extensions on it and when placed in the machine and the disk icon clicked on the display it should load the directory of files from the disk and let you choose one.

      No the ULT 2001/2002/2003 cannot be upgraded to use anything other than the brother memory cards or the floppy disks. The newer series of machines changed out the floppy disk for the usb port which allowed you to plug in whatever you wanted to the machine (floppy drive, cd-rom drive, memory stick etc.) but still kept the brother memory card slot as well which I think all brother machines have had since the beginning of time.

      In the ULT 2001/2002/2003 series Brother would offer machine software updates for free that you can download from the Brother web site and copy to a floppy disk and then via a special procedure included with the update you could update your machines internal software to fix things, add features, etc.

      This system software update is still done today on all the latest Brother machines but now you pretty much do everything from a memory stick which makes it much nicer and quicker.

      I hope this information helps. And GOOD LUCK!

  2. I have a brother 2002ult disney embroidery machine I was wondering what makes the bobbin thread show on top I have decreased my tension on top to about 3.0 and it still does it some, I had read somewhere that the thread tension on top might make it do that so I decreased it. the machine had it set on 4.0 what is the correct tension setting? I have been using the prewound bobbins I get on ebay L style, I was wondering if that might be the cause, for some reason I can’t wind the bobbins that came with the machine tight enough thats why I went to the prewound ones, they are card board sided. Thanks so much Sandra

    • Yes, I have had that problem. I usually start my tensions at 2.8 or 2.6 but I have gone as low as 2.2 for thinner fabrics and as high as 3.2 if the fabric is thick. My only explanation for this is because I do not use Brother branded thread. My understanding is that if I did, I should leave the tension at 4.0. I also believe that sometimes it has to do with how well I hooped my project and sometimes just how the design was digitized. When I stitch a project with a single running stitch outline, I increase the tension when it is time for the outline so there is no loops but I have set it lower for the fill in stitches. I am sorry I cannot tell you if the prewound bobbins make a difference as I have never used them. I could not use prewound bobbins with my first embroidery machine, so I have always wound my own. I don’t know why your bobbins are not winding tight enough with your machine because your machine has a auto tensioning bobbin winder. I guess a dealer would have to look at that. All I can really tell you to do is just play with the tensions and see what works with what you’re sewing.

  3. I have a brother pacesetter 2002D ult embroidery machine, and I was wondering what is the problem when the bobbin thread shows on top of the design, I put in a new needle and cleaned the machine of lint so I knows thats not my problem, the machines tension is set at 4.0 and the only way I can get the bobbin thread from showing on top is to reduce it to 3.0 has anyone else had this problem? I do not always use brother thread or brother thread for my bobbins I use the prewound bobbins most of the time. Thanks Sandra

  4. Thanks Lanita ,I played around with the tension and it does fine at 3.0 tension, I do not always use Brother thread so I guess that could be the problem, and I always use the prewound bobbins its so much more easier than winding them. I ordered some more prewound bobbins and got them in today, some are polyester and some are cotton. I am not sure how the cotton will work because the thread is little thick compared to the polyester ones. Thanks so much Sandra

  5. I have a Brother Galaxy (I think it it called ULT 3000 in USA) recently it refuses to read some designs from the stiffy. Any suggestions?
    Maresa
    South Africa

    • Is a stiffy perhaps slang for the 3.5 inch floppy drive/disk?

      If it is they don’t last forever. Just like an audio or video cassette tape they eventually wear out and can no longer be read. You might be able to put it in your computer and run a disk repair to recover anything still on it and then transfer it over to a new disk.

    • Hi there, I have recently encountered the same problem, and found that I had to save it as V4 PD Design, then my 3000 read the floppy drive correctly, and after several hours of the designs not showing up and me trying everything I could think of, finally it worked. So perhaps use your digitizing software [mine is Bernina Artista, v5 – certainly not the latest and greatest by any stretch], and carefully check which version of PED it saves to. That at last fixed my problem, and the designs, finally, are there! Good luck, Jennifer.

  6. Pingback: My Sewing Machines – Part 1: The Beginning « Sew Forth and Sew On

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  8. Would you mind emailing me, as I would like to ask advice on a 4000D (worth the listed price?). If it’s okay, I’d love to send you the link for you to take a look. I’m wanting to upgrade from my Innovis 900D. Thanks!

    • Hopefully this didn’t come too late. I only check comments once a week or so.

      But yes you may email me at: lanitabr at google mail.

  9. Hi Lanita, I stumbled across your blog and think it is wonderful. I am in the UK ( East Yorkshire) I am an experienced sewer and have designed and made Ballroom and Latin dance dresses, won awards for toy making (a long time ago) but am not very confident in my abilities. Additionally, as I currently work full time shift work for the local Police force and when not at work am a carer for my 92 year old mum who is extremely demanding and has advanced dementia, I decided to splash out some of my hard earned cash and treat myself. I got a Brother 1500, which was on offer ,about ten months ago but have barely used it. I am completely new to machine embroidery and the only time I tried it out I got the lower thread coming up from under the fabric so have not touched it since. I just revert back to my Janome and am using my Brother as nothing more than a bobbin winder at the moment! I also have a Janome My Lock serger and ALL the attachments which to be fair do not use to it’s full advantage either but will when I get more time to myself! Could you help me be less afraid of my Brother Embroidery machine – eventually I WILL purchase a Laptop to use alongside it. My Brother is not a D for Disney machine but I loved some of the Disney and Snoopy characters you have used. Will I be allowed or will my machine be capable of doing anything like these if I can ever fathom it out? Any advice would be gratefully accepted. Thanks Lyn.

    • Oh sure you can! I was pretty much the same way when I started with my very first embroidery machine. I would often get frustrated and just want to throw the whole thing in the garbage bin and never try to do it again.

      Over time though I persevered and got better at it, learned some techniques to solve the problems I was having and that brings us to where I am today.

      And the only real difference between the Brother ‘D’ machines is a bunch of money and the fact that they have the Disney designs built in. You can always purchase the designs separately and use just the ones you want when you want. It’s how I do it.

      And as far as the thread coming up it sounds like a tension problem to me so I would start looking there. It sounds like you need to lower your tensions.

      Good luck! And let me know if I can help further.

  10. Thanks for the response Lanita – that’s fantastic – I think a laptop will be going to the top of my Christmas list – I was also looking at the blog you wrote about the different Programmes and I think I will follow your advice and go for the Bernina if they all work OK on the Brother machine if you have found that to be the best and easiest. It would never have occured to me that you could use different machine’s computer programmes – I thought you just had to get the same as your machine. For someone who is supposed to be considered pretty intelligent at work I can be be pretty dim sometimes. Lol. I will have a play and let you know, mind you my Brother does winde bobbins a lot better than my Janome (althopugh I do love my Janome too) or the little simplicity bobbin winder I received as a gift. Best regards, Lyn (that’s the Brother machine – not my actual brother lol)

    • Well I mean if your brother has nothing better to do, I would certainly let him do the bobbin winding as it is something I dislike doing myself

      But I would recommend you do what I did so many years ago and find a Viking shop, a Brother shop, and a Bernina shop and go in and ask them to demonstrate the embroidery software offerings they have and then play around with them some to see which ones have the features you need and want and also which one you find comfortable to use and works the way you do.

      I think the Brother software is the easiest to use, but it didn’t offer some of the advanced features I needed. The Viking software was very complicated and I could never get it to do what I wanted. And the Bernina software was a dumbed down version for home embroiderers of a commercial embroidery program that was fairly simple to use, but had the advanced features I felt I needed.

      Now that isn’t to say it’s the best out there, it was just the best for me at the time.

      In any case all of the programs I mentioned have been updated a few times since I last tested them all so I am going to try to do an update this winter if I have some spare time.

      Cheers!

    • Lol – thanks Lanita – my local sewing machine shop closed down!!! – the next nearest one is about thrity miles aweay in BridlingtonI. I think will have to attend the big knitting and stitching show they run in Birmigham – I think the next one is next March but that will give me time to get a laptop sorted. My machines are upstairs and my ‘proper’ computer is downstairs – which is why I need a lap top – I will taste and try before i buy the programmes .. Thanks for your help. Will let you know how I get on Lyn x

    • Thanks Lyn! I would appreciate you letting me know what you end up finding works best for you.

      And I am sorry to hear that your local sewing machine shop closed down. Unfortunately I think that is a sign of the times.

      I’ve never had one close to me so I make sure the couple of times a year I get to one, that I have a long written out list of things I need to get with me while I am there. Otherwise it has to wait until the next time I make it to one.

  11. Hi Lanita-
    I have a sewing machine dealer one mile from here, with hundreds of machines in stock, used and new. I am very confused about which direction to go in. I have a Singer Futura currently, which is barely working. I was told by a dealer that it was not a good purchase, as the chip is flawed. It won’t even zigzag anymore. I can’t trust it with new embroidery projects.

    So, I’m researching newer machines now. At the costume shop I work in during opera season, they have Berninas. I’ve looked at a number of blogs, and was concerned when I read that Bernina had proprietary software, and wouldn’t work with other brands. I thought Viking was the answer, but, since you have so much experience, and said you weren’t impressed, I am not sure again! I thought European brands like Janome, and Viking were more trustworthy, but you are saying Brother has done right by you.

    I am looking for a reconditioned machine with NO MECHANICAL ISSUES and easy-to use software, and shareware compatible. Hoping to spend no more that $1500 if possible. Can you suggest a brand/model number that would fit those needs? I need to start somewhere!

    • Karen,

      I would say Viking is probably your most ‘trustworthy’ brand with Bernina being second. Some people would probably say that was the other way around, but to each their own. They are both very reliable and built to last. I don’t sew commercially or for a living, but instead just for myself as a hobby so utmost reliability was never really a concern for me. Had it been, I might have chosen differently.

      Personally I chose the Brother back in the day due to it’s huge amount of features at a lower cost than the other brands. It also had the ‘flexibility’ to do the things I wanted without fighting me at every turn. Now I won’t say that Brother makes the ‘BEST’ machine, since I don’t think that even exists. It’s just what is best for you in your particular situation. I’ve had Brother machines for 25 years now without any major problems with them if that helps with your decision at all. I believe that there are just different machines that do things differently from the way the others do things, and you need to find the one that fits the best with you and the way you work. You know the whole square peg in the round hole problem. All of the machines made today are sufficiently reliable for home sewers and will do their job just fine. They just might not do it the way you are expecting them to do it.

      I would say if you can to go and spend an 8 hour day at the sewing shop and use the Bernina for awhile, then the Viking, and then the Brother doing the things you would do with them. Button holes, Zig Zags, Decorative stitches, Finishing stitches, etc. and see which brand suits you the best.

      And don’t worry too much about the embroidery design compatibility issue. Today there is software available that will convert pretty much any design type to any other for use on any machine. It’s why I use Bernina (really made by Wilcom for Bernina) embroidery software on my Brother Machines and have no problem at all with it. Check out my embroidery software blog post for more on that.

  12. I do hope you are still checking this blog. I need help! Have a Brother ULT2003D. Love it but now the card reader in the machine will not work. I tried different cards to make sure it wasn’t the card itself but it will not read any card. I get a message saying the card is not compatible with the machine. It’s a Brother card that I have used for several years and had no problem at all. Do you have any advice as to what I can do at this point? Found your site when looking for a way to fix the problem. All I can find it information on the external readers. I’m desperate!

    • The memory cards are very static sensitive and even the slightest shock can render them unusable. The newer versions are better about this but the old version were very prone to being ruined. Possibly you could try another card or purchase a cheap one to try in your machine to see if it is the cards or the machine that has the problem.

      I have never had a problem with my card reader, but I have wiped out several memory cards over the years. Then can usually be re-programmed with the original data and will work again, but not until they are re-programmed with a card writer like a magic box. I have never heard of the card reader in the machine itself having a problem that a power down and power back up of the machine wouldn’t fix.

      I hope this helps you out and I’m sorry that I could not be of more help.

  13. Pingback: You’ve been a good friend Charlie Brown! | Sew Forth and Sew On

  14. Hello there, i just love your blog, thank you so much! I’ve learned a lot about embroidery from your posts. I am planing to buy Brother Innov-is 955 and i want to find images from internet and embroider them. What do you think of that model? Again thank you so much for sharing your knowledge with us. Kindest regards from Aleksandra, Serbia

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