Hey All… I’m letting go of my machine. Our son out-grew it, and I have NO room in my studio. It’s gently used and includes the software! Check it out!


It’s Saturday and boy do I have news! Sadly, I’m nursing a wee cold and am not feeling up to writing today. I am going to take the weekend off and get some much needed rest. With any luck, I’ll be back on Monday.

In the meantime, IZ has graciously offered some much needed content. As usual, he’s throughly researched his subject and written a witty piece on the search for the perfect Embroidery machine. He thinks because I’m sick I won’t notice his blatant abuse of Star Wars metaphors.

Oh, I noticed bucko!

Anyhow, it’s after the jump. Enjoy. Have a lovely weekend and I’ll see you on Monday if I haven’t expired.

The Embroider Strikes Back

A long time ago (a year to be exact) in a galaxy far far away (the internet; of course) a galactic battle raged to determine which sewing machine was the best. The forces of Singer, Juki, Elna, Brother, Baby Lock, Janome, Bernina, Pfaff, and Viking were locked in a battle of wit and will to determine which machine the great W would ultimately end up with…

Chapter 1:
Sewing Machine Wars

When the dust settled we had learned the truth! Viking was indeed Pfaff’s father! Of course, we also learned that Elna had moved to the darkside, outsourcing to Juki, creating Singer clones (on the inside) and then was absorbed by Janome. We learned that Brother and Baby Lock were indeed separated at birth and were as close as two twin siblings could be. Bernina? Well mostly it keeps to itself although from time to time it has outsourced manufacturing. Both Juki and Brother have made a Bernina or two.

(See why I used the Star Wars reference yet?)

We also learned that the “Empire” of sewing dealers was something to watch out for. Their goal – to help you depart with as much cash as possible. Yes, there are a few “Rebel” dealers out there – genuinely good souls and who offer fantastic service and support – but you have to be careful…

Thinking about buying that “new” machine on e-bay but you want LOCAL warranty support? Forget it! Remember that support comes out of dealer pockets and so if you don’t buy the machine from them dealers have NO incentive to support a machine you didn’t purchase from them… and manufacturer warranties do NOT stipulate that dealers have to support machines NOT purchased from them. Also, we learned to be VERY careful about buying machines from JoAnn’s and “Big Box Mart” because they often don’t have in-store support and will tell you to take your machine to another local dealer who in turn won’t provide free service for the aforementioned reasons – they will want blood money…

Finally, we learned that once we’ve found a reputable dealer we need to use Jedi mind tricks as much as possible… “You WILL give me that machine for $2,400 instead of $4,000” as you wave your hand in front of the dealer’s face. They will fight back – but saving 40% (or more) off the retail price of a machine IS possible…

What does this have to do with the Embroider? Everything! You see a young padewan learner named “boy wonder” wanted to know more about the sewing force and how it binds all fabrics together – but he wanted to also perform the ancient art of embroidery.

Alas his antiquated Singer made a Hello Kitty machine look like a technological marvel. Although his young powers were strong, his Singer (“old rusty”) made even master sewing Jedi “W” cringe and run. It was time for something new.

I’ll stop with the Star Wars metaphors now. I admit, they were rather pathetic, but I couldn’t resist. Back to the story…

Knowing what I knew about purchasing sewing machines, I made a prediction. I said – “We should be able to get you a decent embroidering machine for under $1500 – it might be slightly used – but it will be powerful.”

Chapter 2:
How to Identify a Dark Lord of the Stitch

Some Dark Lords stand out like a sore thumb. I already knew to avoid Singer like the plague. Singer’s quality has suffered through the years. We know that Singer was recently (2006) brought into the SVG group which now also includes Viking and Pfaff but that most Singers are still contract manufactured by Juki and others. We can hope that within the next 10 years as outsourcing contracts run out that Singer will resurrect itself and rise like the Phoenix from its ashes – but it isn’t there yet…

I knew that Bernina had a sterling reputation and still manufactured many of its own machines but that it would be too expensive. I also knew, as mentioned before, that Bernina embroidery machines were outsourced with at least some of them having been made by Brother. For example – the Bernina 650 is the same as the Brother PE-200!

I knew that Baby Lock was made by Brother and that Brother’s sold at Big Box Mart were very different from the Brothers which were twins to their Baby Lock sisters.

I knew that the upper end of Viking’s line was built like a tank – made to last a long time, as was Pfaff. (Pfaff being particularly good for quilters.) I also knew that Pfaff was now made by Viking. However, I wasn’t looking for a sewing “only” machine and I wasn’t looking for a quilting machine. The Viking and Pfaff embroidery machines were too expensive for what I wanted.

I knew that Elna had essentially gone the way of Singer as well. They had outsourced their manufacturing to Juki too as well as to Janome. In fact, shock of shocks – there are some Singers (made by Juki) that are virtually identical to Elnas in their internal workings! For embroidery, compare the Singer 6000XL and the Elna Xquisit II. The Singer has one or two more bells and whistles but there inner mechanics are identical.

Note: Elna was so displeased with the quality of the Xquisit II that they pulled it off the market. No one is quite sure why it came back on the market but one can surmise it may have something to do with contract requirements. YIKES!

Elna was recently acquired by Janome and some Elnas are now identical to Janomes. So buy an Elna and get a Singer or a Janome? Forget it! Why pay an Elna premium for this? The best way to avoid problems was to just look at Janome and forget Elna altogether. Again, I can’t say it strongly enough – Elna has gone the way of Singer. Much as we hope that the SVG group can revive Singer in a decade we hope the same can be said of Janome and Elna – only time will tell.

In the end, considering my budget, I knew I could find what I was looking for if I concentrated my search for Brother, Baby Lock, or a Janome.

Thus began my quest for finding a good, slightly used, embroidery machine. And by “slightly” used I mean something that didn’t have a bazillion stitches on it.

NOTE TO BUYERS – a single mickey mouse embroidery can have 50,000 stitches. If the previous owner had done just ten of these, they would have already put 500,000 stitches on the machine. Some machines (newer of course) have digital counters. This seemed to have been introduced around 2002 or 2003 depending on the make and model. In theory a decent, well serviced machine should be able to keep on banging out stitches for a good long time – but just know that you CAN find out the mileage on at lease some of the machines out there. Expect that used machines will have MILLIONS of stitches but as long as they are well serviced – that can be quite ok.

Chapter 3:
The Embroiderer Strikes – You Must Have Software to Learn the True Nature of Embroidery.

Remember I had said that “Boy Wonder” wanted to make his own embroidery designs? Well guess what? Software is NOT included with most embroidery machines. That’s right! It would be like buying a computer without an operating system! In the PC world, those days went away a decade ago, but here we are in 2008 where decent digitizing software is NOT included with machines.

(You may find a bundle where software is included. These are mostly done by the dealers or by the “Big Box Marts” as a way to get you to buy a machine from them. But software is never really free. Be VERY careful that you are getting a good quality machine.)

Friends, I have to say – this just underscores in my mind how creepy and horrible getting a sewing machine can really be.

Reeling from the shock of this bit of news I proceeded to ask – how much for a really good quality bit of embroidery software? Try a RETAIL price of $2,000. Want something less capable? Well you can “get by” with something in the $1,000 range. Spend any less than that and be relegated to junk!

Insert expletive laden sentence here…

Here’s the breakdown:

The most capable of software is something called Generations. Of the various pieces of software out there it is simply the most powerful and least frustrating of all the programs. It is the Adobe Illustrator of embroidery software. (And actually works in a similar way.)

Brother’s software is presently not as capable. Sure you can get their “basic” software for under $200 but it won’t do much. Brother’s upper-end software can typically be found for between $700 and $1000 and it still isn’t as capable as Generations.

Elna’s software is actually a bit better but old. It retails for around $1000. Much like everything else, Elna outsourced the production of this software to a third party and since being acquired by Janome has not invested in further R&D in this package. The expectation is that eventually they will standardize on Janome’s software which isn’t so good either.

In Brother’s case – you have to go through a five step wizard to get to your final product and if you need to make a change – you have to go back through the entire five step wizard again – which can introduce errors. Compare that to Generations where everything is done on one screen. One important point – Generations is compatible with any embroidery machine.

How much for Generations? It is the one that retails for about $2,000. FIGHT to get that lowered though. You should be able to pick it up for about $1350. They do offer a download from their website so you can try the package.

Let’s take a moment to ponder the dongle. And NO I’m not being rude. A dongle is a little device that plugs into the USB port of your computer. It contains a security code which is what allows the software to run. With Generations, no dongle, no software. Which leads us to, of course, dongle insurance.

If you lose or misplace or break or short out your dongle – your investment in software is toast and guess what? You have to BUY another software package!!! So to avoid this possibility the software manufacturer kindly offers dongle insurance to protect you in case something goes wrong with your dongle. (Or if your frustrated spouse chooses to separate it while you are sleeping at night and tosses it in the front yard. Oh, sorry, couldn’t resist.)

Anyway – the dongle insurance is $300. As a non-sewer all I can say is that THIS IS SUCH A RACKET!!! You have to buy a machine but get no software. You have to buy the software but then you have to buy insurance to protect your investment in the software. This is a straight pass-through fee so you won’t be able to negotiate this price with the dealer.

I know – most serious sewers find it normal to spend $4,000 to $6,000 (or more) for a decent embroidery machine and so another $2,000 for software and $300 for insurance doesn’t seem like that much. However, there’s no way on God’s greenhouse gassed earth that I would spend over $8,000 on new sewing equipment!!!

I began by going to ebay and “watching” some items go for sale. I watched used Baby Lock, and Brothers move like hot cakes while “new” Elnas lingered neglected and without a single bid. (Not that I was looking for an Elna – I knew better – but it is an interesting point.) I kept track of how much the used machines were selling for on ebay. This gave me an idea of what people seemed willing to spend for a used machine.

I then went to a few different dealers and asked around. By this point, I had narrowed my search to Baby Locks or Upper-end Brothers. (Again – nearly identical machines.)

Do you want to know which Brothers are the same as which Baby Locks? OK, you asked for it. Here for your viewing pleasure are the equivalences between Brother and Baby Lock:

Brother = Baby Lock

NX 200 series = Crafters Choice series

NX 400 Series = Decorators Choice series

NX 600 Series = Quilters choice series

PQ 1500 = Quilters choice Professional

QC 1000 = Espire Series

PE 700/750D = Emore

Innovis 1200 = Ellure Plus

Innovis 1500D = Esante

Innovis 2500D = Ellageo

Innovis 4500D = Ellegante

PR 620 = BMP8

What I’ve listed above is for new machines. Since I was looking for a USED machine – the model numbers are slightly different. For example, the Brother ULT 2003 is the same machine as the Baby Lock Ellageo (ESG3) not to be confused with the Baby Lock Ellageo (BLL) which is now the equivalent of the Brother Innovis 2500D.

See how messy this all is? Baby Lock is particularly confusing, and you have to really be careful because they call different machines by the same name and then use a three letter code to tell you the actual model number. This can be really bad because if you aren’t paying attention you might think you are getting a newer machine than you really are.

NOTE – the one big difference between the Baby Locks and the Brothers is that the many Brothers include built-in Disney characters. This difference was introduced in 2002.

Anyway – according to the Baby Lock dealers I spoke with – a used 2001 Ellageo would start about $1900 and go up from there for newer models. I verified this between several dealers. Most recently a used Brother ULT 2001 on e-bay sold for around $1475 including shipping and handling.

I decided to get a discount by going with the Brother instead of the Baby Lock since they are identical machines and then work to get the machine down to a fair price.

Again armed with all this information and a positive experience from the last time around I went back to Paul at Pocono Sew & Vac and told him what I wanted to accomplish and what my budget was. He was only too happy to help.

We had a few conversations back and forth as he massaged his own numbers to come up with a fantastic deal, close to my budget, that I couldn’t refuse – including a Brother ULT 2001 with a full “bumper to bumper” six month warranty, the Generations software, some extra goodies he threw in because he’s a great person, AND free shipping.

As I’ve said before, buying a new sewing machine isn’t for the faint of heart – and neither is buying a good embroidery machine. If you are looking for a decent used embroidery machine – the Brother or Baby Lock is really the way to go.

I know some of you LOVE your Berninas. Just remember that many Bernina embroidery machines are outsourced – including to Brother. I know that some of you LOVE your Elnas. I’m sorry that brand isn’t what it once was. I acknowledge the Janome lovers out there and they can make a decent machine. I know some of you SWEAR by your Pfaffs – and if you are a quilter – you have good reason to with that built in IDT foot. You know that WE really like Viking here – even after a year with the Platinum 775. I know there are those who LOVE their Baby Locks and with good reason – but in the end I went with a Brother. Again, you HAVE TO BE CAREFUL not to get a big box Brother. Use the chart above to help you in that decision making process.

Hopefully, my present and past experiences in finding a solid new sewing machine along with a decent used embroidery machine will help a few readers out there.

Good luck and May The Force Be With You… Always
(Ok, I now officially deserve to be shot…)