Recently I shared on Instagram that my big dream came true - I got my very first embroidery machine! I have been dreaming about an embroidery machine for years, but I just couldn't settle on a specific model that would fit my needs. That all changed when I heard about new Elna eXpressive 830L model - I instantly knew it's the one for me. I am so happy about this new addition to my machine family and I cannot wait to share more details about it with you!
I know how difficult it can be to choose a right embroidery machine, so I decided to do a series on machine embroidery: in Part 1 (the one you are reading now), I will talk about embroidery only machines and review Elna eXpressive 830L model; in Part 2 (coming soon), we will talk about hybrid machine that can do both embroidery and sewing functions and review Elna eXpressive 850 model; and lastly, in Part 3 (coming soon) we will discuss embroidery software and I will show the one I use - eXuberance Junior software. I invite you to join me in learning more about embroidery machines!
Before moving further, I want to thank Elna company for sponsoring this series and providing machines for reviews. I am familiar with Elna embroidery machines from my sewing school days, where we used an older model eXpressive 830 to do our embroideries with - my thought is, that if a machine could endure 100 new seamstresses trying to use it, it speaks loudly about the quality of the machine!
GUIDE TO EMBROIDERY MACHINES (Part 1): Embroidery Only Machines
Here is a video version of this guide, and scroll to read the text version:
Domestic embroidery machines come in two types: embroidery only (meaning machine can perform only embroidery) or hybrid embroidery-sewing (meaning machine can do both sewing and embroidery functions). Which one to choose highly depends on what you are planning to do with it: if you are planning on doing a lot of embroidering, maybe even run a small business - then a standalone embroidery machine would be best choice for you; if you are planning on doing moderate amount of embroidering, for example gift towels for Christmas or adding little personalized details to your clothing and you mainly need a machine for sewing purposes - than a hybrid machine might be a better choice for you.
As I needed machine for solely embroidery function, picking an embroidery only machine was a natural choice for me.
If you never used an embroidery machine before, there are 3 biggest differences you will notice if compared to sewing machine:
1. Embroidery machines don't have foot pedal. Wait, what?! Yes, it's true! And you actually don't need foot pedal - once you load the design to machine and attach hoop, you simply push "Start/Stop" button and then machine does the rest for you. How cool is that?!
2. Which brings us to second point - you don't need to sit next to embroidery machine all the time while it's working. Whaaaaat?!!! Oh yes, this one is true, too! Once the machine starts the embroidery, your only task is to change threads or rewind bobbin thread from time to time, and during remaining time you can simply do other things you want. For example, when I worked on my first dress with embroidery, machine did total 4 hours of embroidering, while I used that time to make the bottom part of the dress. Talk about time management and efficiency!
3. Embroidery machines make different sounds than sewing machines. If you are used to monotonic sound of sewing machine, you will surely notice that embroidery machine sounds very different: first of, it makes irregular length stitches and at irregular speed, depending on a design it's working on; also, carriage moves embroidery hoop, creating additional sound. You will quickly adapt to hearing embroidery machine working, but prepare to be surprised in first few minutes!
While in my sewing machine guide I advised you to look at set of accessories that come in standard set, in embroidery machine case you need to look at available hoop selection for each machine (both what comes already in the box, and what you can buy on top). To give better understanding why hoop selection is important: when the manufacturer produces the machine, he presets the machine to certain sized and shaped hoops. If for example machine is preset to 4 hoop sizes - you will be limited to only using those 4 hoops.
Looking at hoops, there are two important factors to consider:
1. Decide what biggest and smallest hoop you may need, depending on what project you will be making. In my case, I only sew apparel, so it was important to have biggest possible hoop, so that I can create big designs. Luckily, Elna eXpressive has a gigantic hoop sized 36x20cm, and that's enough space to fully embroider half of front bodice piece, without needing to re-hoop. In your case, you may want to create bookmarks for example, so you would need a smallest available hoop to do miniature embroidery with. It all downs to what projects you are planning to do using your machine.
2. Check if there are any specialty hoops you may need. For example, I really wanted an option to make embroidery on caps (summer is coming up - who wouldn't want a personalized DIY cap?) and having a dedicated hoop for this purpose was really important for me. Think if there would be any special projects you would like to make and then check if machine has such hoop available.
In case of Elna eXpressive 830L, it comes with stunning selection of hoops: standard set has 4 hoops already (sizes: an enormous 36x20cm; 20x20cm; 14x20cm and 14x14cm), plus you can purchase 4 more hoops (sizes: 20x28cm; extra small 10x4cm, quilting kit 18.4x18.4cm, and cap hoop). That is really spectacular selection to fit all needs you may have!
Another thing to look for in an embroidery machine is design availability. Though this point is not a 100% a requirement, as you can also purchase pre-made designs online or even make them yourself, using embroidery software (more on that in Part 3 of this guide - coming up soon!); having a lot of designs already installed in your machine can save up your time significantly. As an example - lots of people (me included) are interested in doing monograms, so having a selection of beautiful alphabets already installed in the machine comes super handy.
Below is an sample of one of the alphabets that are already installed in eXpressive 830L model - how amazing would it look on a personalized gift? I want to try it out immediately!
Talking about using the machine, the process couldn't be any smoother - all you need to do is add a hoop and a thread and the machine literally does everything for you in a touch of button.
Embroidery machines are packed with practical features, such as big colored LCD touch screen, where you can easily select needed program or do embroidery editing. Also, once you upload the design to the machine, you will be able to see most important information about your project on the screen: embroidery size, required hoop measurements, color thread count, time of embroidery, number of stitches in the design and color thread sequence. Plus, you will be able to track embroidery progress, as the screen will show the remaining embroidery time and sewn stitches count.
Another great feature is "bobbin running low" notification. I wonder if there is anything more annoying than doing a perfect seam, only to find out that half of it was made without bobbin thread? It's a nightmare! Luckily, with embroidery machines, if the machine senses that the bobbin thread is low, it will stop, make a beeping sound to alert you and then show a "bobbin running low" notification on the screen. You can than refill the bobbin thread and continue embroidering, without any glitches!
Talking about bobbin refill, I must mention a feature I really like about Elna eXpressive 830L model: bobbin winding here is separate, so you don't need to take out needle thread to wind your bobbin. It is a small feature, but it's just SO handy!
One more great feature to mention is an automatic thread cutting. In sewing machine it's a nice feature, but in embroidery machine this is EVERYTHING. The machine automatically and neatly cuts thread after it finishes each detail or color, freeing you from so much additional work. Here is an example of embroidery design I did for my yellow dress - imagine how much time it would have taken to cut thread from each lapel by hand if there would be no automatic thread cutting option?! And it's just a 1/4 of total design!
Though all these features are nice and increases productivity significantly, the most important thing is the embroidery quality you are able to get using the machine. To test my Elna eXpressive 830L machine, I decided to make a blouse, with heavily embroidered front and back details.
Once the machine starts working, it selects one detail and runs a contour of it (light pink colored thread in this photo):
Then it fills the inside of the contour with rows of stitches - both these steps give "height" and structure to the embroidering:
And as a last step, machine fills the entire shape with stitches, creating beautiful, structured embroidering:
When doing embroidery, I highly recommend using dedicated embroidery threads: they are shinier, gives better filling than regular sewing thread and makes embroidery just so much more beautiful.
My blouse took total 9 hours of embroidering, but the dreamy result is was just worth it! Here are a few up-close details - how pretty is this design?
And now... little drum roll please.... My new blouse!
And here is me modeling it (p.s. have I made matching pants? Be sure the answer is Yes! But more on them in next part of the Embroidery machine guide ;)
So, to wrap this whole part up, here are my final thoughts on embroidery only machines: if you are planning on doing a lot of embroidering or even running a small business - an embroidery only machine is a way to go. Make sure you pay extra attention to hoop availability (both size selection and specialty hoop options). Be prepared that embroidery machine works very differently from sewing machine, so be prepared to be surprised. Nonetheless, it's very easy to work with and needed effort from your side will be minimal - the machine will do most of the work itself. Embroidery machines are packed with useful features, such as automatic thread cutting, that make the entire experience nothing but a pleasure.
As for my new Elna eXpressive 830L machine - I couldn't be happier with it! I love that it has an extra large hoop that comes super handy when it comes to apparel embroidery. I also like specialty hoops, such as cap hoop - very practical and useful item to have. Embroidery quality is impeccable and it gives an extra special touch to my handmade clothing. It's love at first sight!
Thank you for reading Part 1 of my Embroidery Machine Guide! Next Part 2 will be about hybrid embroidery-sewing machine - it will be up on my blog next Saturday, so stay tuned!