The topic of today’s technology in art creation post is machine embroidery. Some people have pretty strong opinions about the look of machine embroidery and I didn’t use to be much of a fan myself.  However, when I decided to invest in a new machine and started researching options, I became more interested and I purchased a quilting / embroidery machine.  The embroidery offered opportunity to create patterns, customize gifts, and add simple designs for quilting on finished projects.

Machine embroidery looks quite different than hand embroidery.  Both offer artistic output with different advantages and strengths.  Hand embroidery is slower and more contemplative and has a long history with many cultural styles and approaches.  Machine embroidery, on the other hand, is faster and possible on types of fabric that are not easily suited for hand work.  It can be difficult to view these two approaches on the same pattern but there are some fun side-by-side comparisons here at Stitch Punk

I enjoy hand embroidery but for speed and efficiency, I have been enjoying customizing with machine embroidery.  Besides machine embroidery is, after all, the focus of this post so I’ll save hand embroidery conversation for another day.

Your embroidery machine will come with build in patterns but you will soon discover that you want to go beyond the limited selection and you will have to buy or digitize designs. I don’t [yet] have digitizing software so I buy my designs online. There is also an option to use a service to digitize; I haven’t tried that yet as I have mostly been able to find what I want in available designs. Most of my design purchases have been from Embroidery Library  but other popular sites include Embroidery Designs, and Embroidery Online .  All have free designs so you can do a test or two and see the style that you like.  You simply download the designs, in the format required by your machine (.pes for Baby Lock), and connect with your machine according to the manufacturer’s instructions.  Contrary to what some people might think, you do not just get it started and ‘let the machine do all the work’.  There can be dozens of colour changes in one design and printing one large design can take hours.  Although there might be long stretches of time when it will go steadily printing one colour of thread, there are other times  when it requires frequent colour changes, often requiring a minute or less for the details of one colour.

If you do not have digitizing software, you have limited changes that you can make in the design.  Most are a fixed size, though you typically have the option of slight size changes within your machine.  Designs come with a colour change sheet that you can follow but I find often I do not have all the exact colours that they identify so you have to make modifications as you slowly grow your collection.

Here are just a few of the machine embroidery projects I have completed.

If you decide you would like to try machine embroidery, you’ll want to decide how and how much you will use it before you select a machine.   Because I focus more on quilting than embroidery, a combination machine was a good choice for me.   If you plan to do lots of embroidery or make that the focus of your work, you might want to choose a dedicated embroidery machine.  There are plenty of online reviews and most machine sellers are really good resources about the features of each machine.  They will also usually offer a lesson or two to get you started.  When I bought my machine, I purchased a Baby Lock Unity, in large part because it was one of the limited number of brands with a dealer in my city.  I’ve enjoyed the machine and it has worked well for me.  I have had it for almost 3 years and am still exploring what I can do with it.

You can change the look of a design with choices of fabric, thread colour or even by omitting some elements of the design.  It is important to take care with combination of fabric, stabilizer, thread and needles.  That part takes some experimentation to see both what you prefer and what works best with your machine.  It is really fun to find and combine designs for individual projects like a bag or for something bigger like a quilt.  That creativity and play is the fun and challenge of machine embroidery.