A Little More Info About Embroidery

I’ve had my embroidery machine for about six months now so I thought I’d share some general information for anyone interested in getting into embroidery. Much like quilting this particular hobby has its own set of learning curves.

Startup Cost

Embroidery Machine – this is going to most likely be the most expensive part of your purchase. There are lots of things to consider in an embroidery machine. If you aren’t sure about how much you’re going to like embroidery I recommend looking for a used machine to begin with and one that is only dedicated to embroidery.

A good starter machine is the Brother PE770.  You can get it for less than $700, it will do both a 4×4 and a 5×7 hoop size and if you get the jumbo hoop you can do a 5×12 design pretty easily.

If you know you are going to get into embroidery I recommend getting a machine that allows for USB stick capability so you don’t have to hook it up to your computer. Most of those will do larger hoop sizes too.  Get the machine with the largest embroidery area you can afford.  I have a Pfaff Creative 2.0 (previously owned a Topaz 20 but had issues with it).  It is a combo embroidery/sewing machine. Bernina, Pfaff, Janome and Babylock also make combo machines.

What is the embroidery area? – This is how big of an area your machine can stitch out on. My machine has a maximum embroidery area of 260mm x 200mm or about 8″ x 10″.  There are machines that will go larger. A bigger embroidery area means you can stitch out larger designs and if you’re using it to quilt it means less hoopings overall since you can quilt a larger area to begin with.

Thread – There are lots of embroidery threads out there and not all of them are created equal, trust me. A bad thread will give you lots of headaches because it will shred and break constantly.  Beware the cheap thread deals on Ebay.  You don’t have to spend an arm and a leg on thread though to get good quality.  I love the threads I’ve purchased from Metro Embroidery Threads. They have a beautiful sheen and my machine loves them.

Every machine has a preference as to what type of thread runs best in it and you’ll figure out what your machine prefers. Other embroiderers prefer Isacord, Floriani, Mettler and  Robison-Anton.

Hoops – Even though your machine is likely going to come with one or two hoops you may find you’ll need other hoops as well.  You can purchase off brand hoops if your machine will take them. Having an extra hoop the same size can sometimes also save you time in hooping because you don’t have to wait for one design to be finished to rehoop for the next stitch out.  Hoops generally start a $100 and go up from there depending on the size.

Stabilizer – This is the stuff that you stick underneath your fabric (or sometimes on top of) to make sure your stitches hold well and come out looking nice. Different projects require different stabilizers. Sometimes you’ll need cut-away, tear-away, water soluable or a combination of all three. I use tear-away stabilizer most often and get 100 yards of it at a time from Amazon for $20.

Software – This can cost as much as your machine if not more. If you plan on digitizing your own designs you can plan on spending at least $1,000 on software for embroidery. I pay someone else to digitize for me since I don’t have the time to do it. Beginning machine embroidery doesn’t mean you have to break the bank. You can start with some basic programs for less than $100 and get pretty far.

Sew What Pro – This is a $65 program that you can download onto your computer. It lets you see the designs, print them out. change their orientation in the hoop, merge multiple designs together, convert to a new embroidery file format and see a virtual stitchout of your design. I don’t recommend using this program for text as it doesn’t convert truetype font very well at all.  For other basic functions it works great.

Both fonts from Stitch Era Universal – the top was pre-digitized and the bottom is a truetype font I was testing out. They look great!

Stitch Era Universal – For $15 you can get a copy of this software program and it is pretty extensive. There are lots of options in here and once you learn how to use it you can even do digitizing. There are limitations on this program since it is technically the “free” version of their $1,000 embroidery suite but I love it for the fonts. It comes with a variety of pre-digitized fonts but also will take any TrueType font and digitize it quite well in the program.

Wilcom TrueSizer – This is a free program that will let you scale designs and also convert them if necessary.  Many people swear by this.

Embird – This is an embroidery suite that you can purchase individual packages for depending on what you want to do.  Lots of people prefer this over the fancy software packages that the dealers try to sell you. The main program costs $144 and different modules you add on vary in price.

Notions – You’ll also need things like curved embroidery scissors for trimming, 505 adhesive spray, needles, marking tools for squaring up in the hoop, and of course fabric or blanks to do embroidery on.

I have my embroidery machine what do I do now?
Read lots of tutorials! Different fabric types require different hooping techniques.  Embroidery Library has an extensive tutorial list of how to hoop and embroider different types of fabric.

Then just start stitching.  Add designs to various things you have in your closet.  Find towels, linens and clothing to practice on from thrift stores. Dollar stores also sell cheap items you can use as “blanks” to stitch out on.

Where do I get designs?
The internet is full of places to download free and cheap designs. Here a couple of my favorite spots:

When purchasing designs make sure you request and download the right file format otherwise your machine won’t recognize it when you stick your USB stick in there.

Are there support groups?

Yes! Facebook is full of helpful embroidery support groups that I love and use a lot. You can even get some good tips on free designs too.

Feel free to ask questions or suggest tips that I should add to this post!


  1. Wow. Thanks Katie. This is a great post. I don’t use the embroidery option on my machine very often… Wish I would have bought 2 separate machines instead of 1 combination machine. I just feel like I could be doing other things while it stitches out. Anyway, thanks for all the references. Your blog posts are always very informative and well written. Of yes, and if you haven’t yet you should check out: http://www.urbanthreads.com. They have some very funky designs that I can’t find anywhere else.

    Just once more. Thanks!


  2. Hey!! great post my family had our own business for a while and we used a Bernina love that brand!! my step dad also had the design it you self program and did a lot of his own designs. we closed the business down do to lack of time and interest in our area, but it was a lot of fun…. Also wanted to say that I’m blogging again so come look me up and see what you think.. Celtic Lone Star Quilter@ blogspot…. hope to hear from you soon.

  3. That’s a pretty comprehensive information post! Thanks for those links, too.

  4. Awesome post! Lots of great suggestions here. Glad to hear the metro threads are working out…I’ll have to try some 🙂

    • I know I was surprised how well it did considering the price I paid. I’ll definitely be purchasing thread from them in the future. I need a bigger thread rack now!

  5. Laura Filbeck says:

    I was wondering if you are going to do the Hoopsisters Embroidablock mystery 2012? If so where are you purchasing your Battilizer from? I’m excited about this mystery quilt. I think I will learn a lot about embroiderying from this quilt.
    Thank you for your help on this.

    • I plan on doing it Laura – but I don’t think I’m gonna use the Battilizer. I haven’t purchased my fabric yet but I plan on doing it at a shop that stocks all sorts of hoopsisters stuff so I’m gonna ask about it. My plan right now is to layer batting with some lightweight cutaway on the top and bottom of the batting square and I think that’ll work but I don’t know. I want to see if I can feel some Battilizer to see the difference.

      • Laura Filbeck says:

        I”m trying to figure out where I can see Battilizer in person. I would also like to feel some to see the diference. If you find out, could you let me know please? I will continue to see about located some locally. Is it a heavy stablizer or closer knit together. Thank you for your help with this.