Sometimes, we really do think that our moms and grandmas had an easier time getting into sewing. Even the number of techniques and gadgets that are now available is overwhelming! Well, today, we’re going to explain away at least a part of the mystery.
Computerized sewing machines have taken the world by storm. On the one hand, they’ve made sewing and embroidery, in particular, easier than ever! However, they’ve also complicated matters. The instruction manuals alone are certainly thicker and more confusing than the ones that come with mechanical machines. Still, working on a digital sewing machine often allows us to complete our projects faster than we would have done on a regular machine.
But why buy a computerized sewing machine when your regular one is just fine? Well, we’re about to go through the pros and cons of getting a digital sewing machine and answer some of the most frequently asked questions about them. Is it really difficult to operate a digital machine? Should you get one at all? And finally, which are the best digital sewing machines on the market? All this and more will be revealed shortly!
If you’re not familiar with digital sewing machines at all, getting into this article may be a bit too confusing. The long and the short of it is, computerized sewing machines have computers that control several motors. Essentially, you’re able to program your machine from the small display on the side. The software in your digital sewing controls various machine components, including the needle bar, the feed dog, and the tension discs.
However, while you may be able to program your digital sewing machine, there are some limitations. For example, some machines allow you to create various designs right in the built-in software, but your choices aren’t unlimited. Still, some machines get around these limitations by incorporating small memory cards or cartridges you can use to transfer your embroidery designs. Others allow you to plug your machine directly into your personal computer. If you’re used to creating embroidery designs on your computer, this will be a great option for you.
Most people love digital machines because of their embroidery capabilities. However, they’re also just as useful at regular stitching. In fact, some of them actually offer upwards of 200 different stitch styles, from practical to decorative. You can definitely expect to have over 50 stitches and embroidery designs already programmed into the machine.
If you buy a digital sewing machine, you might also be able to save a few new patterns or even stitches to the onboard memory. Users may even be able to add new stitches, or even project patterns, depending on the machine they’re working on. And, of course, between the memory cartridges and the computer connectivity, there are also plenty of embroidery options as well.
Most notably, though, digital machines can simply do your sewing for you. The user should input the pattern and stitch style on the monitor and put in the fabric — everything else can be left up to the machine.
If you know how a regular sewing machine works, you’ll have an easier time understanding the digital ones. In fact, we recommend going into this with some prior knowledge. After all, these machines aren’t really meant for beginners at sewing. However, they’re actually fairly easy to figure out. Whether you use the built-in computer, a memory card, or a PC connection to make your designs, all it takes is a bit of practice and patience. Still, since many people feel nervous about jumping into the deep end like this, we’ll answer the most important question.
Contrary to what you might think, digital machines might be some of the easiest ones to operate. They were actually created to make our lives easier. Or, rather, they were supposed to make it easier and faster to make clothes in factories. But we’re still pretty glad that the invention made its way into our homes as well!
As we’ve stated, we wouldn’t say that a digital sewing machine is an appropriate starting tool for sewing beginners. On the other hand, we also wouldn’t suggest getting one for your grandma (unless she loves to play with new tech). But if you’ve already worked on a regular machine and don’t mind learning to use a new type of software, you should have no problem using a digital sewing machine.
Obviously, there are some differences between mechanical and digital machines. However, most of the features are pretty much the same.
The foot pedal is the perfect thing to highlight the similarities and the differences between regular and digital machines. While both types of machines have foot pedals, you can operate a digital sewing machine without one.
Usually, the foot pedal is how we adjust the speed of our stitches. But when we’re working with a digital sewing machine, we can also select our speed settings on the display on the machine. Still, if you’re used to working with a foot pedal, this may help you decide for or against getting one of these newer models.
Sadly, most digital machines aren’t compatible with Mac operating systems. At least it seems to be the general consensus. However, in this case, we recommend looking through the reviews of each of the machines you’re considering. Some of them, like the Brother SE400 machine, can give you some level of connectivity no matter what OS you plug them into.
If you plug in the USB cable the machine comes with into a Mac, the machine will register as an external hard drive. As such, you’ll be able to simply drag your PES files (that’s an embroidery file format) over to the machine memory. Then, you’ll be able to see those files from the display on your machine and have it embroider the design on your project.
So while you’d probably have more options if you plugged your digital sewing machine into a Windows computer, it should work on Mac computers as well. Just remember to check out what other users are saying about the connectivity capabilities of the machines you’re looking into before you give up on digital machines.
We’d love to be able to give you a quick guide to working on a digital sewing machine. Unfortunately, the fact of the matter is that different machines come with their own instruction manuals for a reason. Even within the general category of digital sewing machines, some are more complicated than others.
Still, a true digital sewing machine may even have a small touchscreen from which you’ll issue your commands. The display will allow you to choose from the many stitching styles the machine has to offer. There will be many basic and decorative stitches to choose from. But even if you like a stitch, you shouldn’t immediately use it on an important project.
In fact, the first time you test a new machine, we suggest working on a scrap of fabric. That way, you won’t accidentally damage an important project. In addition to the style of stitches, digital machines also allow you to adjust the stitch width and length. But then again, you could do that on most regular machines too.
Finally, before you can let the machine do its thing, you’ll need to put your thread in. Fortunately, most digital machines have an automatic needle threader, so you’ll have an easy time of it.
While it may seem as though your choice is between computerized and mechanical sewing machines, there is another option. Electronic sewing machines are the perfect middle ground between digital and mechanical machines. They certainly offer more stitching and buttonhole styles than mechanical machines. Yet they don’t have the full scope of the programmable features we get from true digital machines.
While a fully computerized machine may even have a 3-inch color touchscreen, an electronic one may have a smaller display that only fits a few numbers. Furthermore, operating an electronic sewing machine is even easier than using a digital machine. Many of the simpler models have images of the stitch options on the side with numbers under them.
These types of digital machines have a really small LED display above the pictures of stitches, with a few buttons under it. The buttons help you choose the stitch, usually represented on the screen in the form of a number. As with the other types of machines, you’ll be able to change the stitch width and length. Also, just like digital machines, electronic ones usually have automatic threaders.
However, that’s not to say that mechanical sewing machines aren’t good. As a matter of fact, many people still prefer them today. Especially if you’re just starting to learn about sewing, mechanical machines are great and reliable tools. You can adjust the tension against the fabric, the width and length of the stitches, and you even have a few stitch styles to choose from. What more could you want?
There’s a question we haven’t answered yet: why buy a computerized sewing machine at all? As we promised, this is where we’ll deliver our detailed list of pros and cons. Now that we’re all up to date about everything concerning this type of sewing machines, what are some of the benefits of using them?
We’ve managed to discover 9 excellent reasons to buy a digital machine during the course of this article. So, at the risk of being repetitive, let’s list them.
One of the best things about digital sewing machines is the variety they give us. Not only do they have all of the basic stitches you need and some you didn’t even know you needed but there are also many decorative stitches that are fun to play around with. We bet you’ll be chained to your machine for hours when you first get it, thinking up ways to use the extra stitches.
Depending on the machine, you may end up with anywhere between 50 to 250 different stitches. In contrast, most of the basic mechanical machines might give you about 20 styles to work with.
In addition to the numerous stitching options, digital machines also tend to have several buttonhole stitch types. There are regular rectangular buttonholes, ones that are slightly round, or rectangular with a round end — like a keyhole.
Many of them come with an attachment that measures the buttons you’ll use in order to make the correct size hole. Once you set everything in place, you can choose the buttonhole stitch you want to use and let the machine do its thing. You’ll hardly need to touch the fabric as the buttonhole appears.
After your machine finishes the stitches for as many buttonholes as you need, you can take the fabric off and cut off the loose threads. Then, you’ll open up the actual hole between the stitches with a seam ripper. It’s really never been easier to make your sewing projects look as professional as something you’d buy in a store.
Aside from the stitching options, there are also other automatic features most digital sewing machines have. First, there’s the automatic needle threader, which is a bit that comes down from the body of the machine to hook the thread through the needle. Additionally, most machines also regulate the tension they put on the fabric on their own. And, of course, most have automatic thread cutters as well.
The best digital sewing machines can actually take over a lot of your workload. Some of them even allow you to set the needle and fabric type, choose the stitch and put in the fabric — then completely let the machine take over. That’s exactly why they’re so useful in clothing factories.
All of these features are amazingly convenient because they save you a lot of time you could otherwise have spent more wisely. In fact, efficiency is absolutely the name of the game when it comes to digital machines. So that’s why most of our advantages of working on this type of machine come down to things that generally make our lives easier.
Another feature that can be incredibly helpful is the ability to save patterns and even add new stitches to the machine’s built-in memory. The internal memory is by no means something you’d see in your smartphone, for example, but it’s certainly ample enough to remember your favorite stitches. The feature is particularly helpful to those who tend to reuse the same patterns often. And while it’s ultimately the most useful in factory settings, for example, it’s also great for more casual seamstresses.
As we’ve previously mentioned, if you connect some machines to Mac computers, they read as hard drives. Some machines allow you to have even more options on Windows computers. However, even in its function as a hard drive, you’ll be able to achieve everything you need to.
Many machine brands have their own embroidery file formats you’ll need to familiarize yourself with. For example, Bernina uses the ART and EXP format, Singer machines use CSD and XXX, and Brother machines use PEC and PES ones. Basically, the formats depend on the software capabilities of the various products.
There are also plenty of computer programs, for both Windows and Mac operating systems, that allow you to create your own embroidery designs. In fact, we even know of ways to convert JPEG files to one of these embroidery formats. So computer connectivity certainly opens up a whole host of possibilities you may not have considered!
Even without computer connectivity features, you may yet be able to transfer stitches and embroidery designs to your digital machine. Memory cartridges are really handy for just this purpose. But, if you’re hoping to use them, you ought to pay attention to product descriptions, as not all digital machines have this feature.
While traditional embroidery is still a great hobby and skill to have, digital machines have all but replaced it as the primary decorative technique. Most of us know how difficult it can be to cast all of those stitches by hand, especially when we’re in a time crunch. Therefore, we are particularly thankful to have a product that can take over for us when we don’t feel like getting the trusty thimble out.
Most digital machines that can embroider also have editing features. So if your design is too big or too small, or just off in some way, your machine may be able to fix it. Some models can even add a border or mirror-flip the image you’re working with. However, the more intricate editing options are more common in special embroidery machines than digital ones.
It’s true: some digital sewing machines, such as the Janome Memory Craft 11000se, have amazing touchscreens. However, you’re much more likely to end up with a smaller LED display for several reasons. Basically, these simpler sewing machines are more easily available in every way.
Whichever display you end up with, it’s going to be your main control hub. That’s where you’ll see the exact stitch you’re using (probably in the form of a number), the density of the stitches, and other similar specifications. The display simply allows you more control over the final product, certainly more than you would have had adjusting the dials and knobs on a mechanical machine.
Now that we’ve explained why we’re so impressed with the level of control a display gives us, you can understand why we’ve also chosen to emphasize the speed settings on digital sewing machines as one of the advantages of working with them. As we’ve already mentioned, digital machines do come with the regular foot pedals we’re all used to.
However, foot pedals aren’t the only way to adjust the speed of your needle here. Typically, there are some speed controls on the display or among the buttons on the side of the machine as well. In fact, speed is one of the most important advantages of working on this type of sewing machine.
Even though we’ve only chosen to highlight 3 disadvantages of working with a digital sewing machine, many people might find them serious dealbreakers. So let’s discuss the negative aspects of computerized machines.
Naturally, we can’t really expect to enjoy all of the benefits we’ve listed above for free. In fact, the more impressive a digital sewing machine is, the pricier it tends to be. Some of them can even cost as much as several thousand dollars.
Fortunately, you don’t really need to grab onto the most expensive model in order to experience all of the advantages of working on a programmable machine. Indeed, many digital machines are quite reasonably priced, with the most popular models being around $200–$300. Still, this type of machine is more expensive than regular mechanical machines, on average.
Having all of these extra features can also distract us from our original project plans. If the only thing we need from a digital sewing machine is to hem and mend clothing, there’s no real reason to have 250 stitches, is there? Most people who are stark proponents of mechanical machines consider digital ones to be needlessly complicated. And, as far as we’re concerned, they may not be wrong.
Sure, we just adore all the additional automation these machines let us play with. But some of them really border on senseless, especially if we’re only going to use them for personal projects. However, if you’re already tech-savvy enough to want to use a digital sewing machine, we certainly won’t stop you. In fact, we do believe that they can be hugely helpful for all of the reasons we’ve already listed.
Still, another reason why some people shy away from digital machines is that they require less involvement. After all, many of us practice sewing as a hobby first — so why would we want to make the process quicker and less personal? Could working on a digital sewing machine make the magic of the process fade or disappear? That’s up to you to decide.
You know, many of us still hold on to our first sewing machines. In fact, many women inherit their mothers’ machines, too. That means that our mechanical machines can be fully operational decades and, in some cases, a full century after the original purchase.
This is not the case with digital machines. For one, the various parts aren’t as simple as the ones inside of a mechanical machine. No amount of oil will be able to fix malfunctioning computer parts. Moreover, you may not even want to hold on to your digital sewing machine after a decade or two. Even if it’s still functional, technology changes very quickly. Another amazing digital sewing machine could come out a few months or some years from now and make your own shiny new machine obsolete.
But, just for the sake of argument…
As long as you can take your machine to the manufacturer for repairs, there is some hope for it. However, according to what we’ve managed to dig up, digital machines do have a lifespan of 5–25 years. So many things could go wrong, between the hardware and the software. Still, as always, proper maintenance will prolong the inevitable.
If, after all of this, you’ve decided to take a digital sewing machine out for a spin, you may be wondering where to start. Fortunately, there are many famous and reliable brands that make computerized machines. Singer, Brother, Janome, and Juki have all tried their hand at it and come up with some real winners.
In fact, Brother has several great options to choose from, including the Designio Series sewing and quilting machine. On the other hand, if your brand loyalty compels you to check out a Singer machine, you may want to look into the 7469Q (another quilting machine). And if you really want to keep it simple, you can get the Singer One machine with only 24 stitches. That model would be appropriate even for beginners. Some of the lesser-known brands, like Eversewn, have also come out with their own digital machines — the Sparrow 20 seems to be one of the crowd favorites.
So between the most famous sewing machine brands or a more affordable no-name product, digital machines will be pretty easy to find. Although we don't think mechanical machines are going anywhere quite yet, there's been a noticeable shift toward creating home machines with built-in computers in recent years.
But digital sewing machines aren’t only supposed to make our sewing projects easier to execute. They should also make them more beautiful. And what better way is there to make something pretty than to decorate it with beautiful thread designs?
Honestly, why buy a computerized sewing machine that doesn’t have embroidery capabilities? There are plenty of digital machines that can also sew beautiful designs into your projects. And you can even identify them at a glance. Basically, many (though not all) machines that are both sewing and embroidery models have “SE” designations.
We’ve already mentioned two of them earlier: the Brother SE400 and the Janome Memory Craft 11000SE. Both of these models are perfectly fine embroidery machines in their own right. However, you will note a significant price difference, with the Janome machine being the more expensive one of the two.
Ultimately, the decision to switch from a mechanical machine to a digital one is a personal one. It’s certainly worth taking some time to mull it over. However, before you just take your pick, there are a few last things to consider.
For one, think about the kind of sewing projects you’d like to take on. If you’re doing the most basic tasks, such as mending and altering, even making simple pattern clothing, you’d have no need for the extra features a digital sewing machine would get you.
Aside from the type of sewing you’re doing, you should also consider your budget. Then there’s the question of how good you are with technology. If you usually struggle with it, we don’t recommend getting a digital machine if you don’t need one.
If you have your own arguments favoring one type of machine over the other, we’d love to hear them in the comments below. Or, if you know someone who feels even more strongly about the subject, or someone who’s still pondering over their choices, send them this post!