My first machine:
I knew I wanted something "beginner" starting out and this is the perfect machine. I did a lot of research before purchasing it and I absolutely LOVE it. The great thing about this machine is that it's a sewing and embroidery combo. I originally intended to purchase the Brother SE-400, but they were sold out and the sales lady offered me this machine for the same price (same machine, just has a "Project Runway Edition" sticker.) This machine embroiders beautifully, but the only downside is that you're limited to a 4"x4" space -- but it is PERFECT for baby-size things and that was my reason for buying it.
I played around with this machine for about a year. I learned the ropes and started outgrowing it. Don't get me wrong, I don't need anything bigger yet for LK's clothes, but I wanted to do larger things other than baby clothes. I used my sister-in-law's machine to monogram LK's Easter basket and I was sold into getting a larger machine. So my second machine:
This machine is embroidery only. The hoop size on this machine is a 5"x7". A few inches doesn't sound justifiable for an upgrade, but trust me, it's a HUGE difference. I am able to do larger things with this machine like towels and adult-size clothing. You can buy extra hoops for this machine (4x4, 5x12, and 2x2) and I plan to soon!
Here's some more FAQ's:
What embroidery software do you use?
I use Sew What Pro. It's about $60-70 and can be purchased online. It's great for laying out your embroidery files and is super user-friendly.
Does your larger machine embroider better than your small one?
No! The first time I used my larger machine it "ate" a bib (nom nom) but I've never had any problem like that with my smaller machine. (You do have to "break" them in a bit a first. It work fine now.)
What else do I need to get started?
For embroidery, you will need the obvious things like thread (I use polyester), needles (different sizes are needed for different type fabrics), and fabric. It is a little pricey to get your "stockpile" started, but once you buy a certain colored thread, it will last forever. I like the pre-wound bobbins -- I got like 20 for hardly nothing and I think I've used about half of them. You will need stabilizer for embroidery. It's a lot to get into on this post but there are lots of different kinds -- cut away, tear away, water soluble -- just to name a few. I watch for sales and get a lot of my fabric at deep discounts. It's good to get some fabric spray-adhesive for applique'ing and a water-soluble marker for marking placement for your hoop. I also use a cover-stitch (a mesh lining that is ironed on the back to prevent an itchy backing) when I make things for babies.
How much are these machines?
I won't say an exact price, because they will be cheaper by tomorrow. I know they now have a PE-500 (Just embroidery. Think S.E. - Sewing/Embroidery... P.E. - Purely Embroidery.) that is claimed to be their cheapest embroidery machine. The SE-350 is an outdated combo machine -- It still does the same thing as the newer ones, but I think you use some kind of memory card to transfer your data from your computer to the machine instead of a USB. However you can probably get it a lot cheaper than the SE-400! (And I'm sure there's an SE-450 or 500 out by now but haven't seen it.)
What do you recommend?
Knowing what I know now, I wish I would have gotten the PE-770 starting out, along with a $100 sewing machine. However at the time, I didn't know how much I'd actually get into the embroidery part and we didn't have the budget to purchase the larger machine. Both are great machines and it really depends on how much you think you'll make a hobby out of it and how much your budget allows.
HOW do I get started?
Simply put, you just take your machine out of the box and start playing with it! Most come with an instructional DVD and a pretty large booklet. Buy a yard of felt and just practice sewing and embroidering. (With felt, it's sturdy enough that you don't need stabilizer.) Practice changing your needles, playing with your tension, trying out different stitches. If there's something you don't understand, google it! In the beginning, I spent weeks reading tutorials, watching YouTube videos and researching about different needles and stabilizers. You won't learn unless you make mistakes, so plan to make a lot! :) And when (it'll happen) something doesn't turn out right, google ways to fix it. There's a lot of helpful sites and forums out there with very experienced sewers!
Where do you get your fonts and appliques?
There's TONS of places to get cute font and appliques. Sign up for their emails -- they're always running sales! Some of my favorites are:
8 Claws and a Paw (fonts)
Jolson's Designs (fonts)
I hope this helps some of you! I have friends that have use Babylock, Janome, Singer, and other brands and they seem to love them, but I'm partial to my Brother machines, of course. If you plan to get a beginner machine and upgrade later, I'd recommend sticking with the same brand. Font and applique files types vary with the machine, so you can't use the same files for a Brother machine as a Singer.
If you have any other questions, please comment on this post or email me and I'll update it with the answer for everyone! :)