Get to Know Your Embroidery Machine

We have been genuinely surprised by the number of people at quilt and sewing shows who don’t know very basic information about their embroidery machines and ask us what they should buy. There are currently more than 20 major embroidery machine manufacturers who use more than 80 different software formats. We make every effort to provide accurate information when we are asked but please realize that there are some unscrupulous people out there who only want to sell you something and they don’t care if it really will work for you or not.

If you are going to use your embroidery machine for anything other than a door stop, you have to know enough about your machine basics so that you can use it comfortably and make purchases for it correctly. Here are a couple of major questions that you should be able to answer:

  • What format does your embroidery machine use for designs? There are more than 80 different formats used by the various machine manufacturers. You need to know exactly which one your machine uses. Some machines can actually use more than one. If that is true for your machine, you should know what all of the usable formats are.
  • What size hoop(s) does your machine use? This is really a trick question. The real question here is “what size is the field where your embroidery machine can place stitches?” A machine that is limited to a 4″x 4″ field may come with a 5×7 size hoop but it can still only sew out a design that is 4×4. In addition, you need to learn what the “millimeters” are for your hoop(s). In the US, we casually say we have 4×4 hoop but it really is 100 millimeters x 100 millimeters (which is actually 3.9 inches by 3.9 inches). This could make all the difference in the world if you buy a design or set of designs that are too big for your sewing field. The same thing applies to larger hoops. Even though your machine dealer tells you the hoop is 6″ x 10″, you need to find out the actually millimeters, otherwise you could end up buying designs you can’t use. For example 6″ is equal to 152.5 mm.  Some hoops advertised as 6″ x 10″ are 140mm x 260mm so that is NOT 6″!  Some machines claim to have a 6″ x 6″ hoop. But it really is 150mm square and that is NOT 6″ (it’s 5.9 inches!). That means a design that says it is 6″ square is NOT going to fit in your hoop! With hundreds of possible hoop sizes and sewing fields, it is up to YOU to know what will fit on your machine.   If necessary, write down the measurements (in inches and millimeters) for each of your hoops AND find out if your machine can sew the entire field for each hoop size or if it is expected that you will reposition the hoop in order to sew a large design.

Did you know that we put the actual size of the designs (in inches and millimeters) on our website so you can see them before you make a purchase?

  • How do you transfer designs to your machine? There are several ways in modern machines:
    1. Direct Connect – your embroidery machine has a cable that connects directly to your computer. When you plug in that cable and turn on your machine, your computer shows a drive letter (like F:\ or K:\ or whatever is appropriate for your computer). You simply copy designs from a folder on your computer to this drive letter and they appear on your embroidery machine.
    2. USB Key – also called a “USB Stick” or “USB Drive” or “Memory Stick” or “Flash Drive”. You insert this in a USB drive on your computer and copy designs to it. You then take it out of your computer and insert it into your embroidery machine.  Your embroidery machine reads what is on the USB and you select your design from there.
    3. Card Reader – a separate box with a small card that resembles the memory card in a camera. The box connects to your computer and allows you to copy designs to this box which writes them on the card. You then put the card into the appropriate slot on your embroidery machine.
    4. Floppy Disks – some very old embroidery machines use 3 1/2″ floppy disks (from older computer days). You use your computer to copy the designs to the disk and then place the disk in the embroidery machine.

    It is up to you to know exactly how to transfer designs to your embroidery machine.  Your dealer will usually be the best resource for this.   If you need computer help, you should find someone near you who can teach you how to do this. If there is no one nearby who can help, consider joining a Yahoo group for your machine type. Many folks there will be able to answer your questions.  Unless a digitizer has your exact machine, it’s quite likely that we don’t know how to tell you to do this.

  • If you buy or download a design in the wrong format or if a design is only available in a format your machine doesn’t read, do you know how to convert it to something you can use? This is another trick question. There is free software available that will let you convert from and to the most popular formats. Bernina, however, has never shared its proprietary format (.ART) so none of the free or non-Bernina programs can convert to ART but some of the free or less expensive programs will read ART and convert it to other formats.  It is up to you to know what format you need and how to convert to that format if it becomes necessary.
  • Do you know how to “Unzip” a file and store it on your computer? Most downloads or emailed attachments are “zipped”. This simply means that one or more files has been compressed into a single file to make management easier. For instance, our sets usually have 12 designs along with a PDF file that is project instructions and/or a color suggestion sheet. We “zip” all of these together so that you receive one file for each set you order. You need to be able to save the zipped file to your computer and then unzip it to get to the designs and the instructions. Embroidery software does not always unzip things that are not embroidery designs (like the PDF file with the instructions) so you should use something that is meant to unzip all of the files.
  • Do you know how to back-up your designs? Once you receive your designs, you are responsible for keeping copies of them in a safe, secure place. Computers crash, USB keys are temporary storage, CDs can fail over time and external harddrives can also crash. You need to figure out the best way to keep your purchases (along with your photos and documents that you want to keep forever). It really isn’t fair to expect a digitizer to replace designs that you lost because you didn’t take responsibility for storing them securely. In some cases, we simply don’t have the records from years ago to even show us what you bought so you can’t rely on us to replace what is lost.  For a really detailed explanation about backing up designs, click here

Embroidery digitizers have a general knowledge about various kinds of machines but cannot be expected to know every detail about every machine still in use today. If you have an older machine, you should already know these things. If you are brand new to embroidery, please take the time to find these things out. Asking the digitizer questions about your machine isn’t really fair (especially if it is an old machine). If you don’t have a helpful dealer nearby, use Yahoo groups or Google to track down the information that you need. Make a few notes and keep them near your machine so that you can refer to them if you need to.

We want everyone to have a great time with embroidery. It’s sort of like cooking – you need to know the basics. You wouldn’t want to run to your neighbor for help every time you want to turn on the stove to cook dinner.  If you learn the basics about your machine, you will always be ready to take advantage of specials whether online or at shows because you will know exactly what your machine can and cannot do.

~ Charming Station Embroidery ~


One thought on “Get to Know Your Embroidery Machine

  1. Oh my gosh Gigi….

    you have done some wonderful work.  THANK YOU SO MUCH…  I was aware of some  (but not all) of this information but having it in such concise format is absolutely wonderful.  This will be a wonderful learning tool and will be used quite often.


    nashville, tn

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