Embroidery fails. And fails and fails and fails...
Back in July, on Amazon Prime day, I impulse bought an embroidery machine - the Brother SE400. It was dirt cheap and I haven't had a good history with Brother machines, so I was skeptical. But a guy at Make, which I've been reading since it was an actual paper magazine, gave it a glowing review so I took the leap.
I played with it a little right after I got it - I made an "M" using the built-in fonts, and I played a little with SewArt and figured out some very basic digitizing and did a few Rebel Alliance starbirds - but, although I had lots of ideas, I was pretty deep into DragonCon builds at that point, so it went largely untouched until my Sanderson Sisters build.
Sarah's corset had some small embroidered flowers that were very easy to draw, digitize, and stitch, even with the basic software I was using. I felt very accomplished and confident with my new embroidery skills!
After Sarah, I made a few drafts of Holtzmann's nuclear love sticker. I want to make it into a patch. This proved more difficult than Sarah's flowers, mostly because of my software limitations. SewArt is very basic. It's great for simple images with very few colors, but it requires a lot of tweaking if you have a more complex image. You really need a dedicated graphics program to create the image in first before you import it into the digitizing program. Also, I had a hard time making the stitches do what I wanted. I tested Illustrator and Sketch, but couldn't bring myself to buy their licensing subscriptions. I tried a few free browser-based apps, but they weren't robust enough for my needs. I tried Embrilliance and Embird's digitizing modules, but both were more complicated and less intuitive than I wanted to deal with at that moment. And, truthfully, big complicated embroidery was still pretty low on my priority list, so I put it away for a few more weeks.
Around Halloween I decided I wanted to build a new cosplay for an upcoming convention, which required a patch. A very simple 3-color design that seemed like it would be no problem to create. And I was right. Creating the image was no problem. Stitching it, however, was a whole new challenge. This patch was about 5.5 inches wide, my machine maxes out at 4 inches. But not to fear! They make larger, multi-position hoops! And software with the capability of splitting designs into two or more files! For this exact situation! So I went back to Embrilliance, which was highly cited as being good at splitting files.
Yeah not so much. I tried twice, it didn't work. There was a noticeable seam between the two segments. And, unrelated to the bad seam, on my first attempt stitches were skipped across a huge area. It's not even that they were skipped, like in the traditional sense. But I had it set for something like 4 mm stitches, and in this one spot the needle would set down, then move about two full inches (!!) and set down again. No idea why. I re-created the stitch file and ran it again, and my stitches were all loose and loopy. Again, no idea why. (I later figured out loopy stitches were a symptom of a dull needle, but at the time I was just "AHHHHHH THIS IS THE WORST AND I GIVE UP!!!!!!! AHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!")
A few weeks ago I Had the big idea to embroider Rebel and Imperial symbols on fuzzy scarves. Actually this was the very first thing I thought of when I bought the machine, but I was finally going to make it happen! After a few failed attempts and a few tweaks, I actually made it work! YAY!!!!!
(as of right now, these scarves (pictured, plus an Imperial cog embroidered in white) are available on my Etsy store)
I was so proud of these scarves! And, again, filled with confidence to embroider bigger and better and more complicated things! Like BB-8!
SewArt's image editor is basically Microsoft Paint. It has a paintbucket fill, a pen you can use to color pixel by pixel, and the ability to draw some very basic shapes, but that's about it. So I tried to find simple images of BB-8 to use. No luck. Everything had too many colors or too many broken lines or some other difficulty. My trials for Sketch and Illustrator had expired, and gravit.io was pissing me off, so I opted to buy someone else's embroidery file. (There are a wealth of embroidery files on Etsy all in the $5 range!) I bought a few, but none of them were perfect nor were they editable in SewArt, and I still didn't have the patience or time to devote to Embrilliance or Embird, and the last BB-8 file I bought wouldn't even copy to my machine, so, again, I gave up.
Yesterday I finally found myself in a good place for revisiting the embroidery machine. I still have my projects I want to finish, and two projects that I promised to friends. I remembered I'd downloaded Autodesk Sketchbook some time ago for something else, and I actually really liked it. And the licensing, while unnecessary, was cheap enough and full-featured enough to make me say why the hell not. And it works on my iPad as well as my MacBook, so I can just draw the old-fashioned, pencil-and-paper way with a stylus on the screen! I love my MacBook but the touchpad is not great for drawing. After I had a few nice images I went back to Embrilliance and Embird, took some time to actually read about, watch videos about, and test each; and wound up buying Embrilliance's digitizing module. And now I actually have decent stitch files and the knowledge to make more!
So, success, right!? Haha no...
I load the first one up, get a third of the way into the stitching, and somehow the thread manages to wrap itself around one of the moving parts inside the machine. I take the machine apart, remove the tangle, and finish the job. It's not perfect so I make a few tweaks to the stitch file and then load it up for attempt number two. And my machine seizes up. I have no idea what happened. It gave me a most ominous error message about going into "safety mode", and now the needle is stuck in the up position. I tried to turn the handwheel, and nothing. It won't budge. I took the the piece of the outer cover that is meant to be removed by the consumer off but I can't see what's wrong. I'm not a mechanic, and I also can't access most of the guts of the machine without damaging the cover. This stupid machine is also probably not worth the price I'll pay to have it fixed at my local sewing machine store. I'm not sure what to do.
And here's the thing: I spent 15 years sewing on a junky plastic Singer that I bought at Target for maybe $150. I firmly believe that if you're just doing basic home-level sewing, there's no reason for you to spend $1000 or more on a fancy sewing machine, If you find yourself sewing every day, or 40 hours a week, by all means go spend your money on a quality machine; but if you're just starting out and not sure if you'll stick with it or do it that often, just buy a cheap machine. That was my strategy with this one. I knew it was a starter machine. I had no idea if I was going to love embroidering or if I was going to incorporate it into my business. I just knew I was moderately interested in giving it a try, and the price was right.
I guess I got what I paid for :(
This machine was sensitive. It tangled a lot. The stitches were inconsistent. The stitch area is frustratingly small. The software is a pain in the ass. And expensive. You have to use a screwdriver to change the needle. The thread spool holder is horizontal. There are other little design elements that don't actually affect functionality but I hate them anyway. I should really just walk away.
And yet, here I am, browsing Amazon, browsing the manufacturer's sites, and thinking about going to my local store and dropping a small fortune on a good embroidery machine tomorrow. I love the idea of embroidery! I want to make it work so badly! And I'm soooooooo close! All I need is a machine that doesn't hate me so much!
It's a good thing this all happened outside of store hours, otherwise I probably would have gone out and bought a new machine immediately. This way at least I have time to do some research and think about money and stuff and possibly talk myself out of it, or talk myself into getting this one fixed and giving it a second chance. Or not. We'll see what happens tomorrow.