Should I buy a multi-needle embroidery machine?
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So…. you got your first embroidery machine. It’s awesome, isn’t it? Even if your machine is pretty basic and your maximum hoop size is only 4″ x 4″, hopefully you’ve learned that even with an inexpensive embroidery machine, you can still make a lot of cool stuff. But then you start hearing about multi-needle embroidery machines and wonder: should I buy a multi-needle embroidery machine?
What more you could do? And, what really are the differences between a single needle and a multi-needle embroidery machine? And, if you are ready to buy a multi-needle embroidery machine, how many needles do you need?
What are the differences between a single needle vs multi-needle embroidery machine?
Single needle embroidery machines are marketed as a “home” machines. They look a lot like sewing machines. In fact, most are set up designed to both sew and embroider.
My Bernina embroidery machine has an embroidery module that snaps on which allows me to embroider. Because I have another sewing machine, I typically leave it set up to just embroider. But I can do regular sewing on this machine as well.
Multi-needle embroidery machines have several “heads” that hold needles. Each of these needles can be threaded with a different color embroidery thread. So instead of rethreading the machine each time you change thread colors, you can just switch to a different head.
Multi-needle machines are also single purpose. They are not designed to be an all-in-one sewing/embroidery station, just badass embroidery work horses.
Because a home machine is an adaptation of a regular sewing machine, the hoop lies on the arm of the sewing machine, which sits on your sewing table. And, for this reason, there are some limitations.
What advantages are offered by a multi-needle embroidery machine?
Less threading and rethreading
When you have multiple needles, you can keep your machine threaded with several different colors of thread. So, for example, if you need to monogram a hat with turquoise, then stitch a name on a towel in white, you may not need to change threads. You simply tell the machine to stitch the hat with the turquoise on needle head 2 and the towel on 1. See? No rethreading between projects.
Hooping items is MUCH simpler when you are using a multi-needle machine because of how the hoop attaches to the machine. In a multi-needle machine, the “bed” is not like a sewing machine bed but more of a free arm. So hooping and embroidering items with tight areas like sleeves or onesies is much easier on a multi-needle.
Another reason why hooping on a multi-needle machine is faster and easier is because you can use clamps or fast frames and not have to hoop. These are both add-on pieces of hardware that you can buy in addition to your machine.
More reliable tension
Tension is much more reliable than on a single needle machine. Multi-needle machine users report fewer thread nests on their machines than corresponding single needle machine needle users.
There is quite a disparity between stitch time on single vs. multi-needle machines. Even with the same rate settings, the multi-needle machine will often stitch faster. For example, if you load the same design on a single needle machine and a multi-needle machine and set them both to 1000 stitches per minute, the multi needle will usually stitch out faster.
Better looking stitches
This may be a matter of opinion here, but many multi-needle machine owners swear that the stitching is higher quality. I would speculate that this is because a multi-needle machine is optimized to do embroidery while a single needle machine is more of an all-in-one device.
Because multi-needle machines do not sit on a sewing table but tend to be standalone devices, there is a lower likelihood that the garment being embroidered will get caught up around the machine. With this being said, however, it’s still a good idea to stay close by while your embroidery machine is running.
Easier center identification
Most multi-needle machines have a light to show you the center of the design. This feature allows you to adjust the location of your design so that you can have it perfectly centered.
Cons of a multi needle machine
Before you buy a multi-needle embroidery machine, it’s important to consider some of the cons.
Multi-needle machines can be expensive. Prices can be anywhere from a few thousand dollars to somewhere within the 10-20 thousand dollar range. But, if you are running a business, eventually you will be able to recoup your cost. Consider how many jobs you’ll need to take on before you pay it off, and maybe it won’t seem as expensive!
Lack of portability
Ever take your embroidery machine to a friends house for a little embroidery session? If not, I highly recommend it. There is not much better than girl talk, wine and some embroidery. If you only own a multi-needle, you probably won’t be moving it around too much. So, I guess you can have your embroidery friends come to you.
Higher service fees
With moving parts and greater complexity, a multi-needle machine takes more skill and knowledge to maintain and repair. Plus, fewer people know how to do it, so they can charge more for their services.
How many needles should I get?
If the cons have not deterred you, you will need to decide how many needles you need before you buy a multi-needle embroidery machine. Multi-needle machine come in many different types: typically 4 needles, 6 needles, 10 needles, etc… So how many needles do you really need?
Well, it depends on the types of embroidery designs you tend to stitch. Photorealistic designs will require many subtly different thread colors. So, the more needles you have on your machine, the faster it will be to stitch out the design once you have the machine threaded. If these types of embroidery designs are in your wheelhouse, consider getting a 10 needle machine.
But, if you tend to do primarily singe colored monograms, you may not need that many needles. Many multi-needle owners report that they keep white and black on their machine at all times and then rotate in colors on the other needles. In this case, a 4 needle machine could suffice. However, if you only have 4 needles, you don’t have many spots for other colors so you would be rethreading your machine quite frequently.
If you tend to stitch out a lot of corporate logos, you may not need a lot of needles. Logos tend to have a minimal color palette which means minimal thread color changes when you are stitching out the design.
If you are doing embroidery for individuals and charge more for multiple colors, customers tend to limit the number of colors they incorporate in a design. Many shop owners say that they rarely use all 10 colors on their multi-needle machine with 10 heads.
A happy medium for a first multi-needle machine seems to be a 6 needle. It offers enough room to keep black and white thread on the machine at all times, plus enough extra spots to keep your machine threaded with other popular colors.
Which brand of multi-needle machine should I buy?
It really depends. I’ve heard rave reviews about many different types of machines. But, I think the biggest factor is to consider what kind of service you can get in your area.
Also – think about where you can learn. Do you know helpful people in your area that can teach you a thing or two about your new multi-needle embroidery machine? It may be worth it to get the same brand.
Finally, what kind of deal can you get? Ebay and Craigslist are great sources for used machine and sometimes the previous owner will even train you on how to use it!
So, if you’re ready for an upgrade to a multi-needle, best of luck. Many people say that once you start embroidering on the multi-needle, you will never go back to a single.