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Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Consumer Product Review: Janome 300E Embroidery Machine Pt. I

It's almost here: Miss Ginger's Consumer Product Review on the Janome 300E embroidery machine she bought last summer.  She's worked with it for about a year now, so she's ready to share what she knows about this machine, and embroidery machines in general.

If you're thinking "I don't sew" but the idea of embroidering garments and linens intrigues you, you're in luck.  You really don't have to know how to "sew" in the sense of cutting patterns, constructing garments, inserting zippers, etc, to embroider beautiful things for yourself or as gifts.  Think of it more like a "printer" that uses thread instead of ink, because that's really a better description!

So many people tell Miss Ginger: "I have a sewing machine... I should really use it more" or "I want to buy a machine and learn to sew", and Miss Ginger tells them "what are you waiting for?!" And Miss Ginger shudders when someone tells her "I have a machine... I think it embroiders...."   Quelle dommage! You already have one of these miracle machines in your house and you're not using it?! Tsk, tsk.

Let's start by talking about machine embroidery in general, and then I will give you details of my experience with my specific Janome machine in a subsequent post.  Embroidery machines use a computer program, generally called a design file, to move the needle and manipulate the fabric to create a pattern of stitches.  Commercial machines use multiple threads and are complicated, noisy, and expensive.  Embroidery machines designed for home use typically sew one color at a time, and the user changes the thread color when prompted by the machine.  You can buy machines that sew and embroider, which might be a great choice if you don't already have a sewing machine, or you can buy a machine like my Janome, that only embroiders; to sew seams and construct garments you need a separate machine.  Because embroidery machines do much of their work untouched by human hands, you can actually construct a garment on your sewing machine while your embroidery machine embellishes other pieces, so having both can be a time saver if you sew a lot.  A few machines are actually convertible, meaning that you can purchase an embroidery module to add to your machine.

The basic functionality is the same across all embroidery and sewing machines. They both have a needle, thread, and bobbin to create the stitches.  An embroidery machine eliminates the feed dog that pull the fabric through a regular machine, and replaces it with an embroidery module that holds the fabric in a hoop and can move it in a vertical and horizontal axis.  The design file controls the motion of the needle and fabric, placing each stitch in perfect alignment to create the pattern.

The design files are what make these machines come to life.  Most machines have some number of designs built-in to the machine, which can be selected right from the controls.  The true versatility, however, comes from the ability to use files from other sources. These machines are computers, and like computers, their technology moves fast. Originally, embroidery machines used floppy discs, CD ROM's, or PC cards that were purchased for specific machines, and preloaded with specific collections of designs. You owned a library of discs that contained your files.  Nowadays, we can download files from the internet to our home PC, and use a USB drive or memory card to transfer the design to the machine.  The most modern machines can now read files directly from your laptop, eliminating the file transfer step. Miss Ginger assumes that the next wave of technology will be Wifi enabled machines that bypass the computer and download files directly from the internet! 

Each brand of machine uses a proprietary file type, which means the same design files are not compatible across multiple brands of machines; if you bought a PC Card or CD ROM of files for a Janome machine, they would not work on, say, a Brother machine.  At one point there may have been competition among brands as to who had the most extensive assortment of designs, or the highest quality designs, but now we download designs directly from the internet, and can choose the file type required for our machine. There is also software available to convert files from one format to another. 

Speaking of software, let's talk about that for a minute, because that subject can be pretty overwhelming. Each brand of machine offers a variety of software packages, and the price tag for all of them can add up really fast! While the software packages sold by Janome, Bernina, Brother, and other machine makers may offer features that work across all formats, they a really designed to be machine specific. There are also software packages available that are not tied to a specific manufacturer, and these often offer more versatility and better value. Both proprietary and non-proprietary software packages are usually sold in "modules" or "plug-ins", so you can buy only the features you will use, and those features will interact seamlessly.

So, what software do you need? Depending on the features of your machine, and your desire for customization, you may not need any software at all. If all you plan to do is download designs off of the internet and use them "as is", you don't need any software.  Most people, however, will want at least some of the features these packages offer.

A basic "File Manager" program will let you organize and open files, rename them, group them, etc.  The file manager program will generally allow you to print templates of the final design that will aid you in placing your work correctly on the fabric. It also allows you to print thread lists (handy when you're heading out to buy thread). File manager programs may allow some design modifications, such as flipping or rotating the entire image, but to actually "open up the hood" and change anything within the design, you will need "Editing" software.  The file manager will call up the editing plug-in, if you've installed it, any time you want to take out a part of the design, resize it, combine or split designs, etc. Some programs combine the file manager and editing modules as on package so you don't have to buy them separately. "Monogramming" software makes simple work of creating custom monograms in any size within the constraints of your machine, using TrueType fonts loaded on your computer, as well as fonts included in the package.  Some machines do basic monograms in limited sizes through on-board controls, but monogramming software gives you total versatility.  

If you REALLY want to get into embroidery, you may want "digitizing" software to convert drawings, clip art, etc. into embroidery files.  The advertisements make it seems easy; the instruction books reveal that it's not.  Digitizing software has a lot of features and "moving parts", so even a computer whiz will need to set aside the time to work through some tutorials if they seriously want to learn to digitize.  "Ain't got time fo' dat?"  There are services online that will take a file you supply, digitize it, and send it back to you, for a fee, of course.  Given the price of the software, and the time it takes to learn it, this may be your best option unless you really intend to get into it!

If you want to turn cheap towels from the wholesale club into great gifts for any holiday,

finish a quilt fast and easy, with computer precision,

monograms everything you touch, to give as gifts or label as your own,

or create one of a kind garments, gifts, decorative accessories, and more, an embroidery machine will help you accomplish it in record time with professional looking results.

Stay tuned for my next post, which will include tips, tricks, and a lot more detail about the Janome 300E!


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