Best sewing machines for embroidery

Best sewing machines for embroidery

Who better to ask for advice on the best sewing machines for embroidery than a selection of the UK’s top textile artists? Karen Nicol, Nigel Cheney, and Carol Naylor are all big advocates of Bernina as a brand, for its reliability, durability and versatility. However, they all agreed that it depends entirely on what you are hoping to achieve as to which sewing machine will suit you best. Here, they offer invaluable insights into their favourite machines for specific purposes.

Sewing machines and embellishers featured in this article at a glance (click to be taken to the product):


1, Bernina 1008
Recommended by textile artist Carol Naylor

Textile artist Carol Naylor says that the Bernina 1008 is the best embroidery sewing machine available.

Carol Naylor used the Bernina 1008 sewing machine to create Sea Divided

Carol Naylor creates intricate landscapes using machine embroidery; she makes one off textiles by stitching directly onto canvas using a variety of rayon, cotton, woollen and metallic threads. Her stitched textiles range from small intimate pieces to large scale hangings. Read our interview with Carol and take a look at some of her work.

Here she tells us why she owns not 1, but 2 Bernina 1008 sewing machines and why she considers it to be the best choice for machine embroidery.

My preferred sewing machine is without doubt the Bernina 1008. I have two of these trusty work horses in daily use and they never let me down. The nature of my work means that I am constantly changing threads and tensions, sometimes every two or three minutes, even more frequently than that on small pieces, so although I need an electronic machine I don’t want a computerised one when the computer might say “no”!

This model has two essential features for my type of machine embroidery, a drop feed and a vertical bobbin holder. I also have a black latch Bobbin Case in addition to a normal one. This accommodates some of the heavy threads I use, otherwise I do loosen the screw on the case, not that this worries me, but it does concern those who have less confidence or experience.

The internal parts are substantially metal (as far as I can tell) which means the machine is sturdy. This does make it quite heavy but it’s worth it for reliability.

I have them serviced regularly. Repairs to these two (12 and 14 years old!) have been minimal, and I drive them very hard.

As my servicer said one year, “not bad condition really, considering what you do to them!” – Carol Naylor

The Bernina 1008 is available new at Amazon, but a number of deals can also be found for second-hand machines on eBay. Read our guide to buying used sewing and embroidery machines to ensure you receive a good deal.


2, Heavy Bernina
Recommended by textile designer Karen Nicol

Karen Nicol is a world-renowned textile designer, embroiderer and mixed media artist. She enjoys a massively diverse career, working in fashion and interiors with a London-based design studio. Read our interview with Karen here.

Here is her pick for the top sewing machine for textile techniques.

For a domestic machine I’ve always liked a simple heavy Bernina. I’ve used them myself my whole career and I’ve always thought that a good indicator of thier robustness and quality is that they are used in most colleges where they are well and truly used and abused by eager students and still stay intact. I like the quilting foot for free embroidery and the bobbin you can get specially for a thicker thread so you don’t have to keep altering the tension on your everyday bobbin when you want to use a thick thread on the bottom. – Karen Nicol

eBay has a great selection of Bernina sewing machines; both used and brand new are available.


Textile designer Karen Nicol also recommends:

Karen Nicol is a textile designer who uses an embellisher to give a unique quality to her work

Made by Karen Nicol with the Babylock Embellisher

The Baby lock Embellisher

The Baby Lock Embellisher is another favourite, 7 or 12 needle, really versatile for far more than just felting two fabrics together. they are great to push a print through from the back of a plain fabric allowing you to let it disappear gradually, great for felting with braids under the cloth, great for making frills or just drawing from the back of the cloth – Karen Nicol

Textile artist Karen Nicol has recommended the best sewing machines for embroidery and embellishment

Made by Karen Nicol using the Princess Pleater

The Princess Pleater

A sturdy, well-made pleater which has been manufactured since 1987, in England, the home of smocking, this machine is made by craftsmen in traditional materials to be strong and durable.

The Princess Pleater is another love of mine, we have used it for hundreds and hundreds of jobs, a ‘heath robinson’ little gem – Karen Nicol

Th singer Irish Industrial sewing machine is one of a textile designer's pick of the best sewing machines for embroidery

Made by Karen Nicol using the Singer Irish Industrial Sewing Machine

Irish Industrial

A reliable and versatile machine that Karen has used over and over again for commissions. Ideal for work on fabrics such as cloth, silk, and synthetics, this machine is capable of making straight stitch, zig zag, freehand embroidery and Irish embroidery a joy.


3, Bernina Industrial 950
Recommended by Nigel Cheney

Textile artist and tutor says that the Bernina Industrial 950 is best sewing machine ever made.

Textile artist and tutor says that the Bernina Industrial 950 is best sewing machine ever made.

Nigel Cheney has produced unusual and unique textile art for a wide array of mediums including fashion, interiors, commissions and gallery work. Nigel seeks to bring together historical techniques such as blackwork, voiding, appliqué, and hand stitches with modern digital media, transfer prints and hand painted cloth. The result is often a juxtaposition of harmony and discord. Read Nigel’s interview for here.

Nigel is a celebrated teacher of textiles and he swears by the Bernina Industrial 950 as one of the best sewing machines for embroidery.

This machine simply does everything! It’s the best machine ever made. The ones we have at college are 25 years old and have outlasted many of the newer machines which have died after student ‘learning’ and torture! I’d suggest buying a 2nd hand one with a metal body not plastic – Nigel Cheney


Textile artist and tutor Nigel Cheney also recommends…

SY Sewing-machine

Cheap and cheerful. This is a great sewing machine for beginners. If it breaks down after a year, you’ve barely spent any money on it and it’s served it’s purpose – Nigel Cheney

Brother PR 650e Embroidery Machine

Beyond fab and who needs a car anyway! – Nigel Cheney

Janome FM725 Embellisher

We couldn’t live without the embellisher. I love the Janome FM725 – Nigel Cheney

The Janome Embellisher is featured in Nigel Cheney’s book Textile Surface Manipulation.

Sewing machines and embellishers featured in this article at a glance (click to be taken to the product):

If you’ve got a favourite sewing machine for quilting or embroidery, why not let us know what it is by leaving a comment below?

Wednesday 14th, November 2018 / 20:11

About the author

Joseph Pitcher is the son of textile artist Sue Stone. He is an actor and voice-over artist and has worked at the RSC, the National Theatre, West End theatres and several other leading regional venues across the UK. Find Joe on Google

View all articles by Joe

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