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.

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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?

Sunday 21st, April 2024 / 23:44

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 Pitcher



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78 comments on “Best sewing machines for embroidery”

  1. I agree in the adoration of Bernina and if I were buying a machine for free motion embroidery alone, I would choose a Bernina or Irish industrial, they go on for hours, are fast and strong and rarely break down. What’s not to love?!
    However, I’m surprised Husqvarna Viking didn’t make the list. Their embroidery machines for domestic users are superb quality. Their Diamond Deluxe machine is fabulous – I had the chance to play on one (sadly out of my present price range) – but for versatility, smoothness of stitching, excellent embroidery output and capacity for digitized embroidery on a domestic scale I think nothing else beats it – not even the Brother PR. One of the advantages of the Husqvarna Diamond is that it can be used for general sewing, quilting and pre-programmed stitching etc not just for embroidery. That’s why I think it’s better value for money than a pure embroidery machine like the Brother PR – which has a comparable embroidery field size. And no Husqvarna didn’t pay me to say this!

    • Joe says:

      Hi Nicky – thanks for this. I think you’re right and we’ll certainly seek to feature Husqvarna in the future. It just so happened that all the artists we asked for recommendations said Bernina on this occasion. We’ll try and give a broader view – we’re preparing an article on the best sewing machines for quilters specifically, but we’ll come back to this one and do a Part 2 at some point! Thanks for your comment.

      • Helen O'Hara says:

        I agree — Husqvarna is the best! I own the Sapphire Quilting Machine and the Ruby Deluxe Embroidery system, and they are topnotch. I can do anything on these machines, and they have so many features I am always learning something new to try with them. I think the only limitation with a Husqvarna is your imagination.

      • marijka says:

        Late to the comments, but I cherish my Husqvarna Viking #1+ . Yes, I also own a new high-end version, but it just can’t compare to my 22 year old #1+ for free-motion embroidery! Nothing beats the tension of a front-load bobbin, and this machine is an absolutely dependable workhorse – even working with metallic thread on something funky like window screen without any stabilizer. Pry it from my cold, dead hands… 🙂

      • Brigitte says:

        I agree, I have a Designer I bought it in 2000 and it is still going strong and is a real work horse.

  2. Jane Rylands says:

    I like the needle to finish down when I’m free-machining. My oldish Elna, excellent in all other respects for this task including having the possibility of by-passing the tension in the bobbin for thicker threads without having to bother with the screw, always finishes up ( a selling point when it was new because I think many machines just stopped and you had to turn the wheel to make sure you didn’t catch the needle when removing fabric).

  3. cas holmes says:

    I have a Bernina 730 found in a skip and and 830 traded for a piece of work. Love the mechanical qualities so am with Carol N on this. Now if I could only find me an industrial version!


    • Yvonne Autie says:

      I have a Bernina 530-2 that is my favourite workhorse: all metal apart from the cogs that determine the stitch. I also use a Bernina 700. Both were bought second-hand & are used for everything including free maching. The latter is good to take to workshops as it weighs fractionally less!

  4. Sticher says:

    I would love to learn to embroidery, but that is only a fantasy right now. I would love to know what you all think are thebest beginners sewing machines?

  5. Betsy says:

    I, myself is fond of embroidery but not as good as these designers! But I would really love to know what they think of the Singer Futura as a machine to do the job. It’s what I currently use.

  6. bethj says:

    This is the one we use — The ButterFly B-1501B/T. As far as quality, it cannot be beat. It is very ideal for most embroidery jobs and we can attest to its quality! Read about it here:

  7. Jackie says:

    I use a Bernina 1008 and it just goes on and on. When it sounds a bit rough I just oil it and its smooth again. However I have owned an Irish industrial for a few years now, had it completely overhauled and am embarassed to admit I have never used it. I’m a bit afraid of it and would love to watch a tutorial about how to use it. Does anyone who reads this know where I might find one?

  8. Sam Brown says:

    Embroidery is definitely my next project!

  9. Sandra J says:

    I’m loving Toyota’s oekaki renaissance sewing machine its perfect for embroidery especially for beginners.

    • Ruth says:

      I’m loving using my Toyota Oekaki Renaissance for free machine embroidery . For cable stitch with thicker thread on bobbin I just bypass the bobbin tension. It works really well.

  10. Bernina says:

    Embroidery sewing machines can add beauty and themed detail to anything I sew. I love flower themed for my fabrics a lot.

  11. Great page! We share almost the same opinion on the best sewing machine for beginners. My personal favorite is Bernina Industrial 950.

  12. Adam Waddy says:

    I am not a professional tailor. I want to buy one mini sewing machine to stitch only old cloths. Please tell me which brand is good?

  13. Really the ikea? The link doesn’t seem to work… I have the Bernina 1008 and a 20 year old predecessor Bernina 1000, both are in daily use and I wouldn’t give them up!
    I want to be enlightened about the ikea model as its only £45

  14. Crystal says:

    I have never had the chance to try a Bernina, need to get my hands on one soon.

  15. Very nice roundup of beginner sewing machines. I own the Bernina Industrial 950 and it is an outstanding machine.

  16. You make a big error in your text
    Bernina are not made in Switzerland. There are no major sewing machine companies that make their machines in Europe with the exception of the new Bernina long arm quilted which is assembled not manufactured in Switzerland (I believe)
    I also think its a very onesided review of machines. I assume Bernina are paying commission.

    I am very happy to give you reviews of both the Pfaff Sensation Pro and the Husqvarna Viking Epic and Diamond machines. I think they take a lot of beating if you want to do digital embroidery

    • Joe says:

      Hi Karina,

      No – Bernina aren’t paying us commission. We simply asked a few of the textile artists we have relationships with to give their recommendations and this is what they came up with. I think an update is required though and we’d be more than happy to include your reviews as part of it. Please drop me an email to
      Thanks, Joe

    • marijka says:

      You’re incorrect about no machines made in Europe — Husqvarna Viking machines are manufactured in Sweden.

      • BRIGITTE says:

        Unfortunately not all of them are. They used to be but when the company was sold most were manufactured in Asia. You can tell by looking at the quality of the plastic accessories.

    • Tina says:

      I have owned four Berninas over the past 40+ years. All but one of them was made in Switzerland. The lower end models are not made in Switzerland. The higher end models are definitely made in Switzerland as it is printed on the machine itself and comes with a tag guaranteeing it is indeed made there. I have also have owned Viking/Huszvarna and Elnas along with several other brands over the years. I used Huszvarna exclusively for over 25 years. Just recently switched back to Bernina due to a gift from my husband. I can say with certainty that the slogan “Nothing sews like a Bernina…nothing” is true, at least in my humble opinion!

  17. Rosie Balderston-Denbo says:

    Would like to see the review for the Pfaff embrodier Thanks

    • Check out the website They have an extensive list of sewing and embroidery machine reviews from their members. You can sign up for a free or paid membership.

  18. This article helps me to get bird eye view. This is the gist of all.

  19. I use the Simplicity Deluxe Felting Machine
    for my machine needle felting. It uses up to 12 needles. The cost is $142.00 on Amazon.
    I usually make a prefelt with my rovings, laying out as for wet felting with silk tulle sandwiched in the middle. I have also layed two layers of roving about 6″ long perpendicular to each other and felted the layers through the machine. It has all depended on what type of shading I am looking for and what kind of wool I am working with.

    I also use the Addi Quik felting tool. It is fabulous for fine detail work.

    As far as needles are concerned, I found someone on eBay who is selling hand felting Needles cut to length for the machine.

  20. I love Brother SE400 Combination Computerized. I bought my old machine in 2014 so this is definitely and upgrade for me. No more threading needles and no more oiling my machine. This machine is light weight and easy to move around. I haven’t used all the features yet but I am excited to get back into sewing.

  21. Hi, many thanks for sharing this post! My grandmother has a Brother sewing machine. And She really love to mix old clothes for our children. That’s so sweet!

  22. In the more affordable range I would like to recommend the Brother PE770 or the Brother SE400 if you’re looking for a machine that’s suitable for both embroidery and sewing. I own the PE770 myself and couldn’t be happier with it.

  23. Atif Sharif says:

    I like Brother PE700 embroidery machine which has many good features and also has built in design. Thanks for sharing such gr8 post.

  24. Aloha Sue,
    I am a disabled artist due to long life chronic illness.
    When I am blessed with days of energy and strong will, I creative mixed media pieces.
    Looking forward to receiving your E-Book
    Linda Joyalle -Aka LinLin

  25. SO many types of sewing machines !
    I’m definitely old school, choosing to do free-motion machine embroidery on an old Kemore (Sears department store) that was built in the 1960’s (first built by White and then Janome). I like the weight of these old machines as they work hard and don’t bounce or travel across my table as I stitch at full speed.
    I guess, because I have been using them for a long time, I do not find oiling and cleaning a very troublesome job at all..
    My first machine was retired a few years ago, still motoring along, but things were starting to fall off of her and levers might lift but might not stay up, either.
    My 2nd old Kenmore loves the hard work we do and I will probably be hard pressed to find a replacement for her (she was found in the basement of a sewing machine store, never used and still in her original box). The proprietors thought I was insane to want this old machine when such new machines were now available (and much costlier I might add). I know my machine intimately. I want to be able to take her apart when I need to, to know where and what is oiled and to be in full control of adjustments in both tensions. I have no need for an abundance of stitches or built in patterns … I simply start stitching.
    On a humourous note, I call her ‘the virgin’, as no man’s hands have ever touched her.

  26. Grandma says:

    I ‘ve a Bernina 530-2 that’s my favourite workhorse: all metal apart from the cogs that ascertain the stitch. I also use a Bernina 700. Both were bought second hand & are used for everything including free maching. The latter is better as it is easier to lug to workshops!

  27. Aimee Aimee says:


    Thank you for a great explanation. I was looking online for a similar idea and really appreciate it

  28. I like what you guys are up also. Such intelligent
    work and reporting! Carry on the excellent works guys I have incorporated you
    guys to my blogroll. I think it will improve the value of my web site :).

  29. Mary Holmes says:

    Thanks for your opinions! I was looking for embroidery machines posts online!

  30. Mary Holmes says:

    I’ve been using BERNINA 1008 for a long time and it is really the best machine for making the perfect embroidery design patterns, I totally agreed with your rankings.

  31. David Correy says:

    Hello! I just would like to give a huge thumbs up for the great info you have here on sew post. I will be coming back to your blog before i make any purchase of embroidery machine.

  32. Jen says:

    Love your post! Embroidery is the best!!! Cannot wait to get stuck on my next project! Thank you very much for your really cool and very informative post! Embroidery machines rock!

  33. their have some combo of sewing machine that are able to do embroider job. heavy duty machines are not comfortable for the beginners. they need something easy to handle. The materials they offers with the machines are they good enough for the job?

  34. Ashley says:

    I am now shifted to brother machine but I have started my career with BERNINA 1008 and than later on I bought brother to embroidery on shirts and caps. Now I am learning Embroidery Digitziing and I am loving it.

  35. Reyna Santos says:

    all the sewing machine can not do some great embroidery. but there have some machine which includes the features for the embroidery. thanks for the recommendations and the tips. it was really helpful.

  36. Bonnie Ganfield says:

    First, thank you for brooching this topic of sewing machines. You have helped to (re)introduce many varieties and have saved me many hours of research. The links are fabulous. With personal preferences set aside research, testing and being clear on your goal are essential in selecting your next machine. Thanks again.

  37. I clicked on the red words “Irish machine” stitching in the article on Hazel Bruce and then proceeded to slowly scroll down through all the sewing machine reviews and still don’t know what “Irish machine stitching” is. Is it a specific stitch or is it just doing all kinds of stitching with the Irish Machine?

  38. A good site to get knowledge about the sewing machine.

  39. I just sold a heavy Bernina 930 , simply because it is so very heavy I can no longer lift it. The sewing lights are dim on old machines so you often need extra lighting. It was a beautiful old dog, but it was superfluous.
    With older Bernina’s you must raise and lower the feed dog regularly or they tend to jam. Easily put right with a good oiling and twiddling of the underneath mechanics, I find.
    I still have a 1980’s Bernina Sport which is very nice and has a good drop feed, and is a nippy machine with perfect stitch quality and loads of decorative stitches. The older Bernina worked very well with metallic threads due to a slightly different threading up system which is why the older ones are invaluable. Berninas do not have drop in bobbins and have a rotary hook which makes them excellent for working with a drop feed. I have not found drop in bobbin machines any good for free motion so far.
    I mainly use a Bernina Virtuosa 155 in the Winter because it has a wonderful sewing light and a threading system.
    It does not like metallics though, but seldom use them now, as my work has changed.
    Some people here are commenting on actual embroidery machines which do a gazillion fancy stitches. I have no interest in these at all. To my mind, a computerised fancy stitch can look pretty tacky 9 times out of 10. I would rather hand embroider than use these rather mechanical looking stitches and motifs . I love the work done on an old Irish though, fantastic! I guess each to his own.
    I use a freemotion stitch turning the fabric a lot and using an open darning foot. Like drawing with a machine. I am Fine Art trained and lecture in this subject as well as textile arts.
    I recently saw a mat which absorbs vibration from a sewing machine- anyone used one?

  40. Dead Trigger says:

    I see there are many things that count for sure so might take a look at it

  41. Perplexed beginner says:

    Maybe you can advise me. I’m a beginner free embroidery enthusiast, trying to use a Singer I’ve had for nearly forty years. I have a few traditional embroidery hoops but none of them will slip under the needle unless I take off the plastic feed dog cover, unscrew the free sewing foot AND unscrew the needle from the shank. It’s driving me nuts. Is there something I’m missing here? Is there a special slim line hoop that slips under for free sewing or are modern machines for quilting etc built with more space for passing a hoop? I have tried just guiding by hand but I can’t keep the fabric properly tensioned and get puckering. I am considering buying a new machine that has capability for free embroidery but don’t really know where to start. I’d be grateful for any tips. Thanks in anticipation…

  42. Phyllis Petersen says:

    As a sewer who has owned 5 different Bernina ‘s over the last 48 years , worked over 25 years in a Bernina/quilt shop I have to put in my vote for Bernina. The shop sold Brother and Pfaff for periods of time so I am familiar with others and Bernina wins!!!!!

  43. Excellent explanation, it’s simple & focus. Keep up the great work!

  44. Tina Lemoore says:

    I discovered this site that publishes content on many topics such as sewing machine types, maintenance, where to buy, and brands. I think it has produced answers to many questions written here.

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