My earliest experience with a combo machine was in 2008, and I’ve been using my Bernette B79 sewing-embroidery machine for over a year now. A combination sewing-embroidery machine is exactly what it sounds like – these machines operate as a normal sewing machine, but they can also be converted to a mode that stitches out complex, computer-driven embroidery designs at the press of a button! All you need to do is change the thread color when the machine tells you to, and press the go button. Combo machines are great for saving space.
My pick for the best combo machine is the Bernina 590E. It offers a streamlined workflow that ties off and hides threads as it embroiders, saving you lots of time and fiddly trimming work. Next up is the Pfaff Creative 4.5. It does lack trim and hide features, but it has a powerful editing capability that lets you create and modify some designs on the go. In the “best beginner” category, the Brother Innov-is NS2750D will set you up with a strong foundation of features, including a decent-sized embroidery space for its price, and an easy-to-learn user interface. The winner in the “budget” category is the Brother SE630. It offers a compact, 4×4 embroidery space for small designs at a more affordable price point, but you’ll be missing features you may wish you had as you grow.
Overall, the most important thing to keep in mind is what type of projects you want to sew and embroider. If you’re looking for a machine to do computerized quilting, a larger embroidery area and some alignment software will be your best bet. If you just want to make small personalizations and monograms on items for your friends and family, a smaller embroidery area may be all you need.
This article is focused on sewing-embroidery machines sold in the US (we compared 30+ models), but many of them are available in other countries too.
A quick note – I’m a Bernina ambassador, which means I’ve been provided with machines in exchange for talking about them on my personal blog (Kat Makes) and social media. It’s worth you knowing, but it doesn’t impact my writing here on Threads Monthly, an independent website, nor my opinions overall.
- Best machine
- Next best
- Best budget
- Best for beginners
- What to look for
- What threads you need
- The competition
The best sewing-embroidery machine: Bernina 590E
Best for: an enthusiastic machine embroiderer who wants some amazing features to bring joy to their sewing space, and they have a large budget.
- 15.7″ x 5.9” maximum embroidery area
- 275 built-in designs
- 8 alphabets
- Large responsive touchscreen
- 103 built-in stitches including 10 buttonholes
- Powerful design modification software
- USB file transfer
- High speed – 1000 stitches per minute
- Thread Away mode – no thread trimming required
- Basting, position recall, endless embroidery, and a suite of other high-end features to speed up and simplify the embroidery process.
- Maximum width is a bit smaller than other machines in this price range
This machine is a great option if you want to elevate your embroidery practice, especially if you’re focused on efficiency and speed without sacrificing quality. This machine has several unique features – things like tying off and hiding the top thread in an embroidery, securing thread invisibly, and programmable jump cuts. These won’t make sense to a beginner in machine embroidery, but they do make a huge difference the more you embroider. This machine is a delight to use and won’t disappoint even a seasoned embroidery enthusiast.
The biggest negative about this machine is the limited embroidery width – 5.9” is a little on the narrow side, although it really would be fine in most cases. If it’s a dealbreaker for you, check out the Pfaff Creative Icon – a similar price with slightly fewer features – but a much larger embroidery space.
Next best machine: Pfaff Creative 4.5
Best for: a machine embroidery enthusiast who wants a large workspace, perhaps for quilting, and is looking to level up their machine embroidery game. This machine is great value for the price.
Price: $ 5250
- 14.1″ x 13.7” maximum embroidery area
- IDT Feed system
- Large responsive touchscreen with basic shape creator and Stitch Creator
- Precise positioning for multi-hoop designs
- 480 stitches
- Large embroidery area
- Positioning system for perfect placement
- Extremely large touch screen for its price range
- Extra-wide decorative stitches
- Limited built-in embroidery designs
- Limited comfort features during embroidery
A solid runner-up for the best machine, the only reason this one comes second is because it doesn’t have the intelligent tie-off and zero-trim features of the Bernina, and these are quite important from a time-saving and finishing perspective. If you don’t mind trimming threads, this is a solid machine, and would be well suited to someone interested in quilting using their embroidery machine.
It has a pretty powerful editing software that allows for some more advanced modifications, and it also packs a punch for sewing features as well. Overall, a solid choice for an embroidery enthusiast!
Best budget machine: Brother SE630
Best for: someone who’s new to machine embroidery and wants to test it out on a budget.
- 4″ x 4” maximum embroidery area
- 480 built-in designs including Disney-licensed designs
- LCD touch screen
- 103 built-in stitches including 10 buttonholes
- 8 sewing feet
- USB file transfer
- Great price
- Solid suite of beginner features
- 4″ x 4″ embroidery area is small – you’ll likely outgrow it quickly
- Smaller workspace than comparable machines
- Limited edit ability from the machine’s software
- No sideways sewing (for larger decorative stitches)
- A bit slow at 710 stitches per minute
If you’re looking for a cheap way to dip your toe into machine embroidery, this is a solid start. It has everything you need – although if you do decide that machine embroidery is something you enjoy, be warned that you’re going to outgrow this machine very quickly. It’s slower than other embroidery machines, its 4″ x 4″ embroidery area won’t give you a lot of flexibility for larger designs, and it lacks some comfort features that the mid-range machines offer.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with this machine – Brother’s user interface is beginner-friendly and their machines are a solid investment, but you’re likely to start wishing for some of those bigger, better, shinier features pretty quickly.
Best sewing-embroidery machine for beginners: Brother Innov-is NS2750D
Best for: If you’re looking to take the plunge into machine embroidery, this Brother offers a solid foundation for you to learn and grow your embroidery practice.
- 5″ x 7” maximum embroidery area
- 138 built-in designs and 240 stitches including Disney-licensed designs
- LCD touch screen
- 103 built-in stitches including 10 buttonholes
- 8 sewing feet
- USB file transfer
- Great price
- Decent sized embroidery area which includes a multi-position hoop that extends the area to 5″ x 12″
- Great user interface for beginners
- Sideways Sewing for wider decorative stitches
- Lower speed range at 850 stitches per minute, and 650 for embroidery
- Limited comfort features that are available in our top two choices
Brother remains well known for their easy user interface, making this a great machine to learn and progress your machine embroidery with. It has everything you might need as a beginner, including some cool features like sideways stitching and a solid editing functionality for creating monograms, adjusting embroidery designs, and more. As a beginner, you’re still exploring the features that are right for you. If you become a serious machine embroidery enthusiast, you’ll likely be looking for an upgrade eventually but for the occasional user (or enthusiastic beginner!) this machine will set you on the right path.
What to look for when buying a sewing-embroidery machine:
Think about the things you like to sew, or would like to be able to sew with your new machine. Are you looking to occasionally personalize garments for your family and friends with little embroidered motifs and monograms? Perhaps a mid-range machine with a smaller hoop size will do the job. Are you starting an embroidery business? In this case, it might be best to focus more on embroidery specs and time-saving features.
When I was considering new machines, I started with a list of all the projects I wanted to make in the next year and made notes whenever I wrote down a project that I wouldn’t have been able to make with my current machine. That way, I ended up with a clear understanding of the types of projects I was expecting my new machine to be able to handle.
Here are a few key features that you’ll encounter and why they’re important:
Embroidery hoop size: Perhaps the biggest consideration is how big can your hoop be? Size can be a limiting factor if you’re planning to embroider large designs – a full tote bag, a pillow cover, or a jacket back, for example. These would be near impossible on a smaller hoop. Think about the types of designs you’re looking to embroider, and select a machine with a hoop large enough to handle this size. Standard sizes are 4″ x 4″, 5″ x 7″, and 6″ x 10″, but some machines include other sizes like 7″ x 12″, 8″ x 8″, and 9″ x 12″. A machine that can handle these larger hoop sizes will be more expensive though.
Embroidery hoop style: Each machine manufacturer has a different style of embroidery hoop – some are closer to squares while others are rectangular, and some have more rounded corners than others. Perhaps most importantly, the closure and tensioning mechanism is different on each one. Make sure that the act of opening and closing a hoop – as well as tensioning fabric – is easy for you to do, because you’ll be doing it a lot! Some machines are more ergonomic than others.
Ease of Conversion: How easy is it to switch between sewing and embroidery modes? You’ll likely have to attach an embroidery module, swap to an embroidery foot, and change the throat plate. You may also have to adjust settings in your software, or power down your machine and turn it back on with the embroidery module attached to activate the embroidery mode. It’s worth having a shop assistant walk you through the steps at your local sewing machine dealership if possible – especially since if they’ve made the conversion multiple times they’ll likely have tricks to help you remember the steps!
Stitch Speed: The faster your machine stitches, the faster your project will be completed. This is less of an issue for the occasional home sewist who’s interested in monograms and occasional embellishment, but it can be significant if you’re planning to turn your hobby into a business. Check the maximum embroidery speed (sometimes this is different than the maximum sewing speed) and if time is of the essence, consider a faster machine.
File type: We’re getting dangerously close to computer territory here for a sewing blog, but this is an important consideration. Embroidery files are far more than just image files. They are .pes, .dst, .exp, .xxx, .sew and more. Some of these file types are fairly universal, while others are linked to a given machine brand (.hus is the file type Husqvarna/Viking machines use, for example) – and not all file types work with all machines. .pes and .dst are almost entirely universal, so it’s a good start to check that your machine is compatible with these at the very least – but in general, check that your machine will be compatible with the embroidery files you plan to use.
Method of design transfer: In order to use an embroidery design that hasn’t come with your machine, you’ll need to get it onto your machine somehow. Basic machines have a USB port which you can use to plug in a flash drive to transfer designs onto the machine’s storage (I advise not storing too many designs on your flash drive – delete them once you’re done and store them on your computer). Higher end models can communicate with your computer wirelessly via bluetooth. This is an excellent feature, provided the rest of your setup is also fairly recent and can communicate with your machine.
Sewing stitches: Aside from the standard straight and zigzag stitches, the sewing function of your combo machine will contain dozens – sometimes even hundreds – of decorative stitches. These can include alphabets (useful for stitching into tags to label or decorate clothing), additional utility stitches like a three step zigzag and lightning stitch, as well as various decorative stitches that can be used for hems or topstitching.
In-machine design editor: All embroidery machines will have a built-in workflow that allows you to select designs, place them in the hoop, modify the location and rotation, and change colors as needed. Some machines also provide more editing features and some even have software that allow you to design right in the machine. These features come at an added cost, but they can be worth it compared to the price of a digitizing software depending on your needs.
Sewing the fabrics you want to use: Many years ago, when embroidery/sewing combination machines were new to the market, I purchased one that turned out to be a terrible investment. They’re no longer manufactured so the name of the machine isn’t important, but this machine was terrible for sewing anything other than the most basic quilting cottons. The tension was always off, it skipped stitches and made strange noises, and although the embroidery function was fun, it was never terribly useful at actually sewing. When I had the opportunity to go the combo route again, I was pretty suspicious. I put the floor model at my local sewing machine shop through its paces with all kinds of fabrics – I spent four hours there (they were extremely patient!) sewing through layers of denim, shifty silks, leather, velvet, and anything else I could think of. Consider this test for any sewing machine you’re thinking of purchasing. Don’t just run demos on thin, stable quilting cottons – test everything on a variety of fabrics to ensure it’ll meet your needs.
Built-in embroidery designs: If you’re planning to digitize your own designs, or you’re happy to factor the cost of either paying for digitization services or buying embroidery designs, this isn’t a major consideration for your machine. But if not, it’s worth having a look at the designs that come with your machine. Some machine manufacturers prioritize designs, while others consider it less important. A machine that comes with a handful of fonts can be useful as well, especially if you’re planning to make monogrammed or personalized items. If you’re happy to shop, embroiderydesigns.com is a resource I use frequently when I want something specific that I don’t want to bother digitizing!
What are the best threads for sewing-embroidery machines?
For regular sewing, you’ll probably need general purpose or “sew-all” thread in most cases. For embroidery, you’ll need to choose between polyester threads (cheaper and harder wearing) and rayon threads (more expensive but softer, shiny and vibrant).
In terms of color, you’ll probably buy the individual colors you need, as you need them. Of course, this is absolutely fine, but it may require some special trips to the store, and over time you might end up with mismatched threads. I suggest buying a thread set to start with, and committing to a particular brand for color consistency.
There are many brands of embroidery thread to choose from, but in general, choose one that has more color options (especially if you’re planning to stitch designs with lots of color variation) and one that is easily accessible in your area. For regular sewing, it’s important to use a high quality sewing thread with your machine. It’s a sensitive piece of equipment, and quality threads like Gutermann or Coats and Clark produce less dust and are overall stronger.
I studied over 30 sewing-embroidery machines for this guide. Here are all the other machines I looked at which didn’t make it into my top recommendations, but they may suit you.
- Eversewn Sparrow X (approx. $750): This machine’s target audience is embroidery beginners. It may be a great option if you’re not sure whether you want embroidery capabilities, but if you do decide you love it you’re going to outgrow this machine in months. The maximum stitch speed is 850 per minute, and the maximum embroidery size is 4.75″ x 7” which is very small. It does come with an app that allows you to make small modifications to existing embroidery designs and boasts smartphone compatibility, but the other features of this machine limit it to beginner use cases.
- Bernette B79 (approx. $2200 – $3000): This is the machine I have! It’s my main sewing machine and useful for what I need in embroidery – I’m not a small business so the speed and size factors are less important to me, but it’s a great all-round machine that can handle anything I throw at it. You can read a complete review of this machine here.
- Bernina 880 Plus (approx. $16,500): The Bernina 880 Plus is a luxury car in the embroidery space. Completely automated threading and cutting, a bobbin 70% larger than average, and a user interface that allows for significant design capability without leaving your machine, and an easy-to-use and ergonomic hoop with an embroidery size up to 10.5″ x 6.5″. You won’t go wrong with this machine, but the price tag will be too high for most home sewists.
- Bernina 535 E (approx. $5400): This mid-range Bernina offers many of the comfort features we know and love from Bernina – a jumbo bobbin, excellent tension control, a wide and well-lit sewing area – in addition to some great embroidery features. It clocks 1000 stitches per minute and has a “Mega” hoop offering 15.7″ x 5.9″ of embroidery space. It’s software is more limited than the Bernina 880’s (above) in terms of editing directly on the machine, but it will still take care of placement and small adjustment tasks as needed.
- Bernina 590 E (approx. $8200): The goldilocks of the Bernina options – this machine is in between the 880 and 535. It has all the features of the 535, but you won’t need to trim your top threads (a huge time saver!) with this machine due to its Invisible Smart Secure feature. It can automatically align designs with marking on fabric, and with the same large embroidery area of the 535, it has great flexibility.
- Pfaff Creative 1.5 (approx. $2000): With a perfectly serviceable hoop size of 9.4″ x 5.9″, the Pfaff creative 1.5 is well suited to a sewist who likes the pfaff interface and is looking to dip their toes into machine embroidery. It has a decent range of comfort features – a large sewing area, Pfaff’s much-loved IDT feed system, and a basic editing software included, but you may find the user interface limiting, especially as you become more advanced with machine embroidery.
- Pfaff Creative 3.0 (approx. $2700): A step up from the 1.5, the 3.0 offers a more powerful software that can be used to draw designs, and it has a larger embroidery size at 10.2″ x 7.87″. Personally, I’d spend the extra $700 to get these features – they’ll mean you’re less likely to outgrow the machine as quickly as you might with the 1.5.
- Pfaff Creative 4.5 (approx. $5250): This machine packs a very cool punch for its price tag – an embroidery area of 14″ x 13.7″, which is one of the largest in the home sewing market. It has the Stitch Creator feature that the 3.0 has but it’s loaded into a larger screen for easier use. This machine isn’t well suited to beginners – it’s pretty complex in its options – but it’s not one you’re likely to outgrow anytime soon.
- Pfaff Creative Icon (approx. $6000 – $9000): The Pfaff Creative Icon is a higher-end machine with features that you’ll love. The touchscreen is huge and responsive, allowing for easy editing and design planning directly with your machine. It has the same massive embroidery area as the 4.5, although if you want to take advantage of this size you’ll need to purchase the Grand Dream hoop separately. The biggest selling point of this machine is the design editability on the touch screen – more than any other pfaff option, although it still isn’t powerful enough to create a design completely from scratch. For this, you’ll still need a desktop software.
- Husqvarna Viking Designer Jade 35 (approx. $1400 – $2000): This machine could be considered entry-level but it has some features that elevate it above other machines in this price range – albeit with one major consideration. It has a decent embroidery area of 9.5″ x 6″, a range of comfort features for sewing, and sensors designed for perfect outcomes, but it lacks a large color touch screen, so its interface is quite different from most other machines. It relies on a program run on your computer to prepare designs – the small display won’t be useful for any meaningful modifications. This isn’t necessarily a deal breaker if you’re considering this machine, but it is worth considering your ideal workflow to decide whether this is a good fit.
- Husqvarna Designer Ruby 90 (approx. $15,000): Another luxury car comparison for the Ruby – this machine’s feature list includes wifi compatibility, cloud storage, a subscription to the mySewnet design database, and a huge range of other features you’ll love. Its embroidery space is large, its bobbins are high capacity, and its interface is comparable in size and functionality to a tablet computer. It’s the machine of your dreams, but with a price tag to match.
- Husqvarna Designer Sapphire 85 (approx. $12,000): Comparable to the Ruby, the biggest difference for the Sapphire is the slightly smaller screen size. Still fully functional, but not as large as the Ruby’s screen. The embroidery area and full suite of comfort features are still up to the extremely high standard of the Ruby so it’s a great option if you’re not fussed about the smaller screen size.
- Elna eXpressive 850 (approx. $3000): Interestingly the Elna eXpressive embroidery module doesn’t need to be removed in order to sew, making it faster to swap between sewing and embroidery. Its embroidery area is a little on the small side, but considering this machine is designed to be compact, this might be a good thing if space is an issue for you. It has a solid range of built-in stitches and designs, and overall would be well suited to a beginner or someone who’s working in a very small space.
- Brother SE1900 (approx. $1100): This machine is a higher-end version in Brother’s entry-level range. Its 5″ x 7″ stitching area is on the small side, and its touch screen is small and has fewer features, but this machine is easy to use and straightforward, making it a solid choice for the home sewing enthusiast.
- Brother SE1950 (approx. $1200): This machine is extremely similar to the SE1900 – as you’d expect with a price difference of only $100. It has the same stitching area, a slightly larger color touch screen, and some built-in features like a stitch designer and monogram maker that you’ll find useful.
- Brother SE630 (approx. $360): The least expensive machine on the list, the Brother SE630 is packed with sewing machine features and well suited to small embroidery projects. Its maximum embroidery area is a teeny tiny 4″ x 4″. If you’re happy sticking to small embroidery projects, this is a really solid sewing machine to choose and a great price!
- Brother SE600 (approx. $400): Similar to the SE630 with the same embroidery area, the SE600 has a few more stitch options and an interface that provides a few more options when sewing. Again, if you’re happy with small embroidery projects this is a fine entry-level option.
- Brother Luminaire Innov-is XP2 (approx. $13,000): The Luminaire is designed with machine quilters in mind. The 10 5/8″ x 16″ embroidery size is perfect for quilt embroidery, along with the other “Quiltbroidery” features. It has an app to connect to smartphones, a huge touch screen similar to the Husqvarna Ruby, and many comfort features.
- Brother Innov-is NS1750D (approx. $700 – $1000): This machine is a solid machine whose target audience is the “serious enthusiast”. It’s pretty expensive for a 4” square embroidery area, but if large designs aren’t your jam it’s a great all-round machine that includes a heavy focus on lettering and sewing features. Its touch screen is small but this suits the small embroidery area – you won’t need much, and it contains all the necessary features. Overall, if small designs are all you need, then this machine may be perfect! It also comes with a set of Disney-licensed designs that you can use.
- Brother Innov-is NS2750D (approx. $1500): The next step up from the Brother NS1750D, it has a larger embroidery area at 5″ x 7″, and a slightly updated touchscreen interface to complement this. It also contains a 5″ x 12″ multi-position hoop that you can use for larger designs by stitching pieces at a time, and several other features like sideways sewing, decorative stitches, and on-screen editing to save time and produce better results. This machine’s maximum speed is 850 stitches per minute which is a bit on the slow side, but not at all bad for a home sewist.
- Brother Innov-ís NQ3700D (approx $2700): A step up from the NS2750, this machine’s 6″ x 10″ embroidery area places it in alignment with the Bernette b79. It connects to your wifi for wireless file transfer, includes a powerful software for on-screen editing, and a range of fonts and designs. This is a solid machine for the home sewist, and the largest hoop size you can get in this price bracket.
- Babylock Accord (approx. $2000 – $2400): this is Babylock’s answer to the entry-level market, but at this price Babylock may not be your best choice. Its 5″ x 7″ stitch area is smaller than similar priced machines, and its comfort features are sparse – mostly reserved for Babylock’s higher-end machines. It does have a 5″ x 12″ multiposition hoop similar to the Brother NS2750D, but it’s $500-$1000 more expensive than the Brother. If you’re a true Babylock fan there’s nothing wrong with this machine, but their higher-end models are a lot more competitive for the price.
- Babylock Aerial (approx. $6500): With an 8″ x 12″ embroidery area, a huge touch screen, a large workspace, and a 2-page long list of comfort features, this machine would be a delight. Babylock machines are thoughtfully put together with luxury in mind – features like auto threading and thread cutting, bobbin insertion, and lighting are all perfectly set up. This is a great option for a machine at the upper end of the mid-range market which would suit a serious embroiderer.
- Babylock Altair (approx. $9000): We’re getting into that luxury car metaphor again here. This model offers an app to help you perfectly position your embroidery designs, a huge 9.5″ x 14″ embroidery field, the IQ designer which allows you to draw directly on your phone or upload an existing art file for embroidery. It’s also wireless so you can transfer designs directly to the machine without a flash drive. This luxury car is feature packed and if it’s in your budget, it’s a great choice.
- Babylock Verve (approx. $900): This compact machine has a 4” x 4″ hoop size designed for small spaces and smaller designs. Considering Brother offers two machines with this hoop size for half the price, you’re really paying a lot for comfort features here. It does come with more fonts and more designs, but again, if you’re looking for Babylock luxury, this may not be your price bracket.
- Baby Lock Solaris 2 (approx. $16,000): For this price your machine has a built-in projector that will display embroidery designs directly on your fabric. Is it a necessity? Absolutely not. Is it really very cool? Heck yes. If you’ve just won the lottery and you’re looking for a machine that will do just about anything you ask for, you’re in the right place. It’s no use listing features here – she has it all, plus enough built-in designs to keep you entertained for years.
- Babylock Vesta (approx. $4000): with a 6 ¼” x 10 ¼” embroidery size, wifi transfer, and a responsive touch screen, this is a solid mid-range option that won’t break the bank. It comes with a lovely accessory set and a sensor that automatically chooses tension for perfect stitching.
- Janome continental m17 (approx. $23,000): By a large margin, this is the most expensive machine on our list today – and perhaps I should have saved my joke about winning the lottery for this one. It has the largest embroidery area (a whopping 11.3″ x 18.2″), digitization right in the machine, and 1300 stitches per minute. The list of comfort features on this machine is miles long and made to make your sewing experience a joyful one, and it’s the top of the range, quite literally, in the world of combo machines.
- Janome Skyline S9 (approx. $4000): In the middle of the road once again, the Skyline’s embroidery area is smallish for its price at 6.7″ x 7.9″, and its touch screen is on the rudimentary side. It’s a solid machine whose features are mostly internal – 1000 stitches per minute on a powerful motor, automatic bobbin winder, great lighting and size – as well as a suite of apps available to download that work with the machine. It’s a solid choice for a machine if you’re not terribly fussed about the embroidery size limitation, as its abilities as a sewing machine haven’t been sacrificed.
- Janome Horizon Memory Craft 14000 (approx. $7000 – $10,000): This machine is Janome’s answer to the quilt market, but it has a smaller hoop size for its price bracket (9.1″ x 11.8″) making it a less desirable choice. Don’t get me wrong – it’s an excellent machine, featuring a huge touch screen, the ability to design some simple things directly on the machine, and a suite of powerful sewing features, but the Pfaff Creative Icon is in the same price range with a larger hoop size.
What to read next:
This article was written by Kat Waters and edited by Sara Maker.
Kat Waters (author)
Kat has been sewing since her feet could reach the pedals, starting with quilts she made with her mom and eventually graduating to garments. She now makes everything she wears, occasionally teaches classes, and shares her projects on social media. Highlights include her wedding dress, shoemaking, and a love for almost any fabric that comes in hot pink! Read more…