brother-se400-sewing-machine-review_1

Price: $315 on Amazon

Manufacturer: Brother

At a Glance:

Relatively cheap and packed full of features. A must have for any home, workshop, or makerspace that wants to include sewing of any kind.

Introduction

The Brother Se400 and Se425 are combination sewing and embroidery machines. They are computerized, meaning that you can drop in a design and the machine will physically move a gantry to stitch your pattern into the fabric, much like a plotter. The computerization isn’t limited to embroidery as there are also built-in stitches for utility, like button hole stitching at the press of a button. Brother has a great reputation for making sewing machines that are easy to use and reliable.

Features directly from the manufacturer:

  • 67 built-in sewing stitches, including utility, quilting, heirloom and decorative stitches.
  • 70 built-in embroidery designs, 5 embroidery fonts and 120 frame pattern combinations
  • Large 4″ x 4″ embroidery area
  • Easy-to-view back-lit, touch screen LCD display
  • Design editing features including rotate, mirror-images, increase and decrease the size of your designs
  • Computer connectivity for importing designs and updating your machine(USB cable included)
  • Easy threading, with automatic needle threader
  • Super easy bobbin winding system
  • Quick-Set™ drop-in top bobbin
  • Built-in tutorials on how to use the SE400’s sewing and embroidery functions, right on the LCD touch screen display.

My Observations

I have sewn off and on for many years. I’ve never really focused on this particular skill though. My familiarization with each machine has been limited to getting the task at hand completed. In doing so, I have actively sewn on roughly 5 or 6 different machines multiple times. I am not a complete beginner when it comes to machine sewing, however I am a complete beginner when it comes to embroidery (beyond simple hand stitching).  I picked up this machine because I have some patches in mind that I would like to create. If you’re interested in following along with me as I learn about this and figure out how to make patches with integrated circuits, you are welcome to follow my personal youtube channel. There will be more concise and clear tutorials published on Make: as I figure things out as well.

After a couple weeks with this machine, here are the things that stand out to me as awesome.

Easy threading

Threading a needle is a pain in the butt. I know I’m just being a whiny overacting goofball about this, but the auto threading system on this machine is glorious. Yes, I thread needles when I hand sew, but it is always a bit frustrating. I have big clumsy shaky hands and, in case you haven’t noticed, needles are tiny. This machine threads the needle for you with the simple pull of a lever. This is awesome.

On a more serious note, auto threading is extremely important to those people who have physical impairments; people with Cerebral Palsy, Muscular Dystrophy, decreased vision, or even just, as my grandmother said “a bad case of being really old”.

Large stitch library

These machines have a very large library of stitches built into them. While my older machine (also a brother) could be adjusted for a few different stitches, this new machine has a plethora of options at my fingertips. Some are simply for better visual appeal, but others are for specific purposes. The example I used above, of button holes, is a good one. I can simply adjust the size and hit a button and this machine will sew a button hole.

The ease that someone can do moderately complex operations on this machine without having to have the skill built up is fairly important. This means that Brother is opening up this whole area of making to people who have previously not been able to participate. The ease of use makes this machine incredibly accessible to newbies.

CNC Embroidery

This is the main feature I purchased this machine for. I want to be able to make custom patches with embedded circuits. I’ll skip over the circuit part for now, that will come later in a well documented tutorial. Lets just talk about embroidery.

This machine makes it extremely easy to embroider. You load your design, load your thread and bobbin, and hit a button. It will stitch a color, then pause and tell you to change to the next color before you press the button to proceed. The process is painless and the machine is fairly quiet, roughly similar to a 3D printer.

There is a level of intelligence in the machine which is very nice. It will detect if it runs out of thread, so if you step away, it will stop on its own if something goes wrong. You can then correct the issue and resume.

error

The built in functions allow you to create simple custom lettering and designs without ever having design something on your computer. That’s good, as you’ll see, because designing stuff on your computer can get complex.

Design Software

This machine does not come with software for designing embroidery. Brother recommends that you purchase designs online or purchase your own software. I am going to discuss embroidery software in a different post because I’m quite frustrated and I don’t want my frustrations with that entire area to taint this review of, in my opinion, a fantastic machine.

Criticisms of the machine

I have some minor criticism to share about this machine. None of these felt like roadblocks though, only speed bumps.

Non-intuitive interface

interface

Can you tell what button will make the design smaller?

I’m not sure why they chose certain icons. There are many that just don’t convey what they mean. For example: When you’re doing an embroidery, you can adjust many aspects of the design on the machine itself. You can make it bigger or smaller, or move it around. The icons to make a design bigger or smaller aren’t a plus or minus, but an arbitrary shape that they’ve decided on. If you haven’t read the manual, you probably wouldn’t guess how this works.

Low resolution previews

It can be really difficult to tell exactly which set of stitches you’re about to start on due to the low resolution of the preview. When your colors are drastically different, it is easy to tell simply by the color, but if you have multiple shades, you can lose track. Ideally, you’d be using the colors that match the displayed color names, so I guess this really isn’t an issue for many people. I’m using off-brand thread though, so I have to remember what color goes with what part.

display

I believe the more expensive machines do have a higher resolution display, so this may just be a tradeoff for the nice low price.

Lacking in error feedback

As I was playing with custom patch designs, I suddenly ran into a problem. None of my designs would appear on the machine. I went back, followed directions over and over. I was able to load designs I had created the previous day, but none that I was creating right in that moment. They simply wouldn’t appear on the machine’s interface. I just happened to notice that the design I was working on, was larger than the 4″x4″ embroidery hoop on the machine. I reduced my design now to the appropriate size and it appeared as it should. A little error message telling me that the file was too large would have saved me a couple hours of confusion.

makey-patch-embroidered

I’ve really enjoyed playing with this machine and I’ve got a long list of ideas I’m looking forward to creating.