I had the chance to check out the latest top-of-the-line home sewing and embroidery machine from Brother courtesy of Rocky Mountain Sew and Vac in Littleton, Colorado. It’s called the Dream Machine and it truly makes you dream. Note: I am not associated with Brother or with Rocky Mountain Sew and Vac in any way. I am just an interested consumer of sewing and embroidery machines! EDIT: For a more recent review of My Design Center, see this blog post.
This is a rather lengthy post. If you’re seriously interested in this machine, you should go to Brother’s promotional web page (click on the top image) and watch all of their videos. It will leave you tantalized and curious about the details. This was my attempt at filling in some of those details.
If my Brother ULT2001 is any indication, Brother makes very good sewing machines that offer a plethora of utility and decorative stitches, including alphabets. I would expect the Dream Machine to be at least as good.
The Dream Machine comes with something called a MUVIT(tm) which replaces the standard walking foot. It’s a rather large contraption placed behind the presser foot. It has a little conveyer belt that moves the top fabric along, presumably at a speed that matches the sewing speed.
There is a dual laser guide that helps you sew straight. There is a straight-down laser that shows you where the needle is going to drop. This works best when your presser foot is up, so you can look under the foot to see where your next stitch is going to start.
There is also something called a V-Sonic(tm) Pen Pal that allows you to set needle positions and stitch widths (like the width of a zig-zag). You can use it to tell the machine how far you want to stitch. When embroidering, you can use it to tell the machine which way your fabric is hooped (i.e. how much rotation to apply to your design).
If I had any reason to buy this machine, it would probably be for its embroidery functions. Where do I even start?
This machine comes with the biggest hoop that Brother has ever made on a home machine: 9.5″ x 14″. I rarely stitch anything bigger than 5″ x 7″. But with a larger hoop size, you could arrange smaller motifs into a larger single design and sew it out all at once without rehooping. Or you could sew multiple copies of the same design at once. You may have to buy larger widths of stabilizer for this larger hoop. It also comes with 8″x12″, 5″x7″ and 4″x4″ hoops.
If you purchase the machine (and take delivery) before October 31st, you get an 8″x8″ hoop and PE-Design NEXT. The larger square hoop is a great mid-size hoop. PE-Design NEXT is version 9 of Brother’s digitizing software. Version 10 is the latest. I have PE Design 7 and it is not my preferred digitizing software. I would hope that they’ve made significant improvements to the interface since then.
The machine has a video camera (Innoveye(r) 2) and the Snowman(r) Embroidery Positioning system. I believe both of these features are already available on newer Brother machines. I know the pain of trying to hoop items perfectly. Imagine if you could hoop close enough and let the machine figure out everything else. That’s what the Snowman system does.
The Snowman(r) positioning system got an improvement with this machine – you are no longer limited to placing the snowman in the middle of your design. I think you can now place it on the center edges or any corner of the design instead. The embroidered design can be shown on top of the fabric in the hoop for even more precise layout.
This machine sports better hoops. The largest inner hoop on my ULT2001 tends to bow inwards when I have to tighten the screws. These new hoops look to be very rigid along their lengths and they seem to have a small rubber gasket between the inner and outer hoops for more grip, perhaps. I think the screws themselves are better designed for easier turning.
The embroidery arm has been improved with something called Accutrac(tm) which is supposed to provide smoother frame movement and less bounce.
The machine tells you what color you should be sewing with next with its Innovachrome(tm) LED system. This is a light bar that sits above the thread spool and it changes colors to match the thread color you are supposed to be using. We were told that it can represent millions of different colors.
If you want to change around the colors you’re using in a design, you can use the color shuffling function. You can choose a palette of colors to shuffle from, you can let the machine choose colors randomly, or you can choose from a color family. I’m pretty bad about choosing colors, so this might be a nice feature.
Admittedly this is the most intriguing feature I’ve ever seen added to an embroidery machine: the ability to auto-digitize from a scanned image or a JPG imported from a flash drive.
The machine comes with a scanning “hoop” upon which you place drawings held down by magnets. They call it the ScanImation(tm) Scanning Frame. The machine can scan the image with its video camera. You crop the scanned image on the touch screen. The machine can then convert the image to an embroidery design consisting of either lines (like redwork) or filled areas.
Now if you’ve ever done your own digitizing, you realize that auto-digitizing rarely works as smoothly as you would like and that much tweaking is necessary to clean up the resulting design. You need to add underlay, use pull compensation, change stitch directions and stitch densities.
Our presenter, Rob Richards, showed us a design he auto-digitized from black and white clip art and then stitched out:
It’s not too bad! The gaps between sewn areas may be due to insufficient pull compensation. The software does give you some options that you can tweak for each sewn area. Here’s a screen shot of those options:
The basics all look to be there. You can change the stitch direction for fills (though you have to use arrow keys to change the angle). You can change the density (but what does “100%” really mean?) You can set the pull compensation. And you can turn on/off under sewing. With digitizing software, you have more options (different kinds of underlay, different ways to apply pull compensation, different fill patterns, etc.) and it is hopefully easier to change the stitch direction.
Another thing to note is that the dark outlines for the cat were digitized as “areas” rather than as lines. If they had been recognized by the software as lines, then the lines could have been turned into either straight stitches or a satin stitch (zig-zag), to give more of a consistent cartoony look to the final design. This is what I might have done if I manually digitized this design.
The software really has only two options: convert a scanned image to lines or to sewn areas. It may be possible to do it once for lines and then once for areas (eliminating the outlines which have been converted to areas) and then combine the two later. This would be a great experiment to perform!
For that perfect custom button hole, you might be able to take a line drawing of the button hole and convert the line into a satin stitch. If the software provides it, you might be able to add underlay to the satin stitch to provide additional stability.
So again, auto-digitizing is usually fraught with peril. It remains to be seen how robust the software is. If it works well, it could provide tremendous opportunity to auto-digitize simple logos and drawings (the cleaner the image the better). You can digitize quilting designs and writing. The possibilities are endless.
I forgot to mention that you can also digitize directly on the touch screen. It looks to be extremely basic and you’re probably better served using the auto-digitizing features from finished drawings.
I also forgot to mention that lighting is evidently quite important when scanning images. Rob had to darken his room to keep the lighting on his scanning frame uniform. Scanning with a sewing machine is not the same as scanning on your printer’s scanner bed which has a cover to keep out extraneous light.
I list this last, but it may be quite significant – the touch screen is 10.1″ diagonal – bigger than my iPad! And it has a respectable 1280 x 800 pixels. The bigger size is much better for viewing your embroidery designs and seeing what the video camera is seeing.
Harp space is 11.25″ – great for quilters.
If you like Disney, Brother is the only company authorized to have Disney designs on their machines. If not, there are plenty of other designs. Of course it is easy to import designs via flash drive.
If you want to give up doing free-motion stippling, you can try the auto-stippling features of this machine. Evidently you tell it what area you need filled with stippling and the machine will auto-compute a stippling design for you. It is also implied that you can create your own stippling designs. I did not see this demonstrated so I’ll believe it when I see it.
Video tutorials and instructions are provided on the machine.
You can watch MP4 movies on your sewing machine (from a flash drive). Evidently this machine does so much for you automatically that you can just watch a movie while you’re waiting!
I’m sure I’ve forgotten other stuff…
The MSRP for this machine is a $15,000. Just like buying a new car, you can trade in an old machine to get credit towards the new one. I’ll admit I’m a sucker for new technology. I would love to push the limits on what this machine can do. But in reality, I do more sewing than machine embroidery and I can probably do a better job digitizing with my existing software. It also takes up a lot of table space and you need storage space for its accessories.
But if machine embroidery is your thing and you’re not a commercial operation, this machine is probably the most innovative thing out there right now. The hardware looks really solid. The software looks really promising. Combining a video camera, lasers, smart pens, touch screens, scanning frames, auto-digitizing software, snowman stickers and a conveyer belt all just blow my mind. If anyone of you buy this machine, I want to hear what you think of it!