I am a beginner and want to ensure I buy the best machine available for me. What are some features you find you cannot live without?
An automatic needle threader is almost essential with all the thread changes involved with embroidery. My machine (a Bernina artista 200) has a free-hand pressure foot lift that is operated with a knee thingy (technical term). I bought an optional thread stand that holds 13 spools of thread; can't imagine life without it. A good, long tweezers (for holding embroidery thread up so you can trim the jump stitches when the machine "travels" from one part of the design to another...you want to clip those before you switch to a new color)and embroidery scissors are essential. The scissors to get have a curved blade that enables you to get over the hoop edge easily. I don't quite know how to explain those scissors, but you'll see them in catalogs like Nancy's Notions and at any store that handles embroidery machines (the clerks will know exactly what you're asking for).
High quality stabilizer (to go behind the design) is essential. I was told the stabilizer, when you hold it up to the light, should be uniform in density with no thin spots that you can see. It's a good idea to have several types of stabilizer (iron-on, tear-away, cut-away, sticky back, water soluble)on hand b/c you'll use different ones for different projects. A good rule of thumb, tho, is when in doubt, use cut-away. Use a water soluble "topper" for towels and loopy fabric. Lay the "topper" over the area to be embroidered (under the pressure foot)so the loops don't get caught. It also keeps the design from sinking into the fabric of the towel.
Good luck! It's lots and lots of fun, and a lot to learn!
Buy the best you can afford, with the biggest sewing field you can afford. Many machines only sew a 4"x4" field. That really limits what you can do. You can split larger designs but you have to rehoop & hope you get everything lined up to match what you have already sewn.
I was lucky enough to get a Brother ULT. In 2002, it was one of the best. Now there are some with neat features that I don't have but I am happy with mine UNTIL I see the newest ones in action. I have to remind myself how lucky I am to have what I have when I start craving the one that cuts it's own jump stitches & has a free arm that will handle things that are difficult or impossible for me to do.
It is an expensive investment but if you buy something that doesn't meet your needs, it will be a waste of that money if you decide you need to go up to one with more features.
Learn as much as you can about the whole process before you buy. I didn't have an option of free or bonus software. I bought it & got top of the line. I have never used it. There are 2 newer products on the market now that are easier to use. I have PE 4.0. There is a 5.0 & a 6.0. What I paid for it was a big, big waste. Make sure you need software & have the time to spend mastering it before you buy it.
the machine should have an easy go back and forward feature so if a thread breaks you o can go back to a sensible point and start again.
It should also have a sensor to tell you if you have enough bobbin thread to finish a design.
good needles and high quality thread REALLY matter too. I prefer poly to rayon so you can bleach kids stuff or house hold items and the color is more likely to stay. Marathon is a great thread company- i like it far more than the ubiqiyous sulky.