I’ve compiled this information many times over the years, so if my story sounds familar you are not imagining things. However, technology changes and we have new people joining this wonderful passion of machine embroidery – so this type of information will always be useful, even in a historical light.
I got into machine embroidery 25 years ago – and YES it was a very exciting time for the home embroidery machine market. We were pioneers. I bought my first embroidery machine in the early 90’s and this was “new cutting edge technology”. It was a 4×4 combo embroidery sewing machine that only took memory cards – so those of you that have a Brother SE-400, this was your machine WITHOUT USB – USB did not exist yet.
The ”internet” was in its infancy as well. There was no such thing as Facebook, or Etsy or Youtube. There were only a handful of websites that contained any information about machine embroidery and they were geared towards the commercial market. They sold catalogs or HUGE collections of designs because that’s what their current machine embroidery market wanted. Mascots were the big sellers. There was no such thing as “go to Google, and search for a Christmas tree applique embroidery design”. Google didn’t even exist yet!
So our options for obtaining embroidery designs was rather limited. I had a Babylock machine that used the PES format on a specific type of memory card. I could purchase a memory card with designs on it to use in my machine – it had maybe 20 designs on it and cost around $150. Yup, you read that right – $150 for 20 designs. At that time, Brother, Babylock and Bernina all used the same format on the same style memory card. If you bought a Viking embroidery machine – it had a similar style memory card to the Brother/Babylock/Bernina Deco (BBD machines) but it used the HUS format. You could not put a Viking card in a BBD machine. And Janome and Pfaff had their own completely different cards and formats. Talk about confusing — and expensive!
With the arrival of software on the home market things started to change, develop & grow rather quickly. Each machine brand had its own style memory card, so you purchased the software for your machine with a memory card writer. There were no choices except between Brother, Babylock & Bernina Decos. I had a Babylock, but I ordered the PE Design software because the Brother dealer was taking orders. I found out on the “BBD list” that the machines were the same and the cards were interchangable so the software would be as well. What was the BBD list? Oh that’s a whole other story but in short, it was a type of email communication where those of us with BBD machines could join and sent email communication to everyone in this particular group. It was an amazing situation and I have such fond memories of how we all came together from all parts of the world to help each other learn about this “machine embroidery” thing.
So when you bought the software for your machine, it included a type of “card writer” and cost upwards of $1000. Remember this is cutting edge new technology. These cards were not used in commercial embroidery machines so this new home embroidery market was the market for the software/hardware being sold. These card writers also came with digitizing software so that you could create your own designs to send to the machine to stitch. Now, you have to remember that there was no Google or websites to get free designs back then. This was how it all came to be because digitizing was not a simple process and not everyone wanted to invest time to learn the software to create designs. But some people did and that is how many of these websites that we purchase from today came to be.
So in the late 90’s, websites and “AOL pages” are starting to pop up. Free designs or less expensive design collections are starting to show up on the internet and third party software such as Smart Sizer by Amazing Designs is now available. This was the first customizing program available. This software was ground breaking because it allowed you to open one embroidery format and save to another. It also allowed you to change colors, add lettering and change the size of a design by 20%. But you still needed to use the card writer to get a design to the embroidery machine. So even if all you wanted to do was download a free design from the internet, add a name and send it to the embroidery machine, you had to buy the very expensive digitizing program for your embroidery machine that included the card writer.
It blows my mind to think about how far we have all come in the machine embroidery industry. Once embroidery machines started coming out with more universal “design transfer devices” – floppy disks, Compact Flash & finally USB drives – customizing software took on a more prevalent role. You didn’t have to purchase a full blown digitizing package – we had choices! And if there is one statement that I could make about the home embroidery machine market, it would be that we like to have choices 🙂
So that is my take on the history behind machine embroidery software and how it has developed and changed over the years.