Embroidery Machine vs Sewing Machine: Differences Explained

Kris Daub
Published by Kris Daub | Senior Editor
Last updated: November 30, 2023
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Do you wish you could create personalized clothing? Maybe you’ve been inspired by the Great British Sewing Bee and considering buying a machine?

But don’t have a CLUE about the different types of machines out there? Yep, that was me this time last year!

While there are a number of similarities between an embroidery machine and a sewing machine, they are two completely distinct machines designed for different purposes.

Let’s take a closer look at the two in embroidery machine vs sewing machine!

Embroidery Machine vs Sewing machine

Strawberry Embroidery
Strawberry Embroidery

The overall appearance of these machines are not dissimilar, but the real differences lie in the functionality and features.

Embroidery machines allow for embroidery stitching, while sewing machines allow for construction stitching.

Dual Purpose Machines

Some combination machines allow for both types of sewing.

Embroidery is the term given to the needlecraft where ornamental designs and patterns are sewn onto a fabric for decoration or to show ownership.

Sewing is the construction of materials, where they are sewn together to create clothing or other fabric items.

Can an embroidery machine be used to sew?

An embroidery machine that has been dedicated to embroidery will not be able to perform regular sewing functions.

Embroidery machines employ a hooping attachment to its arm, where a hoop is added to hold the fabric taut as a design is embroidered.

The arm cannot be removed on most machines that serve as only embroidery, therefore clothing construction is not possible.


Modern embroidery machines work with a computer that can provide pre-programmed embroidery patterns, as well as an option to include downloaded art patterns.

Industrial embroidery machines are often multi needle machines, offering the ability to employ automatic threading, change embroidery thread color and trim thread automatically according to the pattern during machine embroidery.


Embroidery and sewing are needlecrafts that have been around since the start of time. There is evidence that people sewed and embroidered clothes 30,000 years ago.

Can you use a sewing machine for embroidery?

Person Sewing on a White Fabric
Person Sewing on a White Fabric

Ultimately yes, if the user will perform free motion embroidery – a technique where a piece of fabric is manually moved by hand underneath the needle.

Most sewing machines will have a catalog of stitches which can be used for free motion appliqueing and embroidery. If you want to try embroidery using a sewing machine, this How To Embroider With A Sewing Machine article can help.

Hoop Attachment

Basic sewing machines won’t have an embroidery hoop attachment so embroidery on such machines would have to be controlled by hand.

Stitches on a regular sewing machine include the satin stitch, zigzag and straight line that may be used to create artistic embroidery.

Dual function: An embroidery sewing machine

A hybrid sewing embroidery machine is two machines in one, and can perform both sewing and embroidery to a professional standard.

These machines are called sewing embroidery machines and have an detachable embroidery arm, where the hooping unit will sit, which can be removed when regular sewing is required.

These sewing embroidery machines are computerized and – as you can imagine – have a price tag to match their extensive stitching techniques!

What is the difference between stitching and embroidery?

Embroidery Stitches
Embroidery Stitches

Stitching is the process used for functionality, for example, adding fabric together, creating darts or other alterations.

Embroidery by contrast is primarily used for decoration to create patterns.

Detailed scenes, monograms and other embellishments are embroidered onto linens, quilts and clothes to add an element of interest or a personal touch.

Thread Weight

Embroidery generally uses a 30 weight to 40 weight embroidery thread and a repetitive texture building sewing technique to provide uniform stitches.

Embroidery and sewing can both be done by hand with a single needle which is done with a meticulous hand stitch.

What is a sewing machine?

A regular sewing machine is a device that is used to join two or more pieces of fabric together, finishing a single piece of fabric. The dominant consideration is functionality with a sewing machine.

Stitching done on a sewing machine with a single needle, as is known as construction sewing.

Although it may have a decorative aspect, for example a zig-zag stitch, unless it specifically has an embroidery function it can only be used for construction sewing.

Types of sewing machine

Sewing Machine Needle Closeup
Sewing Machine Needle Closeup

There are different types of sewing machines: manual, electronic and computerized.

Manual Sewing Machine

A manual sewing machine is a very basic machine and doesn’t require any power to function.

These have much fewer machine options than computerized sewing machines, and will often only be capable to sew a straight stitch or zig zag stitch.


Manual sewing machines are operated with a foot pedal and a wheel.

The foot pedal is used with the foot of the user, and the wheel on the side lifts the needle up and down.


These machines can sew most materials, but they are better suited to medium and lightweight materials.

These types of sewing machines are durable with some vintage sewing machines dating back years. They can now be fitted with electric motors to make them faster for quicker project completion.

Electronic Sewing Machine

Woman Sewing Red Fabric
Woman Sewing Red Fabric

Electronic sewing machines are the most common type of domestic sewing machine you will find in a home.

These have been used for years to sew functional pieces of clothing.

These machines are fitted with an electric motor which provides a power supply to the needle for stitching.


They are also controlled with a foot pedal which is pressed to increase the sewing speed.

A dial on the side of the machine can change the stitch length and type.

The electric motor that runs the machine, and foot pedal means you can do hands free work!


The sewing speed increases up when pressure is put on to the foot pedal, and the sewing speed decreases when pressure is lifted from the foot pedal.

Computerized Sewing Machine

Computerized sewing machines have a mini computer built in, and come with displays and touch screens that allow the user to control the machine.


Most come with built in features such as automatic needle threading, automatic thread trimming, bobbin low thread sensor and a sensor that detects breaking of thread.

They often have touch screens that make it easy to select the thread size and design that you would like.

They can memorize designs, perform precise stitches and remember operations and tensions.

Industrial sewing machine

The main purpose of an industrial sewing machine is for professional use in factories. These machines are durable and can work under labor intensive conditions.

They often have a very high stitch count – in some cases up to 2200 stitches per minute.

They can sew through thicker fabrics easily as they are used to produce items made from denim and leather.

How does a sewing machine work?

A sewing machine works using a top thread and a bobbin thread which become interconnected to form a loop over and under fabric, stitching two layers of fabrics together.

A presser foot helps keep the material straight, and the feed dogs on the plate of the sewing machine move the fabric forward with their teeth.

Here is my article about how a sewing machine works if you’d like a more detailed explanation.

What is an embroidery machine?

Person Modifying Settings on Embroidery Machine
Person Modifying Settings on Embroidery Machine

An embroidery machine is a machine which has been designed to embroider embellishments onto garments and clothes.

They perform specialized embroidery stitches such as cross stitch, to create decorations on fabric of different textures and densities.

Embroidery machines can be used commercially for embroidering of motifs and logos.


The machines utilize a repetitive stitching technique to embroider designs on fabrics.

A hoop is used to hold the material tight, to help the design line up correctly during embroidering.

During the embroidery process, the hoop moves along a path which is predefined by the software


When using an embroidery machine, stabilizers will also be used.

These stiffen the fabric and help to hold it in place.

These stabilizers are placed on one side of the fabric, then removed with a difference in techniques such as tearing it away, or dissolving the stabilizer with heat.

Types of Embroidery Machine

Computerized embroidery machine

Most embroidery machines are computerized, which means they also have a mini computer inside and a touch screen to play around the design of the embroidery stitching.

Here’s a video of a computerized embroidery machine being used.

Computerized embroidery machine

An embroidery design is either selected from the library or loaded onto the machine via USB port.

The required hoop and colored threads are then attached to the embroidery machine and the sewing process begins.

Machine embroidery is usually initiated by pressing a stop / start button.


Digitizing is a process whereby a piece of art or an image is converted into a file format that the embroidery machine recognizes. An embroidery digitizer helps to create this specialized computer software.

Industrial embroidery machine

Row of Embroidery Machines
Row of Embroidery Machines

The difference between a computerized home embroidery machine and an industrial machine is the power and amount of needles.

A multi needle embroidery machine is known as an industrial machine, on one design to embroider it in a shorter time frame.

Embroidery Machine Heads

These embroidery machines have several heads that can hold needles.

Each needle can be threaded with different color threads, which means during the embroidery process the heads can be switched rather than having to manually change the color thread every time.

Thread Color

The user will have to change thread color with single needle embroidery machines, but this is done automatically when using an industrial machine to embroider.

An embroidery hoop is also used with industrial machine embroidery.

Single Needle or Multi-Needle Embroidery Machine?

If a user should buy a single or multi needle embroidery machine really depends on what they’re looking to do.

The surface area of embroidering is usually much larger (around 9” x 10” – although this varies) on a multi needle machine and they often have a higher stitch per minute count which makes them a better choice for a home business.

How to Use a Sewing Machine?

Instructions may vary slightly with different sewing machines, but simple instruction on how to use a basic electronic sewing machine are:

  1. Check that the bobbin is full and you have threaded the needle correctly based on instructions printed in the manual or on the machine.
  2. Make sure you have a presser foot attached.
  3. Plug in and turn on your sewing machine.
  4. Select stitch type and length using the dial on the right of the machine (for a computerized sewing machine this may be done using the touch screen).
  5. Insert the fabric on top of the plate, but under the presser foot then lower the presser foot.
  6. Lower the needle (either by pressing the needle up down or turning the wheel on the right of your sewing machine).
  7. Press down lightly on the foot pedal which controls the speed.
  8. Away you go!

How to Use an Embroidery Machine?

These are really basic instructions for you to follow! Each embroidery machine may have slightly different set-ups so refer to the user manual.

  1. Plug in and turn on the machine – let it calibrate.
  2. Attach a stabilizer onto your fabric and place the fabric into the hoop.
  3. Attach the hoop to your embroidery arm.
  4. Ensure you are using the correct presser foot for your project and the needle is threaded and the bobbin is full.
  5. Select your design from the touch screen – make sure size and position are accurate.
  6. Press start – sit back and be proud of yourself that your first piece of embroidering is complete!


While both sewing machines look very similar, you can see they both follow a difference in the stitching process and have different purposes.

Sewing machinesEmbroidery machines
PurposeSew fabrics together. Functionality.Embroidering, decorating, creating designs.
StitchingUser controls the speed with a foot pedal and guides the fabric with their hands / presser foot and feed dogs.Fabric is held tight in an embroidery hoop. Designs are sewn onto the fabric automatically.

An embroidery machine and a sewing machine can both be used to add charm and interest in a fabric garment, but would be used for individual objectives.


With practice you should learn how to create beautiful designs in no time at all whether you choose to use an embroidery or sewing machine.

On one hand an embroidery machine will allow a user to embroider beautiful designs that can be replicated exactly each time – great for professional use. On the other hand a sewing machine is a tool to create garments.

Both of these needle crafts can be done by hand, but both can also be done with a great machine!

Feel Free to Share!

Have you tried machine embroidery before? Between embroidery machine vs sewing machine, which of the two is your favorite? Is there another difference between the two you can think of?

Leave a comment and let me know! And don’t forget to share this post with your sewing circles while you’re here!