Since you're sitting at your computer with mouse in hand, we'll look first at the zillions of designs available for immediate download all over the web. To purchase online, you choose your design, enter your payment information, and then download the design to your computer. Very easy! Normal online shopping rules apply: do some investigating to make sure your source is reliable, and read reviews to see if folks who've purchased from the site are happy with their results.
Very important: know what type of design your machine requires before you start downloading. Most sites will ask you to choose the design type you need to download. This is a file extension, usually a dot followed by three letters (for instance, most Janome designs are .jef files). This information can be easily obtained from your machine's manual if you're unsure.
One more thing to think about before you click 'buy' – you need the correct media to transfer designs from your computer to your embroidery machine. Some embroidery machines have direct cable connections and/or allow the transfer of designs on a USB stick, while others may require an ATA PC card or a proprietary card. Check your machine's manual for the necessary transfer accessories for your model, and make sure you have one or two on hand.
The list below is just a small handful of the sites out there. A simple search on 'embroidery designs' or 'appliqué embroidery designs' will give you hundreds of hits. You can also create your own designs, and many talented artists have turned their skills at this into online shops. Surfing the 'net for super cute embroidery designs is a great way to while-away a rainy afternoon.
Embroidery.com: This is probably one of the largest sites on the web. There are twelve pages of lady bug designs alone! Like any large retailer, you're going to spend time drudging through merchandise you aren't interested in. But, if you're looking for something specific, chances are they will have it.
Stitchitize.com: Stitchitize is one of the oldest and most trusted sources for embroidery desgins. They've been digitizing for generations. We love their site because they offer quite a few free tutorials with step-by-step instructions on specific embroidery techniques.
Urban Threads: Really different embroidery designs. Unusual, but often quite inspired.
Creative Machine Embroidery: This is a favorite magazine of many machine embroiderers, and their website offers a good selection of designs for sale.
Smart Needle: Whimsical designs with a fun cartoon edge.
OregonPatchWorks: Quite a wide variety, including a nice selection of vintage designs.
Design CDs and Cards
The retail options for designs are many and varied as well. Manufacturers offer designs on a CD or a Memory Card of some type, which works in a machine's ATA Card Slot. This is actually quite a nice way to go, because you get a large number of designs in one handy package, and the designs are usually coordinated to work together in some way. For example, you can get an entire CD of frolicking snowmen or elaborate sunflowers. It's a more spendy option than single downloads from the web (which sometimes are even free), but a CD or card collection is great value for the price, and they are always on hand when you want them. Also, the majority of companies offering these collections are extremely experienced and reliable; you can be assured of a quality result.
Many people particularly like the proprietary Design or Memory Cards offered by embroidery machine manufacturers because they can be placed directly into their machines, and so are especially easy to use. However, don't discount design CDs for this reason; most machine manufacturers also offer external CD readers, which makes accessing designs on CD just as easy.
Here's a list of a few places to look for embroidery Cards and CDs:
Your local sewing machine dealer
Shopping at your dealer is great because while you're there, you can pick up accessories for your embroidery projects or check on the dealer's class and club schedule if you're ready to take your beginning embroidery skills and kick 'em a notch.
Your favorite fabric shop
Many fabric shops don't sell embroidery machines, but they may carry embroidery design CDs. Recently, we discovered a fabulous new collection of embroidery design CDs based on the fabrics of some of our favorite designers, see them here from Westminster Fibers. Check out Westminster's dealer locator to find a shop that sells them near you. And, stay tuned for some possible future Sew4Home projects featuring these lovely fabric-inspired designs.
Another company we like, especially for appliqué embroidery designs (the technique we used in our Anita Goodesign. Each of their collections uses as few thread colors as possible and is digitized for use with home and commercial embroidery machines. They offer a lot of very nicely coordinated packages and all CDs include full tutorials and project ideas.
Again with the online! Of course, CDs are also available through most embroidery design websites.
Copyright and piracy - don't ignore it
The majority of designs are sold without restrictions. In other words, you can use the designs on whatever personal projects you'd like, and you can also use the stitch outs to adorn pieces you may want to offer for sale. Remember when I warned you how embroidery would become addictive? Selling off some of the 1,000 embroidered pillows you've cranked out is an option for relief. However, be aware there are collections that are copyrighted. In fact, there are even some embroidery machines that are sold with collections of copyrighted designs included, such as Disney® characters. You cannot use these copyrighted designs on items you make to sell.
Also, just like with music and video, you cannot buy a collection of embroidery design and then copy them for all your friends for free. You can read more about this issue at the official site for the Embroidery Software Protection Coalition™.
Make your own!
You can design your own embroidery designs, using stitch generation software. Import your own artwork or even photos into the program, then turn them into designs that will stitch onto fabric. This process is called 'digitizing'.
Janome sells two versions of digitizing software, one for a beginner and one for a more advanced user. The beginner version is called Digitizer Jr., which allows you to do basic digitizing. It includes enough functions for you to get accustomed to the program, and to start creating very quickly.
Digitizer MB is the 'real deal' – it will allow you to digitize just about anything. If you start with Digitizer Jr., you can upgrade to Digitizer MB. That's a nice way to go, because the interface between the two is the same, so you are simply building on the basic functionality to the next level(s). Digitizing programs are fairly advanced software programs, but instructional workbooks and videos are available to answer your questions. You can also check with your local sewing machine dealers for classes; hands-on instructions is a great way to learn these programs.