Thursday, December 22, 2011

Singer XL-400 Futura Sewing & Embroidery Machine Review


Research:
I really wanted to get an embroidery machine that had a bigger embroidery field than my LB6800PRW. I did a bunch of looking around (literally a month of research) and finally decided to get the XL-400 Futura by Singer. There were a decent amount of negative reviews out there that I saw, but most looked like they were from people new to sewing or embroidery where the issue was user related, not machine related. Besides those reviews and comments, the machine had the features I most wanted.

The XL-400 brings a bigger embroidery area of 10 inches by 6 inches and the option to go to 20 inches by 12 inches by multi-hooping, using some nifty alignment tools that are built into the hoop and machine. I have tried to do manual alignment, and I can't even get close, no matter how long I try. The alignment tools allow you to shift the placement of the design using the machine instead of physically rehooping. This sounded like an awesome way to go. The SL-400 also has a deep throat, allowing bigger items to be rolled up under the machine. The LB6800PRW isn't anywhere near as deep, so it is hard to sew shirts or embroider them. There is also a speed controller, so that the speed at which the embroidery id done can be slowed down from maximum speed. I wanted something like this for doing delicate fabric, as I felt that going at 350 stitches per minute was too fast for some fabric.

The XL-400 has some features that didn't matter much to me, but they sounded nifty, such as the quick threading of the machine, and the auto-tension. The feet and needles are also interchangeable with the LB6800PRW that I already had, so that was a plus too.

The things I didn't like about the machine specs before I used is that there is not an LCD screen or anything like it on the machine. The stitch selector area has a bunch of LED's over each stitch, and in embroidery mode, the LED's act as a big indicator for things. This seemed like a bad idea, as an LCD nowadays would only cost about $5. One like the LB6800PRW has would probably cost about $15, but either one looked like it would have been better than the LED grid above the different stitches. The machine also has to be hooked to your computer 100% of the time while stitching. With the LB6800PRW, you only need to connect it to transfer the design at the beginning, but for the XL-400, it needs to be connected at all times. The software on the PC controls the machine, instead of the machine controlling the machine.

Some things I didn't like at all were that there is not an automatic thread cutter on the XL-400. That seems like a really big oversight on a machine that costs $800, when my $100 machine has one. I never realized how necessary a thread cutter was for embroidery until I didn't have one.

The biggest factor on why I got this machine was the price. As an engineer, I know there is almost no difference between making a machine that can do a 4" field or a 10" field besides the stepper motors, some extra reinforcement on the machine and the hoops. The cost between them should be very marginal (maybe $50 besides some engineering cost). Brother goes from $400 for 4", to $600 for 7" to about $12k for 12". Granted, each step has more features, like color LCD's and the like, but I don't need that, I just want a bigger field. The mechanics are basically the same for 4" or 12". The Singer is still overpriced for what I know it cost to make, but it was the cheapest option at about $800. I expect companies to make money, but the markup on these must be crazy. They could make so much more money by gettinga ton of machines out there and making bank on accessories. Kind of like how the console gaming industry works. Sell the console cheaply to build the base, and make tons on accessories.

Using the machine
When I unboxed it the first thing I noticed was how heavy it was. Thankfully, I have a steel and oak table for this, as this machine is very heavy, it did not feel chintzy at all. Easily 4 times heavier than my LB6800PRW. The embroidery module attached easily and was sturdy. My computer recognized it easily after installing the software. I would say it was about 30 minutes from when I got the box to when I was ready to do the first design. Sadly, this is where I started to dislike this machine.

When I pulled out the hoop, the first thing I noticed was how weak it was. The ones for my Brother machines can probably take a good hundred pounds of force before deforming, they feel extremely sturdy. The 2 singer ones felt like they were made out of very elastic plastic. I could easily bend the hoop using only my hand. For embroidery, stability is everything, and this didn't look good. No matter what I did, the large hoop did not hold fabric or stabilizer tightly. Works fine for 1 color, but subsequent colors don't line up. The machine has a cool basting feature, where the entire design is outlined with a basting stitch, sewing the fabric and stabilizer together. However, all this helped me do was figure out just how much the embroidery function on this machine sucked. The basting could be done after any color, so once I figured out that the hoop was utter garbage, I used the basting option between each color to see just how far the material was moving. In some instances, it was moving up to 1/2 of an inch between colors. It was abhorrent! I have tried using no stabilizer, 1 sheet of 1.5 oz, 1 sheet of 2 oz, 2 sheets of 2 oz, 3 sheets of 2 oz, and every combination I could think of both in tearaway, cutaway and different brands. Nothing seems to matter, there is just plain an engineering failure with the hoop. I was unable to find any aftermarket hoops that may solve the problem that would fit this machine, so right there, it was end game for this machine as it would not work for what I got it for, multi-color embroidery. 1 color was mostly fine, and regular sewing was fine, but more than 1 color? Forget it.

It took me a good few weeks of experimenting, trying to figure out a way to make the machine work for me, and during that time I learned a lot more about it, none of which went in the machine's favor sadly.

The needle threader is very difficult to use, and takes a ton of times. It will often pull 1 ply of the thread though the needle and not the other, and jam the eye. I gave up after a good 500 attempts, and inspecting the way the needle threader actually worked. After looking at it, I can see it would only work if the thread is perfectly aligned. After I figured that out, and held the thread instead of using the alignment guide, I could get it to work about 30% of the time, but it was still faster to manually thread the needle.

The machine puts down 6 to 8 extra stitches at the end of a color. It appears to be right at the start point for the next color. These stitches are not in the design, but the machine adds them, and I have to cut them off or pull them out. The machine/software does this with all designs, even ones I made personally. Even the 'baste in hoop' option adds a few stitches dead center in the middle of the hoop. This makes absolutely no sense. The manual and help for the software made no mention of this, or an option to turn it off. I'm not sure why anyone would EVER want that option anyway.

The machine is very 'jerky' when pulling thread off the spool, and constantly jams thread by wrapping it around the spool holder. This happens with both the regular thread holder or the vertical auxiliary thread holder, and happens approximately every 1000 stitches. I think this is because the 'easy threading' process eliminates the part of the machine that equalizes the thread tension as the needle descends into the fabric. If I slowed the machine down to about 1/4th speed, this didn't happen.

The machine generally stops when the top thread breaks, but not it never stopped when the bobbin thread breaks or runs out. I can't count the number of times the top thread broke, and the bobbin thread broke way too often. On my LB6800PRW, I can't remember the bobbin thread EVER breaking. The machine would also never catch when the bobbin thread ran out, it would keep going in it's merry way with no bobbin thread.

The machine literally fell apart. The plastic tip lever for the needle threader came off while the machine was embroidering, and came off frequently. It is a friction fit, because that part of the machine is made to be removed, so I couldn't just glue it on. I solved this by only having the lever on when I needed to thread the needle.

Towards the end, The bobbin case rotated in the machine, causing the needle to jam the case, and break. It also ruined what I was embroidering. In 20 years, I have NEVER seen this happen. It didn't cause any damage to the machine besides the needle though, so this wasn't that big a deal.

The top thread turns into a birds nest under the design. Sometimes this stooped the machine, sometimes not. The auto-tension just didn't cut it. When I switched to manual tension, it was a little better, but it still happened. The top thread switches between being correct, then being too lose for a few hundred stitches (and you get giant 1/4" to 1/2" loops on the top) to being correct, then back again. When it happens the machine doesn't stop. I have tried catching it when it happens, but even re-threading the machine entirely (top and bottom thread) did not help. The machine will continue to sew lose for a few hundred to a thousand stitches, then the tension will fix itself. There is something majorly wrong with the auto-tensioner. Probably related, the machine will stop saying there is a jam, but there isn't a jam. if I rotate the needle by hand 2 times, the machine will resume.

The machine/software skips stitches. Not skip as in the top thread doesn't pick up the bottom bobbin thread, but skip as in the machine/software doesn't even try to sew them. It took me a while to figure out that this was a software issue and not the more common skipped stitch issue. I thought this was a tension problem until I actually watched exactly what the machine was doing compared to that same point in the embroidery file.

Last but not least, the XL-400 is loud, and unbalanced. It shakes my entire house. If I put it on my steel table upstairs, I can feel it shaking the floor downstairs. For me, this isn't a problem, but it may be for some other folks. Putting this machine on a weak table will easily shake the table apart.

Singer & the Vendor
The worst part of this process was the support I got from Singer. And by support, I mean I got no support. All contact went unanswered. It was a total joke. I was trying to figure out if the machine was just broken, or if what I was experiencing was normal behavior. To this day, I still don't know, as I could get a response from no one. My emails were more detailed than this post as I was trying to explain that I wasn't 'new' to this, and it most likely wasn't user error. Even the vendor I bought it from was horrible. I tried calling & emailing them after I could not get a response from Singer, but they were no better. On top of that, when I bought the machine, it showed in stock, but it didn't ship for almost 4 weeks. I kept asking about it, and was always told it would ship the next day. Towards the very end of the wait, I found out it was on backorder since the beginning. But even that day, and every day until I stopped checking, their site showed it was in stock. I wasn't in a hurry so it didn't matter to me besides the fact that they didn't have the decency to tell me that it was on backorder. This would be a non-issue, except for the fact that I got horrible service form them after the sale too.

After trying for about a month (2 months after purchase) I started trying to return it. Then I finally got a response to call the vendor's service department. The guy stopped listening to me after about 5 minues, and said he would call me back. I never got another call back, and my future calls went unanswered and unreturned. I had to issue a chargeback to get my money back, and Is hipepd the machine back to them at my expense. I lost about a hundred bucks doing that because I couldn't get a hold of them to get a prepaid label (or even a label I would pay for on their account, since they have a cheaper UPS rate than I did). So yeah, complete failure of the machine, complete failure of the vendor, and complete failure of Singer.

Overall
So overall, the XL-400 promises a lot, but delivers on none of it. In my humble opinion, it is a waste of money, and Singer is not winning any business with non-existant customer support. I recommend staying FAR away from not only the XL-400, but any Singer machine. The other reviews and blurbs warning of this machine being junk are right on the money.

12 comments:

  1. I completely agree. My 400 is doing the same things your machine did. I am so frustrated. my machine also is only abolut two months old and im ready to throw it out of the window.

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  2. Yikes thanks for the tip. So do you have a m/c that you do recommend?

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  3. I am so frusrated with my XL400 as well! It works fine for about 3 weeks then something randomly stops working. Just tonight I finished 6 embroidery projects and sewed 2 items. While sewing the second item it just stopped stitching and the machine incessantly beeps at me. The fact that it skips stitches is beyond annoying and the thread tension makes no sense at all. Thanks for your review and warnin other potential customers - they should definitely stay away!

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  4. I'm sorry to read this review but it seems to me you bought your machine online. Next time visit your local sewing machine dealer as they are trained to help you, they even provide free lessons on how to use your machine. All of the problems you had with the use of your machine could have been solved in about 5 minutes and saved you all that frustration. Online sellers and discount stores are not set up to provide backup and support, they don't have staff trained for that. Online sellers may not be from your country and there for may not even be subject to your warranty laws or even electrical and safety laws. Don't be fooled by a cheep price I know many sewers who have had more than 30 years of enjoyable sewing from their machines who don't even care how much they paid all those years ago.

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  5. Well, I completely agree about buying it from a local dealer instead--even if he charges more (he will). The catch is, as far back as the '70s, dealers dropped Singers from their product lines. I live near a very major city; there are no dealers here, and the nearest authorized repair facility is 2 1/2 hours away! However, if you want to duplicate the features you get on the XL-400 from another manufacturer, you're going to have to pay LOTS more than these machines sell for. This machine actually sews beautifully, but it has its quirks. Once you learn to deal with that--mainly through online support groups--you will own a machine that does far more for far less; BUT you will have to accept in advance that much of the solutions and support you would get from a dealer will come instead from peer user groups. It's a shame--I could have helped the author of this fine article straighten out the problems she had in 10 to 15 minutes; but BELIEVE ME I can definitely relate to her frustration!

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    1. I have a rough time with my machines. I was so happy at first that I bought a second... I run a seeing business and it was great to have two machines so my helper would have the same stitches. Now after about 8 months I can't get the tension right.... Help!

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    2. Matty!! Please help....I just bought this machine and I am having trouble with it bird nesting the top thread on the underneath of the design. I have just purchased new poly Robison anton thread and their line of bobbin thread as well. Hoping this will help. You can reach me at: themillers1481@gmail.com

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  6. For anyone looking at purchasing this machine DO NOT waste your money! I've always had Singers and loved them but this one is a completely different story. It gives broken thread messages when the thread isn't broken, the software closes randomly and I have to start the project over, the bottom thread breaks randomly, etc. I bought this machine from a dealer instead of purchasing online because I wanted the classes and support...BIG MISTAKE! The class was a waste of time because the employees knew nothing about the machine; I actually taught them what little I knew, and their solution to everything is to send the machine in for repairs. It's a brand new machine, it shouldn't need repairs!

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  7. The replacement Singer XL-400 that Amazon sent me is acting up. It's so frustrating using this machine. A design will come out perfect and when I try to duplicate it I get nothing but problems. This doesn't make any sense to me. I'm using the recommended needles, 15j bobbins, the recommended thread and stabilizers. Moments ago I tried to finish a design that I've done a few times in the past with good results and had to endure continuous thread breaks and loose stitches in parts of the design. What gives with this machine? Sewing should be pleasurable, at least it always has been for me. That's why I've been sewing for over 30 years and I've never had so many issues with a machine. Frankly this machine is not user friendly and I question it's engineering and cheap plastic parts used to assemble it. This machine is beautiful, it's almost space age looking, yet it performs poorly in my experience. I believe there are known defects with this machine and Singer is fully aware of them and still they chose to provide poor, almost non existent customer service. Why is that Singer? Many who own this machine and similar models are experiencing problems. Just read the reviews and it's not hard to realize that this machine does not live up to the claims made on the packaging. I hear of this learning curve that must be endured before the machine will perform to expectations. My question is this, how long does one have to use this machine before the magical learning curve is achieved and every projects turns out perfect? I think the learning curve is mumbo hogwash. I'm an educated person and I can read and learn. I've read the manual, I've taken all the advice, I've done everything exactly the way I'm supposed to and this machine fails to perform properly on a regular basis. Short of using a microscopic camera to check out the the upper thread path, I've double checked everything I do to thread this machine. I've been using this machine for over 3 months, almost daily. I've spent enough time chasing down this learning curve and I'm tired of it. Today I scheduled to return this machine and once and for all I'm threw with Singer embroidery machines. I'm just amazed that Singer put out such a product and offers such poor customer service to support it.

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  8. Wow, sure wish I had read the posts on this site as well as done more research on Singer before I wasted $800 on the Singer Futura XL400. I thought maybe I just got the lemon since I have had nothing but problems with this machine since day one but apparently the machine is just a piece of junk. Unfortunately for me, I did not use the machine for some time after I purchased it and then when it did not operate correctly, I thought it was an operator malfunction since it is a very daunting machine. I finally noticed that the pressure foot mechanism moved just a bit when I lowered it. I finally took it to a repair shop and was told the pressure foot mechanism was out of adjustment and that the bobbin case was damaged and possibly had other issues (it is inoperable). He said he had only seen these type of problems maybe one other time in his 20 years of business!! Moreover, he cannot work on this machine because SINGER WILL NOT SEND HIM THE PARTS TO WORK ON IT!! Since all of this has taken over a year (and I have yet to embroidery anything!!) it is out of warranty. All I got from Singer, after SITTING ON HOLD FOR ALMOST TWO HOURS was that I would have to ship it to Kansas and have it repaired at my expense of course. I have had Singers all my life but this will definitely be the last. The jokes on me.
    Sign me a very dissatisfied customer.

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  9. I have had the xl400 for around two months, and have used the embroidery a lot since then. I previously owned the ce100, which did have a lot of problems with the bobbin holder moving around and breaking needles. Keeping my fingers crossed, but after purchasing a brother pe 770, I love my xl400 much more!

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  10. I don't have much selection to local sewing centers. Just Joann (Singer) and Hancock (no brother support). I bought a Brother SE400 and used for 2 years. I've made quilts and embroidered like crazy on it. Did have to have it repaired by that was caused by me. Used a OEM walking foot and then tried to use needle threader. After a few times of repeating the mistake it finally had enough. And it's not good to try and embroider without the proper foot :)

    Since then I bought the Brother PE770 to have in addition to the SE400. This one is embroidery only with a 5x7 embroider FIELD. I love the machine. Only had for 3 months, but it has been working overtime (6 grandkids).

    I was getting disappointed when reading that the Singer XL400 had a 6x10 embroidery hoop (with an extra large embroider field). I jump into looking into the machine thinking the 6x10 would be awesome. My question was "What is the embroidery field". And that I have yet to find an answer. The Brother has a large 6x8 hoop, but max size of embroidery is 5x7. I don't like the way the Singer advertizes its hoop size.

    Anyway, I believe I made the right choice. I love my machines. Service sucks, have to drive 2.5 hours but worth it to own the Brother over the Singer. I've been staying away from singer from past experiences (Mothers sewing machine) and it seems that I will continue to stay away from them.

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