So you’ve had some fun with the embroidery stitches on your all-in-one sewing machine and you want to take it up a notch. An entry-level embroidery-slash-sewing machine like the Brother SE400 could be the next step. But what should you look for in an embroidery and sewing machine? Our Brother SE 400 review will tell you that and more.
Brother SE 400: Review and Specs
Brother Industries is a manufacturer of both home and industrial machinery. You’re probably already familiar with their printers and office equipment. They make industrial sewing, quilting, and embroidery machines, too. And they also have a decent selection of home sewing machines.
Brother home products have a reputation for being inexpensive, reliable, and user-friendly. The Brother SE 400 sewing machine, a home sewing machine aimed at embroidery enthusiasts, is all of these.
But is it the right machine for your embroidery dreams?
About the Brother SE400 computerized sewing and embroidery machine
Like the CS6000I and the HC1850, the Brother SE400 is a multipurpose sewing machine. You can use it for general sewing and mending. But the SE 400 has some advanced features that will appeal specifically to sewists interested in taking machine embroidery beyond decorative stitches.
- 70 built-in Brother SE400 embroidery designs, not just stitches
- USB connectivity to upload even more embroidery designs from your computer
- A card slot for Brother SE 400 embroidery cards (with still more designs)
- The ability to edit designs and fonts right on the machine
- 5 different monogram fonts
- An included 4-inch by 4-inch Brother SE400 embroidery hoop
This is a machine for people who want to experiment, create, and grow in the craft of machine embroidery. Its relatively low price point also makes it a good choice for household embroidery — personalizing clothing, backpacks, towels and housewares, and so on.
And if you buy it for the embroidery functions then realize that embroidery isn’t really your thing, you’ll still have a decent all-purpose sewing machine.
How does the Brother SE 400 compare?
How does this model compare to similar machines? Well, the first thing you’ll notice is the price difference. You can pay a lot of money for a sewing and embroidery combination machine, both from Brother and from other manufacturers.
Higher-end machines tend to have additional features, such as:
- Multiple hoop sizes and the ability to accommodate them
- Included software for creating your own designs
- A larger selection of designs and fonts
- A color touch screen with high resolution design previews
These features may make it easier to create and customize, but all things considered, the Brother SE 400 is feature packed for the price. And if you’re a new or casual embroiderer, I would argue that a more expensive machine’s additional features probably aren’t going to make a lot of difference for you.
If you’re a committed embroidery designer or toying with starting your own business, however, they very well might.
What’s in the box?
Accessories that come with the Brother SE400, include:
- Your Brother SE400 computerized sewing & embroidery machine
- Four-inch by four-inch Brother SE 400 embroidery hoop
- Foot controller
- Touch pen
- Four Brother SE 400 bobbins with clips
- Brother SE400 needles
- Twin needle
- Accessories case
- Buttonhole foot
- Overcasting foot
- Monogramming foot
- Zipper foot
- Zigzag foot
- Blind hem foot
- Button fitting foot
- Three spool caps
- Spool pin and net
- Seam ripper
- Disc-shaped screwdriver
- Regular screwdriver
- Eyelet punch
- Cleaning brush
- Instructional DVD
- Brother SE 400 manual in English and Spanish
- 25-year limited warranty
What we love about the Brother SE400 (and what we don’t)
The Brother SE400 has plenty going for it, but it also has a few negatives, too. Here’s our pros and cons list in a nutshell:
- Jam-packed with useful features
- Very reasonably priced
- Super easy needle threader
- Practically limitless supply of designs from different sources
- You can customize designs and fonts right on the machine
- Easy to transfer original and downloaded designs to the machine via card or USB
- Useful sensors (thread end, change thread)
- The interface isn’t very intuitive
- Limited design editing capacity
- Design editing/creating software not included
- Low resolution black and white design previews
Before You Buy an Embroidery and Sewing Machine
Can you really embroider magnificent designs with the push of a button? Yes and no. The Brother SE400 sewing and embroidery machine puts a lot of power at your fingertips. But machine embroidery has a bit of a learning curve before you can let that power loose.
Sourcing your designs
In general, the designs you’ll be working with will come from one or more of these sources:
- Your sewing machine’s built-in design library
- Embroidery designs made by your machine’s manufacturer
- Designs you can buy and download from different companies and designers
- Designs that you create yourself
Some machines will only allow you one or two of these options. With the Brother SE 400, however, all of these options are open to you.
The Brother SE400 has a built-in library of 70 embroidery designs, 120 frame designs, and five fonts. You can also purchase Brother SE400 embroidery cards with additional designs. The SE 400 has a USB port, which makes it easy to upload designs that you purchase from other designers. You can also upload your own designs.
There are two caveats, however.
First, you must make sure that any design that you purchase or create will fit within Brother’s four-inch by four-inch embroidery space, because the SE400 won’t tell you if it doesn’t.
Also, if you want to create your own designs or make substantial edits to other people’s designs, you’ll need to purchase software and possibly hardware, too. Some of the higher-end embroidery and sewing machines include proprietary designing and editing software for your computer. The Brother SE 400 does not.
What do you mean by ‘editing’?
You might think that editing designs and fonts on your machine means changing and customizing them in significant ways. Photoshop for embroidery, as it were. While some higher-end embroidery and sewing machines have the capacity to do this, the editing function of the Brother SE400 embroidery machine is comparatively primitive.
In short, if you want to edit on the Brother SE400, your edits will be limited to changing size, rotation, and a few other parameters.
This limited editing capacity may or may not be an obstacle for you. But then again, it might.
Personally, when I design, I like to do it on my computer, with a large screen and software I’m familiar with. This allows me the greatest creativity and the greatest flexibility. By the time I upload my design to my sewing machine, it’s already exactly where I want it.
At the same time, if you want to make certain kinds of changes to other people’s designs, it would be nice to be able to do so without having to transfer it back and forth.
What do you need to make your own designs for the Brother SE400?
Unfortunately, you can’t just take your favorite .JPG and upload it onto your embroidery machine. You first have to convert your design into a file type that your sewing machine can read.
The Brother SE 400 uses two different file types: .PES and .DST. If you want to upload a design onto your machine, it needs to be in one of these formats.
Fortunately, these are common file formats for machine embroidery. Chances are you’ll be able to find plenty of pre-made designs in these formats. Also, many software design packages are able to produce files in these formats.
Next, you’ll need to transfer the design to your Brother SE400. There are two ways of doing this. First, you can put your designs onto aBrother SE400 embroidery card. This requires both an embroidery memory card and an embroidery card reader that plugs into your computer. Alternatively, you can use the Brother SE 400’s USB port to transfer the designs.
Finally, once you transfer your design to your machine, you can make low-level edits like size and rotation.
To summarize, yes you can use your own designs on the Brother SE400 embroidery machine. However, there are several steps to get through before you can begin stitching:
- Create your design
- Edit it to your specifications
- Convert it to a file type your embroidery machine can read
- Transfer your design to your machine
Some terminology you may encounter
Every craft has its jargon, including machine embroidery. Here are a few terms you might come across and what they mean.
Editing means making changes to a font or design. You can make small changes like size and rotation on your Brother SE400 sewing machine. To change the design itself, you’ll need editing software for your computer.
Digitizing means converting text or images into embroidery. You can purchase digitizing software that allows you to convert your own designs and save them in a format your embroidery machine can read. Auto-digitizing software simply converts your design to the right format. Manual digitizing software allows you to make fine changes to your design.
The upshot is, you can use your Brother SE400 on a couple of different levels.
If you’re new to machine embroidery, you can do a lot with the designs in the machine’s built-in design library. There are 70 pre-programmed designs, and you can alter them, put them together, and arrange them in almost limitless combinations.
Once you’re comfortable with Brother’s built-in selections, it’s not too difficult to import other designs, provided they’re of the proper size and in a readable format.
If you want to create and embroider your own designs, it’s going to take some additional work. It’s also going to require purchases of software and possibly hardware, both of which will have their own learning curve.
Are you up to that final challenge? Maybe, maybe not. Either way, you can have a lot of fun with the Brother SE400, and for a comparatively low investment.
Features of the Brother SE400 Computerized Embroidery and Sewing Machine
Here are some of the Brother SE 400’s distinguishing features.
Embroidery Card Reader
You might be wondering what on earth this is. The embroidery card is a storage and transfer device, rather like the floppy discs that computers used to use. Brother used to make embroidery cards that came pre-loaded with their designs. You could also buy blank cards to store and transfer your own designs.
The Brother SE 400 has a reader for the cards, though it can be difficult to find the cards themselves anymore. And if you want to use the blank memory cards to store your own designs, you’ll need to buy a reader to plug into your computer, as well. It’s expensive, it’s old fashioned, and frankly, it’s a bit of a drag.
So it’s fortunate that the Brother SE 400 has a USB port.
Many later sewing and embroidery machines, including the Brother SE 600 (the successor to the SE 400), only have a USB port. You don’t really need any other transfer technology, to tell you the truth, though WiFi transfer could be kind of cool.
One of the Brother SE400’s friendlier features is the change-thread notification. Unless your embroidery machine is equipped for multiple threads (which the SE 400 is not), you’re going to have to stop from time to time to change thread colors.
When it’s time to switch out your thread, the Brother SE 400 will automatically stop and notify you. It sounds like a small thing, but sometimes the little things can save your project.
Is there anything worse than running out of thread in the middle of a segment? The Brother SE 400’s thread-end sensor will let you know that the thread is running out, so that you can change it before that happens.
Automatic needle threader
Many of the best sewing machines have these, but this particular design makes threading even quicker and easier. If you’ve ever squinted at the needle and tried to push the thread through that tiny hole, you know what I’m talking about.
A twin needle uses two threads simultaneously to create parallel and identical rows of stitching. This is excellent for reinforcing seams. It also comes in handy for decorative stitching. Some sewing machines can accommodate a double needle. Others can’t. The Brother SE 400 is one of the sewing machines that can.
Regular sewing features
As far as regular sewing goes, the Brother SE400 sewing and embroidery machine holds its own. It has 67 built-in stitches, including functional stitches like zigzag, straight stitch and blind hem. It also has decorative, quilting, and heirloom stitches.
There’s a good selection of one-step automatic buttonholes, which, combined with the buttonhole foot, make buttonholes a breeze.
The stitch speed — 710 stitches per minute — is a bit below average. But that may not make a difference for you, if you’re mainly interested in embroidery. You can adjust the speed for both sewing and embroidery, so you can be sure to find a speed that’s comfortable for you.
Sometimes you need to see a demonstration to understand the instructions. The included instructional DVD can help you to make the most of this powerful machine.
The Competition: Brother SE400 Alternatives
One of the things Brother excels at is affordability. It would be difficult to find a sewing and embroidery combination machine with the same range of functions as the SE 400 at a similar price. Our competitors are all higher priced, but come with some additional features. Will these features make the difference for you?
Brother SE 600
The Brother SE600 is basically the SE400, but with upgrades. The price is only slightly higher, and for that price, Brother has taken care of some of our wish list items for the SE400.
For example, the SE 600 has a color LCD touchscreen, rather than a black and white display. This makes it easier to visualize your design. It also has a few more built-in designs and fonts.
The card slot is gone, but you don’t need it, because the USB port is still front and center.
You’re still limited to a four-inch by four-inch hoop space, but considering the still-very-reasonable price tag, this is a worthy successor to the SE400.
Janome Horizon Memory Craft 9850
The Janome Horizon Memory Craft 9850 is the gold standard for this kind of machine. You will pay for it, though — to the tune of more than four times what you’d pay for the Brother SE 400. In return, though, you get some extra functions that could be well worth it for the right sewist.
- More than twice as many stitch designs
- More than 100 more built-in embroidery designs
- A much larger, higher-res color LCD touch screen
- Up to 1,000 stitches per minute
- More and better on-machine editing options
- Multiple hoop sizes
If you’re starting a home-based business, or if you already do a lot of machine embroidery and are looking for an upgrade, this could be your new favorite machine.
Brother PE 800
If you’ve read this far and think that an entry-level embroidery and sewing machine may be too limiting, yet you’re not ready to lay down an entire paycheck for the Janome, the Brother PE 800 could be a happy medium.
The two main improvements over the SE400 are the higher-res color touchscreen and the ability to accommodate a five-inch by seven-inch hoop. There are only slightly more built-in designs, but you do get both Japanese and Cyrillic monogram fonts. You can also watch tutorials right on the PE 800’s touch screen.
As with the SE400 and SE 600, you can upload designs to your machine using the built-in USB port.
Be aware, though, that the PE 800 is an embroidery-only machine. If you love the sound of the PE 800, but want something that does regular sewing as well, check out the Brother SE1900.
The Brother SE 400 is a quirky little number. On one hand, it’s inexpensive, and its breadth and variety of features is difficult to find at this price point.
At the same time, some of those features, like the card reader and the instructional DVD are old fashioned, to put it kindly. They don’t harm the performance of the machine, but they are a reminder that this is an older model.
An older model can be an excellent purchase, as once the successor hits the market, you can often pick up the older model for a song. And if value for money makes your heart sing, the feature-rich Brother SE 400 might just hit that sweet spot for you.
On the other hand, if a color touchscreen and a few extra built-ins will make a difference to you, you might want to hold out for the SE 600 instead.