Convert a Sewing Machine Into a CNC Embroidery Workhorse

SpaceForOne has a fantastic guide that will walk you through converting a regular sewing machine into a CNC embroidery workhorse.

Cameron Coward
11 months agoWearables / 3D Printing

Embroidery machines are expensive and most of the consumer models have limited functionality anyway. They only let you embroider designs stored in their built-in memory with limited customization. That's lame — you want to be able to create completely custom designs like logos and artwork. That is far more useful and is possible to achieve without taking out a second mortgage on your house. Hackster community member SpaceForOne has a fantastic guide that will walk you through converting a regular sewing machine into a CNC embroidery workhorse.

You should be able to replicate this project with just about any sewing machine, though full-size models with strong motors will work best. If you don't already own a sewing machine, you can always buy a brand new one. But don't forget about the used market, because thrift stores are littered with the things and older machines work just fine (and are often built better than new models).

After completing this project, you'll be able to use your computer to control the movement of the hoop on a 2D plane beneath the sewing needle. It will work with any image or text, so the world will become your tapestry.

The conversion should be familiar to anyone experienced with 3D printers or pen plotters. The embroidery hoop attaches to a gantry that rides on a linear rail (the Y axis). That, in turn, rides on two other linear rails (the X axis). Stepper motors pull belts to move those axes. The lengths of the axes only need to be enough so the sewing machine's needle can reach the entirety of the embroidery hoop. Standard T-slot aluminum extrusion acts as the frame and 3D-printed brackets help hold everything together.

You can use an affordable and popular Arduino Uno board to control everything. It will be able to operate the stepper motors through a CNC shield. To interface with the sewing machine, you'll need sensors to monitor the rotation speed of the drive shaft and the position of the needle. The Arduino will control the sewing machine's drive motor through the CNC shield, but it needs that sensor information to operate.

As is often the case for projects like this, you'll be able to use free and open source Inkscape software to create designs. The InkStitch plugin will let you turn those designs into g-code that the Arduino (running GRBL firmware) will be able to interpret. Once you get the workflow down, you'll even be able to embroider multi-color designs by separating each color into its own job.

Cameron Coward
Writer for Hackster News. Proud husband and dog dad. Maker and serial hobbyist.
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