History of Embroidery
Before computers were affordable, most embroidery was
completed by "punching" designs on paper tape that then
ran through a mechanical embroidery machine. One error
could ruin an entire design, forcing the creator to
start over. This is how the term "punching" came to be
used in relation to digitizing embroidery designs.
In 1980, Wilcom is thought by many to have introduced
the first computer graphics embroidery design system
running on a mini-computer. However, old timers often
debate this. Melco Industries has been delivering
embroidery solutions since 1972. Melco created the first
embroidery sample head for use with large Schiffli
looms. This sample head became the first computerized
embroidery machine marketed to home sewers. The sample
head was needed to avoid sewing out the sample for the
Schiffli loom and taking up valuable production time.
Schiffli looms spanned several feet across and produced,
lace, patches and large embroidery patterns. The
economic conditions of the Reagan Years, coupled with
tax incentives of the day for in-home business, helped
propel Melco to the top of the market. Embroidery does
well in times of economic recession or downturn.
machine embroidery process
Machine embroidery in progress.
These are the basic steps for creating embroidery
with a computerized embroidery machine.
purchase or create a digitized embroidery design
edit the design and/or combine with other
load the final design file into the embroidery
stabilize the fabric and place it in the machine
start and monitor the embroidery machine
Digitized embroidery design files can be either
purchased or created. Many machine embroidery designs
can be downloaded from web sites and one can be sewing
them out within minutes. Please note that there are many
different brands of machines, and each may use a
different format. When purchasing or downloading free
designs, you need to make sure you get the format used
by your machine. If your format is not available, you
can get a conversion program to convert from one stitch
file format to another stitch file format - from PES to
HUS or from DST to PCS, for example. Different
conversion software programs are available like Wilcom
TrueSizer, Designer's Gallery, SmartSizer Gold, demo
versions may be available from the manufacturer's
A person who creates
a design is known as an "embroidery digitizer" or
"puncher". The digitizer, or puncher, users digitizing
create their embroidery design.
The digitizer creates
the design in the native file format for the digitizing
software (.OFM for example).
These are 'Object Based' design and allow the digitizer
to easily reshape and edit the design later.
The native file formats retain important information
Original artwork used to punch the designs
As a digitizer it is critical to maintain and keep
the original digitized design file. Converting the
design to a stitch file such as DST, PES and DSB will
lose many of the valuable information, and make editing
and changing the design very difficult or impossible.
Software vendors often advertise "auto-punching" or
"auto-digitizing" capabilities. However, if high quality
embroidery is essential, then industry experts highly
recommend either purchasing solid designs from reputable
digitizers or obtaining training on solid digitization
Once a design has been digitized, it can be edited or
combined with other designs by software. With most
embroidery software the user can rotate, scale, move,
stretch, distort, split, crop, or duplicate the design
in an endless pattern. Most software allows the user to
add text quickly and easily. Often the colors of the
design can be changed, made monochrome, or re-sorted.
More sophisticated packages will allow the user to edit,
add or remove individual stitches. For those without
editing software, some embroidery machines have
rudimentary design editing features built in.
Loading the design
After editing the final design, the design file is
loaded into the embroidery machine. Different machines
expect different files formats. The most common home
design format is PES, which works in Brother, BabyLock,
some Bernina, White, and Simplicity embroidery machines.
Common design file formats for the home and hobby market
include: ART, PES, VIP, JEF, SEW, and HUS. The
commercial format DST (Tajima) is also very popular.
While there are commercial programs to view and convert
these files, there are also simple open source
applications like Embroider Modder. Embroidery patterns
can be transferred to the computerized embroidery
machines in a variety of ways, either through cables,
CDs, floppy disks, USB interfaces, or special cards that
resemble flash and compact cards.
To prevent wrinkles and other problems, the fabric
must be stabilized. The method of stabilizing depends to
a large degree on the type of machine, the fabric type,
and the design density. For example, knits and large
designs typically require firm stabilization. There are
many methods for stabilizing fabric, but most often one
or more additional pieces of material called
"stabilizers" or "interfacing" are added beneath and/or
on top of the fabric. Many types of stabilizers exist,
including cut-away, tear-away, vinyl, nylon,
water-soluble, heat-n-gone, adhesive, open mesh, and
combinations of these. These stabilizers are often
called Pellon, but this is inaccurate as Pellon is a
trademarked brand name of Freudenberg of Germany.
For smaller embroidered items, the item to be
embroidered is hooped, and the hoop is attached to the
machine. There is a mechanism on the machine (usually
called an arm) that then moves the hoop under the
For large commercially embroidered items, a bolt of
fabric can be worked by a long row of embroidery
"heads", producing a continuous pattern of embroidery.
Each embroidery head is a sewing machine with multiple
needles for different colours, and is usually capable of
producing many special fabric effects including
satin-stitch embroidery, chain-stitch embroidery,
sequins, appliqué, cutwork, and other effects. As prices
fall, many of the features traditionally available only
on professional machines are becoming more affordable in
home embroidery machines.
Finally, the embroidery machine is started and
monitored. For commercial machines, this process is a
lot more automated than for the home embroiderer. For
most designs, there is more than one colour, and often
additional processing for appliqués, foam, and other
special effects. Since home machines only have one
needle, every color change requires the user to cut the
thread and change the colour manually. In addition, most
designs will have a few or many jumps that need to be
cut. Depending on the quality and size of the design,
stitching out a design file can require a few minutes or
an hour or more.
All machines are for embroidery only. Some of the more
advanced features becoming available included a large
color touch screen, a USB interface, design editing
software on the machine, embroidery advisor software,
and design file storage systems. Commercial embroidery
machines can be purchased as 1, 2, 4, 6, 12, 15, and 18
machines are now available from 12 to 56 head models.
These machines are limited to certain manufacturers and
can set you back up to 6 figures. Tajima is one of the
best embroidery machine from Japan. Cedars company is a
manufacturer for special embroidery machines from 2 to
45 heads. Melco Embroidery Systems is the only
manufacturer of commercial embroidery machines in the
contract embroidery factories
Factories can have a few small machines or many large
machines, or any combination of machines. Contract
embroidery is a term used to describe embroidery being
done on goods that are supplied by the customer to the
embroidery house. Contract Embroidery is limited to the
trade. A company offering "Contract Embroidery" is
embroidering wearable items for brokers, other
embroiderers, Ad Specialty firms and Screen Printers at
a wholesale rate. The customer of a Contract Embroiderer
usually supplies the items to the factory and only pays
the factory for the embroidery service. Commercial
Embroiderers offer their services to the public and
supply the wearable items.
There are many choices available for software that
can organize, print, edit, convert, split, and even
digitize new designs. Some websites offer tools that
allow you to customize stock designs without the need
for expensive digitizing software. Online design tools
are generally geared towards the consumer rather than
professional. Often the software can be tailored so you
pay for only those features you need. If all you want is
to embroider a design purchased either from the internet
or a reputable digitizer, then you probably don't need
any additional software at all.
High quality designs can be created and/or edited by
trained users with almost any type of digitizing
software, expensive or inexpensive; expensive software
simply automates common tasks and complex embroidery
techniques. Digitizing and editing software ranges from
free to £25,000. For basic software, expect to pay
anywhere from a few hundred to a couple thousand. For
professional software, expect to pay £9,000 to £25,000
or more, depending on the desired features. While there
are some software packages that can auto-digitize
artwork, auto-digitized designs usually result in more
thread breaks and other problems, and have an arguably
lower aesthetic quality relative to designs created by
professional human digitizers. It is important to
understand that digitizing embroidery from artwork is
not the same as using a paint program or a vector-based
drawing tool. Fabric and thread have very real
limitations with which even art or embroidery
professionals need to be familiar. For example, the
minimum text size is quite a bit larger than most
artists expect, circles need to be digitized as ovals to
compensate for fabric pull, and underlay must be chosen
properly to support the specific design. Even designs
that appear to stitch out correctly may have problems
once washed if basic digitizing principles aren't
applied. Factors such as the fabric and thread types
chosen can profoundly affect the final digitized design.
Fortunately, quality training is finally available.
Designer's Gallery, Adorable Ideas, Strawberry Stitch,
and Floriani Embroidery are just a few of the companies
that provide general training on digitizing. There are
also tutorials available for most software packages,
though this is usually geared toward their software
features rather than on general digitizing techniques.
Other good resources include Yahoo groups, books, and a
number of magazines on machine embroidery.
These are just a few of the top quality entry level
(costing several hundred dollar) editing and digitizing
programs: MasterWorks, BuzzEdit v2, Stitch ERA
Essentials, Embroidery Magic 2, Fancyworks Studio,
Embird, PE Design/Palette, Origins, and Generations.
Manufacturers of professional quality digitizing
software include Barudan, Compucon, Pantograms, Pulse,
Wilcom, Sierra, Wings and others.
Just about any type of fabric can be embroidered,
given the proper stabilizer. For example, open lace and
embroidering items are being developed. Anything from
paper to fabric to lightweight balsa wood and more can
Machine embroidery commonly uses polyester, Rayon, or
metallic embroidery thread, though other thread types
are available. 40wt thread is the most commonly used
embroidery thread weight. Bobbin thread is usually
either 60wt or 90wt thread. The quality of thread used
can greatly affect the number of thread breaks and other
embroidery problems. Polyester thread is generally more
color safe and durable. Madeira is just one of the many
companies that sell high quality embroidery thread.
Other associated costs are thread, stabilizer,
purchased designs, needles, bobbins, and other
miscellaneous tools and supplies.
French term meaning applying one piece of fabric
to another. A cut piece of material stitched to
another adding dimension, texture and reducing
Materials, generally non-woven textiles, which
are placed inside or under the item to be
embroidered. The backing provides support and
stability to the garment which will allow better
results to the finished embroidered product.
Backings come primarily in two types: cutaway and
tear-away. With cutaway, the excess backing is cut
with a pair of scissors. With tear-away, the excess
is simply torn away after the item is embroidered.
Additional types which are dissolved either by water
or heat also exist. For all of these the terms
backing and stabilizer are often used
A bobbin is a small spool of threads inside of
the rotary hook housing. The bobbin thread actually
forms the stitches on the underside of the garment.
The bobbin on an embroidery machine works in the
same manner and for the same purpose as on a
standard sewing machine.
The computerized technique of turning a design
image into an embroidery program. Special software
is used to create plotting commands for the
embroidery machine. The commands are transferred to
the machines logic head by a designated embroidery
Fill stitches are a series of running stitches
sewn closely together to form broad areas of
embroidery with varying patterns and stitch
A clamping device used to hold the backer and
fabric in place in the machine.
A running stitch is one line of stitches which
goes from point A to point B. A running stitch is
often used for fine details, outlining, and
Also known as the zig-zag stitch by which a
line, border or edge is produced by thread being
alternately stitched to either side of a baseline.
Satin stitches are generally limited to a maximum of
1/2" in stitch length before some alternate
technique such as split stitching or fill stitching
must be used.
A stabilizing pattern of embroidery which, if
used, precedes the main body of satin or fill
stitching. It consists of one or a combination of
running stitches for centering, edging, paralleling
or zigzagging the design area..