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 digitising embroidery designs.
1980: The Computer Graphics Embroidery System by Wilcom
In 1980, Wilcom introduced the first computer graphics embroidery design system running on a mini-computer. The operator would ’digitise’ the design into the computer using similar techniques to ’punching’, and the machine would stitch out the digitised design. Wilcom enhanced this technology in 1982 with the introduction of the first multi-user system that allowed more than one person to be working on a different part of the embroidery process, vastly streamlining production times.
The Computerised Machine Embroidery Process
These are the basic steps for creating embroidery with a computerised embroidery machine. ’auto-punching’ or ’auto-digitising’ capabilities. However, if high quality embroidery is essential, then industry experts highly recommend either purchasing solid designs from reputable digitisers or obtaining training on solid digitisation techniques.
Once a design has been digitised, 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. Embroidery patterns can be transferred to the computerised embroidery machines in a variety of ways, either through cables, CDs, floppy disks, USB interfaces, or special cards that resemble flash and compact cards.
Stabilising the Fabric
To prevent wrinkles and other problems, the fabric must be stabilised. The method of stabilising 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 stabilisation. There are many methods for stabilising fabric, but most often one or more additional pieces of material called ’stabilisers’ or ’interfacing’ are added beneath and/or on top of the fabric. Many types of stabilisers exist, including cut-away, tear-away, vinyl, nylon, water-soluble, heat-n-gone, adhesive, open mesh, and combinations of these. These stablisers are often called Pelan.
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 needle.
Embroidering the Design
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 color, and often additional processing for appliques, 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 color manually. In addition, most designs will have a few or many jumps that need to be cut. Depending on the quality and sise of the design, stitching out a design file can require a few minutes or an hour or more.
Commercial and Contract Embroidery Factories
Factories can have a few small machines or many large machines, depending on what type of orders they are set up for. The cost for embroidery is normally based on the stitch count. There is sometimes an extra charge for items that have a difficult logo location.
Editing and Digitising Software
There are many choices available for software that can organise, print, edit, convert, split, and even digitise new designs. Some websites offer tools that allow you to customise stock designs without the need for expensive digitising 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 digitiser, then you probably don’t need any additional software at all.
It is important to understand that digitising 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 sise is quite a bit larger than most artists expect, circles need to be digitised 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 digitising principles aren’t applied. Factors such as the fabric and thread types chosen can profoundly affect the final digitised design.
Just about any type of fabric can be embroidered, given the proper stabiliser. For example, open lace and fashion scarves can be made in concert with water-soluble stabiliser. New and innovative ways of hooping and embroidering items are being developed. Anything from paper to fabric to lightweight balsa wood and more can be embroidered.
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 a higher quality thread that is more color safe and durable.
French term meaning applying one piece of fabric to another. A cut piece of material stitched to another adding dimension, texture and reducing stitch count.
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 tearaway. With cutaway, the excess backing is cut with a pair of scissors. With tearaway, 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 stabiliser are often used interchangeably.
A bobbin is a small spool 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 home sewing machine.
To take an image and use an embroidery program to turn it into an embroidery design a computerised machine can read and sew. Often misspelled as ’digitalise.’
Fill stitches are series of running stitches formed closely together to form different patterns and stitch directions. Fill stitches are used to cover large areas.
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 underlay.
A satin stitch is a series of zig-zag stitches which are formed closely together. A satin stitch is normally anywhere from 2 mm to 12 mm.
Underlay stitches are used under the regular stitching in a design. The stitches are placed to provide stability to the fabric and to create different effects. Underlay is normally a series of running stitches or a very light density fill often placed in the opposite direction that the stitching will go.
Machine embroidery is a term that can be used to describe two different actions. The first is using a sewing machine to Purchase or create a digitised embroidery design file edit the design and/or combine with other designs (optional) load the final design file into the embroidery machine stabilise the fabric and place it in the machine start and monitor the embroidery machineDesign Files
Digitised 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. If design files are to be created, special software is needed to digitise the design.