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Tips for Embroidery Success

I am very keen to give you as much help to produce the very best results when you are machine embroidering. However there is no guarantee that everything you read here will work for you. Achieving great results in machine embroidery requires patience and practise. Talk to several embroiderers and you may well get conflicting advice and so what you read here are just a compilation of guidelines and suggestions from many different machine embroiderers. There are no hard and fast rules in machine embroidery! Experiment and discover what works best for you with your machine and the fabrics. threads and stabilisers you use. Test out these tips, by embroidering the same design in various hoops with different stabilisers and various techniques. This will enable you to decide what is the best method for you.

General guidelines

Take time on a regular basis to re read your Machine manual to discover new ideas and any bad habits you may have developed. Keep an embroidery journal for your projects with photos. List all the threads as well as the designs and fabrics you have used. Also make a note of how you could improve your embroidery and the mistakes to avoid in the future. This is especially important if you are working on a large project and you may not get it all done in one sitting.

Software and storing your designs

Make sure your embroidery software dongles are insured as hardware and use a USB extension to minimise wear and tear on them if they are being moved from computer to laptop and back again frequently. Place all your designs on a cloud storage server such as Dropbox so they do not get lost should your computer crash, be stolen or be destroyed. These are safe places for everything precious including your digital photos. When you receive new designs, open them up in your software and play around with them. See how they fit in the hoop, how they can be arranged and combined. This will help you to become familiar with them so you can start planning on how to use them in future projects. Printing out templates will also help you visualise the actual embroidered size and is a useful way of seeing how they will look on a garment. Don't forget to read all accompanying PDF's that have been carefully prepared by each digitiser as they contain a wealth of information and ideas on the use of the designs. Remember that you need to know what limitations have been set on the use of the designs so you do not infringe upon the licence which you have bought. The ownership of all designs belongs to the digitiser and you do not own them but have bought a licence to  use them. There may be limitations set on their use if you are going to sell the finished project. 

Looking after your embroidery machine

Love your embroidery machines by treating them with care and respect! Regularly clean out your bobbin area with a brush and dust around the outside, to remove dust and lint! Above all keep your scissors away from the screen by developing a system of trimming your threads and putting them down so that they are nowhere near the screen.  To protect my screen from scratches I cover it with an iPad screen protector cut to size.

Needle Advice

Use the best needles available. I prefer top stitching needles for my machine, but ask your dealer what they recommend. Check your needles regularly by feeling the tip to see how sharp it is and also the sides to make sure they are still smooth. Only use the very best quality needles so your embroidery is also of the best quality. Change them for each new project.

Thread Advice

Never skimp on your colours. You need lots of variety for perfect blending and a balanced colour scheme. I can never have enough greens to make my embroidery look natural. A great deal of time is spent on the choice of colours for my embroidery designs and I believe the colour combinations are as important as the digitising. Keep your precious threads out of the sunlight. Sort them in groups:- reds, yellows, greens and blues. I find a thread rack best for colour selection and love the rainbow effect. My racks are placed beside where my machine and I use the nearest row for the current threads I am using.  60wt thread is excellent for facial details, leaf veins and small text. 

When your thread is breaking repeatedly, put it in the freezer, uncovered, for 24 hours. Take it out and for whatever reason, it does not break anymore. Maybe the freezer gives it some moisture, I don't know. But I was having a real problem with this because my thread was packed away for 2-3 years, I did this and it worked for me.

Stabiliser Advice 

Make sure you are familiar with all the different types of stabiliser that are available so you can use the most suitable one for each embroidery project. Do be aware that some fabric needs to be supported by a fusible backing to hold the embroidery stitches. When cutting stabiliser for your hoop leave at least 1” overlap all round. Never skimp on your stabiliser as it is so important! Have several widths of the stabilisers you use most of the time, to avoid wastage. Do mark your different stabilisers when you buy them as they all look very similar. Choose your stabiliser carefully. If you have light fabric it will probably only need a light stabiliser, yet a heavy dense fabric may not need a heavy stabiliser. If you are not sure which to use, do some testings before the final stitch out. Remember that you can purchase stabilisers which can be ironed on the back which may suit more difficult fabrics, such as satins and silks. Some machines will also allow you to set the type of fabric for embroidery as well as for ordinary sewing, so don't forget to set it each time!

Preparations for embroidering designs

Prepare your fabric by washing, drying and steam pressing it before you embroider. Spray starch is recommended by many too!.

If you need to convert my designs to your prefered format, use VP3 if you want to retain the quality. I am NOT saying that you cannot convert my designs but I want the best quality for you. The more you "play" with a design the more the quality is compromised. When a design is rotated, the stitches do not remain exactly as they were. If you are changing the colours of a design I suggest you make the adjustments to your actual file so the thread colours show accurately on your machine screen. This is essential for large designs as I have found out to my cost! The time it takes to do this will be less than putting the wrong thread and having to start again

Look at your thread shades outside especially when you are trying to match them to flowers and leaves. I take a great deal of time selecting the correct shades of thread to get a natural look to my realistic flowers, so I suggest that you use the same threads for the very best look. In my new Floribunda's Serenade collection you will find the roses are not colour sorted so that you can pick different colours for the full roses and the buds. Once you have made your choices of thread colours then do colour sort before embroidering the designs. Many of my designs are not colour sorted as I want to give my customers as much scope to change the colours to suit their project.In my new Floribunda's Serenade collection the colours have not been sorted so that you can choose different colours for the full roses and the buds. After your choices have been made then do colour sort in your software to cut down on the number of thread colours that need to be stitched out.

When you are deciding where to place your design consider bringing up the design in your software, set it at its actual size, and then select it so it has a box around it and place your fabric over the screen of your computer to see where it should be stitched. You will be able to see the design under the fabric if it is not too thick.

Hooping Advice

My prefered method of stabilising is to hoop just the stabiliser, then attach the fabric with pins and/or temporary adhesive spray. In some cases a few hand stitches may help. I then baste the whole fabric in place with the built in stitches on my machine. When you hoop your fabric and stabiliser turn your hoop over and check how it looks on the back especially at the corners where folds may develop. When hooping the fabric and stabiliser do not pull too tight as this may stretch the fabric  causing the fabric to pucker when released. Use the smallest hoop possible to get the best results! Stitching a 130mm x 180mm design in a 240mmx 150mm hoop may compromise your embroidery and resulting in possibile puckering. Hoops that are square offer the best results as the tension upon the fabric is equal on all sides which is why I love my 8" square quilting hoop. When I am using stitch and tear I use two layers of stabiliser but if I am stabilising with Sulky soft 'n sheer which is becoming my preference only one layer is required. If the threads of your fabric are not aligned unpick your OAS and start again.

Stitching out your embroidery

We all get bad sewing days no matter how long we have been machine embroiderers. Trust me I get them too! In my opinion some days it is better not to embroider as you can mess up an embroidery and become disillusioned, if you are stressed and tired. I am sure that nobody else is guilty of this but it pays to be orderly around your machine. They are very high specification machines and if you are not fully attentive to them you are asking for trouble. Take your time and work to a system to avoid silly mistakes. I know we have discussed this before, and some embroiderers never leave their machines. Others listen to what they are doing if they leave the room with a baby monitor. Then there are those whose machines never stop and it would be impossible to live a life without leaving them to get on with it themselves. (Thats me!) There can be a price to pay for doing that, so don't do it if you are working on a very special project. A broken needle can do such damage to your work if it punctures the fabric! I always make sure that I have all the pieces before putting them in my sharps container too! Check that your new needle it pushed up high enough so that it doesn't hit anything when it is fully descended. I did this and it made a horrible noise, so take your time and love your machines as you expect them to work continually for you! Re-calibrate your machine if it is knocked, a needle breaks and you get a birds nest in your bobbin area. Trim your jump stitches after each colour is stitched out so they do not get buried under the remaining colours.

Finishing off your design 

Before you unpick them use your Outline alignment stitches (OAS - exclusive to Graceful Embroidery) to see if your fabric is setting correctly in your hoop. This is so easy to do on fabrics with clear warp and weft like silk dupion which is why I love it!  After your embroidery is finished use the OAS to check your hooping. If they are straight your hooping is excellent but if they have moved inwards in the middle you need to improve the hooping andd stability of your fabric.

When removing stitch and tear stabiliser, run a damp cotton bud (Q tip) near to your stitches on the back of your work, too weaken the stabiliser and prevent distortion when you pull it away. This is only suitable if your fabric is colour fast and should probably not be used on silk. Remove as much stabiliser as possible to prevent puckering. On dense designs where this may not be possible consider the option of wash away stabiliser or a cut away stabliser which is very light like Sulky Soft and Sheer.

When you use Wash away stabiliser trim your jump stitches before you wash the stabiliser out. This is so much easier and prevents tangles on free standing lace.

When you have removed as much stabiliser as is possible you need to set the stitches of your embroidery by pressing them on the back into wool flannel or a terry towel.

When things go wrong

It happens to us all, and we have to make the decision whether to scrap or unpick. From my experience I think it best to at least try and learn from your attempts. My first advice is always to unpick from the back so that the stabiliser is damaged rather than the fabric. When you are removing alignment stitches it is also much easier to attack them underneath too. I usually patch the area by spraying some temporary adhesive underneath and applying a little patch of stabiliser to reinforce the area which I have attacked. My great concern is that when you unpick the fabric it stretches and can get loosened in the hoop, which is almost impossible to get taut again because if you take it out it is difficult to re hoop accurately. But I encourage you to try this and find a system that works for you.

Other tips to improve your embroidery

If you stitch out a colour twice you may get a fuller look to your embroidery. Worth trying but not on dense embroidery. Useful for details like faces, leaf veins and small fonts.

For very special embroidery projects where you do not want any show through of bobbin thread use the same thread in the bobbin as on the top. You will be delighted with the results and be glad you took the extra effort.