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Many of us are under the illusion that embroidery is just the stitching that happens at the machine and I think that impression comes from that first demo at the dealership.

A small piece of fabric is quickly hooped, some thread is loaded, a few buttons are punched, and VOILA! An embroidery design magically appears. All focus is on the machine stitching and the rest of the process is ignored.

19-bad-habitsAs I’ve mentioned in other posts and in my Craftsy class, 20 Things Every Machine Embroidery Should Know, there’s a little more to it than just the stitching part.

Developing good habits can take you a long way towards that perfect, professional look you crave. So check out my list of “bad habits” below and see if there are any that you’ve allowed to creep into your work flow on a regular basis.

They’re not in any particular order, say, from least offensive to worst, just in a more or less semi-logical order. And, given more time, I could probably come up with more but these are the most common ones I see on Facebook, chat groups, and in classes.

1. Not cleaning your machine.

Embroidery can be high stitch count and since those stitches can be applied much faster than when making a garment, it’s easy to overlook cleaning if we’re used to thinking in terms of time rather than the amount of work done by the machine.

The bobbin area can quickly fill with fuzz and even bits of thread. It’s even possible that if you never clean your machine that it could build up enough fuzz in there to kindle a fire! Talk about dust bunnies!

Inspect the bobbin case every time you change the bobbin and sweep it out often with the little brush that came with your machine.

Canned air is not recommended on domestic machines. Instead, you can get some little vacuum attachments like these from Amazon. They’re also great for cleaning computers. Plus, I use them on the little storage trays on the inside of my sewing cabinet and in drawers to get the lint and threads out without having to remove everything in the drawer.
MIcro vacuum cleaner attachments
At some point you’ll need to do a more thorough cleaning of the bobbin area, especially if you experience a bird nest and have a wad of thread tangled in your bobbin area.

Example of birdnesting on back of embroidery

Review your operator manual to see if other routine maintenance is required, such as oiling. More info on birdnests can be found here:

 

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2. Not unthreading your machine properly.

Are you the kind of person who wants to conserve every inch of thread and therefore unthreads your machine by pulling the thread backwards through the machine? The best way to avoid damaging your machine is to clip the thread at the first thread guide and then pull the clipped thread from the needle end.

On my multi-needle machine, I tie on new threads at the clipped end to pull through the machine. This habit can be a hard one to break, especially if you’ve been doing it for many years but fortunately it’s an easy step to take.

I’ll admit that when a thread breaks and shreds it can be difficult to grab if it gets pulled up into an inaccessible area but do try your best to not extract it by pulling it back through the tensions discs where it could get caught.

Most machines don’t open up like my old Necchi did to allow access to this area so a good pair of tweezers or a crochet hook are handy tools to have available to pull it out through the slots on the front of the machine.

3. Not taking your machine in for maintenance. image of an old rusted sewing machine

While I’m on a theme here about taking care of your machine, don’t skip any professional maintenance. How often will depend on how you use your machine but even if it sits in a closet for a whole year, you still need to have it serviced by a qualified technician.

Plus, it’s often cheaper to maintain a sewing machine than it is to repair it once it’s broken due to lack of maintenance.

For machines that are too large to easily transport, check around with other embroiderers or an embroidery shop to see who services their machines and arrange to have the tech to stop by when he’s in your area.

4. Not changing the needle often enough/using whatever needle is in the machine.

If you’re not a needle nerd, then you might not realize that the needle is a very precisely engineered piece of high tech machinery. Needles designed for machine embroidery are built for high speed with decorative threads, which are generally more fragile than construction threads.

The rule for selecting the right needle is to choose the smallest needle that can carry the thread through the fabric without damage to the needle, thread, or fabric. Smaller needles place the stitches more precisely and the size I use most often is 75/11.

Needles are a good thing to buy in bulk so that you always have them on hand. A damaged needle or the wrong needle can damage the fabric, shred the thread, and skip stitches. I talk quite a bit about needles in my Craftsy class, Thread Savvy.

Schmetz Embroidery Needles

Use quality needles!

5. Not using the proper bobbin.

Bobbins are critical for proper stitch formation. If your machine uses a custom bobbin, using a “generic” one may result in tension problems or skipped stitches. For example, my Viking SE has a customized bobbin and while it will stitch with some prewounds, I see a noticeable quality difference when I do.

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6. Not using embroidery bobbin thread.

The purpose of the bobbin thread for embroidery is to pull the top thread to the back and be invisible on the front. You’ll want a thread that doesn’t unnecessarily add extra bulk or stiffness to the design.

I love prewound machine embroidery bobbins because they are evenly wound with the type and size of thread I need and they work well with most of my machines. If you want to match the bobbin thread to the top, choose 60 wt polyester embroidery thread for the bobbin. Using a matching 40 wt thread will make your embroidery feel stiffer.

I buy bobbins in quantity because this drastically reduces the price per bobbin. Prewounds are more evenly wound, hold more thread, and are more convenient. I do like these plastic Neb Prewound Bobbins better than the cardboard kind.

NEBs pre-wound bobbins

They do cost a little more but they seem to run smoother, don’t block the bobbin out indicator on most machines, and are sturdier than cardboard, which can swell and warp in humid climates.

I keep a box of both black and white. Black is best for stitching on dark fabrics. If you don’t think you’ll ever use a gross of black, smaller packages are available. In fact, you might want to just try one of the smaller ones to see how they do in your machine before really stocking up.

7. “Floating” every project instead of hooping.

“Floating” is the term used when, instead of hooping the project with the stabilizer(s) between the rings of the hoop, you only hoop the stabilizer and let the project ride on top. Yes, there are times when this is called for but most “normal” items should be hooped between the rings.

The hoop is part of the stabilizing process and securing your project to the stabilizer with spray, tape, pins, and/or basting stitches is generally less stable. Items that shift during stitching can have gaps in the stitching or other mismatched areas that indicate registration problems.

Monogram after embroidering.

More on floating an be found in this post: Turning Thrift Store Finds into a Fashion Statement.

8. Poor hooping technique.

The purpose of the hoop is to hold your item securely for stitching. A properly hooped item will be smooth and ripple free, with the fabric on grain and not stretched and with the stabilizer fully hooped. Both the fabric and the stabilizer should be fully hooped with no gaps.

The stabilizer should be smooth and taut while the fabric remains at neutral tension, neither stretched nor slack.

Proper hooping is so vital to good embroidery and I see it done so badly so often that I demo it in both my Craftsy classes:

 

9. Tugging on the fabric after hooping.

This a big no-no! Unless you’re stitching on something that will be worn stretched, you should never pull on the fabric after hooping as this can stretch and distort the fabric. Stretched fabric will pucker more than unstretched fabric. Learn more about what causes puckering: Why Does My Embroidery Pucker?

Don't pull on fabric after hooping.

10. Tightening the screw after hooping.

There are very few fabrics that require tightening the hoop screw after hooping. Thick, spongy fabrics like a blanket are an example but for the average fabric, tightening the screw actually LOOSENS the fabric near the screw and does not evenly distribute the hoop tension.

If the hoop is too loose, finger tighten, then unhoop and rehoop.

Don’t believe me? Hoop a piece of fabric, tight the screw, and then gently run your fingers over the hooped fabric. Where is it firm? Where is it soggy?

11. Not spending enough time on hooping.

Yeah, yeah, hooping is not the fun part and we want to get to the more exciting and “real” part of embroidery that occurs at the machine. The truth is, proper hooping with the right stabilizer(s), correct tensions, and in the right place affects the rest of your project.

Hooping is the foundation and if it’s shaky, your final result will show that. You can’t undo a bad hooping. Take your time and do it right!

12. Leaving your project in the hoop too long.

Don’t hoop until you’re ready to stitch and do unhoop when you’re done. Hooping the night before or leaving a project hooped too long can damage the fabric or leave marks.

13. Overuse of TESAs.

Temporary embroidery spray adhesives, or TESAs as I call them, are wonderful products. However, you don’t need them on every project. Excessive and/or improper use can gum up your machine or your needle. Once the eye of the needle gets gummed up, you’ll experience more thread breaks.

If the sticky area is isolated, you might be able to clean out the needle eye by “flossing” it with some thread. Don’t use a pin or other sharp object as you could possibly damage the eye, which could cause more thread shredding and breakage.

Sully KK2000 Temporary embroidery spray adhesive

Tip: My favorite TESA is Sulky KK2000. You can force dissipate it with a warm dry iron. Good to know if you need to wet your project (say, to remove stabilizer) and the adhesive is still active.

14. Not trimming thread tails or jumps properly.

Nothing annoys me more than seeing an otherwise great looking embroidery with untrimmed thread jumps!

Newer machines often trim threads for you at color changes and when threads exceed a certain length. On short connections, your machine may not trim and on more basic models, your machine may not trim at all.

Machines that do trim, will pull the thread to the back and leave a short thread tail. These thread tails are security so resist the urge to trim them off flush with your fabric!

Very short jumps even with trim commands may not be recognized by your machine.

On jumps that your machine doesn’t trim, use tweezers to apply a bit of tension and then clip with thread snips close to the fabric. I recommend trimming any uncut jumps at each color change so they don’t get sewn into the design.

If those jumps are short, then only trim the front. If they’re long enough on the back to catch on something, then trim them leaving a 1/4″-3/8″ tail on each trimmed end.

Learn more about jumps and trims and when they’re needed here: About Those Dreaded Jump Stitches! They’re not always the mark of a poor digitizing!

15. Always stitching at the maximum machine speed.

I have machines that will stitch at 1000 stitches per minute and faster yet I rarely stitch faster than 700spm and sometimes as slow as 400spm with tricky threads.

The faster you sew, the more friction–and therefore heat–is created and that can be damaging to thread. Also, that thread is sawing back and forth in the eye of needle many times before it actually gets stitched into the fabric.

Plus, the faster your machine sews, the more tension is created on the thread. More tension means tighter stitches that get flattened onto the fabric and also pull on the fabric resulting in more puckers. As they say, “speed kills!”

16. Never optimizing machine tensions.

Yeah, new machines are pretty smart and do so many things automatically for us that it can be easy to think they do everything perfectly every time. Be sure to pay attention to your machine’s thread tensions, both upper and lower and make any adjustments as needed. Tensions can be balanced and still be too loose or too tight. Too loose will be loopy and too tight can cause puckering. You want the Goldilocks zone of just right.Rose stitched in polyester thread is puckered

17. Not testing your design.

You just downloaded a new design and you’re going to sew it on that brand new t-shirt to wear to the barbecue later. Time is short, so you hoop up the t-shirt and get ready to stitch. You saw an image of the design on the internet, it looked great so everything should be fine, right? Uh, well, do you feel lucky?

If the image you saw was a “3D” version from software and the design was free and it’s not from a reputable digitizer who’s known for high quality digitizing, how do you know it was even test sewn? Even if you see a scanned version of the sew-out and it looks great, that’s still no guarantee that it will sew well for you on your machine with your project.

Before you stitch it, open it up in an embroidery program and do a virtual sew out with a sewing simulator. If you’re an experienced embroiderer, you’ll know what to look for. If not, well that’s the beyond the scope of this post so just check out my ebook, Anatomy of a Design: How to Think Like a Digitizer and Become a Better Embroiderer where I take you under the hood of an embroidery design and show you what to look for.

Anatomy of a Design ebook image

If you don’t know what a stitch simulator is, I used the one in Embrilliance in this YouTube video: How to Extract & Edit a Design in Embrilliance Enthusiast. This video is admittedly on a different topic but if you have no idea what a stitch simulator is, it will give you an idea of how it can be used to see a design stitch on the screen plus how to use it to extract parts of a design.

When testing, you’ll want to use the same materials as your final project because not only are you checking the integrity of your design, you’re verifying stabilizers, hooping technique, thread colors, machine tensions, and whether you even like it.

If it turns out badly, analyze why. If it’s the design and you can’t fix it no matter what, delete it so you won’t waste your time with it again. If the design was from a reputable source, contact the designer and see if they can help. Sometimes a problem design can slip through the cracks and a good designer will want to correct it.

As I repeatedly say in classes, there are two kinds of embroiderers: those who test and those who wish they had.

More on testing designs plus a free downloadable design evaluation form can be found here: Why Test Embroidery Designs?

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18. Not using quality products.

Cheap thread shreds, looks ratty and may even bleed or fade during laundering. Old, dried out thread or poorly stored thread can also break and shred excessively.

Cheap, low quality needles likewise are no bargain. Unless you sew the same types of designs on the same types of fabric, you’ll need a range of stabilizers and in this case, many of the various brands are made in a small handful of factories so there won’t be a lot of difference in basic products.

In general, larger spools, cones, tubes and packages cost less per yard than tiny “sample” size versions, so buy larger sizes on products you use the most of.

Feature image, threads

As odd as it seems, some machines just “prefer” some thread brands over others, especially with the “more special” specialty threads. Find a brand you like that works well on your machine for the type of work you do but don’t be afraid to experiment.

I get into all sorts of different types of thread like metallics, glow-in the-dark, wooly blends, and color changing threads in my Craftsy class, Thread Savvy.

Feature image, metallic threads with embroidery

19. Rushing and/or procrastinating.

So your machine says it will take 56 minutes to complete a design. It lies.

That doesn’t account for thread breaks, color changes, hooping, picking thread colors, setting up the machine and all the other things that go into deciding on a project, picking the designs, and planning the layout.

Be sure to allow yourself plenty of time to work on the project without rushing because that’s when good old Murphy steps in. In other words, don’t be starting Christmas projects on Christmas Eve! You need enough time to do it right the first time, otherwise you will be doing it over.

How’d You Do?

Developing and maintaining good embroidery habits will give you more professional results. And good results are more enjoyable and keep you in the game longer!

There’s a lot to learn about embroidery and that’s what’s kept me doing it for so long. I have a low tolerance for boredom and if there weren’t so many interesting things to do with machine embroidery, I would have abandoned it long ago.

Keep your projects fresh with new techniques and new products. Experiment, play. Doing new, creative and different things keeps your brain younger longer!