Getting Down to Basics: Not Just for Newbies!

As a veteran embroiderer, it’s easy to forget how confusing things were in the beginning. This post is designed to answer the #1 question I’m frequently asked, most often by email and what you need to know to answer it. Even if you’ve been embroidering for a while, this might be a good review!


Today there are so many machines on the market! New ones are introduced and old ones continue to be used, and I no longer make it a priority to know every model. The two things you need to know to answer this question are:

  • How large is the design compared to your sewing field
  • Is it in a format your machine can recognize

Before you purchase or download any designs, you need to know at least those two things.


Although we often talk about “hoop size,” what we really mean is “sewing field,” which is the actual sewable area within the hoop.

The hoop is always somewhat larger than the sewable area to allow the presser foot enough space to avoid hitting the edge of hoop. Most home machines have mechanisms to recognize which hoop is attached and won’t allow a design to sew if it doesn’t fit the area. (If you have a commercial machine, the following information may not be entirely accurate.)

Most sewing fields are rectangular (even when using a round hoop!), which is not the ideal shape for hoops for securing fabric. To improve stability, hoops have rounded corners and often slightly oval sides, which adds even more “free space” around the design area.

To further confuse the issue, there are specialty “multi-position” hoops that provide 2 or 3 overlapping sewing fields so that larger designs can be sewn.

For example, if your embroidery machine has a sewing field of 4×4″ (100 x 100mm) and you have one of these hoops that has an overlapped area of say 9″ tall by 4 inches wide; you still can’t sew a design that is 6″ tall by 3″ wide without splitting that design apart.


Hi everyone. Just to let you know that some of the links on this site are affiliate links. What that means is that if you click one of them and buy something… I get a commission. It doesn’t cost you anything extra and I only recommend things that I’ve tried and tested, so please, please, please… use my links.

Fine Print: Lindee G Embroidery is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Lindee G Embroidery is also an affiliate for Embroidery.comNancy’s NotionsEmbrilliance, and Craftsy. If you purchase something through one of those links I may receive a small commission, which helps to offset the cost of running this site. 🙂

That said, there is software that will intelligently split designs for these hoops. (Embrilliance Essentials and Enthusiast have great features for this!)

A successful result will depend on how the stitches run in the design. Digitizers don’t plan for this type of alteration unless they are targeting these specialty hoops.

Another tip about sewing field size: although you might think it’s a good idea to have a design that maxes out the entire sewing field, if the design just fits the hoop in either direction, you won’t be able to adjust the position once your fabric is hooped

Sometimes a digitizer will go to extra lengths to split a design so that it can be sewn in multiple hoopings. For example, on the free-standing lace angel project shown below, the angel is a two piece design that sews best in a 200×300 mm hoop (skirt) and 200 x 200mm hoop (wings and head).

I also planned ahead when designing so that those with a 130mm x 180mm (5 x 7″) hoop could sew her with multiple hoopings. Note that this is different from the multi-position hoop mentioned previously. (Full instructions are included in the download.)


Most machines today will read multiple formats. For example, Berninas will read EXP and don’t require ART.

In fact, in this case, unless the design was digitized in software that produces ART, you won’t be getting a native ART file anyway. The ART format can only be created with Bernina’s software, not the standard conversion software most digitizers use.

The important thing to know about format is that when designs are converted with a reputable conversion program, the program will determine:

  • what colors are used (different formats may have restricted color palettes)
  • whether the design is rotated to fit a hoop
  • if the design is split into multiple pieces due to stitch count or color count (not for dimension!)
  • if a design is too large for a particular format, the software won’t convert it (or may shrink it by a user controlled percentage)

In addition to the ability to read multiple formats, your machine likely has a preferred format. This format may be optimized for certain features of your machine.

Additionally, you should always select the newest format your machine will support. For example, Viking formats include HUS, SHV, VIP, and VP3.

If you have the latest model and you download the free-standing lace angel project in HUS format instead of VP3, you will not get the two larger files because they are considered too large for the HUS format. HUS was standardized when the machines were smaller and more basic.

Likewise, if you download in JEF format, although the designs physically fit the sewing field, the high stitch count of the skirt exceeds what that format supports.

Another problem arises with versions of formats. For example, Brother and Baby Lock machines have versions of the PES software. Rather than creating a new format as some of the other companies have done, this format has been enhanced over the years.

Newer versions support realistic thread colors and other features; older versions do not. If you download a PES design your machine or software can’t read, chances are it is a newer version than you system reads.

You may have noticed that not every possible format is supported for the designs on this website. Further, some designs in a collection just may not be available in a format while the rest are. In the latter case, the most likely reason is size.

Today there are so many machine formats and some of the older ones, like CSD and PCS have so few downloads that it is just not cost effective to produce and maintain them on the website. Those formats are included on physical products (CDs) when sold at events.

Every embroiderer should own some utility for converting designs. If you have an older, discontinued embroidery machine, this may be the only way to get new designs for your machine.

Or, if you have an older machine, you may need to “down convert” a design to use it. Some programs will not allow you to “convert” from “new PES” to “old PES” directly. Try converting to a different folder or to a different format. Make sure you don’t overwrite the original.


For my designs, I always recommend downloading the DST version plus any format you need for your machine(s), making sure it is the newest format your machine supports.

DST will give you a “source backup” and it will also ensure that you get every design if you are downloading an entire collection. You may currently only have a small sewing field but what happens when you get that new machine?

DST is the actual format that was tested, no matter which of my 3 primary testing machines I use, which include one multi-needle commercial machine and 2 single needle home machines. The colors may be hideous but DST has a few advantages even on home machines that the “preferred formats” may not.

For example, when sewing an appliqué design in DST on my Designer SE, the “appliqué stop” that I program in when digitizing will move the hoop to its most forward position for easier fabric placement. On my Elissimo, the machine will recognize all the trim commands I’ve programmed in. Converting to home formats often strip these extra commands.


The question to ask yourself here is, how much too big? If just a small percentage (less than 10%), download it in another format and use a good utility to resize it.

Embrilliance Essentials is a a great tool for this and it offers other common features for manipulating designs. I use this one because of its great feature set, ease of use, reasonable price, plus there are versions for both Mac (YAY!) and Windows.

There are no guarantees on resizing a design and there are a number of factors to consider. To learn more about working with designs, please check out my ebook Anatomy of a Design.


If you want “true color” designs, you’ll find that on the VP3 version and newer PES formats.

Keep in mind that even with an actual thread palette to color the design, not all possible threads are included. You won’t see metallics, variegates, color twist, or other specialty threads. For what I actually used in the sample, always refer to the color sequence information.

Because of the problems opening the newer PES formats on some machines, most of the PES designs have been re-converted to support the older format, which means no true color.

Update: This is no longer true. If you can’t open a PES with your software, your software is likely quite old. Please contact me if you need help.

Other design formats will take the colors used in the true color version and map it to their specific color palettes. Sometimes the colors are close and sometimes they are, well, just plain ugly! If you want the design to look pretty in your software or on your machine, you are free to color as you like.

DST, EXP, and PCM will always be “ugly” since these formats only know color changes not color values.

The important thing to know is that the screen colors are just a reference. It’s the thread you load into the machine that ultimately determines how the stitched design will look.

Another reason colors may look weird on screen is that you cannot repeat a color unless it’s separated by some different color. Multiple contiguous colors are merged into one color stop in some formats. Why would you even have multiple color stops be the same? Applique for one. (More on that another time.)


Today there are a wide range of thread brands and each has its own range of colors. Even black and white can be slightly different, which can be noticeable if you have to switch brands in the middle of a large fill area!

I spec most of my designs in Hemingworth because I like the delivery system it offers. Not only does it keep my thread clean and untangled, it’s cat proof! Cisco does like to run off the with little rubber stoppers but my thread is safe! If you’d like to learn more about this thread, visit these sites and search for Hemingworth.

If you don’t use Hemingworth and you don’t want to switch, then a useful program to have is a coloring program. I use one from Embrilliance called Convert It, Mac. Now obviously this is a Mac program but Embrilliance offers programs for Windows as well.

Here’s what I like about this coloring program: When I color a design, it will also give me a list of similar colors from other thread brands and a percentage value of how close the color matches. You can see a sample below. This is great starting place to pick colors from your thread stash.

1: Hemingworth 1006 Gentle Blush, 4177 st. 22.1 m

Gentle Blush Matches:
Sulky 1111 Pastel Orchid (100%) – Sulky 1031 Med. Orchid (99%) – Sulky 1225 Pastel Pink (99%)
MA Rayon 1015 (100%) – MA Rayon 1120 (100%) – MA Rayon 1014 (99%)
RA Poly 9004 Liatris Lavender (100%) – RA Poly 5523 Pink (100%) – RA Poly 9044 Fantasia Pink (100%)
Isacord 1860 (99%) – Isacord 1760 (99%) – Isacord 2166 (99%)


  1. Know what the sewable field is for each of your hoops and whether it is contiguous or overlapping. The physical dimensions of your hoop are larger than the sewable area, so use a template to determine whether a design will work in certain hoop rather than laying the hoop over a design.
  2. Always download the newest formats (when available) that your machine will read and include DST.
  3. Screen color is just a nicety; for accurate colors refer to the color sequence chart.
  4. Expand your design collection by using quality utilities to convert, color, resize, and customize your designs.


Original price was: $37.00.Current price is: $27.00.


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