How to Become a Better Embroiderer

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Machine embroidery is way more than throwing a piece of fabric in a hoop and punching a few buttons. The more you learn, the more you realize there is to know! Are you learning the right things?

But First, A Little History

When I bought my first embroidery machine, I thought of it as a cool peripheral for my computer. After all, it had to be attached to the computer to run in the same way that my printer had to be connected to print (no wireless back then!).

That was 1994. Comparing that machine to what we have today is like comparing a buttoneer to a sewing machine and saying they both sew!

Back in 1994 there was no YouTube, no FaceBook or Yahoo groups, no Google to ask “how do I…?”

There was a small group of us on CompuServe but in some ways we were like the blind men describing an elephant. We made our best guesses about things but they weren’t always the full story nor were they always correct or scalable to bigger, faster machines.

Since I was a computer  programmer at the time, I was familiar with “troubleshooting” and I approached digitizing and embroidery in much the same manner as writing computer code. Dealers didn’t know much and it was probably 6 months before I stumbled on commercial embroidery events where professional embroiderers gathered and classes were offered by the industry’s stars.

By the time I found these events, I had a fair amount of experience under my belt. I knew some things that worked most of the time but there were other mysteries I hadn’t quite worked out.

I took every class I could at those events and I still have piles of little black and white composition notebooks crammed with notes and diagrams. When I returned home after the conferences, I tried out the new things I learned to see how they worked.

(Mis)Information Overload?

That was 26 years ago—over a quarter century! Now information, and unfortunately misinformation, abounds. Well-meaning embroiderers are “helping” each other with quasi-useful (or worse) techniques via Facebook Groups, YouTube videos, blogs, and other methods.

All that information I learned from the masters of embroidery is being diluted and mutated, sometimes for good but often for not-so-good. I decided it was time for me to take all the things I learned and have been teaching and compile them into a book.

That book is called The Embroidery Recipe: How Your Ingredients Affect Your Results.

A Recipe for Embroidery?

If you think about it, embroidery really is like a cookie recipe. 

With embroidery, we have a design, thread, fabric, and stabilizers as our ingredients (or inputs, as I thought of it when I was getting started).

Cookies have ingredients too: sweeteners, thickening, fat, and flavoring. Think how many variations you have with cookies when you think of it that way.

Now consider embroidery:

  • Every design reacts differently.
  • Different threads affect not only the look, but how the design affects the fabric.
  • Fabrics come in all sorts of thickness, stretchiness, colors, patterns, textures, and density (weave tightness).
  • Throw in all the stabilizers we now have and the possible combinations are potentially infinite!

I’m always looking for the best way to get the best results on a predictably reliable basis. Yes, I’ll still experiment from time to time but only when I intend to, not when I’m in “production mode.” 

So that you can do the same thing, I’ve plucked out the best of the best from all those years of notes and that’s what’s in The Embroidery Recipe. It’s not a “cookbook” approach to embroidery with actual recipes that tell you what to use and how much. It’s more like an “Alton Brown” type cookbook, where he explains how ingredients interact chemically with one another to produce the desire result.

If you don’t know who Alton Brown is, he was the host of my favorite cooking show. He not only showed how to prepare a recipe but the how’s and why’s behind it. My grandmother always told me not to stir the fudge while it was cooking and not to try making it on a rainy day but Alton explained why. When you know why, you can extend that to other situations.

Embroidery looks so easy when you see it done: put some fabric in a hoop, punch up a design on the machine, load in some thread, and press start. I’m pretty sure if some people knew how much there is to know about predictably producing great looking designs on a wide range of fabrics, they wouldn’t buy that machine! 

The only reason I’m still doing embroidery after all these years is exactly because there’s always something new to learn. I certainly didn’t know that buying an exotic peripheral for my computer would change my life and funnel me into an entirely different career!

What’s in The Embroidery Recipe?

The Embroidery Recipe is a 366 page PDF book that is formatted for printing yourself on standard 8.5 x 11″ paper. I typically don’t print PDF books.

Instead, I just load them on my iPad. I like the convenience of being able to read on the go and to search quickly and easily. 

The table of contents is hot-linked so you can easily jump to any section and the book is filled with live links to additional blog posts, videos, or products that I mention. Plus, with a PDF document, you can easily use the search field to look up anything you want.

 

I start by explaining my “embroidery recipe” theory. Since that only covers the basics of ingredients, gear, and instructions, I follow that up with a definition for quality embroidery that I adapted from one of my early instructors.

According to Ruth Guenther, quality embroidery results from a precise interaction of key ingredients: 

  • A well-prepared design that is suited to the fabric and item being embroidered
  • A properly maintained and tuned machine using the correct needle for the thread and fabric
  • The right thread for the job—both top and bobbin
  • An item suitable for embroidery that is smoothly hooped at the right position in the right size hoop with the hoop properly tensioned, the right topping (if required), and the right backing

As you might guess, a thorough coverage of all those points would take more than a few paragraphs! The rest of the book dissects each of those bullet points so that you have a thorough understanding of everything that goes into producing your own quality embroidery no matter if your machine is the smallest, most basic single needle model or a multi-head multi-needle monster. 

The book is filled with plenty of quick reference charts to make it easy to track down a “what should I use” or “why is it doing that” question.

Be Your Own Chef!

In addition to the book, a small set of designs is included. These are simple but specially digitized to allow you to play with different threads and techniques with a small simple design that can be sewn in a short amount of time and with only a few color changes. In fact, most of the designs are digitized from the exact same piece of artwork so that you can see that an image can be interpreted in many ways.

NOTE: The included designs are intentionally simple and basic to allow you to see different techniques without spending a lot of time if you stitch them out. They are also designed to work in the most basic of hoop sizes.

Two designs are for testing thread tensions. I’ve also included a PDF form version of my original tracking database I designed to teach myself embroidery by trial and error. I documented all of my early attempts and stored them in a binder for future reference when I encountered a similar “recipe.”

What this Book Is Not

The Embroidery Recipe is not about digitizing. However, if you plan to become a digitizer, you need to know how to embroider first so this book is still for you. 

The Embroidery Recipe is not about making specific projects or learning techniques like stitching appliqué or free-standing lace although the included designs do include those techniques. What is covered is the foundation for all embroidery techniques.

This isn’t my Big TOE—theory of embroidery (or “everything,” if you are a physicist). This book comes from our collective embroidery “forefathers and mothers” and is just filtered through me into this book.

So yes, the idea of the recipe card is mine, but the other content is based on standard industry practices which I’ve put into practice and have been using for decades. I definitely stand on the shoulders of those who came before me and there’s no need for me—or you!—to have to rediscover or reinvent known techniques.

I don’t cover software in this book. There are so many options for software on the market these days and it’s not possible to write something that would be relevant to all of them except in the most general way. Besides, software is a moving target and is always changing. 

The techniques for getting good embroidery have stayed the same even though we now have more threads, more stabilizers, and more gadgets to make it easier, faster, and better.

This book also won’t tell you how to use your machine. It came with a manual that covers that!

Are You Ready To Become a Better Embroiderer?

Embroidery lasts the lifetime of the garment. If your project comes out puckered or with gaps here and there, you may have shortened the lifetime of the garment to the time it takes you to unhoop it and throw it out. And if you don’t know why those problems happened, do you think resewing it will help?

Embroidery is way more fun when you have a successful result. There aren’t a lot of rules in embroidery, but there are a lot of guidelines and that’s whyThe Embroidery Recipe should be part of your arsenal.

It will give you the knowledge you need to make better ingredient selections plus tips for better machine settings and hooping techniques to reduce “burnt” projects. 

Get Yours Now!

Your copy of The Embroidery Recipe is just a click away! You can download and be improving your embroidery skills in just minutes!

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