Why Are My Outlines Off on My Embroidery Design?

Running stitch outlines, especially around large fill objects, can be hard to control perfectly. If there are gaps between the outline and the stitches, discover the 6 most common reasons to determine if they are a design (digitizer) problem or an embroidery problem.


Digitizing perfectly placed outlines that will work well every time no matter the fabric, the stabilizer, the hooping technique, the machine, or the thread tensions is impossible. What works well and gets perfect placement when tested by the digitizer may not work well for you.

If you have a scanned image of an actual sewout with well-placed outlines, then there’s probably something going wrong on the embroidery side, not the digitizer’s. If you have a rendered image of the design in software and the outlines are perfect, then it probably is a design problem.

Check the design first in your software. If running stitch outlines are spot-on along the edges of a design as they should look when sewing, don’t even sew it out. The digitizer has not compensated for the distortions of sewing and you will definitely have registration issues. (See my related article on Understanding Compensation.)


If you’ve sewn a well-digitized design and you’re having problems here is a list of things to check.

  1. Are You Being Too Perfectionistic? We embroiderers often expect every stitch to be perfectly placed. Running stitch outlines should exactly match up around the perimeter of the design with every single stitch in place. Quality embroidery is certainly achievable; perfect embroidery is not. If you are a perfectionist, you need to adjust your reality a bit. If you sew out a design from top notch digitizers ten times under the same high quality circumstances: thread, fabric, stabilizer,machine, etc. you will have slight variations on each.
  2. Are Your Machine Tensions Properly Set? If the needle and/or bobbin threads are too tightly tensioned, stitches will be pulled more tightly. When this happens fills will “shrink” and when the outlines sew where they are supposed to, the rest of the design is not where it’s supposed to be and there is a gap.
  3. Is Your Stabilizer Stabilizing? If your stabilizer is inadequate or breaks down before the outline sews, then you have the same problem as overly tight tensions: the outline sews in place but the fabric has shifted. Try switching from a tearaway to a cutaway and using a temporary embroidery spray adhesive to hold the fabric in place during embroidery.
  4. Is the Fabric Hooped Properly? Fabric needs to be hooped at neutral tension, neither stretched nor slack. For wovens, this if you push your finger across the surface, you won’t have a little wave of fabric surfing ahead of your finger. To prevent this from occurring with knits, use a fusible backing or temporary spray adhesive to adhere the stabilizer to the fabric. Be sure to hoop the stabilizer with the fabric between the rings of the hoop. If the fabric slips in the hoop during the embroidery process the outline won’t match up.
  5. Did You Use the Right Size Hoop? For optimum fabric control, you want a hoop that is slightly larger than the design. Using a larger hoop than necessary may allow the fabric to distort more during the sewing process
  6. Did You Color Sort? If you combine multiple designs in a larger hoop and then color sort the design to reduce the number of thread changes, you have just increased the chances of outlines not aligning. Even if you didn’t combine designs, color sorting is not a wise decision. Experienced digitizers will optimize a design first for precise placement and second for color change efficiency. The embroidery will last the lifetime of the garment. Why not spend a few extra minutes changing thread to get the best result?


In this case, the problem is not a bad design. The design was stitched on polar fleece—a knit—with a tearaway. When a no-show cutaway is substituted, I get a perfect sewout.

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


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