Why Test Embroidery Designs?

Why should you test an embroidery design? Isn’t that the job of the digitizer? Yes, but… I’m convinced there are two types of embroiderers—those who test and those who wish they did! If you’re wondering why you should test, read on!


Yes, it is the job of the digitizer to test the design before making it available for others. When a design is custom digitized, the embroidery is specifically created to work on the target item.

The color and type of fabric iares carefully considered as well as the type of item it is—say a flat garment versus a finished cap. Stock designs are digitized for a mythical “average” fabric.

According to one major stock design company, this is poplin with two layers of cutaway. I don’t know about you, but I don’t often embroider on poplin and I don’t want two layers of cutaway behind it!

Typically, a stock design is targeted for medium weave fabric of neutral color with no pattern or texture. Additionally, the fabric is hooped on grain between the rings of the hoop with the appropriate stabilizer. I imagine average fabric to be something similar to kettle cloth—not too tightly woven nor too loosely, a medium weight fabric with somebody to it.


Chances are, even if you are sewing the design with no modifications (resizing is the most common modification), you are sewing under different conditions. Who really embroiderers on “average” fabric? You’re using a different fabric; different machine; different thread colors, brand, or type; needles; bobbin; stabilizer, etc. Even if they are the same as what the digitizer used, machine tensions may be different and even environmental conditions can affect the outcome.

I test a design even if it’s one I digitized and have already tested in the past. I want to make sure it transferred to the machine properly, that my machine tensions are correct, that I like the thread colors when combined with this particular fabric, that my stabilizer offers the necessary support without contributing unnecessary bulk or stiffness to my project.

Over the years, I’ve had numerous embroiderers, teachers, and dealers say, “Oh I never test your designs. I know they always sew out perfectly.” And secretly, I cringe and I just have this image from a Dirty Harry movie—you know that one where Harry is asking, “Do you feel lucky, punk? Well, do ya?”


OK, so yes, embroidery machines are really smart these days and will stop when there’s a thread break. I know a lot of embroiderers who use baby monitors to let them know when the machine has stopped for a thread break. However, all kinds of things can happen that can ruin a project if you aren’t there to catch them.

Things like looping, birds nests, parts of your project getting sewn into the embroidery, thread shedding that continue still allow the machine to sew, thread catching or not feeding properly and causing problems, even “hoop pops,” which can cause your project to become unhooped. That’s why I stay with my machine while it stitches.

And, yes, I’ll admit I’m also a bit persnickity about how the design sews and by watching it, I can see if any improvements can be made. I also secretly wonder if the machine has some little sensor that triggers it’s ornery side to surface when I’m not watching, much like your pet or kids…


I’m a bigger believer in preparation than luck and for me, that includes testing!

When I first started embroidering, I was pretty particular about tracking my results. By paying attention to the results and recording them, overtime, I learned how to predictably produce excellent results most of the time.

I say “most of the time” because we don’t have total control over every single factor in the process. Even under the best circumstances, the machine can still eat your fabric, the power can go off, and other unpreventable things can “just happen.” You can download a pdf version of the evaluation form I used to track my results. Store the completed form with a sample of the sewout in a plastic sheet protector in a binder. This is an excellent tool if you are experimenting with new techniques or learning to digitize!


Design Evaluation Form (U.S. format 8.5 x 11) Design Evaluation Form (A-4 format)


As you become more experienced, you’ll start to see things you didn’t notice before. I’ve already mentioned common problems in this post but a savvy embroiderer can learn a lot about a design before stitching by scoping it out in software.

I recommend every embroiderer having at least a customizing program. This is program that will let you resize, mirror, rotate, add lettering and combine designs on your computer. Yes, most machines can also do that but you’ll have more control on your computer.

Additionally, most customizing programs have a “virtual sew out” function, which will let you simulate the sewing on-screen. As you become a more experienced embroiderer, you can learn to detect problems here instead of halfway through an actual sew out.

What should you be looking for? Things like stitch types, stitch length, stitch density, efficient pathing, and color sequencing. Those things are beyond the scope of this article and I cover them in depth in my e-book, Anatomy of a Design: How to Think Like a Digitizer and Become a Better Embroiderer. Check the shop area for a free sample chapter you can download.

Anatomy of a Design ebook image


You probably know you can’t stitch a redwork design on a thick terry cloth towel and expect it to stand out the same as it would on a smooth cotton. But did you know you can have problems with a really dense design on denim?

Just because you have a design, thread, machine, and all the other “ingredients” for an embroidery doesn’t mean they’ll work well together. Learning what makes a design “tick” and how it interacts with different fabrics can make it easier to predict and create successful results.

You can learn by trial and error and tracking your results with the design evaluation form or you can jump-

start your success by reading Anatomy of a Design and taking classes. With the relatively recent advent of online training like Craftsy, you can take classes from top instructors at your convenience.

Sure, there are YouTube videos that are free, but many of them are questionable and some you may need to gulp a few Dramamine before watching. Deborah Jones, in particular, has several classes that focus on stitching on different types of fabrics:

Two other ones are

You can find discount links to my favorite classes on my Craftsy page.


Since the coupon codes were originally posted on this site, Craftsy has changed the way they handle coupons limiting them to 90 days.

Because of that, I have to figure out new way to provide coupon codes… Another thing to add to my to do list.


While testing alone won’t guarantee a perfect result, it can get you started in the right direction. And when you do test, you should test under the same (or as close as possible to the same) conditions as your actual project.

I find I can get a lot of “test fabric” at places like Goodwill much more economically than buying from the fabric store. Yard sales are another possibility. I started off this post with “I’m convinced there are two types of embroiderers—those who test and those who wish they did!” Which will you be now?


  • Anatomy of Design is an e-book designed for embroiderers who want to understand what’s going with designs and therefore make better choices when selecting designs, fabric, stabilizers, and threads


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