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The Do’s and Don’ts of Machine Embroidery

The Do’s and Don’ts of Machine Embroidery main article image
Posted on December 1, 2022 by Rita Hiller

You’ve got yourself an embroidery machine, seen a lot of wonderful embroidered cushions, quilts, clothes etc. and now you want to get started making them yourself. Watching a modern embroidery machine embroidering is fascinating. If, however, it keeps stopping and you have to sort it, it can be tedious. If you ensure you set it up right with well digitised designs, you’ll be delighted, as you see the designs coming together.

The Do’s and Don’ts of Machine Embroidery for a beginner

Clear lines on silk

  1. Do spend a bit of time working out how your machine works

Hopefully your dealer has demonstrated it and is available for any questions. Don’t be afraid to ask. A new embroidery machine can be a bit overwhelming at the beginning.

  1. Don’t start sewing until you’re sure your machine is properly threaded

Practice threading your machine and make sure you do it accurately, according to the threading guides on the machine or in your machine manual. Modern machines are sensitive and if you miss one step of the threading mechanism and tension guides, you’ll have a bird’s nest on the back at best and maybe a jammed machine which takes a lot of sorting, at worst. Once you’ve done it a couple of times threading will become automatic and you’ll be able to do it in your sleep.

Threading diagrams on machine

  1. Do make sure your spool is correctly threaded

A spool inserted with the thread flowing in the wrong direction spells trouble. The embroidery may look OK on top but you could have a mess on the bottom and the potential for a bird’s nest or it could lead to thread where it shouldn’t be in the spool capsule.

Spool threading direction

         The good news is that almost all modern machines have automatic tension adjustment. Threading is simpler, and you don’t have to adjust the tension like our grandmothers did.

  1. Don’t sew and sew with the same needle

Change your needles regularly, generally, a new project, a new needle. If you’re embroidering natural fabric like silk you may need to change your needle more often. If you’ve ever sewn silk by hand, you’ll know what it does to your finger nails – imagine that on a very fast machine and you’ll know why one needle might not make it. Our grandmothers might have used the same old needle in their sewing machines until it broke but that’s not good enough for an embroidery machine that might be sewing about 1,000 stitches a second.

  1. Do use good quality thread

Thread with poor tensile strength will keep breaking.

  1. Don’t use one stabilizer/ backing for all

The stabilizer / backing as it’s sometimes called needs to be appropriate for the fabric you’re embroidering. One doesn’t fit all!

  1. Do use well digitised designs

Poor quality digitising produces poor quality embroideries. Generally – with maybe a few  exceptions – it’s better to avoid free designs from the internet. The best way to start is to use some of the designs that come with your machine. These have been specially digitised for your machine and should sew out optimally. If you buy designs try out the free one that’s usually offered. If this works well then others from the same source should also be OK

  1. Don’t buy designs in the wrong format for your machine

Embroidery designs come is various formats. You need the right format for your machine pes, .jef, .art, .dst, .exp, .hus, .shv, .xxx, .vip, .vp3 .emb, etc. Your embroidery machine will take a specific machine format. These are file formats that your embroidery machine can read like the ones listed above. Some machines can read more than one format but many only read one. Your machine manual should tell you this. There are many lists in the internet about which machines use which format.

  1. Do try to buy designs digitised for your specific machine

Many designs come zipped in a variety of formats. Check before buying any designs your format is included. You can use conversion programs – again some are good, others not quite so good, so it’s trial and error again. Generally, you need to adjust designs after they’re converted. It can be complicated, so getting the right format straight away saves a lot of time and trouble.

Elaborate design on silk with soft fleece backing

  1. Don’t buy cheap thread

Modern machines are fast and really don’t like cheap thread. They are so fast that poor quality thread and blunt needles simply aren’t good enough.

  1. Do use machine embroidery thread

This is special thread suitable for machine embroidery. If thread is too thin, you’ll have gaps and if it’s too thick it’s likely to cause a build-up that stops the machine running smoothly or breaks the needle.

  1. Don’t start a project without enough spools for the project

It’s very frustrating if in the middle of a project you have to stop to thread spools. With some machines it means completely re-threading the machine after you’ve filled spools. Many embroiderers simply use white for light and black for dark colours. Certainly, on clothes I prefer to change the spool to a matching thread colour. If both sides of the finished embroidery will be visible it’s not a bad idea to match the top thread and spool.

  1. Do use the right sized hoop

A big hoop for a small design isn’t a good idea. Generally, the rule is to use the smallest hoop  possible for the job you’re doing. If you use a bigger hoop than necessary you may find there’s too much movement which means it may not sew out accurately, no matter how well you stabilize it.

  1. Don’t continue embroidering if the machine stops in the middle of a design

Simply carrying on at the point the machine stops after a thread breakage, spool change or broken needle might leave a gap in your design. You need to go back a few stitches. Some machines show you; others have a very accurate needle position so you can see it so do go back a few stitches – 10-20 is usually enough to ensure you don’t have a gap in the embroidery.

With a modern embroidery machine, well digitised designs, good quality thread and the right stabilizer under the fabric, everyone can sew professional looking designs!

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