Right from ancient days to date, the art and craft of embroidery has endured, changing little in terms of technique.
But just like almost every other industry, technology has brought about massive changes in terms of production methods and production output.
Long gone are the days when you had to use your hands when embroidering. And long gone are the days when you had to use a sewing machine.
In this post we’ll talk about computer-controlled machine embroidery, and everything you need to know about it
What is Machine Embroidery?
To understand what machine embroidery is, you must first understand what came before it: hand embroidery.
Hand embroidery has been around for millennia – as far back as the days of Ancient Egypt. In the intervening years, the techniques of embroidery have changed but little.
In fact, it would seem that the ancient embroiderers had a sophistication of technique that still has the capacity to take away the breath of modern embroiderers.
Embroidery is the art/craft of decorating fabric with the use of needle, thread, or yarn. The embroiderer decorates the fabric with pearls, beads, quills, sequins, and so forth – anything that can be sewn onto the garment to make it more appealing to the eye.
For millennia, hand embroidery was the only way to carry out this task. That is until the industrial revolution of the eighteenth century when everything changed.
With the invention of machines, the speed and efficiency of the embroidery process picked up exponentially. This led to a higher rate of production, and consequently hand embroidery became the preserve of hobbyists as commercial and industrial application went to machine embroidery.
There are two main types of machine embroidery:
1. Free-motion machine embroidery – it uses a sewing machine. As such, the process lacks the automated features of a specialized embroidery machine. It is a manual process.
2. Computerized machine embroidery – it uses modern computer-controlled embroidery machines. This article focuses on how these machines operate.
How Computerized Embroidery Machines Work:
Since modern embroidery machines are computer-controlled and specifically engineered for embroidery, they are the best choice for commercial and industrial applications.
Unlike hand embroidery and free-motion machine embroidery, using these machines is an automated process. The embroiderer does not expend any energy in the stitching process.
Where he has to work hard and draw on his creativity is design – creating the design file that depicts the pattern he or she wants to add to a piece of fabric.
The Procedure Involved in Using an Embroidery Machine:
Step One: Purchase or Create the Design File
As I said, the computerized embroidery process uses a digitized embroidery design file. The file should be compatible with the embroidery machine brand you are using. You can either purchase it or create it using embroidery digitizing software.
The design file formats can be classified in two categories:
- Formats specific to the embroidery digitizing software you use to create the design.
- Formats specific to a particular brand of embroidery machine.
Step Two: Edit the Design
The next step is to edit the design file using the software. The embroidery program will give you the ability to split, distort, duplicate, crop, split, stretch, scale, move, or rotate the design to create the patterns that please you most.
You can also add text, change the colors, make the colors monochrome, or resort them. You can combine the design with other designs to make a creative and unique hybrid design.
Some sophisticated packages also enable you to add, edit, or remove individual stitches.
Some embroidery machines have built-in features that enable you to carry out some editing on the design, but the features are not as sophisticated as the ones you get from embroidery digitizing software.
Step Three: Load the Final Design into the Machine
Before you load your design into the embroidery machine, you should first confirm that the design file is in a format appropriate to the machine you are using.
You see, file formats vary depending on the machine you are using. Most design file formats are specific to particular brands. For instance, the .ART format is compatible with Bernina artista machines, the .
VIP format is compatible with Husqvarna Viking and Ptaff Machines, the .STI format is compatible with Toyota and Data Stitch machines, and so forth.
Step Four: Stabilize the Fabric and Place it in the Machine
Stabilizing the fabric prevents it from getting winkled. How you choose to stabilize it will depend on the fabric type, machine type, and the design density. To illustrate the point: knits and large design require firm stabilization.
Additional pieces of material are added beneath or on top of the fabric – they are called stabilizers. Types of stabilizers include tear-away, cut-away, filmoplast, heat-n-gone, solvy water-soluble, and open mesh. At times, the stabilizers are used in combinations.
After stabilizing the fabric, you place it in the machine. If it is embroidered wearable items, you should place the fabric in a hoop.
When the piece of clothing is attached to the machine, an X and Y drive mechanism will move the machine under the needle in accordance with the design coordinates created during the digitization of the design.
Step Five: Embroidering the Design
The embroidering process has more automation in commercial machines. But if you are using a home machine, you will have some more work to do during the process.
You see, many designs involve the use of multiple colors. As a result, the machine must do additional processing for appliqués, foam, or any other special effects.
But home machines have only one needle. For that reason, every color change will require you as the user to cut the thread and change the color manually. Plus, most designs have at least one jump that needs to be cut.
How long you take to sew a particular design file will depend on the quality and the size of the design.
Step Six: Refine and Repeat Until You Succeed
If you use the wrong stabilizer or the wrong thread, or if the machine malfunctions, or if you shoddily digitize the design, the resulting embroidered pieces will be unsatisfactory.
If this happens, discard the botched projects, and repeat this six-step procedure until you attain success.
As I conclude this article, I would like to point out that the existence of these embroidery machines does not negate the practice of hand embroidery or embroidery using sewing machines. Those low-tech methods of embroidery are now practiced mostly by hobbyists.
The high-tech embroidery machines whose workings I have discussed in this article are mostly used for commercial and industrial purposes. And now you know how they work.