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An Advanced Overview of Embroidery

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Embroidery technology has helped the industry grow tremendously over the past two decades.  Embroidery is the decoration method for sewing high-value designs on polos, hats, bags, jackets, and other apparel and accessory products.  However, before a design can be sewn it first must be digitized. Digitizing is an extremely important part of the embroidery process. In order to sew a design the artwork must first be converted into a file that will tell the embroidery machine how many, and where, stitches are sewn.  Digitizing software can be expensive and difficult to master, so outsourcing digitizing to a designer or artist on a website like fiverr.com or 99designs.com for a small fee will make sense for some shops that offer embroidery. 


Digitized artwork is also different from other product decoration artwork in that it cannot be resized. In other words, it must be sewn at the size it was designed for.  A skilled digitizer can account for numerous factors, including the product a design is going to be sewn on. That is why hats, bags, polo shirts, and jackets can all be sewn, despite their obvious differences.  For example, in order to sew a hat the sewing pattern must be different than it would be for a jacket. Since a jacket provides a flat surface to sew onto, it may be sewn in whatever manner makes sense. A hat, however, has a curved surface, which requires it to be sewn from the center of the design out.  


So, if you need to sew the same design onto both hats and jackets, then you will need to have the design digitized once for the hats and once for the jackets.  Digitizers can also create a file that can accomodate 3D Puff effects. If you look at most team sport hats, like those you could find at Lids or Dick’s Sporting Goods, then you will see the stitching is raised up off of the hat.  This is accomplished by sewing the design over foam that is placed over the surface of the hat. The use of the foam requires yet another separate digitized file for 3D designs. 


It is important to understand, however, that custom decoration shops sew designs onto a finished constructed product.  Most of the aforementioned team sport hats you purchase at a store are actually sewn flat onto the front panels before the entire hat is sewn together.  This allows for a larger design and thicker finished product. Still, decoration shops that have mastered embroidery can offer high-quality 3D Puff designs.


When it is time to actually sew the product, it first must be hooped with a backing.  In essence, hooping is the framing of the sewing area in order to ensure an even sewing surface, and is essential to attach the garment to the machine.  Most embroidery machines can adjust to fit several different sizes of hoops, depending on the size of the design. The smallest hoop that can accommodate the design should be chosen, as a smaller hoop will provide a more taunt and sewable surface.  The backing is used to help hold the stitches in place so the design can take the abuse of being washed. There is a wide variety of backing available to embroiderers, as different backings are available to work on different products, colors, and designs.  Hats, for instance, typically work well with tear-away backing, as they have sturdier fabric that can handle the strain from tearing the backing, and are typically not washed as often as a polo, for example. 


Once a product has been hooped tightly it can be loaded onto the embroidery machine.  The design must be uploaded to the machine via a USB-connected computer, a flash drive, or an SD card, depending on the machine.  On the machine the embroiderer must adjust several variables. For instance, telling the machine what colors to sew, how to position the design within the hoop, sewing speed, stitch density, and more.  Once the variables have been configured, the machine is ready to begin sewing the design. 


The machine actually works similar to a sewing machine.  The primary thread is pulled through the product from above and is caught by the bobbin thread below.  The bobbin thread essentially locks the primary thread in place. Print Phase’s embroidery machine is a ten color machine, meaning it can sew up to 10 colors in a single design.  Each color has its own needle, and when a new color is to be sewn the head of the machine moves over so that color’s needle can sew the design. 


Occasionally you will have to deal with issues that crop up in the sewing process, like running out of either thread, a needle break, or a thread break.  Fixing these small issues will depend on what kind of machine you have, but they are typically fairly simple fixes. Sewing the wrong product or poorly hooping a product are more serious issues can ruin both a design and a product.  Since blank embroidery products are more expensive than those for many other decoration processes you must always be sure that you have all your variables correct before you begin sewing.  

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