Machine Embroidery

Mr X Stitch presents Phat Quarter Finds

The Phat Quarter is our Flickr group where you can share pictures of your best stitcheries!

It’s also the place where we host our legendary swaps to coincide with our Fifth Friday Festivals of Fabulousness!

Here’s the latest 20 pictures that have been added. Why don’t you come and join us?

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Ghost in the Embroidery MachineContinuing our ‘Digitizing 101’ theme, we’ll cover the most basic and yet most troublesome concept for budding digitizers – distortion. There is a fairly constant amount of distortion that occurs during the stitching process due to the physical interactions between the stitches and the chosen ground. This ever-present distortion means that what you see on-screen is never exactly represented in your final embroidery. This distortion warps shapes, makes outlines miss their marks, and forces elements that seem aligned end up as jagged as a city skyline. There are two main types of distortion that cause our consternation; we’ll cal them Pull and Push. In Part 1, we’ll describe Pull Distortion and ways to combat it, leaving our discussion of Push Distortion for Part 2.

Diagram Explaining Push and Pull Distortion in Satin Stitches for Machine Embroidery

Since we’re talking technically, let’s start with a brief message about measurements. You’ll notice that I use metrics for most discussion about digitizing and embroidery. This isn’t only personal preference; metrics and machine embroidery are intertwined. Density (a measurement of the spacing between lines of stitching) is most often measured in millimeters or embroidery points, a unit that represents a distance of .1mm.

Measuring an embroidered feather made of metallic thread with a metric ruler.

Metrics make so much sense because standard (40wt.) embroidery thread has a thickness of roughly .4mm, meaning an area where lines of stitching are .4mm apart (or 4 points) is completely covered. This forms a constant frame of reference for all of our digitizing settings. You don’t have to use the metric system, but I sincerely believe that it provides the easiest, most direct way to get your head around the measurements needed for digitizing, so I sincerely recommend that folks in countries (as mine) still standing by Imperial measurements learn the ‘other’ side of the ruler.  With that out of the way, let’s tackle our first type of distortion – Pull.

Pull Distortion happens in every stitch- as the stitch is formed and pulls tight, it slightly shortens along its length and draws tight the material inside. This doesn’t require much in the way of examples to explain- the stitch pulls in a bit like a drawstring. This means that a column of satin stitches, like the back stroke of the capital letter ‘D’ shown below, will be narrower stitched than it appears on-screen.

Satin Stitch - Pull Distortion - Thinning Columns

This distortion can vary greatly with the stability and thickness of the material you are embroidering, the tension of your thread, and even the stability of your backing material, but on fairly stable materials you’ll likely see a satin column thinning somewhere between .17mm and .25mm.

How do we combat Pull Distortion? We apply Pull Compensation, either through settings in our digitizing software or through manual adjustment. In plain language, we make the column wider. Though it may look overly wide on screen, even to the point of making it seem to far overshoot neighboring outlines, the proper compensation will let the column pull right into place when stitched.

Pull compensation is explained through showing the extra width of a satin stitch intended to match a straight stitch outline on an embroidered wing.

A straight line of text shows this compensation readily. Take the example of a satin-stitched letter ‘L’. We know that  the strokes of the ‘L’ will get thinner as they run. If we compensate, or make the strokes wider than the target width by the right amount, the bottom of the ‘L’ will look lower on-screen than the intended baseline of the lettering. When stitched, however, the column will ‘pull’ into line with the rest of the characters- though it looks massively uneven on-screen, a properly compensated line of text is properly aligned when stitched.

'Consulting' Satin Stitch Pull Distortion

Once you understand Pull Distortion, the reason for many a bad result in your machine embroidery becomes obvious. A related problem had by novice digitizers is poor registration when outlining. If a gap forms between a satin-stitched outline and the element which it surrounds, you know that it  has ‘pulled’ out of register. Apply compensation and overlap the items further, even if they look out of whack or overcompensated on-screen, and they’ll fall into place.

Acanthus element and digitized source file, showing overlap compensation

Depending on the stability of your material, some elements will be overlapped almost 100% with the width of their borders, as seen in the heraldic mantling above.  In this, measurement will be your friend- if you see a half millimeter of gap in your initial sample, you know you need at least that much compensation. Remember, Pull affects fill stitch areas as well as satin stitch columns. Pull and push can even distort shapes, something we’ll cover in Part 2.

Though we’ve embarked a very technical topic, the underlying lesson needn’t be measured only in millimeters. The problem many new digitizers have with distortion is that creating an on-screen design that looks so ‘off’ feels wrong. The kind of people who want to spend their time digitizing intricate designs likely have a strong sense of balance and symmetry and more than a few are probably plagued with perfectionism; I know I am. The trick is to begin with an understanding that the file is not your final creation. If we use that understanding to accept and learn to work with, rather than against, the natural tendencies of our media, we’ll reduce our frustration and increase our freedom to create our best machine embroidery.

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Erich Campbell Erich Campbell is an award-winning machine embroidery digitizer and designer and a decorated apparel industry expert, frequently contributing articles and interviews to embroidery industry magazines such as Stitches and Printwear as well as a host of blogs, social media groups, and other industry resources.

Erich is an evangelist for the craft, a stitch-obsessed embroidery believer, and firmly holds to constant, lifelong learning and the free exchange of technique and experience through conversations with his fellow stitch-workers.

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Mr X Stitch presents Phat Quarter Finds

The Phat Quarter is our Flickr group where you can share pictures of your best stitcheries!

It’s also the place where we host our legendary swaps to coincide with our Fifth Friday Festivals of Fabulousness!

Here’s the latest 20 pictures that have been added. Why don’t you come and join us?

{ 0 comments }

Kreinik Calling! Exclusive to Mr X Stitch!

Using a variety of threads in a needlework design is like using spices in cooking: all one flavor and texture can be rather bland, whereas a blend of different ingredients can make the final result fabulous.

I’ve often thought of quilting as a recipe, with multiple ingredients cut, mixed, combined, and blended together to make a whole. Like cooking or baking, the process and end use can be utilitarian, celebratory, decorative, or therapeutic, while the creative process is nourishing for the mind, hands, and soul.

Take a look at Eleanor Levie’s beautiful quilt, Pomegranates, to see how her recipe came together. On the whole, it is a lovely blend of colors and patterns. Take a look at the individual ingredients, and you will see threads, stitches, fabrics,  and other embellishments that add “flavor” and visual interest. For the thread embellishments, she used Kreinik metallics: Very Fine #4 Braid, Medium #16 Braid, Heavy #32 Braid, 1/8″ Ribbon, Facets, and Fine Twist.

By Eleanor Levie

Designed and stitched by Eleanor Levie using a variety of fabrics and Kreinik metallic threads.

Detail of Eleanor Levie's Pomegranates quilt

A close-up look at Eleanor Levie’s quilt shows how she machine stitched with metallic threads and couched Kreinik Braids (with a zig-zag stitch) to add a touch of light to the outlines.

Eleanor used Kreinik Twist, a high-speed machine embroidery metallic thread.

Eleanor used Kreinik Fine Twist, a metallic thread designed for high-speed machine embroidery (it works on sergers, long-arms, embroidery machines, and basic home sewing machines). The black and gold blend of the thread adds light, color, texture (= visual interest).

Kreinik Facets couched on Eleanor Levie's quilt

Kreinik Facets are a bead-like yarn used for surface embroidery embellishment. Here, Eleanor couched red Kreinik Facets with a zig-zag stitch. The thread has a candy-like gloss, so it adds color depth as well as texture.

Beautiful blend of scraps (just like life...) in this Eleanor Levie quilt.

Beautiful blend of scraps (just like life…) in this Eleanor Levie quilt.

Stitch variety in Eleanor Levie's Pomegranates quilt

Your project doesn’t have to be an official crazy quilt to have a mix of stitches. Find a stitch dictionary or library online and see how you can alter or play with threads by using them in different stitches. You are telling a story through your selection of fabrics, threads, and stitches – so feel free to express your creative thoughts through these choices.

Can we say this is a "delicious" blend of colors in Eleanor Levie's Pomegranates quilt? Fabrics of citrus colors add to the overall "flavor" of the piece.

Can we say this is a “delicious” blend of colors in Eleanor Levie’s Pomegranates quilt? Fabrics in citrus-fruity-vegetable colors add to the overall “flavor” of the piece.

These photos show some fun ways to edge your quilt applique, using various stitches and threads. (Kreinik metallics)

These photos show some creative ways to edge your quilt applique, using various stitches and threads. (Kreinik Cord, Kreinik 1/8″ Ribbon in Easter Grass, and Kreinik 1/8″ Ribbon in red)

Close up look at the beautiful blend of fabrics, patterns, stitches, and threads in Eleanor's Pomegranates quilt.

Close up look at the beautiful blend of fabrics, patterns, stitches, and threads in Eleanor Levie’s Pomegranates quilt.

The famous chef Julia Child once said, “The only real stumbling block is fear of failure. In cooking you’ve got to have a what-the-hell attitude.” I think it is the same with needlework, quilting, crafts…anything creative. Take a cue from Eleanor and Julia: use good quality ingredients and time-tested techniques, add your own spin, a dash of what-the-hell, and your creation will be a masterpiece.

QUILT BY ELEANOR LEVIE. To see more of Eleanor’s work, click here.

METALLIC THREADS BY KREINIK. To see the range of Kreinik threads, click here.

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Mr X