Saturday, February 9, 2013

Book Reviews: Help With Machine Embroidery

Embroidery Machine Essentials: How to Stabilize, Hoop andStitch Decorative Designs, by Jeanine Twigg, is the best general overview that I've found for new machine embroiderers.  In Chapter 2: Embroidery Products and Chapter 3: The Embroidery Process, Twigg does a good job of introducing newbies to the mechanics of machine embroidery, including proper hooping technique, an overview of different types of stabilizers and their appropriate use for embroidery, and recommended placement of embroidery on common items such as shirts, towels, and linens.  The troubleshooting guide in Appendix I is useful as well, and Twigg does address the most challenging aspects of machine embroidery for most beginners, with clear explanations.  However, this book was published in 2001 and the entire first chapter covering equipment choices is hopelessly outdated.  Floppy disks and proprietary design cards have been dinosaurs for a long time, and because technology changes so quickly, it really should have been left out of the book entirely.  The projects featured in the last part of the book are, for the most part, unbelievably ugly and make you wonder why anyone would bother learning machine embroidery in the first place.  For that reason, the CD containing the embroidery designs featured in these projects is not much of a bonus, in my opinion.

I almost passed on Machine Embroidery on Difficult Materialsby Deborah Jones based on the title.  After all, I was having trouble embroidering on "ordinary" fabrics, so I had no desire to drive myself crazy trying to embroider on “difficult” fabrics like leather or vinyl.  However, this book turned out to be a far more valuable reference than I expected.  A better title would have been Successful Machine Embroidery on Every Fabric: Strategies for Hooping, Stabilizing, Editing and Troubleshooting from Professional Embroiderers.   Jones does an outstanding job of explaining how machine embroidery works with all fabrics, and how the fabric, stabilizers, needle, thread, and hooping method all affect the success or failure of the completed embroidery design.  What's more, Jones gives specific recommendations for altering embroidery designs within embroidery software in order to correct problems and achieve the best results for whatever material you're working with.  Not only does she recommend reducing/increasing your tension, stitch density or stitch length, but she also gives a range of specific values to try for each fabric, greatly reducing the process of trial-and-error.  For me, this is the most valuable information in the book.  I know HOW to use my embroidery software to change pull compensation, density of a fill stitch, stitch angles, etc. from my software mastery classes, but before reading this book I would look at an ugly sample stitch-out of a design and have no idea which values I should change to correct the problems.  The book also comes with a CD that contains multiple versions of designs that have been modified for different fabrics, so that you can open the designs in your embroidery software and compare the standard version to the adapted version. 

My copy of Machine Embroidery on Difficult Materials has been heavily highlighted, and it's my new go-to reference before starting any kind of embroidery project.  I recommend it wholeheartedly to novice to intermediate machine embroiderers. Readers who do not own embroidery software may feel discouraged that they are unable to try all of the author's suggestions, but many will decide to purchase embroidery software for the first time based on the software applications described in this book.
So, after conducting all of this research, I now know of several things I could have done differently to yield better results with my recent Too Cool for School Carpool Tag project
  1. First and foremost, I was not using my Mega Hoop properly.  The Mega Hoop has two screws on opposite corners, and I was only loosening and tightening the one in the top left corner -- the one closest to the "R" that was puckering most severely.  I should have loosened and tightened BOTH screws to achieve the correct tension for my fabric.
  2. The Mega Hoop also has four little wishbone-shaped clips that I had forgotten about and neglected to use.  These clips help to further secure the fabric in the oversize hoop, to minimize distortion and puckering.
  3. I was not hooping correctly.  I was just barely loosening the hoop tension enough so that I could hoop my fabric with a great deal of effort (stretching my fabric in the process, no doubt!) and then I was tightening that screw again before I attached the hoop to the machine.  I should have loosened the outer hoop more and adjusted the tension to where the fabric could be hooped snug and taut, then popped the outer hoop off and re-hooped so the tension would be evenly distributed across the hoop rather than concentrated at the screw point -- and no more touching the screw once the fabric was back in the hoop and ready for stitching!
  4. The final lesson I've learned is to stop being so stingy with stabilizers.  In general, you probably need more stabilizer for most projects than you think you do, and sometimes you need a combination of interfacing AND stabilizer to properly support embroidery stitches on a given fabric.  If I was doing the carpool tag over, I probably would have fused Polymesh cutaway stabilizer to my fabric as well as floating a layer of crisp tearaway stabilizer beneath the hoop.  Why?  Because it's very likely that the dense, closely-spaced stitches around my applique letters perforated my tearaway stabilizer so that it stopped providing support even before the design had finished stitching.  A lightweight cutaway like Polymesh would not have added bulk, but would have ensured integrity of the stabilizer throughout the stitching process. 
Armed with all of my new embroidery knowledge and resources, I will feel a lot more confident going into my next embroidery project!

Not Perfect, but Good Enough -- Moving On!
Considering everything that I did wrong, I think my carpool tag embroidery design came out pretty good, don't you?  I'm not going to start over a third time; I think I've learned what I set out to learn and this is "good enough" for this little project.  I'll attempt to quilt out the rippling that remains, but first I have to decide whether to add borders, and if so, how elaborate to make them.

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