Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Thinking about machine embroidery: sort of a tutorial

Erotica Aquatica

Digitizing for machine embroidery is highly technical. There is not much that is automatic about it.

A screen shot of 6-D embroidery software
I use several brands of digitizing software: 6-D Embroidery, Embrillance Stitch Artist, TruE for the Mac.

I would describe the software as a non-intuitive cross between Photoshop and Illustrator.


All designs are based on drawing.  The drawing may be done directly in the software, in Illustrator or in Photoshop to form a background image to use as a reference for designing the stitches. Additionally, one can directly draw the individual stitches without reference to a background image.
Print-outs of some lace designs

All stitches are straight.  There is no such thing as a curved stitch. Each stitch in a pattern is comprised of 2 needle penetrations, by definition, a straight line. Curves are made from many, many, little straight lines.

Thread and needles have real diameter that must coincide with the substrate that will hold the stitches.  Cloth can be woven, knit or felted.  When a needle and thread penetrate the cloth, the fibers are either pierced or pushed to one side. Each penetration distorts the substrate more.  The accumulated distortion of the substrate, not to mention the expansion and contraction of the stitches,  must be allowed for in the design.

You must be aware of stitch density: thread and needles have distinct diameters, limiting the number of stitches per square inch.  This limits both the fineness and detail of the design. The density of stitching over existing stitch fields can increase saturation of color, but it can also break needles and rip the fabric or substrate.

The direction of the stitching shows off the affects of light on color.  Subtle sheens that appear to sculpt the surface can be created by shifting stitch directions between contiguous shapes.

Types of thread affect outcome.  There are cotton, polyester, trilobal polyester, rayon threads, metallic threads.  Most come in a standard 40wt, but some are available in much thinner or much heavier weights affecting stitch out success.  All patterns must be digitized with the thread weight in mind

The stitches are digitized in groups, forming objects. The order of these groups affects the outcome.  One must be cognizant of where stitches intersect with lower layers. The order of layers can be rearranged in order to maximize stitch out efficiency and to combine stitches so the design looks as planned.

Pathing, or the order of operations in a stitch out, is very important.  It is important to reduce the number of thread cuts and ties-offs by designating start and stop points on each object and, when possible, connecting objects with hidden stitching.  Why is this important?  The more cuts and tie-offs, the more opportunities for the machine to jam and destroy several hours of stitching.  When digitizing for apparel, pathing is even more important as it affects comfort and durability of the design.

In addition to choosing appropriate thread-needle-cloth combinations, one also must choose the appropriate stabilizer and, sometimes, a topping.  Stabilizer is a form of interfacing that helps prevent the substrate from puckering and shifting.  It comes in many different forms and weights. Topping is a thin stabilizer made to be placed on top of the substrate and is used mostly when the substrate has high loft.  For making lace, the stitching is done on several layers of water soluble stabilizer, which is essentially a sheet of starch.
Designing for free-standing lace requires that lines of stitches interlace sufficiently for the design to retain its form when the stabilizer is washed away. Designing balances the density of interlacement with the desired airiness. The shadows cast are part of the design process. Stitch length must be kept relatively short for the lace to maintain its integrity.  However, it is possible, when long stitch lengths or unsupported elements are a desired part of the design, to stitch the form on bridal tulle.

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