A Stitch In Time – Confessions Of An Embroidery Newbie


Lots of little stitches creating patterns and eventually turning into pictures and designs. Stitching designs on clothing, linens, towels, and giving away my fabulous creations at every holiday.

My friends and family oohing and ahhing and wondering at which boutique I purchased the items filled my daydreams.

Having a hobby for which I could sell products and use the profits to purchase more designs or have pocket money.

Different goals, but the object of my desire was one and the same– I wanted a home embroidery machine!

Dreaming about owning an embroidery machine was one thing. Actually purchasing the embroidery machine became a trek and project unto itself. I saw a Singer embroidery machine demonstration one day in a local fabric store, and was mesmerized by what it could do!

I could not imagine owning something that could produce such results, and figured that it must be outrageously expensive and difficult to run. I had mainly done “crafts” and home décor sewing, but I have two toddlers, and was really interested in embellishing store bought clothing to make it seem more like boutique style clothing (for a lot less!)

Being the person that I am, I delved into research on the subject of home embroidery machines – size, price range, features, quality, hoop size, etc. I talked to many people who owned them, and got their opinions on what was important, and what was just “bonus” (and usually unused by most novices and home embroiderers.)

Finally deciding on my current machine took a lot less time than convincing my husband that it was “necessary!” He accompanied me to the local dealer on a number of occasions, watched them stitch out designs, grilled them about the features and costs associated with the machine, and even tried to bargain with them! I think they were very relieved when my kids distracted him by shouting about how the machine was “painting” a picture on the fabric!

Shortly after Valentines Day of 2006, he purchased the machine for me (a previously owned model) and I brought it home! It was almost as exciting as bringing home either of my kids, especially because this “baby” had an instruction manual!

Embroidery Crazy

The machine already had a few designs preloaded into it, so I immediately began to stitch on anything I could get my hands on – towels, fleece baby blankets, scraps of fabric, even a pair of my husband’s underwear! (boy, was he surprised the next day when he opened the dresser drawer!)

My ambition to embroider was unmatched, but what I was really lacking in was the experience and knowledge of the basics – stabilizers, thread type, needle types, and design density for various weight of fabrics. Most of my early projects look novice and “homemade”, the backs have thread nests, there are puckers on most of them, and I had to throw away about a third of the first few attempts.

The store I purchased my machine offered intro classes as part of the package, but I was limited in my “free time” to take the classes, and so I thought it would be a months before I was going to “get it right!” I called the local stores and got some advice, but mostly they wanted to recommend products in their store. So, I took to the internet and researched my options online.

I cannot recall exactly what I initially entered in the search engine, but somehow I stumbled across the Designs by Sick website. I was impressed by all the cute designs, and joined the forum right away.

I lurked, mostly, but I did learn from reading past posts from others. What impressed me the most, though, was that they gave away FREE designs every day, and an entire font, and there were even more in the yahoo group’s file folders!

I also began to read more postings on the yahoo group, and in time, was confident enough to post messages myself. Mostly, I would stick to ISO (in search of) for various designs I wanted or needed, and sure enough, someone would answer me!

The friendliness and willingness of most group members to help someone they will probably never meet is a real draw to join a good group and become an active member. Since postings can be read and answered at your leisure, it makes for something to do at any hour if you need help or just want to vent that your machine has a mind of its own!

Design Overload

Like most newbies, I think I suffered from the disillusion that if I didn’t download EVERY free design immediately than I would never again have the opportunity to do so. Thus began my freebie downloading binge.

I would log onto the computer early in the morning, searching out free sites, joining yahoo groups and panicking that I would have to await approval. Never since college application days did I worry so much about getting accepted! I HAD TO HAVE THOSE DESIGNS!!!!

Hours upon hours of downloading, searching, and hundreds of designs later, and I still hadn’t really stitched out anything worthwhile – but I had those free designs! It took me a long time (and I still will occasionally slip) to come up with some guidelines about downloading what is right for me.

I have two young children, Nathaniel (age 3) and Theresa (age 2), and I used to be a math teacher – so the designs that most appeal to me are designs for children, teachers, and really cute holiday designs.

Each person has to decide what designs are right for them, but the rule of thumb I have developed is, “If your immediate reaction to the design is ‘Ugh!’ then DON’T DOWNLOAD it!” You are only wasting your time, and computer space, as well as the time you will take to file it. I have several designs that are ugly to me, and while beauty is in the eye of the beholder, if I don’t get happy looking at the designs, and can never imagine stitching them out, I don’t download those types of designs anymore.

I have also begun to realize the benefit of downloading and test stitching “sample” designs. You may see several of the same design (from shared clipart) among many designers on the web. Though the clipart may be similar, the actual quality of the design can only be determined by test stitching.

Density, jump stitches, decorative fills, tension of the design all affect how it will stitch out on your machine. What looks good as an image on your 2D monitor, may not actually resemble the 3D finished product. So, test, test, test!!! If you feel like you are “wasting” the thread and stabilizer, then use a square of similar fabric to your final product to do it on. Always use the same sized square (I use 9” squares so I can test stitch up to a 5×7 design on them.) Then when you have 20 or more, stitch them together to form a “raggy” quilt or actually sash them to form a traditional quilt and gift it to someone – or even better, donate it to your local Linus Project or other charity!)

Education is the Key

The time to take the classes at the local embroidery dealer was finally going to fit my schedule, and I had learned some things from the internet, so off I went, machine in tow to sit for hours and learn the basics of the machine (from turning it on to utilizing the most popular of its features.)

I had already read the manual (a recommendation of mine to anyone who owns a machine, and don’t be intimidated by the size of it, it makes for interesting reading and got me really excited about using the machine, Just draw a warm bubble bath, and start reading!) so I knew a lot of the first class’ instruction.

You may think then that it was a waste of my time to take it, but not so. I was able to use my time to ask more in-depth questions and expand on my knowledge while others were learning how to thread the needle. (However, if you are one of the ones that needs to learn the most basic “basics” then you may want to inquire about taking the classes for a second, or third time, to help you out with expanding your knowledge once you do know how to operate the machine. Some dealers will even offer one on one “tutoring” before the classes start to help out novices)

If you are not lucky enough to live close to a dealer, or you purchased your machine directly from someone else, on the internet, etc so that classes are not included, then don’t despair! You may be able to take internet classes from on-line dealers, pay for classes from a different machine’s dealer, or ask around on web groups to find a “friend” who lives nearby with experience to help you one-on-one (or even via email or phone if they don’t live so close.)

NEVER think that a question is dumb or has been asked ad nauseum and no one wants to hear you ask it. The chances are, if you are wondering, then at least one other person is, too, and will benefit from your asking.

Advice: Stabilization is the Foundation

The teacher had a basic lesson on stabilizers as well, and I purchased a sampling of several that they offered at the store (for a small fortune!) I made a “stabilizer” booklet and cut a swatch of each one, and listed the name brand, type and what it could be used for.

This is really helpful as you learn more and more about them, and can add to your booklet and lists, plus when I put away the pieces of stabilizer and was trying to figure out (by feel) which ones they were, I could refer back to the booklet for help.

I come by being cheap honestly, and so I have tried many tricks to saving money by scrimping and saving and reusing everything!

You can save your thread snips to create “fabric” out of it, I have used empty thread cones to dry 3D free standing lace ornaments on, and most of all I save stabilizer pieces.

If I can “piece” a sheet of stabilizer for some projects I will! Sometimes this works, and other times it will fail on you everytime. The trick is knowing why you are using the stabilizer. The actual purpose of the stabilizer in each project is the key to knowing how much or how little you can actually get away with!

For example, if you are doing a design on a t-shirt, then you would need an intact piece of soft cut-away stabilizer to actually be the strong, unmoving foundation for the stretchy knit fabric. However, if you are embroidery a name on a ribbon, or are embroidering on top of dense or fuzzy fabric, then smaller piece of water-soluble stabilizer (floated on top) will keep the stitches from sinking into the project .

You can also “stitch” wss (water soluble stabilizer) together with water soluble thead in top and in the bobbin to create a larger piece you can reuse for smaller fsl (free standing lace) or other in the hoop projects which call for wss.

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