Last week, I shared an overview of Machine Embroidery in 6 Easy Lessons. You can watch the two-part Sewing with Nancy series online here or check your local PBS listings.
When Nancy and I were creating the series, I delved into the basics of machine embroidery and found that the better the tools, the easier the process. So let’s start with our biggest tool – the machine. That doesn’t mean you have to buy the top-of-the-line machine to enjoy machine embroidery but you should arm yourself with basic machine features. When you’re looking for a new embroidery machine make sure it has an adequate sewing field, simple design transfer, trace, rotation, mirror image, baste and stitch advance features.
1. A 5” x 7” Sewing Field. I know, I know, I hear you. A 5” x 7” sewing field costs so much more than an entry level 4” x 4” machine! You’re right; it is definitely a step up in price but worth every penny. Ninety percent of embroiderers outgrow their 4” x 4” hoop about six months after they purchase the machine. Now they’re stuck with a machine that’s not easy to trade-in or sell online and that can be frustrating. So, go ahead, splurge a bit and treat yourself to a larger sewing field.
2. Design Transfer. Hmmm, I know a few popular machines allow design transfer via a computer link only. I don’t know about you, but my sewing room is pretty crowded. I really don’t have an extra square foot of space for a laptop or desktop computer on the same table as my embroidery machine. So I really love the flexibility of writing to a simple medium – such as a USB stick – from my laptop (which may be parked in another room!). To me, this just simplifies the task.
3. The Trace Feature. Remember how your mom used to cringe when you jumped into a pool or lake without checking the water below you. Well, that’s the feeling I’m trying to avoid when I use the trace feature. The trace feature allows you to position the needle in 10 different locations within the sewing field. This is very helpful when attempting to achieve specific placement on an item. For instance, it you are positioning a monogram above a pocket, select the bottom center point to make sure the design will not actually stitch on the pocket. Selecting the right and left bottom points verifies the design will sit squarely above the pocket. After all, your mother was right – always check the water below before jumping in.
For continuous embroidery, the trace feature is priceless. When you’re connecting a second design to a previously stitched design at the top of the sewing field, for instance, selecting the top three trace positions will show you the designs will (or will not) connect. You can make positioning adjustments before stitching the designs.
4. Rotation. Do not go home with a machine that does not have the ability to rotate a design in one degree increments. Really, do not buy that machine because a machine that doesn’t rotate in one degree increments expects you to hoop PERFECTLY SQUARE every single time. For heavens’ sake, are you kidding me? That’s a beginner’s machine? I don’t think so, do yourself a favor, save some gray hairs and premature wrinkles and get a machine that spins the designs in one degree.
5. Mirror Image. The mirror image feature is often overlooked because we take it for granted. But without it, many embroidery layouts look very unprofessional. Make sure your new machine has this feature.
6. Baste or Fix Feature. We’ve all been told to hoop everything, in an actual hoop. During the courting stage of your relationship with your machine, you will hoop everything. You’ll place a piece of fabric with stabilizer between the inner and outer rings of your standard embroidery hoop. Then you’ll get confident and you’ll want to embroider something that won’t actually fit in a hoop. So you’ll get creative and use spray adhesive, sticky stabilizer or a magnetic hoop insert. And you’ll press start on the machine, turn around to answer the phone and POP goes the fabric. You didn’t think it would ever happen to you but it did and it will happen again. So use the baste feature, it’s a stitched box around the design that holds your fabric to the hooped stabilizer. It’s like insurance, once you need it, you’re so glad you have it.
7. Stitch Advance. Stitch advance gives you freedom – freedom to sail through a design and skip colors, freedom to go back and restitch some stitches (don’t ask why, you’ll learn soon enough) Oh okay, here’s why. The thread broke; the sensor didn’t catch it and either did you. But you notice the cute little kitty cat you just stitched is missing an eye. Hmmm…as long as it’s still in the hoop, you can go back and restitch that segment. Now your kitty is perfect!
In Machine Embroidery in 6 Easy Lessons, you’ll find a handful of exercises that focus on these basic features. You’ll learn how each feature simplifies the embroidery process, helps in hooping technique and results in gorgeous embroidery. Back to basics has never been more fun!
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