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What Makes a Design Outstanding?

It’s funny how our preferences change over time. Fifteen years ago, DIME featured fashions with tens of thousands of stitches. As the editor of Designs, I was determined to show and wear anything other than ‘plop and drop’.  If you’re not familiar with the term, plop and drop is single design placement (usually on a garment).  Think left chest embroidery – the standard in commercial embroidery.

I wanted our pages to reflect a more passionate approach to embroidery because I knew my readers loved spending time at their machine mixing and blending designs into large layouts. V17bl


I used to joke that I thought in terms of stitches per month, not stitches per minute.  Today, machines have larger sewing fields, gigantic hoops and faster technology. You would think I would be wearing more stitch heavy projects.  But as I look at my current wardrobe, the reverse is true.

Now less is more. Today, I like to accent a garment not embroider the entire canvas. I love a swanky collar.

And you can never go wrong with a pretty neckline. V64bl

But sometimes a single outstanding embroidery design stitch front and center on a garment is enough. So what makes a single design outstanding? In my opinion, the original artwork and the use of color (or value) is what makes it pop.  I like to start with a gorgeous design – delicately drawn lines, intricate details and open space that allows the thread to shine.  I’m not a fan of heavy, dense designs.

Recently, I found a design (in fact, there are several in the collection) that fits the bill. I was scrolling through Kreations by Kara’s design library and spotted the Butterfly Bounty collection. At first glance, it was the scrollwork that pulled me in, and then, under closer scrutiny, it appeared the butterfly was moving.  When I would glance away, I swear the wings fluttered.  Hmmm…how did Kara pull that off? Shadowedbl

I purchased the collection and opened Shadowed in embroidery software to get a closer look. Since I don’t like to wear heavy designs, I took a look at the stitch count and length. They seemed perfect. Then I examined the color sequence.  Normally, I ignore the digitizer’s color suggestions but this time, I had a strong feeling the colors were what gave movement to the butterfly.  Kara layered the thread – darker value stitched first in the background, followed by a medium thread and topped with the lightest. ButterflyKarabl

I noticed how she used a black backdrop on her website so I took the easy route and stitched the butterfly on the center front of a black t-shirt. It looks exactly like it does on her website.  I get compliments every time I wear it. Now that’s what I call an outstanding design. You can visit her website here:

Here’s your assignment this week:

This week tell me what you think makes a design outstanding and you could win a subscription to Designs. Post your comments and ONE random winner will be selected to win $25 gift cards to use on the Desings in Machine Embroidery website!

The winners of last week’s assignment answered the following question:

What’s one thing you learned from your dad that you use all the time? Post your comments and FOUR random winners will be selected to win $25 gift cards to use on the Kreations by Kara website!

The winners are:  

Mary: “Besides having a sense of humor and wearing a big smile my dad taught me how to pump my own gas, check my oil, and change my own tire. Dad passed when I was 16 and now at 61 I am still able to do all the above.”

Carolyn: “My Dad said “Never get mad at someone, only get ‘annoyed.’ It’s easier to get over being annoyed. Getting mad wastes too much energy for too long.” It was a hard lesson to follow, but it’s been rewarding in so many ways.”

Jenny Druding: “My father died when I was 10. My grandmother gave me the most preciouse advice. She told me to think of my father every day so I would not forget him. That was 39 years ago and I still think of him every day.”

Jan: “MY dad – is simply the best – he is 79, loves his train trips, his holidays abroad, anything in nature and birdwatching in particular. He is an avid reader and his daily crossword and just loves life. Took him to see Les Miserables 2 weeks ago and since then he is forerver texting me with opening words – Bring him home! Love him to bits and if there’s one lesson he did teach me – always be true to yourself!”




  • Valerie

    Outstanding depends on the project. For garments I really like light airy designs. Actually I am working on a bed skirt with a light border. I think it’s outstanding:)
    Blended colors are really nice lately.

  • Kristal

    I think versatility makes a design outstanding. Can I visualize it on a garmet? A tote bag? Can I change around the colors to get a completely different look? I like having a design I can use multiple ways.

    • eileenroche

      I agree with you Kristal – versatility is an important feature. Thanks for mentioning that.

  • Carol Adams

    Being able to use a design in many different setting makes it outstanding.

  • Karen Conger

    An outstanding design for me would be the design that I cannot wait to stitch out. It would not only catch my eye, but my imagination. I could embroider it so many different ways and on so many different things, I couldn’t decide what I would do first.

  • Jennifer Berry

    An ideal design for me is one that stitches out so perfectly and beautifully that no one would ever guess it was not purchased in a high end boutique!

  • Dee Dickerson

    I love designs that are unique ,artistic and a little bit quirky,something that I can stitch that displays my personality and that of the recipient. There are some lovely stock designs but I tend to purchase those that are unique .

  • becky3580

    I like scrolls, flourishes, light, airy designs for backgrounds for monograms or designs that are feminine. Designs that are not too dense. Guess it really comes down to beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

  • Pam

    Less is better. Originally I thought I would like a dense design but now I like the lighter ones so much more.

  • Dorina Green

    I love a design that creates shadows and movement just by using various tones of thread. Those always catch my eye when I’m looking for a new design.

  • lynda case

    I love embroidery designs and have many so many that I think I’m an addict. I like large designs for pillows and I love machine applique designs for quilts etc.

  • Judy graczyk

    The perfect design is a reflection of the personality, mine or whoever I am gifting. Fun, quirky, edgy designs catch my eye, and I immediately start thinking about who is going to benefit from the gift I am planning.

  • Kim Austin

    A design that is digitized correctly. That doesn’t give you a great pain in the neck. Some digitizer seems to want to mass produce one design after another without putting there whole soul into their work.

  • Val

    When I make things for my little nephew, I like the stitch heavy designs, plopped down right in the middle of things. For myself, I like it light and airy, in expected places.

  • C J

    Great designs are the ones that insprire me to complete a project. Usually they have an artistic element that makes me think/feel or something special.

  • Cathy

    A Design that draws u in, pops out at u and flows in an eye appealing way.

  • Katie Harper

    I love designs that are elegant artwork digitized to look as if they were done with an artist’s brush. Kara has a collection called “work in progress flowers” that is amazing. The first one I stiched out is just breathtaking.

  • Fiona

    An outstanding design is one that “adds” texture, colour, interest to the item that I am making and draws the attention of the recipient. And that can be different things to different people. It’s getting to know your customers so that you get a feel for what they like… And sometimes what you can challenge them with

  • Sharon R

    I love the scrolls, flourishes, objects that seem to move, or look totally different, depending on the background. I love butterflies and flowers, but they have to appear realistic for me to want to stitch it out.

  • Carrie Cunningham

    A good design does not need to be dense, is perfectly digitized so that it stitches out beautifully and grabs the eye. I also agree that it needs to be versatile.

  • Laurene Shewan

    Inspiring me to clear a path to my embroidery machine, now that’s an outstanding design!

  • Jenny

    Being fairly new to this craft I still rely on blog post and Facebook post from seasoned embroidery stitchers. I am still learning what qualities an outstanding design has and how to apply it.

  • karen

    An outstanding design for me is one that can stand alone, can be separated to be able to use a portion of the design or be combined with others for a stunning effect.

  • Linda Seemann Korte

    For me, outstanding designs are all about color! Design color must compliment the background fabric! I also like a little sizzler!

  • Brenda

    What draws my eye to a design first is the color then I actually look at the design. I love like white on black or black on white. Or bright colors on either of those also. The intricacy is also a big thing to me, I like both the red work type but love when it is filled in.

  • Kristi Dennis

    An outstanding design to me is one that can be manipulated into all kinds of different designs. One that sparks my imagination with unlimited potential. Love ones that speak to my inner child and makes me smile just to look at it.

    • Ellie

      To be very honest.Hair grows at its own capability.I think those "hair growth shmo2oas&#8p17; and stuff are just a waste of time and money.If its fast growing its fast, if its slow growing its slow.sorry i know this doesn’t help.but i have heard if you trim it, it promotes growth.dont take my word though, just in case.maybe you should ask your hairdresser for an honest opinion

  • Susan Francis

    I like designs that are effortless when stitching out. Minimal color changes, thread cuts when changing colors, and not so dense that I have to have layers and layers of stabilizer.

  • Judie

    For me, color contrast is always what makes certain designs stand out or “pop”. I agree that less is more and this butterfly design used as an example is the best of both concepts. And a little “glitz” from a metallic twist thread just elevates the richness.

  • Laurie Sieg

    If I can see that it would work great on my t-shirt as well as on a quilt block, a towel or a tote bag for a friend, then I consider a design Outstanding. If I would stitch it on a gift as well as on something for me, that makes it special.

  • Donna G.

    I like designs that have great impact with the fewest number of stitches and color changes. Those that have a little “bling” added are especially appealing.

  • Barb

    To have a design that can be used in multiple ways. Change color, add, delete parts of design. This make a design most valuable to me

  • Clarice

    An outstanding design for me not only has to look good when you purchase it but look good when stitched out. I think top notch digitizing is the key !

  • Deb

    Lately I too am liking an airier design. That doesn’t mean plain to me. Usually a combination of stitch types for texture & movement with shading make a design pop for me.

  • Saundra Romanus

    An outstanding design for me is one I cannot wait to stitch out! At times I just let everything else go and I have to get to my machine to do the design. It is so much fun!

  • April Maselli

    I Agee designs that are versatile and light and airy and combine able when I want ro build a border. I am also always on the look out for the ability for it match a fabric component I will use. I love the independent designers.

  • Lori

    Outstanding is when the person I am giving it to loves it. sometimes that is me…..but just a beginner here so…….practice, practice, practice

  • karen

    I do mostly plop and drop(had never called it that before reading your blog) but on my own items a design must speak to me.. I need to be able to visualize myself in that design. Doesn’t matter the colors are or what it is everything has a perfect place. I like to add texture with different fill patterns and often change all the colors as I like to look for new and different creative combinations

  • Carol Daugherty

    Outstanding designs to me are those that do not over power the garment or article on which it is placed and as such makes me want to acquire the design or the purchase the item.

  • Jennifer P

    An outstanding design is one that works well with the fabric or garment, reflects the personality of the wearer and is done in great colors. I love playing with my embroidery machine to make an outstanding gift for someone or to perfectly enhance something I wear.

  • Shirley Clark

    I think a lot of things, but one thing I notice is when directional stitching is used to enhance the shape of the design. It makes the thread look more shiny on some things.
    I also like designs that are only one or a few colors. (not talkiing about applique).

  • Shelly Christensen

    I love the designs that bring out emotion, make me smile… I have found the digitizers I trust most after sewing there designs and bring happy with them.. I would like to learn to digitize myself..

  • Karen Poole

    I think a great design has great attention to detail, not that it needs a lot of stitches, not at all, but the ones it has should not jump around all over the place when stitching, it should have good color, not too dense and just make you say “WOW” when you see it!!

  • Kelly

    An outstanding design usually has an emotion connection to it. It stirs emotions from a person, place or time that holds a place dear to our hearts and evokes a smile.

  • Glenda

    For me, I like designs that can be used more than once and can be changed by adding more or sometimes taking away. They need to be clean and not too busy. Sometimes less is better.

  • Carolyn

    I must admit that many times I buy designs that appeal to me emotionally. Whether it’s because of whom I’ll be thinking of making it , or to what customer I think it will appeal, or if the design itself makes me say “Wow, I want to make that!”

    • Buck

      Okay I’m covcnnied. Let’s put it to action.

  • Cherita Davis

    Designs that I buy have to be striking, exciting, make a statement and communicates it well. I look for embroidery designs that are really unusual and different. Even the subject matter has to be unusual and different to me. Recently I have fallen in love with Urban Threads. They really seem to have the creativity that a younger crowd of embroiders need. There’s a special niche there.

  • Dawn Miller

    One that can stand up to the test of time.

  • Sara Redner

    An outstanding design is one that I can immediately envision on an item or garment.

  • Marilyn

    I consider a design outstanding if it makes me catch my breath when I see it! Then I check the thread list. If it has dozens of colors and thread changes–no go. I don’t believe a skillful digitizer needs that many thread colors. Kreations by Kara is one of my favorite sites and my credit card knows it.