Start using an embroidery machine – editing designs

There are 2 groups of software tools which can help with your embroidering. They are for :
– knowing what designs you have.
– editing to change designs.

If you have a big collection of designs on your computer and no longer know what they all are, Bernina ARTlink is a free download for Windows with design information, placement, and printing, plus simple editing tools.
Convert It, Mac, not free, no editing except change thread colours, does the same on a Mac.
Not necessary if you have editing software, which includes these tools, but very useful for keeping track of what you have if you don’t want to go as far as editing yourself. (I transferred a big collection of designs from a PC with embroidery software to a Mac without. Until I got Convert It, Mac I just had a big collection of numbered unknowns. It’s marvellous to be able to see them all again.)

Changing designs

Do you find yourself wanting to change a design ? Entirely optional but it can be fun. The most likely changes are :
– adjust the size,
– add lettering.

You can do both of those on modern mid-price embroidery machines, without needing separate embroidery software.
On lower-mid-price machines you can edit single designs (re-size, rotate, flip) and produce text, directly on the machine. Design and text have to be stitched out separately.
Mid-price machines also have simple options for combining, so you can group several designs or design and text in one hooping.

If your embroidery machine does not have any design changing tools, or for more control over design changes (and a bigger screen to see what you’re doing !), you do need a computer and special software.
No need to start with full-scope embroidery software. Most software is modular, so you can start simple and add more tools if you find you want them.
For some you can download a free manual so you can get an idea of how you would get on with it. Or look for ‘independent / 3rd party’ tutorials and videos – often much easier to understand than the official manual !

Most embroidery machine companies have their own design editing software, though it is not essential to use it for their machines. May be given free with machine purchase.

Babylock Creator for Windows only.
Babylock Embroidery Works for Windows and Mac.
Babylock Palette for Windows only.
Bernina Toolbox for Windows and Mac.
Brother PE-Design for Windows only.
Husqvarna/Pfaff/Singer/Viking Premier+2 for Windows and Mac.
Premier+2 has a free download version which does simple editing and colour changes.
Janome Digitizer for Windows only.

‘Machine Independent’ editing software works with most embroidery formats.
Several companies offer embroidery software for Windows, a well-known one is Embird (advanced modules include photostitch, cross stitch, user controlled digitising).
Embrilliance runs on both Windows and Mac (advanced modules for user controlled digitising only).
(see later on digitising)

Stitch Buddy and DRAWings Snap are apps for iOS. You have to export your changed design to a computer for transferring it to your embroidery machine. I haven’t used these and don’t know about other tablets and phones, as I prefer a bigger screen for editing !

Ultimately you may want to do your own digitising – make your own designs without starting from someone else’s. Either auto-digitising (easier – give the software an image and it produces the embroidery instructions), frowned on for quality by purists. Or digitising from scratch (with more control over the details).
Some software can produce instructions for cutting machines to cut fabric shapes.
I haven’t tried Embird or Embrilliance, but as far as I can see neither of them does auto-digitising. For that you need to go to software from the machine companies.
Although I love machine embroidery and often change a design a bit, I’ve never felt any desire to do digitising (I have done auto-digitising once !), so I’m not the right person to give advice.

So, in summary, if you can’t edit designs on your machine and want a free download try out of software for simple design changes (re-size / rotate / flip, change colours, no text), there’s Bernina ARTlink for Windows and Premier+2 for Mac.
If you want more editing functions, such as adding text, or combining designs, then software from the machine companies is very much more expensive than from the independents.

For digitising, the top level of software from most companies will do that. I don’t know about all the software, but for digitising on a Mac I think the choice is between Embrilliance Stitch Artist and Premier+2 Extra or Ultra.
And if you want to do auto-digitising, again as far as I know, tools for that are only in software from the embroidery machine companies.

There are so many attractive ready-made embroidery designs, there’s no need to make your own.
But modern machines and software do make it easy and fun to make changes to designs if you want to.

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Other posts in this group on using an embroidery machine :
Choosing an embroidery machine
Starter basics
Designs from the internet, more techniques

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Choosing a basic embroidery machine

Even the simplest machine that controls embroidering in a hoop is more expensive than a basic sewing machine. They’re more complex, and the success of an embroidery design depends on the accuracy it’s sewn out with, which comes at a price.
But you don’t need a high-end machine. You can do most embroidery stitching techniques on a machine costing much less than $1000.

Spending more money on a sewing machine gets you more stitches plus some useful tools like needle up-down. Not so true for an embroidery machine. Spending more on an embroidery machine does get you some more built-in designs, but the number is still small compared to the huge numbers of designs anyone can download from the internet. You can do all embroidery techniques on a basic machine with a 4×4 hoop. Paying more for an embroidery machine gets you a bigger hoop – so you can embroider a larger area. At mid-price you can also do some editing/designing on the machine.

It can be exciting looking at machines which do amazing things, but there’s no point buying a machine which stays in the box. So step away from the thrills and find out how to use the machine you’re thinking about. Start with a machine that gives you an ‘I could do this’ feeling. Beginners may find it easier to start with a basic machine – if you don’t know what you’re looking for, it can be confusing to find your way to the essentials among all the options on a more expensive machine.

Hoop size is a consideration. The biggest hoops can be quite difficult to hoop smoothly. I suggest you don’t go bigger until you’re sure machine embroidery is something you enjoy, and you know what you like making. So the main choice is between 4″x4″(100x100mm) as the biggest hoop, or about 7″x5″(180x130mm). (Those are the sizes of the biggest embroidery area you can sew in that hoop, the hoops themselves are quite a bit larger.) Cut out pieces of paper these sizes, to look at and hold against what you might embroider on. What are you dreaming of stitching ?

Are you the sort of person who is happy to use designs made by other people, or do you think you will quite soon want to make small changes to designs, such as adding names and messages ?
Cheaper option, if you’re comfortable using a computer – use a basic embroidery machine plus your computer with basic embroidery software, often free.
More expensive – a machine on which you can do simple editing direct :
On lower-mid-price machines you can edit single designs (re-size, rotate, flip), and produce simple text. On these machines, you stitch design and text in separate steps.
Mid-price machines also have simple options for combining – so you can stitch design and text in a single hooping.

Other thoughts :
– do you want a machine with Disney copyright designs ?
– do you need a machine which does both sewing and embroidery, or an embroidery-only machine ?
– which brand has the most helpful local dealer ?
If you can’t get to a machine dealer :
– can you find internet videos on how to use this or a similar machine ? depends a bit on how good the presenter is, but do you think you would be comfortable with using it ?
– you can probably find a manual to download, but they’re not always easy to understand. (I read manuals, but whoever wrote the manual for my machine does not think the way I do, happily there are better videos.)

Machines to move on to perhaps

Machines for professional embroiders have several needles each threaded with a different colour. So they can automatically change thread colour, which greatly speeds the stitch out.

And if you’re excited by new technology there are some hugely expensive combo sewing+embroidery machines which provide many special tools.
Do you need one of these to do beautiful or fun embroidery ? – not at all. Will you ever need one ? – quite unlikely. The embellishment and designing they do can easily be done away from a machine.

‘Top of the line’ single-needle machines can use ‘jumbo’ hoops, and each year the new models can do yet more amazing things. Currently (mid 2018) :
– cut out fabric shapes for appliqué, paint, add crystals (Bernina with optional tools)
– auto-digitise on the machine (BabyLock, Brother)
– develop a design and transfer to the machine using apps on a tablet or phone and wi-fi (Janome , Pfaff)

These machines are for experienced sewists who love exploring new and complex technology in their sewing. Are you this type of person ? These machines are not necessary for the rest of us, we may not even enjoy using one. I suspect most beginners would find it difficult to know where to start.

I was thinking of getting a TOL machine, then I watched some videos and realised I would be unhappy if I had to use one. I’m more a hands-on person, I’m not a target customer for a machine where everything is done on a screen or using wi-fi. For sewing, I love my basic workhorse ‘real buttons’ machine. For embroidery, I choose a mid-price machine for the hoop size, and I know enough to enjoy playing with designs on it. I’ve found I prefer to add other types of embellishment away from my machine, and to do my design editing using embroidery software on a big-screen computer.

But it is fun to know about these super-powers machines, and they do look marvellous 😀

Do you love personalising or embellishing what you make ? Happily you can do many beautiful and fun things with a very basic embroidery machine. There’s such a wealth of embroidery designs available, having an embroidery machine can be a rich source of pleasure 😀

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Other posts in this group on using an embroidery machine :
Starter basics
Designs from the internet, more techniques
Altering designs yourself

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Start using an embroidery machine – the basics

(I’m talking about using an embroidery machine which moves a hoop under the control of a software design.
Machine embroidery which you control yourself on a conventional sewing machine with the feed-dogs down – ‘free motion’ embroidery – uses a very different group of skills.)

I keep expanding this post on learning to use an embroidery machine, so it’s now in 4 sections.
– choosing a starter embroidery machine,
– the essentials of machine embroidery, using built-in embroidery designs (this post),
– beyond the basics : using the internet, more embroidery techniques,
– beyond the basics : altering designs yourself.

Like any other type of sewing, it’s surprising how much you need to know to stitch the simplest design. But no need to know everything before you start.

Most of the embroidery machine lessons I’ve seen go :
– here are the 3000 different types of stabiliser,
– it’s essential to use the right one, here are the 300 rules for choosing between them.
And a whole lot more rules before ever getting to a project.

No wonder people are afraid of using their embroidery machine.

I prefer to learn through projects which start from the easiest.
Even so, you need to be willing to make samples to explore what happens.
So, what is the least you need to know ? Here’s a simple possible first try out.

Starter supplies

For the fabric you are embroidering onto, use medium weight muslin/calico or quilting cotton.

A machine embroidery stabiliser is essential, to support the main fabric against the huge number of little needle holes and the pull of the stitching. (Stabiliser is not the same as interfacing.)
Stabilisers differ in weight, how they are removed after embroidering, and whether they’re fusible / non-fusible. No need to know all the types now. Learn about more of them when you need them for more advanced techniques.
Start with just 2 stabilisers: a medium tear away and a medium cut away.
You may find it easier to learn hooping by using fusible stabilisers.
Stabiliser is mostly sold in rolls. Some companies sell pre-cut sheets – best to use at least 4″/10cm bigger than the finished embroidery area in the hoop.

All embroidery threads are decorative – thinner and weaker than threads for construction. The stitching density of designs assumes you are using this thinner thread. Bobbin threads are thinner than top threads to minimise bulk.
Your machine manual probably recommends needle and upper and lower thread types. If not, start with :
embroidery needle : size 75.
embroidery upper thread : polyester / rayon / cotton machine embroidery thread (usually called 40-weight, but thread ‘weights’ are confusing – 40 weight embroidery thread is not the same thickness as 40 weight construction thread – aargh). Polyester is best for heavy use / frequent washing.
embroidery bobbin thread : white or black (usually 60 weight, some machines use 90 weight).
Several makers of these special threads, not usually the same companies as for construction threads.
Cheap thread is not a good economy – does not stitch evenly, breaks easily, and clogs the machine with fluff.

(If you really want to know about thread weights, here’s a piece from Barnyarns giving the reasons for the confusion. For current purposes just get embroidery thread that’s 40-wt.)

Bobbin cases are factory set to the right tension for a specific weight (thickness) of thread. So use this weight of thread for the best result. If you can’t find out beforehand what to use on your machine model, not to worry, see later on how to find out from your samples.
(Altering the bobbin tension yourself can cause all sorts of problems. Not for beginners. Best to buy a separate bobbin case if you want to try that some time, so you always have a default one you know works !)

Start with built-in designs

Follow your machine manual carefully for instructions on upper threading and bobbin winding and threading.
You may be able to find videos for your machine.
Most sewing problems happen because the threading is wrong.

If you are using a combo sewing-embroidery machine you need to change to an embroidery needle and embroidery presser foot, perhaps also to a straight stitch needle plate.

Get the stabiliser-fabric hooped so it’s like a soft drum. It needs to be taut enough so the fabric won’t move during the embroidery, or the design will get distorted. But this hooping can take a bit of practice.

Choose a simple design provided on your machine – for the smallest hoop, less dense stitching, and only 1 thread colour.

Stitch out the design. The manual / video / tutorial on the machine tells you the steps needed.

When you’ve stitched a sample, take it out of the hoop and finish the stabiliser in the recommended way.
If the fabric has puckers, use 2 (possibly 3) layers of stabiliser and try again.
Don’t worry about the ‘ring’ left by the hoop. It can be pressed away, or disappears with washing. (Some fabrics need special treatment, but that’s not for beginners.)
Then try pulling the fabric in various directions – see if the embroidery pulls out of shape and what happens on the back. If you’re embroidering on clothes or household linens, you need to be confident the embroidery won’t collapse when used and washed.

If you’re using the correct bobbin thread and the bobbin thread pulls up to the front, lower the top thread tension.
If you’re testing bobbin threads and the bobbin thread has pulled up to the front, try a thicker bobbin thread (smaller number e.g. 60). If the top thread has pulled down at the back more than just to the edge of the design, try a thinner bobbin thread (larger number e.g.90).

Usually you can use tear away stabiliser with stable fabrics, but cut away is tougher and essential to support embroidery on unstable fabrics such as stretch and knits.
Some people mainly use tear away, some people mainly use cut away. Eventually you’ll find which works best for the type of embroidery you usually do – how dense the stitching is, how the embroidery will be treated, what fabrics you like to embroider on. But that’s not something for a beginner to worry about.

When you feel confident enough with threading / hooping / starting and finishing a stitch out / clipping the jump threads, then try a built-in design with changes of thread colour.

And check in the manual for what to do if the thread breaks ! Practice on a sample.

Stitch out more designs until you’re confident about these essentials.
Then find out how to use designs from the internet – see the first ‘beyond the basics’ post.
You now have the skills to stitch out many many thousands of designs, a lifetime of pleasures 😀

So no need to learn more, but if you want to there are many other things you can do in machine embroidery with even the simplest machine. Some of those are also in the ‘beyond the basics’ posts.

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Other posts in this group on using an embroidery machine :
Choosing an embroidery machine
Beyond the basics – internet designs, more techniques
Altering designs yourself

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