Taking on new tasks is always daunting – no matter who you are. You could be the most competent person in every aspect of your life. Then, something new hits the horizon, and it stops you dead in your tracks. Often, no matter how much we want to acquire the new skill, it takes several “treks up the hill” before we are actually able to grasp and hold on tight to that which is new. It’s human nature, I think.
When it comes to mastering the art of machine embroidery, I’ve had both personal friends and online friends immediately shy away from giving it a try. They have purchased (or been gifted) fabulous, dual-purpose sewing machines, with machine embroidery capabilities, that they choose not to use. Huh? That’s like buying your dream house and only living in one room!
Basically, just dive in! There really is no other way to proceed. As the saying goes, ìf at first you don`t succeed, try, try again! Here we go:
1.If you have had the good fortune of acquiring a new machine, take the time to visit your dealer and take lessons on your particular machine. The cost of taking lessons will be included in the purchase of your “new baby”. Take notes, ask questions – be very persistent in getting responses to your questions. If something doesn’t make sense to you, pursue the issue until it does make very clear sense. It is a steep learning curve for many of us and it takes time, energy and focus to understand all aspects of using your machine to its fullest extent. Have the educator/retailer do two very specific things for you:
a) Choose one of your machines’ built-in embroidery designs and watch it being stitched out in full. Understand that some machines (like Janome MC12000) have 300+ built-in embroidery designs and you will definitely want to access those designs and know how to stitch them out.
b) Have the retailer download an embroidery design from an online website to their computer and then to your machine for stitch out. How to download the design is not paramount at this point. It’s more important that you completely understand how to get the design from your computer to your machine.
Completing a short course at the retailer’s will help you understand the very basics of your fabulous new machine. In addition, it will give you a resource person when problems arise….and trust me, problems will definitely arise!
In the event you have purchased or been gifted a second hand machine, the same principle applies. Call the dealer (for example, Brother, Bernina, Janome) in your city, and request that they give you some kind of demo on your machine. Even if you end up having to pay for the demo, it will definitely be worth it. (If you live in a rural setting or can’t access a dealership in person, rely on youtube.com. Search your particular brand of machine and view an online project tutorial. They can be extremely helpful).
Before you leave the retailers’ to embark on your new adventure, make sure you have the following supplies on hand: muslin, fabric stabilizers, embroidery threads, embroidery bobbin thread, embroidery needles and the usual sewing supplies (scissors, etc.). If you purchase only the bare essentials to begin with, it’s more likely you will not allow yourself to be overwhelmed.
(Embroidery stabilizers support the fabric onto which the embroidery design is stitched. Stabilizer allows the design to be flat and inflexible. It is available in four different types – tear-away, water soluble, fusible and cut-away. A general rule of thumb to choose the correct stabilizer is to match the weight of the fabric being embroidered with the weight of the stabilizer.)
2. You’re now at home, ALONE, attempting to master this new skill. Begin by accessing built-in embroidery designs that are compatible with one hoop size only.
Your machine, depending on its age, will come with several different hoop sizes.
Prepare to embroider by layering an 8″ square of white muslin over an 8″ piece of lightweight stabilizer. Fold the fabric and stabilizer in half lengthwise and press and widthwise and press to find the natural centre of the square. Hoop the fabric and stabilizer using marks on hoop to centre. Pull the fabric tight so its taut and resembles a drum. Tighten the screw on the hoop.
Stitch out your design and watch as your machine works. Make thread colour changes as required. Get familiar and acquainted with all facets of your machine by watching and learning. Give yourself at least a few days, if not a week to stitch out and play with embroidery designs that are already built-in to your machine. Here is a photo of a built-in embroidery design of a butterfly that required no thread colour changes:
3. To fully explore the world of machine embroidery, you really MUST be computer savvy; at the very least be well versed in how your computer works. Embroidery machines work in conjunction with computer software – newer machines utilize a USB port and a flash drive, while older machines use a card writer box and a memory card.
For designs other than those built-in to your machine, you will need the computer and its software to access online embroidery designs. As you become more familiar with both the computer software and your machine, you may want to progress to creating and digitizing your own designs and manipulating them using the software. But – that’s for another day!
Your retailer will be the one to assist you with purchasing the appropriate software for your new machine. Ensure that your computer is completely compatible with the new software – or you will drive yourself crazy trying to figure things out. Believe me, it’s not worth it! Be sure that you can efficiently operate the software on your computer…and if not, you may need to upgrade some operating software on your computer prior to getting started with machine embroidery. Again, a worthwhile investment.
For older model machines, you can purchase software online via ebay with ease. Check your manual and be sure you get exactly what you need. It doesn’t necessarily have to be expensive or new to work very well for you.
4. You are now ready to go online and access the endless assortment of embroidery designs that are available. Some designs are free. I would suggest finding an embroidery site online that you like and investigate what the site offers. One site that I regularly access is:
www.designsbyjuju.com – Julie Hesketh, owner
Click on the link above and navigate around, checking out what they have to offer you. Seek out a free design, download the design to your computer and transfer that design from your computer to your embroidery machine via either memory stick or embroidery card.
This is a link to some free embroidery designs on the Designs by JuJu website.
If you feel challenged with the download process itself you are in good company. Believe me, everyone feels challenged at first. Download the design to a specified folder in your computer’s embroidery software. If you aren’t successful the first time, carefully re-read the website’s download instructions, and try, try again. Often, the file will be misplaced on your computer’s hard drive and it will take several tries to find it. Establish contact with the owner of the website. Ask them your questions – they can be a fabulous resource. Once you get the design into your embroidery machine, prepare your hoop with fabric and stabilizer and stitch it out. What do you think? Does it stitch out as it appears on your computer monitor? Are the embroidery stitches nice and tight or are some of them loose and not so well done? Are there any unexplained gaps in the stitching? You will discover online sites that you love and will continue to use again and again. For me, this site is Designs by JuJu. Progression will come as you learn to do more difficult projects – machine embroidery appliqué, cutwork, embroidering on fancy fabrics or fleece. The sky is the limit.
By now, you will have some lovely and some not so lovely embroidery designs stitched out on fabric. Here are a few other tips to keep in mind as you stitch:
- Always trim jump threads as you go. Jump threads are the threads that connect colour changes. If you leave the jump threads on your work, they will often get entangled and it will be difficult to snip them after the design has fully stitched out.
- Inevitably, you will experience difficulties with your embroidery at the least opportune moment – like 9 p.m. or midnight. Over the years, I have found incredible support in some unlikely places. There are some women who monitor bulletin boards and Facebook group sites that are invaluable resources. Seek them out! Join the Quilter`s Club of America website and sign up for the machine embroidery group. I have recently joined a machine embroidery and appliqué group on Facebook the administrator of which is Jennifer Higby. She is phenomenal in her knowledge. Ask questions…you will get answers!
Tips for Quilters who also Love to Machine Embroider:
- For an even greater inflexible hold, temporary fabric adhesive can come in handy….spray the wrong side of fabric to be embroidered and then place over stabilizer and smooth.
- Be sure and match the weight of stabilizer to the weight of fabric being embroidered.
Keep extra embroidery needles on hand while working; inevitably breakage will occur when you are in the middle of a project. Also, be sure and use a metallic embroidery needle when using metallic threads and fabric appropriate embroidery needles when embroidering on denim and heavier weight fabrics.
Two photos of how I’ve combined quilting and machine embroidery.
Best of luck to everyone……Please feel free to email me if you have any questions. I’ll try and help. firstname.lastname@example.org