1. I’m new to the business of embroidery, and I have heard that some people use poplin as a backing. In my training classes, it was suggested that I would only need one cutaway backing and one tearaway backing.
I firmly believe that the backing you use should match the garment on which you will be using it. Having one cutaway and one tearaway is a good place to start, but I think that in the long run, you will find that you may want to purchase some of the many backing products that are available.
A good example of this is the type of backing that you would use on a white polo shirt. Knit fabrics most often need the stability that comes with a cutaway backing, but white knits often show the backing through the shirt, even if the backing is white, creating an unsightly finish. Solutions to this are varied. Some embroiders take painstaking time to cut as close as possible to the design. Others use organza fabric, a very thin woven that will not show through.
Convenience is a factor in the choices you make. For caps, backing comes in rolls that are cut to the correct height. The time saving feature of this type of product makes it worth the investment, particularly if you are paying employees to cut the backing to size. These, too, are available in both cutaway and tearaway.
Backings are available in several weights also. Using a heavy backing on a lightweight garment is unacceptable, in my opinion. In other instances, a heavier backing is necessary for stability, particularly if the stitch count is high. With experience, I think you will find that several weights will serve you better than just one choice.
2. It seems that every time I place a digitizing order, something is wrong. How can I communicate more effectively with my digitizer to get the design right the first time?
Communication is the key word here! As a digitizer, I receive many designs via e-mail and fax. There is rarely enough information the first time around.
The most commonly missed direction is the size of the design. Embroiderers send a design for a quote, and forget to tell me whether it’s for a crest, a cap, or a jacketback! Digitizing for each of those locations is a special process, right down to the amount of detail that a design can have to match its size.
Second, in the act of missed details is the type of garment to which the design will be applied. Many digitizing factors are dependent upon this instruction. The type of underlay, the stitch direction, the running order, and the densities are all variables that must be considered for garment type.
I almost always have to call or write a customer to finalize the details, even for a quote. The best advice I can give is to cover all of the bases. Give specific sizes, number of color changes and where they should occur, any changes from the original artwork, and the type of garment. Discuss with your customer problem areas that may occur and solutions and communicate those to your digitizer, too.
3. When I embroider terrycloth, I have a hard time covering the fabric. What can I do to get a nice finished product?
Terrycloth is a napped fabric, and like any napped fabric (those are the ones with threads sticking above the woven material,) it needs special treatment in the embroidery process.
If you are using an existing design and don’t want to do too much editing, the best solution is to use a topping that is water-soluble. Placing topping in the hoop, (backing, substrate, topping, in that order,) gives the embroidery thread a smooth surface and helps to keep the nap flat.
Additional density, especially in column designs, helps to cover the nap, too. But the best solution is to lay the nap down first with the use of underlay. A light fill underlay running the opposite direction of the fill will push down the fibers that without it, would poke through the stitching. For columns, a zig-zag underlay works wonders to combat the problem.
The excessive underlay that is required for good embroidery on napped fabrics adds many stitches to the total stitch count. Embroidery prices should reflect the additional time that it takes!
4. When I have a lot of thread breaks, I’m wondering what I should check FIRST to solve the problem.
Supposing that all work has been running smoothly to a point, and the thread breaks start occurring all of a sudden, the very first thing I would look to is the needle. I know of companies who routinely go through their machines and replace all the needles after a certain number of sewing hours. Since our embroidery company is small and we operate all single-head machines, we don’t do that. We change the needles if they start to give us a problem.
Our training manuals advise us to change needles every forty sewing hours. That would be once a work week, providing the work week consists of an eight hour day. Well, I would contend that some needles get forty hours of use in a week, while others do not. Needles that are used for more common colors will get far more wear and tear than those that have less used colors. Some projects require the use of only one or two needles. For that reason, they do not show wear all at the same time.
Needles develop burrs as a result of constant thread passage and the repeated process of penetrating substrates. A worn needle is the most likely culprit in the problem of thread breaks. Some projects are harder on needles than others. Changing the needle will most often solve the problem.
5. I hear so much about tension problems. How can I be assured that the tension is set correctly on my embroidery machine?
The tried and true method of testing tension is the 1/3, 1/3, 1/3 rule. This rule, however, only works for columns. The letter I and the lower case L work well for testing the machine. Stitch out a row of I’s, using every needle on the machine. When you take the test piece off the machine and turn it over, the center third of the threads showing should be bobbin thread, while the outer thirds should be embroidery thread that has been pulled through in the embroidery process. By using a different color of thread for each needle, you can easily identify any tension problems, and can then adjust the tension on just the problem needles.
During the workday, it’s best just to keep an eagle eye on the machines as they run. If the embroidery looks great, the tension settings are more than likely good. Poor tension is immediately visible in your work. You will see bubbles in the embroidery thread, or bobbin thread pulling through to the top if the tension becomes maladjusted.
One of the things to watch out for, especially when embroidering caps, is a build-up of lint in the tension arm of the bobbin. This needs to be cleaned periodically. There is no specific time frame for this job, because different substrates produce differing amounts of lint. Lint under the arm will become immediately visible by the showing of bobbin thread on the top side of the embroidery. The lint loosens the tension as it builds up and spreads the arm away from the bobbin.
Tension is an on-going problem. Someone once told me to “set it and forget it.” I have found that this is not possible! You must watch the tension all the time! It might be hours between problems, and sometimes even days, but a tension problem without a watchful eye can result in hundreds of dollars of ruined garments!
6. There are so many little “things” that are necessary to the embroidery shop. How can I best organize all of them so they are not always lost?
Boy, you said it! When I think of all the little “things” in our shop, the ones that come immediately to mind are thread spools, bobbins, bobbin cases, spare parts, needles, scissors, trimmers, rippers, tweezers, tools, oil, canned air, disks. If I were to list them all, it might take pages.
Organizing a shop is an intensely personal thing. I can tell you, however, that the best thing we ever purchased was an organizer with drawers that is, I believe, originally intended for carpentry shops. We labeled each drawer with the small items that are contained in the drawer. That way, any employee who comes on the job can find all the tools of the trade at their fingertips.
There are thread trees galore on the market for the organization of embroidery thread. For the most part, they are too small. Once a shop has more than one machine, it tends to outgrow any thread organizer on the market. We solved that problem by mounting pegboard on the wall next to the embroidery machines, and applying pegs long enough to adequately support the spools. Now all colors are immediately at our fingertips. We even make the grand attempt to keep like colors together on the pegboard, although when we are extremely busy, that usually falls by the wayside.
Organization should be set up so that all the tools of the trade are at your fingertips. This is easier said than done when there are so many tools. We have changed our embroidery area almost as many times as the number of years we have been in business. The nice thing about that is that the whole shop gets a thorough cleaning when someone has a good idea about where things should be placed!