Basic Embroidery Troubleshooting

Remember these factors if you encounter problems during production.

By Cheryl Hoffman, Contributing Writer

Remember to use the correct needles and change them out when needed. Some embroiderers like to change to a new needle for outlines.

October 22, 2019

From the runways of New York Fashion Week to the halls of Comic-Con, embroidery is a pastime that consumers and crafters are embracing, as personalization in clothing, costumes and gifts continues to rise in popularity.

However, as with any decorating process, embroidery mishaps may ensue. Here’s a list of important factors to keep in mind during your stitching endeavors.

Correct Needles
In general terms, a #75/11 embroidery needle is suitable for many embroidery tasks. If a fabric or project is thicker, it doesn’t automatically mean you need a larger needle. Such a needle will result in a larger hole, and you may not be happy with the result because the thread won’t give sufficient coverage.

Instead, slow the machine’s stitching speed just a tad and the same #75/11 embroidery needle should complete the task. Of course, there are specialty needles that are appropriate for other circumstances, like metallic, but those are exceptions.

Also, always use a straight needle. If you doubt how straight your needle is, change to a new one. For single-needle machines, consider changing them after eight hours of use. In commercial or high-production shops, it can be difficult to keep track of how often individual needles are used. In this case, a good rule of thumb is to change a needle when it breaks or starts to shred or break the embroidery thread.

Regardless of your situation, regularly changing needles can ensure quality results when it comes to embroidery production.

Threading Issues
Here’s what to do for troubleshooting any threading issue: If the top thread doesn’t look good, check the bobbin threading. If the bottom thread looks problematic, check the upper threading.

To ensure the top thread is threaded correctly, check to see that the presser foot is up when you are threading the machine. This will open the tension discs, enabling them to accept the thread as you pass it through the normal threading path.

When the presser foot is lowered, the tension discs are closed. Then the thread will be held with the proper amount of resistance so that it lays on the project as the embroidery design is stitched with just the correct amount of thread being pulled to the underside.

How much is supposed to be pulled to the underside? Industry standards indicate that about one-third on either side of a satin-stitched strip pattern. When looking on the reverse side of the stitching, you should see one-third down the middle (the bobbin thread), one-third on the right and one-third on the left, which should be the color from the needle (or the top thread).

Bobbin Guidelines
It’s important to use proper bobbins in your embroidery machine. Many generic and after-market bobbins won’t cause problems if you use the correct size and type for your machine. There are different sizes, so check to ensure you have the correct one.

If the top of the project has “messy thread,” this probably means the bobbin thread isn’t properly placed. To fix this, remove the hoop from the machine and rethread the bobbin.

Don’t be afraid of vinyl bobbins. The high-tech embroidery machines that run at high speeds are capable of performing well — and occasionally better — with a vinyl bobbin instead of a metal bobbin.

Avoid overfilling bobbins. You may think doing so means you will change them less often, but this line of thinking usually backfires. Fill the bobbins and stop when the thread still is inside the edges.

Correct Stabilizer
Stabilizer helps fabric withstand needle penetrations during the embroidery process while holding the project in place. To decide on the appropriate stabilizer, think of the back of the project first.

Will it be hidden or shown? Is it a towel that will hang on a rod where no one will see the back side? Or will the towel be used at the beach, where both sides will be seen? If the latter is true, use a stabilizer that can be removed when the embroidery is completed. For example, if you’re embroidering a chiffon scarf, a water-soluble stabilizer is ideal because it can be removed.

If you’re working with a knit or stretchy fabric, the phrase “stop the wiggle” comes into play. Using a fusible stabilizer or adhesive tearaway may be ideal. Either way, the fabric will be restrained from movement during the embroidery process. If the stabilizer is a fusible cutaway, once the embroidery is finished, you can remove it from around the design; the cutaway will remain in the design area to hold it in place.

Regardless of the stabilizer used, it must be large enough to fit an area that measures the size of the entire hoop, not just the size of the design. Too many times, embroiderers use the correct stabilizer, but the results are unsatisfactory because the stabilized area was for the design size, not the hoop size.

Fabric Puckering
If fabric puckers after being taken out of the hoop, it means you didn’t use enough stabilizer. There shouldn’t be any fabric movement during the embroidery process, and when you release the garment, there shouldn’t be any puckering. If this occurs, it means the fabric was stretched as it was being hooped. 

Cheryl Hoffman has worked in product development for Brother Intl. Corp.’s Home Appliance Division for more than 10 years. She uses her expertise daily to help create Brother’s product lines of sewing, embroidery, quilting, paper-cutting and multipurpose machines, as well as educate consumers and businesses about their functionalities. For more information, visit brother.com.