Essentials for Your Embroidery Shop

This list of 10 necessities can help provide you with the right tools to make for an enjoyable embroidery business.

By Lee Caroselli-Barnes, Contributing Writer

Among the necessities for any embroidery shop are thread and bobbins. Photos provided by American Embroidery Supply.

October 3, 2013

The obvious cornerstone of an embroidery business is the embroidery machine itself, regardless of whether it’s a model suited for commercial or home operations. However, once you have selected your machine, the real shopping begins.

There are certain standout essentials and more subtle necessities that become obvious when you find you are without them. The obvious needs — needles, thread, backing, hoops and scissors — are the first and easiest to address. A beginning package should consist of both 75/11 medium ball-point needles and 75/11 sharps. Look for large-eyed needles, if possible. For fine work, you may want to pick up 65/9 needles in both sharp and ball-point varieties. If you plan to embroider caps, you will need 80/12 needles. They usually are available in packages of 10 and 100, so the number of needles you buy will depend on the number of needles on your machine. Buy enough to ensure you have spares.

Thread and thread racks can be an essential part of your decorating. Make sure you have a full selection of colors and that your supplier can replenish it at a moment’s notice. Having the thread mounted on the back wall beside the machine and above the counter where you are hooping your garments is not only convenient, but it also makes for a beautiful display.

Now, let’s look at some finer points of the necessities for your shop.

1. The Color Wheel: A color wheel will provide vital information on arranging thread colors, and is indispensable with regard to color selection. Start with red, then the shades of colors between red and orange, then yellow-orange, yellow, yellow-green, blue-green, shades of blue, then purples and maroons. The eye enjoys this transition between colors because it is calming and gives a rich appearance.
Also Consider: Arrange your garments the same way — by color, not size. The difference in your shop’s overall appearance will amaze you.

2. Backing: It may be one of the least interesting embroidery components, but backing also is one of the most important. A good mid-weight cutaway, in both black and white, should be a staple in your shop. It also should feel good against your skin. There is a reason so many manufacturers now print their own labels on shirts. Rough backing can be a reason for a child to refuse to wear a garment you have created.
Also Consider: Tearaway backing should be reserved for caps. However, it also can be used on top of the garment to give embroidery a clean surface and a needed shot of white that will make your embroidery pop on a vibrant color. Just lay it on top after hooping and tear it away after the majority of the design has finished sewing. Let the final layers of thread clean up any leftover “hairs.”

3. Hoops and Frames: Most of the hoops you use will come with your machine. However, make sure you have a second set. The best practice always is to hoop the next garment while the previous one is being sewn.

For difficult jobs, frames are available. A set of these frames is well worth the investment. Be prepared, though, to hoop your backing and then pin your garment to the backing in order to avoid hoop marks on delicate fabrics. Straight pins and a colorful pincushion (embroidered, of course) are necessities.
Also Consider: Clothes pins also are valuable for holding sleeves out of the way while you are embroidering.

4. Scissors: This embroidery necessity is available in various sizes. You will need the small ones for trimming thread on completed designs and regular ones for cutting backing.
Also Consider: You may also want to use one pair exclusively for cutting fabric. Otherwise, backing will dull your scissors and you will find yourself in a bind when you need a sharp pair.

5. Bobbins: I have found that I am happiest with bobbins that feature a magnetic core. However, samples are available from all of the suppliers.  
Also Consider: Ask your supplier to let you try certain bobbin types before you decide to buy. You will be buying by the gross, so make sure you are happy with your choice before you invest.

6. A Tool Set: I’m not talking about a simple screwdriver. Rather, you should have a specialty tool set that works with your machine. You should receive the essentials upon purchasing it. Extra bobbin casings, and some of the assorted rubber rings that require occasional replacement, should be on the list from your machine company. Oil and an oil dispenser are a must, as are spot remover and a lint roller. Spray adhesive is good to have, but should be used sparingly, as it can gum up your needles.
Also Consider: A set of good quality fabric pens to cover up that occasional appearance of bobbin thread, as well as a seam ripper and a “stitch eraser,” will help minimize problems.  

7. A “Mistake Barrel”: I have found in the past that after taking the time to select a garment, design, colors and appropriate wording, a customer becomes attached to his creation. When you make a mistake, let the customer know you are putting the mistake in the mistake barrel, that the garment you are handing him is the replacement and that you care enough to provide the beautiful copy of his creation.
Also Consider: Marked at 50% off and placed in the barrel for anyone to buy, the mistake barrel is a great incentive for the customer to retrieve the substandard piece and “pay for your mistake.”

8. A Heat Press: Your embroidery should be pressed before presentation — not just for looks, but for future sales. A heat press is necessary for this. By applying the overall heat and pressure to the garment, you will release the chemical that makes the thread curl up when washed. This means your embroidery will look good several washings from now and your customer will be your best advertisement.

Multimedia garments are very popular nowadays. A heat press opens the door to heat-applied graphics. You will find that the combination of these graphics and embroidery is magic. A featured print on a garment accented with embroidery looks like a million dollars and is less expensive to produce than a larger embroidered piece. The ability to print a shirt also may save a sale and will supplement your embroidery income. If your budget allows, be prepared to print your own graphics for a custom touch.
Also Consider: With a heat press, you can add bling to your embroidery. A small segment of embroidery with a nice rhinestone design makes both elements look better.

9. Stock Design Catalogs: Always display catalogs with stock embroidery designs through which customers can browse.
Also Consider: Supplement these with pictures of samples that show how to use the designs, as well as framed or hooped pieces on your walls. It will speed up the selection process.  

10. Software: Though last on this list, this package probably is the most important supplement to your machine. Whether you plan to digitize or not, you will need to edit your designs by making them larger or smaller, or by deleting or adding lettering. Your software package should allow you to scan in a customer’s design and estimate the stitch count. Better yet, if you can put the software in a workstation for your customers, allowing them to pick a design, add a graphic and lettering, and choose colors with very little help from you, that independence will allow you to get work done while they sell themselves.
Also Consider: Set up the same type of work station so that it can be accessed on the Internet. This way, the selection is done before the customer enters your shop.

Embroidery is a great business. Years ago at an Imprinted Sportswear Shows seminar, I learned that we, as embroiderers, are appealing to one of our customers’ most primary needs: recognition. That shirt, jacket, or cap we embroider says, “This is who I am.” Catering to that need is what all this business is about, and having the right tools will make it enjoyable.

Lee Caroselli-Barnes, owner of Balboa Threadworks Embroidery Design, is known for her innovation and excellence in embroidery digitizing. She has 30 years of experience in the embroidery industry. For more information or to comment on this article, email Lee at balboainfo@aol.com. Hear Lee speak on digitizing topics at the 2013 Imprinted Sportswear Shows (ISS). Individual seminars are just $25 if you preregister: issshows.com.