Training for the Large Shop

In an embroidery shop designed for volume output, an established curriculum must adhere to certain principles and a schedule.

By Deborah Jones, Contributing Writer

November 24, 2014

The larger your embroidery operation, the more you need a defined training program. Having your new-hires learn by “on-the-job osmosis” usually results in uneven job skills, an unpredictable time frame to develop trainees and no way to measure progress and retention. More importantly, it doesn’t give your new employees their best chances to excel.

I have managed large, multiple-shift embroidery shops and found that having an established training curriculum allowed me to identify where employees needed additional instruction. A good training program has a defined curriculum attached to a schedule. I like to tailor the program to fit my trial-period time frame, which usually is 90 days. At the end of this period, a qualified candidate should have successfully completed the program and be able to perform the skills identified later in this article.

It may be tempting to hire an experienced operator, and many state employment commissions now include a category for embroidery machine operators. Be sure to fully evaluate operators who have worked in other large shops. Why? Because some large shops train operators in very specific tasks and their overall knowledge may be limited.

For example, I once hired an experienced operator from a shop that embroidered for Ocean Pacific (OP) Apparel Corp. However, when performing sewouts, I learned that she was unaware that you could move the starting position of the hoop. At her previous shop, jobs were repetitive and there was no need to train certain skills.

Still, you can find some good talent that may have recently moved into your area or someone re-entering the workforce. For these reasons, check with your state employment commission.

While many managers look for candidates with sewing experience, keep in mind that commercial sewing machine operators are used to sitting while working. Embroidery operators must stand on their feet all day, actively moving around the work area. The candidate also must have good eyesight, be able to discern color and be reasonably fit.

I’ve found a number of good operator trainees by watching their work habits in another job setting. For instance, when I go to a fast-food restaurant or café, I notice employees that hustle, and have intelligence and a good attitude. They make great prospects for learning new skills that could lead to potentially higher earnings.


When you build your training program around the following concepts, your trainees will progress more quickly and consistently.

1. The embroidery machine doesn’t have a mind of its own. Machines may occasionally malfunction as a result of an electrical or electronic problem, but such occurrences are rare. When a new trainee says, “I don’t know why the machine did that,” the trainer should respond in a gentle way that the machine most likely did what the trainee instructed it to do. This creates accountability rather than promoting the idea that the machine does inexplicable and unpredictable things on its own.

2. The embroidery machine can hurt you. Trainees, as well as experienced operators, should have a healthy respect for the machine and understand they could be hurt if safety procedures are not followed. It’s a best practice to train all operators to loudly say “Ready” or “Clear” before the machine is engaged. This helps ensure that no fingers are near the needles or in an area where they could be pinched when the pantograph moves.

3. Mistakes will happen. Resist the temptation to jump ahead of your planned training schedule. Doing so can lead to mistakes — possibly costly ones — and even damage to the equipment.
When an error does inevitably occur, remain positive. This is a fine line to walk because you don’t want to foster the idea that mistakes are always OK, but it’s also important to not damage the trainee’s morale. Rather, try to make the negative experience a teaching moment. Help the trainee understand and verbalize what was learned from the experience.

4. Have trainees say it in their own words. Many people say they understand a concept even when they don’t. Have the trainee repeat your instructions for procedures in their own words. This is a great way to uncover misunderstandings and miscommunication. Even if you have written procedures, allow trainees to make their own notes to help them remember the necessary steps to load a design, assign needles and other unfamiliar tasks.

5. We all do it the same way. Some large shops have “set-up operators” and “job operators.” In such settings, more experienced or more highly trained operators set up new jobs, while less-skilled operators keep the machine loaded and threaded. Regardless of each employee’s training, all operators must follow the same procedures.

Even though everyone is asked to follow shop guidelines, no one knows better than operators where improvements can be made. If an employee — even a trainee — believes a better way exists to do a task, that person should feel comfortable sharing it. If it actually is better, the new method should become standard shop procedure for all employees.

It’s important that trainees be able to distinguish good and poor embroidery. During the normal course of business, gather embroidery samples that have outlines that are off-register, jagged column stitches and other symptoms of inferior embroidery. Ask trainees to evaluate these samples to sharpen their awareness of high-quality stitching.

Start trainees with simple tasks, like changing thread for a new job. Next, progress to teaching tension basics and identifying good embroidery from poor embroidery. Make some short videos of operations in your shop and post them for either public or private viewing on YouTube. This serves a dual purpose: Trainees will learn from the videos and they can show their friends and family about their interesting new job.

When coming up with your training program, collect reference material from the Internet, magazine articles or other related resources. Establish procedures for common tasks and provide written guidelines.

Deborah Jones is a commercial and home embroiderer with more than 30 years of experience in the computerized embroidery field. She runs myembroiderymentor.com and regularly speaks at the Imprinted Sportswear Shows (ISS). For more information or to comment on this article, email
her at djones@myembroiderymentor.com.

Suggested Reading
Like this article? Read these other embroidery articles at impressionsmag.com:
• “Training for the Small Shop
• “Create Embroidery That Sells Itself
• “Use Software Settings for More Quality Embroidery

A Minimum Training Plan for Embroidery Machine Operators & Supervisors
Listed here are the minimum elements that should be included in a training program for operators and for supervisors.

Use this list as a guide, and attach your own time frame and sequence that makes sense for your shop. At the end of your trial period, use it as a checklist to review the trainee’s understanding of each aspect. You’ll be pleased with the well-rounded and knowledgeable operator you have trained.

Computerized Embroidery Machine Operators
Trainee should get an explanation for each of the following items and be able to perform after suitable training time

1) Understanding Placement Standards
a. How to apply your shop’s standard embroidery placement, such as left chest or full back
b. Selecting suitable techniques for marking garments when needed

2) Review of Job Details
a. Read orders for completeness: thread colors, design, placement
b. Ask for verification in the case of questionable spelling or instructions that don’t seem right

3) Garment Inspection
a. Counting garments
b. Checking for correct garments
c. Checking for defects before applying embroidery

4) Hooping
a. Select the smallest hoop that will accommodate design
b. Exceptions to the rule, such as keeping bulky seams out of hoop area
c. Hooping procedures and avoiding damage to fabric from hooping
d. When to use holding fixtures instead of a traditional hoop

5) Matching Stabilizer to Fabrics
a. When to do a test sew-out for a first article
b. Evaluate for proper support
c. Evaluate whether a topping is needed

6) Assuring Consistent Placement
a. Determine placement method technique for each job type
b. How to mark garments

7) Thread Handling
a. Setting up thread for standard jobs
b. Setting up threads for small quantities or mixed color orders
c. Tying of knot to pull through needle for thread changeover
d. Tying of knot for thread storage, when applicable
e. Purpose of each component in the thread path (pre-tensioners, tensioners check spring)
f. How a stitch is formed
g. How thread break detector/bobbin sensors work
h. Handling of metallics, polyesters and other specialty threads

8) Thread Tensions
a. Tension testing procedures (top and bottom)
b. Troubleshooting tension problems
c. Adjusting and cleaning of the bobbin case
d. Adjusting of the upper tensioners

9) Needles
a. Matching the proper needle to goods
b. How and when to change needles
c. Identifying sewing symptoms that are needle-related

10) Troubleshooting and Machine Management
a. When and when not to back up the machine to repair missing thread
b. Identifying causes of thread breaks
c. Lubricating of the machine — when, where, how and with what
b. Sewing speeds for various jobs and stitch types

11) Specialty Techniques
a. Producing high-quality embroidery on finished caps
b. Producing appliqué products (if applicable)

Embroidery Supervisors (Multi-Machine Shops)
1) Pre-Production
a. Scheduling Principles
I. Matching job specifics for efficient consecutive job sequence
II. Assigning priorities according to promise date
b. Procedures for ordering digitized designs
c. Procedures for staging upcoming orders

2) Production
a. Sensible, orderly work flow through shop
b. Monitoring of supplies and accessories
c. Matching operators to jobs and machines
d. Tracking of production throughout —maintaining a production log
e. Account daily or weekly losses and cost of nonconformity

3) Equipment
a. Oversee maintenance
b. Keep a maintenance log for each machine

4) Training
a. Organize and maintain recommended reference material for operator trainees
b. Evaluate trainees’ progress
c. Identify under-skilled operators and provide assistance