Troubleshooting for Embroidery

Answers to five questions embroiderers commonly ask.

By Alice Wolf, Contributing Writer

Needle sizes should be changed to run some specialty threads properly. This small design was stitched using 75-weight polyester and a #60/8 needle.

October 9, 2018

I have an advantage when it comes to understanding the importance of embroidery troubleshooting. I sit 10 yards and a staircase away from a customer sales support team that answers questions and provides helpful solutions for embroiderers.

As such, those team members gave me the following list of five most frequently asked questions they receive, in no particular order, from customers. Some of these questions may surprise you.

1. How much thread should I buy? Nearly every embroidery-thread supplier sells 40-weight rayon and polyester thread in two sizes. The names may vary (cones, spools, mini-snap cones, king spools, small spools, mini-king spools, etc.), but the two sizes are large and small.

While there is no universal name for large and small thread put-ups, which is the amount of thread that can be wound on a spool, the names primarily are for branding purposes and not truly intended to confuse customers.

The put-ups, however, nearly are universal. A small put-up consists of about 1,100 yards of thread; a large put-up is 5,500 yards long. In calculating the amount of thread needed for a design, you should know that 1,100 yards of thread will produce about 250,000 stitches. A large put-up of 5,500 yards will yield about 1 million stitches.

Of course, there is a difference between stitch lengths, but you can use the number of stitches necessary for the design and the quantity of items needed to calculate whether a large or small put-up will be sufficient.

2. Which needle should I use? This question came in two parts: Which needle should be used for specialty thread and which needle works best on structured caps?

Your thread supplier can recommend which needle will produce the best results with any of its threads, but here are some basics: A #65/9 or #75/11 needle is most compatible with general-purpose, 40-weight embroidery thread. Beyond that, you may need to change a needle to have a specialty thread run correctly.

For very small lettering or fine detail that is sewn with a 60-weight thread, a #65/9 or #70/10 works best. For a thick, 12-weight thread — such as wool or cotton blends — a larger #100/16 needle is the best choice. As the thread weight increases in number, the best needle size decreases, and vice versa.

When embroidering on a structured cap, the center seam can be a challenge. The twill fabric often is stiff, made worse by a sizing that is added to the fabric to help the cap keep its shape. Also, a buckram lining and the extra center-seam thickness all require extra skill to keep the design registered correctly.

Use a sharp-point needle, not a ballpoint needle, on caps. Beyond that, the thread size determines needle size. One trick is to apply steam to the cap’s center seam. This removes the sizing and softens the interlining, which helps tame the cap.

Remember, using the smallest recommended needle makes the smallest penetration hole, and this should be the goal. The smaller the holes in the fabric, the better the result will be. Sometimes using a large-eye needle allows you to go down a size. Some embroiderers swear by titanium needles for their strength or non-stick embedded needles for reducing friction when sewing caps.

3. What’s the best way to embroider performancewear? Which backing to use; how to keep it from puckering; hooping the slippery, stretchy stuff known as performancewear — there are tons of questions on how to master embroidering this fabric. According to Cotton Incorporated, nine out of 10 consumers say they wear performancewear for activities other than exercise alone. It’s a multi-billion-dollar industry sector that’s showing no signs of slowing down.

“Think light” should be the rule of thumb in approaching customers’ troubles with performancewear. Avoid high-stitch-count designs and keep density to a minimum. Try a light underlay to help stabilize and fill.

Remember, the nature of performancewear is that it stretches with the wearer, so the more stitches you add, the more you impede its ability to stretch. Therein lies the challenge, so consider push-and-pull compensation when working with the fabrics used in these garments.

Avoid hooping performancewear garments too tightly. Adjust the hoop so that it barely holds the garment minus the lightweight backing. When it is correctly hooped, there should be minimal stretch. Using the smallest-possible hoop promotes this, while also minimizing the garment’s potential for movement while stitching.

4. How should specialty threads be tensioned? Heavier, 12-weight threads, such as wool and cotton blends, are gaining popularity. They can provide a hand-embroidered look, and you can use less 12-weight rayon thread to fill a large space. Use a tension gauge, when possible, to find the embroidery machine’s optimal tensioning for all threads. Note that 40-weight rayon thread should register 100-120 grams and 40-weight polyester should register 120-150 grams.

For heavier thread, tension knobs should slightly be loosened and for thinner, 60-weight thread, tension knobs should be tightened. Test the tension by sewing a simple satin-stitch column. When looking at the reverse side, you should see one-third top thread on either side, with one-third bobbin thread in the middle.

Improper tensioning will cause thread breaks, looping and bobbin thread showing on the garment’s top side.

5. What’s the correct way to hoop a garment? If a garment is not hooped properly, the design may stitch out of register (if hooped too loosely) or pucker once it is removed (if hooped too tightly). The hoop should hold the garment perfectly still during embroidery. Once you have hooped a garment, run your finger lightly across the top of the fabric and it shouldn’t bunch up.

For larger jobs, once you have found the optimal tightness for each hoop, continue hooping with the same stabilizer for the entire job. For thick items, such as work jackets, a magnetic hoop may be the best choice. Always use a stabilizer when embroidering, even if the fabric seems stable. It will make hooping easier and allow the fabric to slide smoothly over the needle plate.

Alice Wolf is manager of education and publications for Madeira USA. She began doing marketing and public relations for the art industry in New York, and then migrated north to Madeira’s New Hampshire headquarters. For more information or to comment on this article, email Alice at awolf@madeirausa.com.

Staying Stable

The wrong choice of stabilizer when embroidering performancewear can create the “badge effect” or puckering in designs. Thus, the light choice is the right choice.

A low-profile, No-Show Weblon (nylon mesh) cutaway is a safe bet. There also is a low-profile, woven cutaway stabilizer that is a proven winner when it comes to stabilizing performancewear.

For added stability, a lightweight tearaway often adds a crispness to the overall design and helps the hooping process.