Weighing the Merits of Embroidery

Embroidery offers choices in size, color, special effects and — ultimately — the price you can charge for accomplishing it.

By Alice Wolf, Contributing Writer

Embroidery is capable of tiny detail, shading and small lettering on intricate images. It’s versatility offers your shop some leeway when it comes to price point. Photo courtesy of Madeira USA. Digitizing by Pat Williams.

March 4, 2014

The word “bias” has such an unfriendly ring to it. Yes, I do marketing for a leading embroidery thread manufacturer. So, yes, I’m sold on the merits of embroidery.

I could play the role of peacemaker and simply point out when it makes more sense to screen print, when embroidery is your best solution or when digital direct-to-garment printing is the best option for decorating apparel.

However, for the purpose of this article, I’d like to point out the positive aspects of offering embroidery as an apparel decoration solution.

If your customers seek a high-quality, classic look, embroidery should be your preferred decoration method. Originally accomplished only by hand, the three-dimensional, tactile, lustrous appearance of an embroidered logo or other embellishment is today accomplished swiftly by high-speed embroidery machines. The resulting embroidery gives the appearance of hand craftsmanship. Are you trying to establish a brand that is worthy of attention, respect and admiration? Embroidery fills the bill on all counts.

From luxury linens and baseball caps, to sumptuous terry towels and tote bags, don’t think embroidery is stodgy. Its versatility is well known to embroiderers, digitizers and contract houses that deal in high volume. Offer embroidery when one-of-a-kind embellishment, customization or ubiquitous monogramming is what’s sought. Embroidery offers choices in size, color, special effects and, ultimately, the price you can charge for accomplishing it.  

Offering quality, luxury and sensitivity to the use of sustainable elements, rayon embroidery thread brings an undeniable value to a product on which you can put a price tag. Embroidering with rayon thread, which is made from cellulose, or wood pulp — and doing so on a garment or soft goods that are recyclable or produced from sustainable fibers — allows you to offer your environmentally concerned clients a viable product that will satisfy their needs. When an eco-friendly embroidery thread is chosen, the resulting garment or home décor offers unparalleled appearance and adherence to personal standards.

And if there is a chance that the finished product will be commercially laundered in water that contains bleach, embroiderers can use a polyester embroidery thread, available from some manufacturers, that contains a percentage of recycled material. Social consciousness in the form of caring for the environment is fully supported by making the choice to embroider with rayon. Doing research to see which manufacturers incorporate recycled material in their polyester thread ingredients may help support the concerns of this group of customers.

Using high-quality embroidery thread is a logical choice when you are faced with a project that consists of a surface that is far from smooth. A cotton piqué golf shirt, a fleece vest bound for corporate branding and a towel in need of team recognition all lend themselves to the flexibility and lack of limitations that embroidery offers. Even leather or durable paper will serve as sufficient substrates for embroidery. Begin with a well-digitized design (digitizing is the process of “translating” a piece of flat art or a logo so that the embroidery machine can “read” the design and stitch it out), choose the correct needle and machine settings, and expect awesome results.

Embroidery can be pretty flexible when it comes to the look your customer has requested. Capable of very small lettering on logos, tiny detail on intricate images or special effects, embroidery’s versatility offers your shop some leeway when it comes to price point. Try suggesting to a local restaurant owner that he substitute a silver metallic thread for a gray spoon that appears in his eatery’s logo and see what he thinks. Or, going one step farther, you can stitch out two different versions to show him (metallic spoon versus gray spoon), and guess which one he’ll choose. With metallic thread adding to the cost of your production, you’ll make it up in the price you pin on his new, customized logo. Also, add emphasis or shading to an embroidered design by mixing lustrous and matte-finished thread.

Since you already run a quality shop, you surely wouldn’t think of skimping on the cost of thread by substituting sewing thread for embroidery thread. But just so you know the difference, sewing thread is strong and not designed to lay into a design or lettering the way embroidery thread does. Sewing thread lacks the finish that is applied to embroidery thread during the manufacturing process, enabling it to withstand high speeds. Sewing thread also cannot run as fast in an embroidery machine and is prone to breakage. Finally, from a microscopic perspective, sewing thread is fuzzier than embroidery thread, and would not provide the crisp and clear design that top-quality embroidery thread can offer.

While soft for the purpose of laying into a design and combining colors, textures and weights to produce one comprehensive design, an embroidered piece — when executed properly — is fully capable of holding up to the elements. Quality threads will hold their color and not fade when washed in water as hot as 203˚F. Some threads will stand up to
washing in water that contains bleach, as in home or commercial laundries. Others are designed to maintain their color after prolonged exposure to sunlight and its harsh ultraviolet rays. And where safety is an issue, some threads even contain the fire-resistant chemicals found in the uniforms worn by fire fighters, racing car drivers and oil rig workers.

When budgets are a concern, embroidery is still fairly flexible. There are no minimums, which may be offset by a setup fee. Designs can be altered to run fewer colors; density can be affected by thread choice; or the size of the design itself can be reduced. Even choosing the item to be embroidered — the fabric quality and content — can affect the final pricing of the project. When your customer wants a quality appearance and budget is a concern, don’t walk away from embroidery until you have explored the options for keeping its cost under control.

In the interest of fairness and objectivity, I must now discuss the disadvantages (I prefer to call them challenges) of choosing embroidery over ink.

Here goes: Having invested in a machine, you’ll need to purchase supplies other than thread to perform embroidery well. Proper backing, or stabilizer, is needed for the best results. Needles (chosen according to the thread you are using) and bobbins also are essential. Investing in a good digitizer to run your customers’ logos or designs is money well spent.

Large designs requiring a high stitch count and lots of colors can become costly, but often can be adjusted to fit a specific budget. When working on lightweight fabric, a large, dense design also can become heavy, but this often can be offset by combining appliqué with embroidery.

And speaking of combining, if you’re not in the mood to choose one decoration process over the other, mixing embroidery with printing can provide a mixed-media look that presents the best of both worlds. Mixed media, a topic for another time, is an impressive result of using multiple decoration techniques — say, embroidery to embellish over a printed design — which can increase a finished garment’s interest, value and price point. Embroidery, whether it appears solo or in combination with printing, is guaranteed to deliver a quality appearance to customized items for personal use, branded goods and for establishing corporate identity.

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