Embroidery Machine Tips & Techniques
Embroidery machines can appear quite complicated if you aren’t used to them. There is so much jargon in online descriptions and long complicated instructions which makes the whole embroidery process more confusing than it needs to be. If you are interested in buying an embroidery machine but you’re not quite sure how the machine works, what all the terms mean or what you should be looking for then read on for our simple guide to using an embroidery machine!
What’s The Difference Between A Sewing Machine And An Embroidery Machine?
Sewing machines are used to construct clothes, pillowcases, sheets, hats and other items, whereas embroidery machines are used to sew designs onto your fabric for artistic and decorative purposes. You would use the sewing machine to construct the garment itself and then you would use your embroidery unit or separate embroidery machine to add your designs to the garment.
Some higher-end sewing machines come with an embroidery unit which will allow you to construct the garment and then decorate it using the same machine. Other machines are ‘embroidery only’ and cannot be used for regular sewing.
How Does It Work?
There are quite a few things you should know about embroidery machines in order to help you set your machine up, choose the right thread for your project, get the right stabilisers and start the embroidery process. Please keep in mind that not all embroidery/sewing machines are the same and yours may look and operate a little differently. You should always refer to your user manual for instructions that are specific to your machine.
Setting Up The Machine
Your sewing/embroidery machine may come with a cover, so in order to use the machine, you will have to remove this in order to proceed. You can use this unit to store thread, needles, snacks or other items.
If you have a sewing machine with a detachable embroidery unit then the machine will operate as a regular sewing machine until the unit has been attached. If you have an embroidery-only machine then it will only have an embroidery mode.
If you have a detachable embroidery unit then you can follow these basic instructions to attach your embroidery unit and set your machine to embroidery mode. If you have an embroidery-only machine then please check your user manual for instructions which are specific for that machine.
- Your embroidery unit will have an embroidery plug which you use to attach the unit to the main machine. This plug is what the embroidery unit uses to communicate with the main sewing machine.
- Your unit will also have an embroidery arm which should be a large rectangular part that is attached to the unit. This arm is going to move around during the embroidery process and it is there to help the machine control your design.
- You can normally find the hoop attachment on the embroidery arm. This is where you can attach the hoop to the machine, and it will also move around during the process.
- On the left side of the machine you will normally find the unit release button located on the bottom of the unit. This button can be squeezed when you want to remove the embroidery unit.
- To attach the embroidery unit, you will need to remove the accessories tray from your sewing machine and then replace it with the embroidery unit. The embroidery unit should slide on in much the same way as your accessories tray does. Simply push it on until it snaps into place.
- Your unit should now be set to embroidery mode. Before you turn it on making sure there is no hoop attached, check that the presser foot is up and clear the area around your embroidery unit as the arm is going to move around a bit and you don’t want it to knock anything over.
- When you turn your machine on it will probably say it needs to calibrate or words to that effect. Make sure you have checked all the steps above before clicking okay.
This is just a rough overview of how your embroidery unit may be set up. Please check your instructions manual for a guide which is specific to your machine.
There are lots of different threads which you may want to use for your embroidery. There are a few things you need to know about the thread in order to make a good choice for your designs.
The first thing you need to know about is the weight of the thread. Higher numbers actually mean that the weight of the thread is lighter, so an 80 weight thread is lighter than a 40 weight thread. You may want to use lighter threads for small designs with lots of detail.
Lower numbers refer to a heavier weight, so a 20 weight thread is heavier than a 40 weight thread. 40 weight is the average that your machine will assume you are using, but you can select different weight threads depending on what you want to create.
There are also different types of thread materials for you to choose from. Some popular thread materials include cotton, rayon, and polyester. Some people also choose to buy specific thread for the bobbin. This will normally be lighter, may be made out of polyester (which tends to be cheaper) and it is used for the back of your embroidery to help support the upper thread. Bobbin thread will normally come in neutral colours as it is there to blend with your main thread and is not there to be seen.
You should use a special embroidery or darning foot instead of a regular sewing machine presser foot. Remove the attached presser foot (you may need to use a screwdriver), set it aside, and attach the special darning foot to the machine. Your instructions manual should show you how to do this, but if not it is really just a case of loosening the darning foot, setting it aside and attaching and tightening the darning foot.
When you are embroidering you will want to use specific embroidery needles. These are a little different to sewing needles and they are there to help you get the most out of your designs. Embroidery needles will normally have bigger ‘eyes’ compared to other needles which will allow more delicate threads to go through the needle without getting damaged in the process.
The area right above the eye of the needle (sometimes referred to as the ‘scarf’) is shaped a little differently which again helps protect delicate threads from being damaged.
Your machine should come with some embroidery needles, but you can also find them easily on Amazon and other websites.
Your embroidery machine may come with a USB stick which will have pre-made designs already downloaded It may also come with built-in fonts. You should be able to download other designs onto the USB stick if you want to create your own. Your machine may also have built-in designs which you can control from the editing screen.
The USB stick can be inserted into the unit in much the same way as you would insert it into a regular computer.
The stabiliser is there to stabilise your fabric, it can hold it in place, it will make sure the fabric is securely attached to the hoop, and you can also stitch into it directly if you are making a free design.
There are a few types of stabilisers which you can choose from.
- Cutaway stabiliser will stay in your design to support it permanently and it will make sure the material doesn’t stretch or distort. It is a good choice for less stable fabrics as it will help support them after you have made the design. These fabrics tend to be gentle on the skin and are therefore a good choice if you are adding your designs to items of clothing.
- Tearaway stabilisers tear easily and the excess can be torn away after you have finished. The stabiliser left in the design will be washed away so eventually, your design will not have any stabiliser left in it. This is a good choice for fabrics which are already secure and don’t need the extra support.
- Water soluble stabilisers will dissolve in water and so it is only there for temporary support. This stabiliser is also a good choice if you are looking for a foundation for your free-standing designs, and it can also be placed on top of your design.
- Tacky stabilisers have a sticky surface and they are mostly used for small designs which are too small to be hooped in the normal way.
Embroidery hoops are there to control the motion of your fabric as the machine embroiders your designs. There will be an inner hoop and an outer hoop which are held together with tension.
To ensure your hoop is positioned the right way check for any logo text which should be on the edges of the hoop. The text should be facing you and it should be the right way up so you can read it.
How To Hoop Your Fabric
The hoop connector should be a rectangular piece which sticks out of the side of the hoop. This is the part which will be connected to the machine. There should also be a hook on the bottom of the hoop. This is the quick release lever and it should also have a retaining screw which will release to let you move the outer hoop away from the inner hoop.
To secure your fabric to the hoop you will need to:
- Open the quick release lever, separate the inner and outer hoops and put the outer hoop on a flat surface.
- Put your fabric over the chosen stabiliser and place them over the outer hoop. Then place the inner hoop over the fabric, push it down, ensure the fabric is taught and there are no creases or uneven bumps.
- Close the quick release lever so your fabric is now secure between the two hoops.
- Make sure you don’t force the lever to close. If it isn’t closing easily then you should loosen it until it can close comfortably. Once the fabric is secure you will need to tighten the lever so the material is firmly secured between the two hoops.
- If you are doing ‘hoopless’ embroidery then you will need to follow a slightly different process and you may need to pin your fabric in place. There are online videos which can give you more specific instructions regarding hoopless embroidery if you are interested.
You can get different sized hoops depending on the kind of design you want to create. You should be able to buy these on Amazon. You want the smallest size hoop possible to help you save on materials and have the greatest stability possible. Your machine will reject the hoop if it is the wrong size or is otherwise incompatible.
Let’s Get Started!
Now that you know how to set up the embroidery unit/machine, select your stabiliser and attach the fabric to the hoop we can now get onto actually using the machine. Please do keep in mind that not all embroidery machines operate in the same way and you should follow your user manual or Youtube videos which use your specific machine.
Set up the thread, insert your USB stick, calibrate the machine and attach the hoop via the hoop connector. Refer to your user manual or instruction videos if you are unsure how to do any of these steps.
You are now ready to select your design. When your USB stick is attached you should be able to select your design. Your designs may be referred to by number, so make sure you know which number correlates with which design.
Options & Editing
Note: This is a guide to the options you may have on your machine, but the location and appearance of these options will differ depending on the brand and type of machine you are using. Take your user manual out, go to the appropriate page and follow along so you can locate all the options and see where they are on your specific machine. Some embroidery machines may have more or fewer options.
Once you have selected your design you should be able to edit it before actually stitching it onto the material. Your screen may be set up a little differently, but basically, on your screen, you should be able to see and change the rotation of your design (your unit may have a rotation button which you can use to rotate it if you want).
You should be able to change the design position from side to side or up and down depending on the size of your design, and you can also change the height and width of the design (ensure that the design is adjusted proportionately).
There may also be a speed setting which will show you how fast the embroidery will be stitched and you should be able to adjust the speed as desired via the plus or minus buttons.
There should be a hoop button which will show you the hoop sizes that are available to you. The options which you select will correspond with the size of your design, so if your design is big you may only have one option.
There will also be a number which refers to the total number of stitches the machine has to make. Once you start the embroidery process this number will go down as it stitches away until all the design is finished and the number is at zero.
The foot pedal will allow you to control the speed that the machine sews your design. This allows you to adjust the speed as desired. You can also control this via the stop and start buttons.
You should now be ready to start embroidering your design!