Educate me about Machine Embroidery

I need to come up with 20ish nearly-identical squares for a quilt project (will swap among a similar number of people, and wind up ultimately with 20ish different squares). I have heard of embroidery machines - I get the impression that you can do your own artwork, run it through a computer program, and it’ll get translated to a pattern for the machine to follow.

That’s about all I know though - no clue whether the machines are affordable, whether there are services you can send the desired artwork to, to have the embroidery done for you, etc. Can you do photos this way? I’m assuming the machines are pricey enough that I wouldn’t want to actually purchase one.

Any advice gratefully accepted. Help!!

(My fallback position is to purchase patterned fabric and just stitch or write the desired info (kid’s name/birthdate).

You can call around and find a pro shop or sporting goods store that sells uniforms. They can probably do the job you need done, and they can tell you if they can work from a photo.

There are programs that will do this, although they are used mainly for quick and dirty previews of what the final design will look like. This type of program will create an embroidery design that is flat since it doesn’t know what parts of the design should be raised.

The process of turning artwork into a machine readable file is called “digitizing”. A good digitizer will use the artwork and other criteria, including the type of fabric, the colors used, the type of thread to be used, etc. He will use different types of stitches, different densities and other tricks to create an appealing design. The final design should look kind of 3D.

digitizing software is very expensive, although it’s come down in recent years. You can get a decent digitizing package for around $7000.

You can hire a digitizer. Local digitizers will cost around $50 to $100 for a simple design (look in your phone book under Embroidery). Or you can use a guy from India to save some money (do a Google search for “Embroidery Digitizing”. Frankly, seeing some of these guy’s work, I wouldn’t trust them with a photo. It takes a real pro to digitize a photograph.

Embroidery = expensive. An embroidery machine costs more than a high-end sewing machine, and that’s really a lot. If you are in the market for a good machine, though, they are starting to come out with hybrid sewing/embroidering machines. Singer has one, called the Futura, though I can’t honestly recommend it to you–I have one and I am afraid of it. It chews its bobbin thread.

If you really want to go for it and monogram everything in the house and everything in your friends’ and family’s houses, make christening gowns and little girls’ party dresses, do redwork quilts, etcetcetc–then it would be worth it to buy an embroidery machine. Otherwise, I agree with the poster above, you should have it done for you.

I hit submit too fast. I was going to add that you can hire a digitizer. Local digitizers will cost around $50 to $100 for a simple design (look in your phone book under Embroidery). Or you can use a guy from India to save some money (do a Google search for “Embroidery Digitizing”. Frankly, seeing some of these guy’s work, I wouldn’t trust them with a photo. It takes a real pro to digitize a photograph.

Does that help at all? I’m supposed to be working so I can’t go into much more detail right now.

Ignore my last post.

A high quality embroidering machine will cost about a thousand dollars (and that’s a simple one), if I recall correctly from my summer job at a sewing machine store a couple years ago. Heavy suckers, too. I hated having to haul them around.

However, at the same store, they had sewing classes you could take where you could use the really high quality machines (for a fee, obviously, but noting near the cost of a machine) and get help from the teacher, who would be well-versed in using the machine, if you had trouble.

Personally, I am not a big fan of machine embroidery. I think it can look stunning from far away, but tends to look kind of empty and soul-less up close. Something simple, done by hand, is much more interesting than the most complex machine embroidered design.

The following is based on conversations with my daughter about her experiences, not my own. If the information is incorrect or innacurate, I apologise. I can’t reach her to confirm any of this right now, but…

My daughter is a freelance graphic designer in Phoenix. From conversations with her I’m thinking your most significant cost will be the set-up fees. An embroidery machine has a “tape”, a set of software instructions that tells it what to sew. The embroiderer has to have (or make) a new tape for each design. (I think what others are saying about digitizing services is the making of this tape and it should be tailored to the machine that is going to do the sewing. They are not all the same.)

Each change in your design (what you said was, “nearly- identical”, key word there being nearly) is charged as a new set-up fee. The whole fee. For EACH change. Thirty dollars in Phoenix is a GREAT price for a “tape”. You may be able to find an embroiderer who will give you a break on this pricing for small changes. If you do, please e-mail me their contact info so I can pass it along to my daughter.

What I’m trying to say is, a commercial embroiderer will charge you for each square as a whole new job. Even though each job is only one item, the machine has to be re-configured for each square. Think of it as twenty seperate single-item jobs as opposed to one twenty item job. (Again, this is not based on personal experience or knowledge. If I’m mistaken, I apologise.)

The alternative might be to have an embroiderer make twenty identical squares with a blank space in the design that you and your friends could stitch something individual into.

I don’t know much about machine embroidery, and whether it looks “empy”, but you can do a lot by hand.

Ribbon embroidery is super easy and very impressive because it LOOKS complicated.

Interesting - what is ribbon embroidery? I’m only familiar with “generic” floss-based embroidery (counted cross-stitch, and the assorted satin stitches, leaf stitches, etc.) and crewel, have never tried anything with ribbon so I have no clue what that looks like.

Good point. I phrased that rather badly - if I went with machine embroidery, I’d get 20ish identical pieces. If I did something by hand, then obviously the squares would vary for one reason or another, hence “nearly-identical”.

Hmmm - good point. Also the squares involved would be on the large size, so I’d either have to have a larger graphic, with a lot of weight in the embroidered area (or have the embroidery pattern be just an outline), or a lonely little thing floating around in a big empty square!

The other quilt I own that is a product of a similar project has squares ranging from handwritten name/birthdate on a printed pattern, to fairly elaborate pieced squares with multiple fabrics, appliques, etc.

My own talents (and available time) tend toward the handwritten end of things, as you might guess! So unfortunately anything that takes more than an hour or so per square, won’t happen :frowning:

Ribbon embroidery images

Very old-fashioned, it’s basically using little silk ribbons to make flowers and swirls.

Like this
It looks complicated and intricate, but it’s actually very easy. Especially making little roses-see, you make sort of a little star or wheel with thread, then weave the ribbon through to form a rose bud.

That’s more what I had in mind with the “alternative” I recommended. What’s that thing about “Great minds”? :slight_smile:

I’ve talked to my daughter since I posted this afternoon, and I was way too low on the set-up rates. What she told me may affect your second point I’ve quoted. Seems the set-up fee is based on stitch count. So the bigger or more elaborate the design, the higher the fee. Daughter told me her typical fee (for golf shirt logos and hats, that sort of thing) is more like $80. (By “her fee” I mean what she pays the embroiderer for set-up, not what she charges customers.)

OTOH she also told me that many embroiderers will work with you on pricing if the design is something simple, like a single letter in a common font (Helvitica was her example).

One more thing if you do decide to go this route (or for anyone else that’s come this far). If you pay for a “tape”, meaning you pay the embroiderer a set-up fee for a “tape” of your design, that “tape” belongs to you. Think of it in terms of intellectual property, because it is. Make them give it to you. It may seem insignificant, but I can’t tell you how many times Daughter has told me a story about a new customer who wants to re-order a shirt from her, but their (customer’s) old embroidery people “lost” the tape and she had to re-create it (and pay for it again) from scratch.

If it doesn’t have to be embroidery, but could be photo, there is transfer fabric/paper and whatever it takes to do that at your local fabric store. At least if it’s the kind that actually sells fabric as its main product and not just as a byline for other junk. You can put a photo on your squares and maybe then put the little basic embroidered details. Might be worth a phone call or visit, if it isn’t too far away.

Tambour and punch embroidery are pretty easy too. Tambour is like crocheting on the fabric while it’s stretched on a hoop, but is more suitable for lightweight fabrics. It creates an effect like chainstitch. Punch/Russian embroidery uses a tool that sort of continuously feeds the thread through the needle. I can’t think of a clearer way to explain it, but I did it when I was about 8, so it was pretty easy and fast, since I was an easily frustrated child. It has a nap, and you can either cut the loops open or leave them closed. The page I linked to has pictures.

Crap. I meant to tell you that you can buy supplies for both at Lacis. They’re dependable and reasonable and helpful and all that good stuff.

My stepmother always has something in her hands. Embroidery, ribbons, knitting, quilting, who knows.

She bought a really cool machine from Brother. It has a touch screen for directions. A memory card holds a bunch of different patterns. You can download patters that people share over the web and store them in your PC, transfer to the memory card back and forth to the machine. It came with the software and instructions to create your own patterns as well.

It was about $4000 with all the bells and whistles about 5 or 6 years ago. A lot of money but its almost commercial grade and she uses the hell out of it.