Today’s blog on embroidery lettering is going to be a bit technical. While this may not be the most fascinating read in the world it is an important for becoming skilled at using embroidery lettering. In the next installment I will start to bring theory and application together and start showing examples for creating lettering as stand alone designs or as additions to existing projects.
There is an age old debate in the commercial embroidery world about whether to use stock lettering or to “hand punch” lettering in designs. In the past I was very much a part of the “hand punch” crowd. But as software has improved embroidery alphabets have also improved and there are now many alphabets available across all of the major software brands suitable for rapidly creating embroidery lettering. Stock lettering is limited in application though and while it is wonderful for adding names, title drops, and other similar design elements it will never replace lettering that is part of the “art” in any project.
The number one rule in embroidery lettering (whether it be stock lettering or custom) is: SIZE MATTERS. Sorry guys, but its true. At least in this world. It is all about bigger is better. Joking aside, creating small embroidery letters “well” is one of the most difficult things to do for amateurs and professionals alike. Anyone who has been in this business for any length of times knows this to be true. Small lettering (under .25 inch) is very difficult to do well and can take many years (yes, years) to master.
To improve your chances of success you must understand the relationship between stitch density, underlays, pull compensation, and your fabric substrate. Additionally, we need to talk about the appropriate application of both backings and toppings but that is for a different day,
Simply put, Stitch density is the amount of space between stitches. More space between stitches means less density. Less space between stitches equals more density. Even the smallest change in density can make the difference between success and complete failure. I could go on and on about this critical facet of embroidery lettering but I am afraid I would quickly put you to sleep. Let it suffice to say, mastering density is tricky…it involves a great deal of trial and error. There are no “rules” that will not eventually be broken when it comes to applying density to embroidery lettering.
Underlay is the foundation on which all lettering is built. Well programmed underlays will make for a strong base on which top stitching lives, poor use of underlay will destroy your design. Underlay comes in 4 basic flavors listed from least to most aggressive.
Center Walk – A walk stitch running down the dead center of a letter element.
Edge Walk – A series of walk stitches running up both sides of a letter element.
ZigZag – A low density zigzag stitch.
Double ZigZag – Two sets of low density zigzag stitches forming a diamond pattern ender the top stitching.
Pull Compensation is a tool (and a concept) all digitizers use to accommodate for the “push and pull” characteristics of fabrics. Fabrics which are extremely stretchy (knits) will require higher levels of pull compensation than fabrics with less stretch (woven.) But as with density there are no rules not meant to be broken. Pull compensation successfully applied to one product might be a failure in another. However, it is almost always required to some degree when creating stock letters. I cannot remember a single time in the last 10 years where I have not used some level of pull compensation when creating a design utilizing stock lettering. Furthermore, I can tell almost instantly whether a design was created by a seasoned professional or someone just starting out but the absence or appropriate use of Pull Compensation. All professional level embroidery packages offer tools to adjust for “pull comp.”
As we all know fabrics come in as many types as there are snowflakes falling on a white Christmas morning. I won’t belabor the point but each fabric has its own set of properties. And as in the previous three sub topics there are “no rules” for what works across all fabrics. BY now I am certain you are seeing a theme in my message. Embroidery designs in general, and embroidery lettering in specific require an understanding of how all elements play together. I know it’s not rocket science or a cure for cancer, but if you want to separate your work from those less concerned with quality you need to focus on understanding the relationship between all of these factors and it is not easy, no matter what the people who sell digiting software and embroidery equipment will tell you.
For instance, you can create a set of letters (notice I didn’t say words) intended for use on a pique knit shirt that may look wonderful. Take those same letters and apply them to a terry cloth towel, a polar fleece jacket, knit sweater, silk blouse, leather vest or a ball cap without making any modification to the lettering file and see what you come up with. Chances are of the seven products I mentioned above you will have seven damaged garments. You need to know what you are doing and anyone who says otherwise is putting substandard, poor embroidery in to the market.
It is virtually impossible given the constraints of a blog to give you a list of do’s and don’ts to accommodate for every type of fabric out there. My point is this; know you are going to come up against it and plan for it. don’t get discouraged if one set of properties does not work on a different fabric. We have all been there. Experiment. Keep spare fabric handy and sample on different substrates. While there are no rules that won’t be broken there are guidelines you can go by to at least get you going in the right directions.
• As letters get larger they require more density and more aggressive underlay. As letters get smaller they require less density and less underlay.
• The more stretch a fabric has the more pull comp you will need to apply.
• Edge walk underlays will cause you problems if applied to column stitches less than 2mm wide.
• Zigzag or Double Zigzag underlay will be required under letters placed on garments with heavy “pile” like terry cloth or polar fleece.
• Serifs on letters smaller than 5mm are going to be challenging to do well on anything but woven fabrics with little or no stretch.
• Using the proper embroidery backing is as important as any other guideline. There is no such thing as one size fits all in this respect.
Next time out I will provide sample image where I pull some of the concepts together. Until then if you have any questions please feel free to drop me a message here. I hope all is well in each of your worlds and look forward to speaking with you soon.