Embroidery is an ancient variety of decorative needlework
in which designs and pictures are created by stitching strands of some material on to a layer of another material. Most embroidery uses thread or wool stitched onto a woven fabric, but the stitches could be executed in, for example, wire or leather strands, and embroidery can be worked onto many materials. Non-woven traditional materials include leather and felt, but modern textile artists embroider on many non-traditional materials such as plastic sheeting. Often, specific embroidery stitches are used.

Embroidery has traditionally been used to decorate clothing and household furnishings including table linens, tray cloths, towels and bedding, but you can literally embroider anything as long as it is made out of an evenly woven fabric and can be held firmly in the hand or in a special embroidery hoop or tapestry frame. The art of hand embroidery is a painstaking and laborious process, but today garments are often decorated with machine embroidery instead.
Embroidery has also been used as a form of art and for decoration, through the creation of embroidered or cross-stitch samplers, tapestries, wall-hangings and other works of textile art. Some types of patchwork also incorporate embroidery as a form of extra decoration.

Machine embroidery is a term that can be used to describe two different actions. The first is using a sewing machine to "manually" create (either freehand or with built-in stitches) a design on a piece of fabric or other similar item. The second is to use a specially designed embroidery or sewing-embroidery machine to automatically create a design from a pre-made pattern that is input into the machine.

Before computers were affordable, most embroidery was completed by "punching" designs on paper tape that then ran through a mechanical embroidery machine. One error could ruin an entire design, forcing the creator to start over. This is how the term "punching" came to be used in relation to digitizing embroidery designs.

Most embroidery machines used by professionals and hobbyists today are driven by computers that read digitized embroidery files created by special software.
With the advent of computerized machine embroidery, the main use of manual machine embroidery is in fiber art and quilting projects. While some still use this type of embroidery to embellish garments, with the ease and decreasing cost of computerized embroidery machine, it is rapidly falling out of favor. Many quilters and fabric artists now use a process called "thread drawing" (or thread painting) to create embellishments on items.


Embroidery glossary

Appliqué
French term meaning applying one piece of fabric to another. A cut piece of material stitched to another adding dimension, texture and reducing stitch count.

Backer/Stabilizer
Materials, generally non-woven textiles, which are placed inside or under the item to be embroidered. The backing provides support and stability to the garment which will allow better results to the finished embroidered product. Backings come primarily in two types: cutaway and tear-away. With cutaway, the excess backing is cut with a pair of scissors. With tear-away, the excess is simply torn away after the item is embroidered. Additional types which are dissolved either by water or heat also exist. For all of these the terms backing and stabilizer are often used interchangeably.

Bobbin
A bobbin is a small spool of threads inside of the rotary hook housing. The bobbin thread actually forms the stitches on the underside of the garment. The bobbin on an embroidery machine works in the same manner and for the same purpose as on a standard sewing machine.

Digitize
(Often mispronounced as "digitalize.") The computerized technique of turning a design image into an embroidery program. Special software is used to create plotting commands for the embroidery machine. The commands are transferred to the machines logic head by a designated embroidery "language."

Fill Stitch
Fill stitches are a series of running stitches sewn closely together to form broad areas of embroidery with varying patterns and stitch directions.

Hoop
A clamping device used to hold the backer and fabric in place in the machine.

Running Stitch
A running stitch is one line of stitches which goes from point A to point B. A running stitch is often used for fine details, outlining, and underlay.

Satin Stitch
Also known as the zig-zag stitch by which a line, border or edge is produced by thread being alternately stitched to either side of a baseline. Satin stitches are generally limited to a maximum of 1/2" in stitch length before some alternate technique such as split stitching or fill stitching must be used.

Underlay
A stabilizing pattern of embroidery which, if used, precedes the main body of satin or fill stitching. It consists of one or a combination of running stitches for centering, edging, paralleling or zigzagging the design area.

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