Sunday, July 19, 2009

Machine Embroidery- Embossed Designs.

For the past 12 months or so there has been quite a buzz in machine embroidery circles over 'embossed' designs, it seems that a lot of digitizers have released sets of alphabets, shapes, dog breeds or animals to join the band wagon of supplying keen machine embroiderers wanting these designs & lets face it- if enough people ask, then you'll find that the digitizers will supply!

These designs work best on a napped fabric so make them perfect for putting names on towels-or initials for a monogram-this is where you see them used the most often. ANY fabric with a nap will give the desired effect, but, some fabrics work better than others & are these designs all what they are cracked up to be?

Here is what I found in my experimentation with these designs. Other machine embroiderers may have completely different experiences & outcomes to mine-I'm relaying my experiences & maybe these will help someone who is about to try their hand at this technique or is curious about how it all works.
The majority of these designs work by giving you a shape- say a rectangle & the letter is 'cut out' from the background. The background has all the stitching & the letter has the nap show through, thus giving it the embossed look. By giving an easy shape to start off with- letters can be arranged together to form names, words or monograms-easy enough.

I trialled a few of these designs & before stitching out read a few tutorials. Initially I tried the word Guest-which came from a fairly well known digitizer as a freebie. The letters were too small to make much of an impact on the towel-I tried it with Solvy as a topper & without-having read 2 tutorials where one had stated that it was imperative that you use a topper & the other said it was better not to have one. Personally I found with the size of the design it made little difference- the one with the Solvy has washed slightly better over time- but neither of them is readable after a few washes.

Size does matter-the larger the cut out area the better it will look-but then with size comes the problem of fitting enough letters in the hoop to do a long name- Christopher- would certainly take 2 hoopings & not everyone is happy about re-positioning to continue a design, especially when its critical that you line it up.

Another problem I encountered was the enormous stitch counts involved in making these designs work- the background is pounded into submission with 10,000+ stitches & you repeat for each letter- not much fun & it all takes time-too much time for the end result at this point! They look good, then go to pieces after washing- hardly the result you are after when spending that much time at the sewing machine.

The areas of embossing are stiff. Let's face it- if you are going to put that much thread into that small of an area it will end up stiff....some will say they don't mind that & that's fine- just be aware that it does do that.

I've tried different threads in my quest to have these designs look like the real thing (most often found in trendy or up-market hotels with the name embossed on the towels-either done with heat or when they make the towels in the first place & loom a lower loop. I have not gone into the intricacies of how the original idea is done!) They certainly do not stitch them. These designs are trying to copy that effect.
Thread. I've tried machine embroidery rayon, polyester,heavier weight threads,variegated threads & a matching coloured thread to the item (which is the more traditional method). I found the type of thread did not matter greatly in the scheme of things, although I do like the finish when I use Gutermann Sulky Cotton 30. This thread has a lovely sheen-slightly heavier, so gives a better fill & is 100% cotton.

After playing around with these designs & still not satisfied with the outcome post washing I decided that I would try a piece of organza as a topper. The organza has held up through washing- the letters are still readable,but this method is not for the feint-hearted-you have to burn the open areas out when you are finished- the organza will melt- the nap will pop out & you can then launder it to make the nap bloom a little more. I use a soldering iron. This method will not work well if the letters are too small- it is awkward more than anything.

Variegated threads work well, but are hardly what the original idea is about- but at least you can read what the letters say post washing- a big plus. I also used solid colours for the word "baby"-as these reminded me of baby blocks.

Fabrics. This is what I found with all the different towels & fabrics I tried. The lower & denser the nap- the better these designs work. On some super thick Egyptian cotton towels the result looked really good, it also washed better-on a longer looped towel & not as dense pile the design tended to 'wash out' over time. Polar fleece works well.....I would think that velvet would work well, although I have not experimented on it.
I did test some designs for a digitizer friend & her designs, even though they have a lot less stitches in them than a lot of others for sale- perform equally with the densely stitched ones-the up side of this is that the fabric doesn't become stiff, you use less thread & spend less time for the same results.
My conclusion for embossed designs. Well worth playing around with- I would not give them as a gift for fear that they wouldn't look good after a few washings-unless I'd used the organza method. The better quality the towel you use the better the result in most cases- use a topper-whether its a water soluble one or something like organza-the water soluble at least gives some definition for a little longer than without- the organza works the best for longer use.
The heavier thread gives a slightly better coverage- although it would be hard for most people to pick the difference. All in all, I'm not completely sold- but then it was fun to play around with.
Everyone that I gave one of my experiments to -loved the its definitely a winner!
Happy Crafting

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