The Design Process- From Sketch To Embroidery


The process that created that magical design stitching out on your machine may not seem readily apparent while it’s stitching. It sort of just comes into being, stitch by stitch, as your machine sews it out. But here at Urban Threads, we create all our designs in-house, from concept to completion, and a lot of steps go from making that idea into an embroidered reality. More, sometimes, than you might imagine.

To give you a bit of a peek at that process, we’re going to visit the steps of a design created by resident artist Taylor, so you can see the process a design goes through. It all begins with a simple concept, and a bunch of rough sketches…


This Death Before Decaf design was originally released back in January. Really, the process starts with one of our design meetings, where we all get together to decide the next group of designs we want to make. We bring customer requests, inspiration, and our own sketches to these meetings. This was part of our January monthly batch planning, and I guess we were all thinking about coffee. Not such an odd thought in meetings…

Once the idea came to be, there were a number of things Taylor had to consider while working on it. The concept was for a light-stitching, tattoo-inspired “tough” looking design for those hardcore coffee enthusiasts. This can mean a lot of things to an artist, and also offers a lot of different imagery to work with. Taylor started by sketching what we call “thumbnails,” small sketches to try out lots of different ideas.


The top right design was eventually chosen as the rough to pursue.


Next the artist turns the design into a “tight” rough. This means all details are worked out and the composition tightened up. This stage may take a few revisions, depending on the art. Urban Threads designs go through anywhere from 1-4 revisions from thumbnail to approved final to get the art just right.


After that the rough design is brought into Illustrator, where Taylor draws a clean pass on top of his rough. The design might go through a few extra changes during this time, making small tweaks with text size and other details.


The final design is finished in Illustrator. The design is then printed out and handed over to one our digitizers. All our work is designed and digitized in-house by our team. Many of our designs are worked on by our head of digitizing, Danielle.


The digitizing for this design is a bit more straightforward than some, as there are no stitch-filled areas or shading to complicate the layers. Just a nice, clean light-stitching design. Once the design is ready, it’s sent back to one of our embroidery machines to sew a sample, so we know the file will sew out on a machine just the way we expect. This is also the part of the process where we’ll tweak colors and other stitching details, because colors on screen don’t always match what you can do with color in thread.


So there it is! From an idea in a meeting, to a rough sketch, to a polished piece of art, to a machine embroidery design!

Along the way, artists work out not only ideas like art style, but work to reduce trims, try color schemes, and consider how and what it might stitch on. Then digitiziers carefully figure out how to piece the design together, to make it sew a seamlessly as possible on your own machine, and sew it out as many times as needed to test its compatibility on fabric and make sure it’s not doing anything that will ruin your project. Density is removed, trims reduced, fills pulled and pushed to make sure it all stitches out like it should, and of course, a large amount of artistry goes into making a drawn design look just as good in stitches.

Countless tweaks and corrections are made all along the way by the team, to get you the best darn hardcore coffee design possible. From ideation to stitches, there’s a lot that goes into an Urban Threads design, but hopefully all you’re thinking while you’re stitching your favorite is, “Yeah! This is going to make an awesome project!”

Because then the design has really done its job.

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13 Responses to “The Design Process- From Sketch To Embroidery”

  1. 1
    Theresa Callihan says:

    thank you that’s a lot of work…and you really simplified it.
    Looking at the sketches, I really love the bottom left with no crossbones or skeleton. Just a pot of coffee, wrapped in ribbon and roses.
    Thanks Again

  2. 2
    Lanette says:

    I love your designs. Which brand of software do you use for the digitizing portion of the process?

    Thanks for showing what goes into your designs; interesting & informative.

  3. 3
    Kathleen says:

    Hi there, so great to give us all a peek on how you all work!
    Love how you play with more than one idea, keep up all this craftiness..
    and keep on dazzling us with great designs..

    Dark greetingz

  4. 4
    Diana Schwoerer says:

    I am completely in love with all the Urban Thread designs. I was just today thinking about how much goes into the designs. I purchased quite a few of the outline only designs and today I did samples of them. You have a great creative staff and they are extremely talented! Please pass along to them how much we appreciate all the work that goes into these designs….look forward to what is in store in the near future! Diana

  5. 5
    VaL says:

    I am dying to know what type/brand of pen tablet your illustrator uses. I need to buy one and want a good one. Wiacom tablets get pretty costly.

    • Niamh says:

      I’m afraid Wacom are what we all use. They’re pricey but work beautifully! I have a wacom at home that’s like 15 years old. Still works like a charm.

  6. 6
    Malinda says:

    What design software are you using? I have the Pfaff 6D embroidery software and what you have on the screen looks sort of like it but on steroids!

    <3 this design too!

  7. 7
    Becky Burkett says:

    I love Urban Threads designs! However, I do wish you would use brighter colors on the thumbnail sketches. I got a design once that I didn’t realize was 3 colors until I used it. The thumbnail was in black, charcoal, and gray. I stitched it out in bright colors (yellow, orange and red) and it turned out beautiful!

  8. 8
    Enid says:

    As I sit before my Pfaff embroidery machine, mesmerized while I watch designs stitch out, and seeing sometimes vast differences in digitizing and stitching quality between various digitizers, I have often wondered what all is involved in the production of a well-done embroidery design. Thanks to your article this morning, now I know! Very informative. Thank you for taking the time to explain it. Your designs are always of the very best quality and always stitch out beautifully. Your team’s efforts at getting all the important details just right is very apparent and most appreciated.

  9. 9
    Kathryn says:

    I just love all your designs. It’s great that you have done so many designs that I can use for the males in my family. They love them. And I have never had a bit of trouble stitching them out. Thanks so much! Loved the video, so informative.

  10. 10
    Ila in Maine says:

    I love knowing all these steps. Because I’ve worked with a few digitizers I knew a few of them and it wasn’t just boom, a drawing then ready to sew. I am very appreciative of all that is done to get such beautiful and flawless sewing designs to us.

    I for one appreciate the designs being shown in neutral colors. It doesn’t slant my creativity toward only sewing them out in ‘your’ colors and opens up my ability to seeing them in many color themes. Many times I see a design in all its colors and I’m then locked into being able to see it any other way until I save a copy of it, take it into Embird and change all the colors to sepia tones and then re-color it. Doing this frees my imagination up.

    Sometimes seeing the pics for hand embroidery can help also.

    Honey I fired the embroidery police a long time ago, they are on the unemployment line looking for work in someones’ closet other than mine. Your designs help keep them there too! Thank you for that.

    This design sewn on a light color denim is the perfect DX Kindle cover for me, I’ll try to send in a picture if I can get my camera to cooperate.

    Keep on making great designs!


  11. 11
    Lynn says:

    What fun to see the process for the wonderful creations you come up with. I have been buying designs from you for quite a few years. I find the designs of the highest quality while also bringing a much more contemporary vibe than seen with most machine embroidery designs. I am currently working on a Nature’s Curiosities Quilt and am totally loving the designs. I always get compliments on projects done with your designs and have frequently referred fellow embroiderers to your site. Thanks for all the hard work!

  12. 12
    Shirley Andrechuk says:

    Thanks for explaining all the steps that go into making us designs to stitch out.

    Keep up the good work!!

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