Welcome to a brand new, no-promises-as-to-regularity blog series: Mailbag Mayhem! Sometimes a note comes in that I really want to share with all of you … a question that gets asked over and over again, or a particularly charming comment, or what-have-you. This space will hold the greatest hits of the Urban Threads inbox. Education! Outrage! Hilarity! You’ll find it all here. Well, mostly education in this post. One thing at a time.
Today’s topic is shifting and gapping of machine embroidery designs. It’s by far the most common “help it’s stitching funny” question I get, so it seemed an apt inaugural post. Let’s say you just bought an embroidery design, and you’re about to stitch it on something. This shark looks nifty on the site…
But when you go to stitch it out, everything goes awry. Slightly condensed from a recent email:
The last two designs I have tried to use have not lined up properly. The first one is the Ace of Spades w/flames. The bottom right corner of the card (where it sort of flips up) was off. I did it on a shirt for my 10 year old grandson, and he really doesn’t care about it. Then today I tried to do another shirt for him with the Shark. It is a complete mess!! The eye and teeth are too high and get covered by the blue/green of the shark’s body. From there it goes downhill. I kept working on it, thinking it may “fix” itself, but no luck. I finally just gave up. Can you give me any ideas as to how to fix these problems? I love love love the stuff on your site, and hope you can give some suggestions so I can keep using your designs. … My grandson loved the ace of spades (he didn’t notice the flaw), and he keeps asking me when I’ll have his shark shirt done.
And indeed it was a complete mess. Some of the stitching landed where it shouldn’t, leaving all kinds of gaps and general chaos in the design.
I asked a couple follow-up questions:
What kind of fabric? (T-shirt knit.)
What kind of stabilizer? (Water-soluble on top and bottom.)
Thing is, a stitch is like a hug. It squeezes the fabric together a little bit. When you’re working with tens of thousands stitches … well, that’s a lot of hugs, and they can make the embroidered fabric shrink up a bit. This can, in turn, make the fabric within the embroidery hoop shift around a little bit, causing parts of the design to line up oddly. Stabilizer is meant to prevent this. But different kinds of stabilizer work in different ways:
Cutaway stabilizer is the stablest stabilizer, and it’s what I recommend almost all of the time. The fibers do not come apart or break down easily — try tearing some and you’ll see what I mean. Stick it to the back of your fabric with a bit of temporary spray adhesive for even more stability. Don’t like the stabilizer edges on the inside of your shirt? For small or lightweight designs, sheer cutaway stabilizers like Sulky Soft ‘n Sheer or Floriani No Show Mesh are a softer option.
Tearaway stabilizer looks a lot like cutaway, maybe even more paperlike. It’s meant to tear away after the design is done, so the fibers come apart easily. Tens of thousands of needle perforations tend to help that process along. Yes, there are some instances where it’s a perfectly decent choice … a very light-stitching design on a tea towel comes to mind. But for a solid stitch-filled design, or anything on a knit, I’d stick with cutaway.
Water-soluble stabilizer can look either like a clear plastic sheet, or a white mesh similar to a tearaway. Like the name says, when you get it wet, it dissolves. I use it for freestanding lace and as a topping on fabrics with a pile, like terrycloth.
Different people will give you different advice on what stabilizer to use when, and passions seem to run high on the matter. This is what we’ve found tends to work. Take it for what you will.
After a second try with cutaway stabilizer, the embroidery looked much better:
And the shirt made a sharkalicious gift.
How have you solved shifting and gapping problems? Leave a note in the comments!
And remember … if you’ve got a question, just drop us a note!