Sewing Tips & Tricks: Machine Embroidery

Monday, March 02, 2015

From time to time, we will be sharing different sewing and crafting tips and tricks here on the blog. Today's project is all about embroidery. If you are into the nitty-gritty details, this post is for you! Read to the bottom of the post as I will be posting all of the details of this project.

My two daughters are in a local competitive dance team. Last year, I designed a quick graphic in Adobe Illustrator CC to be placed over a team photo, and the dance instructor liked it so much that she asked if they could use it as their official logo. I was over the moon excited!

A few weeks later, when we were ordering warm up jackets for their upcoming competition season, I was asked if I'd be interested in embroidering the logo I designed onto all 17 jackets. I said yes! After all, I had a brand new, AMAZING machine at my disposal... the Baby Lock Unity!

I had my friend, Kent Simmons, over at the studio one night and he digitized my logo using Designer's Gallery MasterWorks III.  I had never used this software before so I wanted someone here with prior experience to help me with it. After sitting down alongside him, I quickly realized that the software is actually really easy to use. I saved my logo as a JPG and we imported it into the program. We were able to choose the style of stitches for each portion of the design, the size of the finished design and thread colors, etc.

After we were happy with the look of the digitized logo, we saved it onto a flash drive and brought it over to the Baby Lock Unity for a trial run. Not bad for the first time, eh?

Then the fun (or should I say, work?) really began! The 17 blank jackets were delivered at the studio and over a period of a few weeks (we weren't running the machine full time) we embroidered one after another. The logo has a little over 32,000 stitches, so even running at full speed, it took about an hour for each jacket to embroider (not counting the time for hooping the jacket, thread color changes and removing stabilizers at the end). This is what we started with:

We had a few minor hiccups here and there, and 100% were user error. But I have to say that the amazing customer service at Baby Lock got me through it without a hitch. If you're ever in a bind, just call 800-313-4110 and they will help you out! One time, I had forgotten to switch to a full bobbin before beginning to stitch a new jacket. Of course, the bobbin thread ran out halfway through the job and I had to remove the hoop in order to replace the bobbin. As scared as I was, the Baby Lock rep calmly talked me through the whole process and everything turned out fine.

Another time, I began to experience a few thread breaks, which became more and more frequent as the job continued. When I got to stitching the pink portion, I noticed right away that the bobbin thread was showing through to the top. I consulted my Unity manual and quickly found out that it was due to loose tension on my bobbin case. I called my trusty rep again, and she told me I needed to switch to the "alternate bobbin case" (what? I didn't even now there was such a thing!) Again, calmly, she talked me through where to find the case, how to remove the existing case and replace it with the new one, and back up the stitches enough so that it would cover up the goofed up part. The jacket turned out beautiful and you would never guess there was any bobbin thread showing through to the top.

When all was said & done, this was the outcome, and I couldn't be happier. There are 16 little girls (and 1 dance instructor) with some pretty amazing-looking jackets!

Now, for the nitty-gritty details:
Tips & Tricks:
  • If you are embroidering on a finished product (jackets, dresses, towels, etc.) always test out your embroidery design on a scrap of fabric before moving on to the finished product. We found out that one of our letters hadn't digitized properly so we had to quickly go back to the digitizing software to fix the issue. We were thankful to have caught this error before we started the jackets.
  • The order in which we placed our items on the hoop is as follows: 1 layer of Tear-Away Stabilizer, 1 layer of Cut-Away Stabilizer, Jacket (right side up), 1 layer of Wash-Away (Solvy). After embroidery is complete, you can remove the Solvy by hand and any spots that don't tear out easily, you can spritz with a little water and it will dissolve away. On the inside, you can easily tear the edges off the tear-away stabilizer, but don't try to tear if it doesn't want to tear easily... you don't want the threads to bust. Lastly, use embroidery scissors to cut your Cut-Away stabilizer about 1/4" to 1/2" away from the outer edges of the embroidery... be careful not to cut through your finished piece!
  • Always start each project with a full bobbin, unless you know for a fact you can get 2 or more from each bobbin. You want to avoid changing bobbin thread in the middle of your job (believe me!).
  • If doing multiple pieces, like we did, change out your machine's needle after 2 or 3 projects to avoid any issues with dull needles.
  • Use high quality threads. We love Madeira!
  • Keep your machine's manual handy. You'll be surprised at how much you can troubleshoot on your own just by looking it up on there!
A few of our "tiny dancers" taking a snack break between routines:

I would like to thank Baby Lock and Madeira for your incredible products and amazing support through this whole process, my friend Kent Simmons, for lending his time and expertise, and last but not least, Jesica Schreiber at Victory Academy Elite Dance Company for trusting me with these jackets. This was quite the experience!!


  1. Your tips and tricks section was very helpful. My daughter wants to start to learn how to embroider. We both had no idea where to get started. After reading your tips like to test out your embroidery on a scrap piece of fabric first. I think if we follow these tricks we should both get the hang of it pretty soon. Thanks for the great post.

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  3. Patty, this was a great article about machine embroidery. I have been learning how to do machine embroidery and these tips could help me advance more quickly than I have been. The dance jackets in the pictures turned out great! I hope I can be that good someday!
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  5. speattle11:55 AM

    What kind and size needle did you use?

  6. Patty, I love your point about testing out a new embroidery pattern on an old piece of cloth first. I've always wanted to learn how to sew and embroider. Do you have any good recommendations on machines? I'm just starting to do some research on good machines.

  7. Anonymous5:07 PM

    Patty, you are an awesome mom!

  8. I've been embroidering for many years and am still surprised at the number of people who charge ahead full speed on the actual project without testing on scrap first.
    When I tell people that's why my stitch outs take longer - they can't beleive after all these years that I still test.
    Sometimes I keep the test sample and write details on the front or back, i.e. name/color of thread, where design came from, name of designer,changes I made, where design is filed for retrieval. I have an arsenal of samples, actual test stitch outs that I can show if I'm trying to win an account. Often they bring smile to my face for I'd have forgotten what I made for whom over the years.

  9. Anonymous4:10 PM

    precious girls as well as beautiful embroidery....

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