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    Testing the upper and lower thread tensions

    Original text by: Marina Belova 
    Yesterday I once more learned from experience how much proper thread tension means — I embroidered a fluffy monster using acrylic yarn and got several 'birds nests' and plenty of thread breakage. I think that anyone would agree that the embroidery machine tension balance in important.
    For example, my upper thread tension was too loose, which resulted in 'bird nesting' on the wrong side and massive thread breakage together with the ugly loops on the right side of the embroidery. In case the upper thread tension was too tight, the underthread might have shown on the right side of the fabric. Which would not make the embroidery look better.
    The same with the bobbin thread. If the tension is too loose, the thread will appear on the right side of the fabric, too tight – the upper thread will be sucked underneath, causing all those loops on the right side. My lower thread tension was too tight, that's why there was so little of bobbin thread on the wrong side.
    In any case, finding the middle ground would be the best.
    What influences the thread tension during the embroidery? Everything. There are many issues that at first sight may seem irrelevant:
    Type of thread Thread thickness Embroidery machine speed Needle size Obstructions in the thread path. Not once nor twice I've seen the recommendations to test the thread tension before every new embroidery, new fabric or new type of thread. Is it necessary to get a 100% result.
    But how will one know whether the thread tension is correct if there are no special tools?
    There are several kinds of test designs. You can find them on the internet or create your own.
    It is believed that when the tension is correct, the upper thread takes 2/3 and the underthread — 1/3 of the width of the satin columns on the wrong side of the fabric. They should appear in such order: upper/lower/upper. This is what you take under control after all the tests are completed.
    I test
    This test design is an English letter "I" about 2,5 cm (1 inch) high and 3-4 mm wide. It is composed of single oriented stitches only. The design is embroidered with all the needles on a stabilized fabric or a dense cutaway stabilizer. After that you inspect the wrong side in order to see, what should be adjusted. According to results you make the adjustments and test again.
    H test
    This design is an English letter "H" about 2,5 cm (1 inch) high, with 6 mm wide vertical satin stitches and 5 mm wide horizontal ones. Stitches are oriented in 2 directions. The design is embroidered and the tension is adjusted according to the result.
    Т test
    This test design is an English letter "T" about 2,3 cm (1 inch), which is embroidered both directly and in the mirror image. Satin columns are about 5 mm wide, but there are plenty of angles. The design, too, is embroidered, and the tension is adjusted according to the results.
    Flags test
    On www.coldesi.com, where SWF embroidery machines are presented, I've found an interesting chevron-like test design. I suppose they didn't create it just for fun, so I recommend using it, too.
    FOXY 
    This test design is an English word "FOXY", written in capital letters consisting of satin columns. They are about 2,0 cm (circa 1 inch) tall. This test design is good because the stitches are oriented in many directions.
    Fill test
    This design consists of several 25x25 mm (1x1 inch) squares with 45° and 135° stitches arranged in a chess-board fashion. Again we embroider and then adjust. You can adjust the upper thread tension well so as to prevent loops.
    Madeira test
    I found another interesting test design on the USA Madeira website. It consists of a standard fill and 3 satin columns of varying width. A potpourri, so to speak. But it is single-oriented.
    The experts advise to check the thread tension no less that once in a month.
    Here I've tried to embroider one of the test designs:

    Now I'll go to adjust the thread tension in my embroidery machine.
    And last, the Drop test (yo-yo test)
    This method is used for checking if the bobbin thread is correctly adjusted. You won't need your machine for this one.
    Take the bobbin case out of the machine.
    Wind the thread on your finger and pull about 15-22 cm out of the case.
    Then you shake your hand up and down slightly
    The thread must be pulled out of the case a bit.
    How much — on that subject I've heard different values from different experts. They start on 1 inch and end on 3 inches (or 2,5-7,5 cm). Like always, you should try and see for yourself.
    You can learn how to conduct this test if you watch this video.
    You can read my blog on how to detect if the thread tension was correctly adjusted and what to do about it.

    Once again about hooping

    Original text by: Marina Belova  
    There seem to be so many hooping rules, and I've read them many times, but yet, a new idea sometimes springs to my mind. What's more, I get new ideas about simple things, which I've seen more than once, and simple principles I've more or less successfully tried to put into practice. 
    So, the January issue of the Impressions magazine contained a wonderful article on 10 basic rules of hooping by Deborah Jones, titled "Hooping": The Foundation of Embroidery". The first thing that caught my attention were the photos of a hoop for commercial machine embroidery designs with a very interesting-looking outer ring. What was so interesting about it was that it lacked the familiar screw. Instead it had an unknown device, a wonderful know-how, which, as this woman, respected by a lot of people (including me), wrote, was a part of so-called "new self-tensioning hoop": 

    The photo was taken from the Impressions magazine, January 2014 
    This means that from now on you won't have to adjust the hoop screw by yourself; it is now done automatically. I haven't found any description of this remarkable product or its working principle neither in the article (maybe I haven't been attentive enough) or on the internet. Pity, for it would be rather curious to know. 
    Second, and maybe even more important, I was amazed by this photo: 

    The photo was taken from the Impressions magazine, January 2014
    Why amazed? Because a year ago I expatiated upon about wrapping of the hoop in order to make the contact between the hoop and the fabric better. 
    Everything written there is true except one little detail: with round hoops for the commercial embroidery, you should wrap the inner ring and not the outer one like I demonstrated. To bind (or wrap in fabric) the outer ring of the round hoop would be a waste of time and material. I distinctly remember why I decided to wrap the outer ring instead of the inner one — because it was more easy to do so using a long narrow strip. 
    So far I've wrapped only one hoop using this method: 

    I hope now that it will help me to solve the problem with embroidery on slippery fabrics that tend to escape from the hoop (thin sharkskin, laminated fabrics), because the contact between them and the hoop will be better. But I won't guess at the future and try embroidering on these fabrics instead. 
    P.S. What is the most interesting, a lot of people have read my previous blog describing the wrong way of wrapping the hoop, and nobody corrected me on that. 

    A questionable method of machine embroidery without hooping

    Original text by: Marina Belova  
    The question of machine embroidery without hooping was raised on the embroidery forums more than once. This method is presented as the one that reduces the time of production by replacing the laborious hooping procedure with sticking an item on the hooped paper. 
    It includes the following steps: 
    a piece of a heavyweight paper or a water soluble stabilizer is hooped or framed  a window of a slightly bigger than the size of the future design is cut in it  a doubled-sided adhesive tape is stuck perimeter-wise (we used the builders adhesive tape, the wide one. It is of a highest quality and therefore costly)  the item is stuck to the adhesive tape  the hoop or the frame is lifted and a stabilizer is put under them  the item is embroidered as usual  After embroidery the item is unstuck and the other one goes in its place. The process repeats.  When the adhesive tape gets littered with pile from the fabric, another layer is stuck on top of it, or the fabric won't hold in place. In general, this method is alike to the one where sticky paper (Filmoplast) is used. Only here the sticky underlay is reusable. 

    I first saw this method on Yaroslavl embroidery factory. Practically everyone there embroiders using this method. Of course, I was inspired by the prospects it gave, because they advertised it like a new Japanese technology. 
    But when I tried it myself, I found out that there were many nuances, which, of course, nobody was too eager to tell me. 
    The first nuance was wickedly commonplace — 2,5 years ago it was extremely difficult to buy a thin double-sided adhesive tape in Moscow. A adhesive tape of a similar kind, which I bought from Chinese not long ago, is shown on the photo: 

    The only place where you could find a sufficient quantity of it (for using this method you consume quite a lot) at a rather immoderate price was the factory I mentioned earlier. Strange coincidence, isn't it? The price remains to be rather high — about 35 RUR for a roll of tape. Only the builder's adhesive tape was in free circulation on the market; it sometimes didn't hold the fabric in place, and besides, it wore out quickly. Not any kind of builder's adhesive tape is good for fabrics, so you should test it before use. I remember several occasions when an adhesive tape stuck to the paper rather badly, but at the same time stuck to the fabric like glue, so it would not come off. 
    The second nuance — it is not suitable for all kinds of fabrics. Slippery fabrics, and also piled ones, tend to unstick in the middle of embroidery process, damaging the result. That's why you have to stop your machine all the time and press the fabric down on tape. And as if that is not enough, you need to renew the sticky layer much more often. 
    The third nuance – not all of the designs can be embroidered in that way. You may forget about big designs with large amount of stitches in them once and for all. 
    The fourth nuance is that the embroidery is mercilessly warped. And this is despite all the gimmicks with the stabilizer. 
    The firth nuance — not all frames can be lifted so that the stabilizer could be put under them. ZSK frame is thick and heavy. You won't lift it up so easily:

    On the photo below a similar border frame — a thin and bendy Tajima: 

    The sixth nuance is that the stabilizer on a ZSK split table puckered all the time and got into the rolling elements of the central guide frame, which caused the frame to jerk and resulted in shifting of the design. 

    In other words, there are hidden pitfalls... everything we are told and advised of — all of that we should by all means try for ourselves. 
    But today I decided to quicken the production process, using the method of sticking. We have embroidered a batch of napkins with a small design of 3000 stitches with its help. A quick method, without a doubt. But an unreliable one. And without a stabilizer. But the fabric was a first-rate one – the embroidery almost didn't warp. 
    P.S. Do I use this method nowadays? Yes, I do. But only for very small designs containing a small amount of stitches, which are not easy to hoop (for example, you need to embroider something at the distance of 1 cm from the corner of a towel). But I've noticed that once the design is bigger that 10x10 cm or the number of steps reaches 5000, you have to stand in front of the machine and watch the fabric: whether it does not slide off such an insecure affixment. 

    What is 'bird nesting'?

    Original text by: Marina Belova 
    Today I'll tell you what is the 'bird nesting' in machine embroidery and how to avoid it. 
    'Birds nest' is a thick wad of thread (knot) that appears on the wrong side of the fabric in the course of embroidery. It is a cluster of upper and lower shuttle threads intertwined with each other. 

    I can tell from experience that the machine does not usually stop right after the beginning of the tangling process. It often happens that this knot is sucked into the hole in the throat plate together with the fabric. And then the best you can hope for is that the fabric won't tear up and that the item won't get unhooped. But the needles often break when trying to go through this wad of thread, wherefore the potential risk of damaging the item increases. 
    5 reasons for 'birds nests' appearance 
    Incorrect setting of the thread: either upper or lower (bobbin) thread or both.  The machine was threaded incorrectly. For example, the bobbin thread is tight and the upper is loose. In my opinion, this is the most likely reason of all.  The fabric was hooped too loosely.  In commercial machines the cutting mechanism sometimes malfunctions and the shuttle may not be properly adjusted.  Design imperfections — too much short stitches with too little space between them.  Ways of preventing of the 'birds nesting' occurrence 
    Pay attention to how the embroidery process goes. Usually when an embroidery trouble is about to begin, the machine makes a different sound. If you pay attention to the embroidery process, you can stop the machine at the right moment, carefully lift the hoop and peek at the wrong side, in order to see if there aren't any knots.  Adjust the thread tension.  Learn to hoop in the right way.  Supervise every step in the embroidery software before starting the embroidery: remove the short (under 1 mm) stitches.  If the 'birds nest' has appeared anyway, you should carefully remove the knot. How to remove 'bird nesting'? There are no ready answers for that question. Usually I start from cutting the threads under the throat plate. Then I try to reduce the 'nest' in size using a pair of tweezers. Often I have to rip off the embroidery on the right side of the fabric, pulling 1 or 2 threads from the knot at a time. You should always act according to the situation. It does not require haste and fuss.  What if a hole had appeared in the item? Then you need to repair it. 
    For example, I use stretch fabrics in my work as the rule, like a polyester net. That's why I simply sew or tie up the opening it and embroider the element that was botched. It usually comes out good. 
    On the internet I've read some recommendations on repairing holes in common fabrics: they suggest covering the hole with a piece of a water soluble film or an organza. And then to proceed with the embroidery. But I didn't try this method. 
     

    Why test every machine embroidery design

    Original text by: Marina Belova 
    Why should every new or modified embroidery design be tested? And what's more, tested on the same fabric out of which the item will be made? To avoid mistakes, at least partly, and save yourself a disappointment of embroidering a design that looks splendid on screen and getting a result far from what you have expected on the fabric. 
    When I was working for my current employer's competitors, they did not have a habit of embroidering a full-blown test design before it went into production. Such were the rules in that place. I think it was done so for costs reasons only. Practically all the designs were large-size ones, so trying to embroider them all would take a lot of time and effort. 
    That's why we made a clean copy right away, using the fabric the client had brought. Of course, you had to stand there and keep a watch over the embroidery process so that to stop the machine on time in case there was some mistake in the file. And if it did, to run to the computer to make changes and load the modified design into the machine afterward. To rip off the elements you didn't need right in the hoop and then try to land this particular part of the design in the right place. 
    Imagine how many mistakes, glitches and bugs were there? You could not detect them all when still under development. Besides, some mistakes cannot be corrected after the embroidery is completed. But it's quite an experience! 
    So. What reasons do we have for testing the designs on the machine? 
    We should see: 
    How the design will be embroidered on that kind of fabric  How the design will be embroidered with this type of thread and of this particular brand  How the design will be embroidered with this stabilizer  How the design will be embroidered with these needles  How to adjust the thread tension for this design and this type of thread  Whether the design was digitized correctly:  Is it dense enough  Whether the understitching was done correctly  Whether there is enough compensation  Without this 'integrity test' it is impossible to create a good machine embroidery design. 
    One more poignant question related to the testing of the designs: Who should conduct the tests: a creator of the design or a user? I have a strong opinion that the tests should be conducted by the creators themselves. And not by anyone else. Because otherwise no one will give the creator a good feedback once the tests are completed. 
    Therefore, the embroidery design will not be of a high quality. The creator gains experience not so much from using the software and digitizing designs, as from standing in front of an embroidery machine and keeping an eye on the embroidery process. Only in that way can he or she understand the causal connection between what was done on the computer and the resulting embroidery.

    Low density design on knitwear is possible

    Original text by: Marina Belova 
    I prefer a density of 0.45 mm, which is splendid for knitwear with a right kind of understitching. It doesn't always work, I must say, but it usually does. I have previously written that you should lower the stitch density when embroidering on knitwear, but during the last few months I used to be firmly convinced that the high-quality machine embroidery on knitwear (ordinary t-shirts, quilt) was possible only on the condition of having high density about 0,3 mm with an understitching. Such a high density conceals a lot of digitizing imperfections, which is very convenient, but it increases the number of stitches. Which is what you sometimes want to avoid. 
    I was browsing through a selection of clippings from the Printwear magazines, and came across several interesting photos depicting a very good-looking embroidery on knitwear. The reason these photos seemed so interesting to me was because the making of the design was approached in a very original and creative way — low stitch density both in satin columns and fills, a large number of stitches, simple appliqués with ragged edges and trapunto imitation to add volume. But then, on consideration, it is not all that special, because all of this has been known for a long time, though I, for some reason, did not use it: 

    The photo was taken from the Printwear magazine, July 2013 

    The photo was taken from the Printwear magazine, July 2013 
    As it usually turns out, you need to look at the other's works from time to time. 
    So I, too, decided to give it a try and to see the advantages and disadvantages of saving a great number of stitches, having remembered that
    I've previously seen simple designs for knitwear in Urban Threads more than once. All their showcase photos were more that decent. 
    I must say that the use of low density did not disappoint me, even on pique.
     
    Everything is smooth, no warp and bulge whatsoever. And how few stitches are there! 
    Sometimes you really should depart from the rules and try something new. It helps to have a fresh approach. 

    Interchangeability of the threads in machine embroidery: Uncovering the myth

    Original text by: Marina Belova
    Now that I've come close to creating cutwork and lace, I encountered a serious problem: how does one choose the right type of thread for such projects? Should I select the threads according to the design or, on the contrary, to select the design according to the particular threads?
    I've noticed before that threads identical in composition, but of different brands lie down in different ways, and the embroidery has a different look. The embroidery will look completely different if you just change a spool. On the weekend I embroidered a cutwork design using the Chinese cotton thread #30. And after the test run the bridges seemed rather untidy.

    And the reason was not only the embroidery sequence I'd created. I set a very low density; as for the bridges, I made them a bit too thick, but it was not critical. It was how the threads performed, the way they lay down on the fabric or a water soluble stabilizer, that was the matter. It didn't dawn on me until I had remembered that I had once embroidered a simple design with different types of threads and that the result had vividly demonstrated me the contrast between their quality. Chinese cotton thread on the left and German on the right:

    So I decided to make a comparison for my own benefit, to learn how different types of threads I owned performed with different stitch parameters — the threads that could be potentially used for cutwork and FSL.
    Here are the threads I picked out for the test:

    I'll name them for you.
    The upper row from left to right:
    WonderFil Chinese cotton thread #30 Gunold German cotton thread #30 Fufu's Taiwanese polyester #40 WonderFil Chinese rayon #40 The lower row from left to right:
    Amann German polyester #40 Gunold German rayon #40 Rheingold German metallic thread #40 Nitex Chinese metallic thread #40 I made a very simple embroidery sequence for all of them (the density for cotton threads was 20% lower than that for the ordinary ones):

    I embroidered different colors in the same order as the spools on the photo above. And of course what I got was an embroidery of varying quality; the difference was especially noticeable before I washed away the water soluble film and cleaned the fabric:

    Here is the fabric already washed and dried:

    As you can see on that photo:
    2 of the cotton threads gave different performances not only in bridges, but in satin columns around the openings. German threads made thicker bridges and very smooth columns. One might think that the density for this type of thread can be lowered even more. As for the Chinese threads, they were a disappointment in all cases: they didn't lie down smooth, and they made uneven bridges.
    Metallic threads seem to have given the similar performances.
    Taiwanese and German polyester threads were different, too — the German one made slightly thinner and looser bridges with less luster, which was good, because I don't like my cutwork to gleam.
    Chinese rayon thread gave an atrocious performance — it broke all the time, especially on bridges, though the end result looks better than the one embroidered with German rayon thread. German rayon thread made loose and ugly bridges.
    So in the end it all amounts to this: no matter however much the manufacturers overpraise the quality of their goods, the crucial point will always be the look of the embroidery and the usability. And you'll always have to set the design parameters according to the thread you have. To my own personal regret.
    Maybe the bobbin thread is a partly responsible for that as well? Perhaps, someone could suggest the other influences on the quality of the embroidery in our case?

    Smocking: Embroidering with threads that gather the fabric

    Original text by: Marina Belova 
    Once I was thumbing through a Madeira catalog and saw the thread with an interesting effect — it shortens by 30% when steamed and gather the fabric around it. This thread is called Smocking. Manufacturers write that it can be used for machine embroidery. 

    I became interested in the result and bought a spool. It turned out to be a rather costly affair – 210 RUR for 200 m of thread! A bit too much a price for such a small length. 
    First I decided to read what's written in the brochure that was also in the box. It turned out that there was no difficulty in using this type of thread — all you had to do was to embroider, then steam it from a distance, and everything would be ready. No specific instruments, no extra stabilizers and needles, only the standard ones. Thin fabrics are the best, which is not surprising. The designs are the simplest, like the redwork. 
    I've read the instructions and something urged me to read the English variant, too. I revealed that the Russian translation omitted the most important thing — that it was the bobbin thread. It was stated in the end of the first line — 'special bobbin thread'. This means that I can use whatever thread I like for the right side of the fabric, which is by no means unimportant. And I was going to embroider the front side with it: 

    Like that. Trust, but check you must, as they say. 
    So I created a very simple quilt design of a flower and hooped a plain coarse calico: 

    And began embroidering: 

    The design was embroidered correctly: 

    Then I took it out and turned it wrong side up for steaming. Here it is still flat: 

    Now I steam it from the distance without pressing: 

    Threads begin to diminish in length, to shrink and to gather the fabric. This is what I got in the end: 

    The front: 

    The effect promised by the manufacturer was achieved. Even if you try to stretch the fabric to get it back to what it was, the result will be unsatisfactory. 
    There is only one thing I cannot grasp: where it could be used? Does anyone know? 

    In-the-Hoop: One-size-fits-all dust jacket for a diary

    Original text by: Marina Belova 
    Today I made a one-size-fits-all dust jacket for my daughter's school diary with a raccoon digitized from her own drawing. This is the front side: 

    This is the original drawing: 

    Maybe they are not very much alike, but my kid was happy with the result. 
    The back side: 

    The inside front cover: 

    The two-page thread: 

    The idea of creating a multifunctional elastic band, which could be used both as a fastener and a bookmark, I got from the Japanese embroidery magazines — extremely clever it is. As for the rest, the making process is almost the same as sewing and embroidering a passport dust jacket. 
    You'll need next to nothing: to buy the cheapest diary (I bought the one for 16 RUR), create an embroidery sequence, take 3 pieces of fabric (for front and back sides + a jacket flap) and 2 pieces of an ordinary elastic band. 
    So I created an embroidery sequence: 

    In order to do this I had to put the frame instead of the hoop into the machine, because the embroidery is almost 50 cm wide. Then I hooped a piece of fabric with 2 layers of the underlay and embroidered the main part of the design, together with a guide stitch with marks in the places where the flap and the elastic would be: 

    You cannot see the guide stitch very well on the photo, but it is there: 

    Now I put the flap on the left side, which is a square piece of the fabric, creased in the middle. I align the center of the flap with the marks and put the 2 elastic bands on the right. I stick all of this to the fabric with a painter's tape: 

    Put a large piece of fabric on top of it the wrong side up to create the inside front cover: 

    Now I only have to sew it all together, leaving a small opening, through which I'll turn the item the right way round. This is what the embroidery machine does successfully. The seam is clearly seen only on the wrong side: 


    Then I cut the item out perimeter-wise and trim off the corners. I don't remove the stabilizer — it will help the jacket to maintain its shape:
     
    Turn the item the right way round: 

    Press it with an iron and sew up the opening. The item is now ready. 
    When securing the elastic band with a tape, I decided for some reason that I should stretch it a bit so it could maintain proper tension all the time and hold down the pages. The elastic bands nowadays are very slack. But after the jacket was completed, I understood that I should have bought a thick elastic band, which would not have distorted and pulled the jacket so much. When I'll be making a dust jacket for a sketchbook, I'll do so. 
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