How To Use Decorative Designs In Machine Embroidery

Use embroidery motifs to add space to your next project—literally. Designs can span openings, holding them an equal distance apart. Most embroidery motifs serve a purely decorative function stitched atop the fabric’s surface. However, they can also be used functionally to hold fabric edges together—much like fagotting stitches are used in heirloom sewing—with a space between the adjoining finished edges.

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Design Choices

The embroidery motif must have enough integrity on its own to hold together in the space where there’s no fabric. Freestanding lace is perfect, as it’s digitized to stand on its own.

To determine whether a chosen design has enough stability to span the opening on its own, do a test stitchout. Remove the stabilizer and see what happens to the design stitching. If it maintains its shape, it’s a good choice. If it distorts or unravels, it requires the use of an underlayer instead of spanning mid-air.

Before making a final design decision, stitch the motif over water-soluble stabilizer; don’t fully rinse away the stabilizer. In some instances the slightly stiff residue is enough to hold the design together, depending on the project’s care. This isn’t a good option if the finished item will be washed, but it works fine for home-dec items, like lampshades, candle holders, etc., where the finished item won’t ever be immersed in water.

Under It All

Pink chain 316x1024 How To Use Decorative Designs In Machine EmbroideryThere are several options for underlayers. Use sheers or other fabrics to secure the designs that are stitched between two fabric edges.

Embroider over a cut-away base and trim close to the design stitching. Nylon tulle makes an almost invisible structure for motifs requiring permanent stability. Tulle is delicate and easily trimmed almost invisibly around embroidery stitches. Select a color close to the embroidery stitching outline. Or leave the entire tulle layer in place for just a hint of color.

Organza can also be used as an underlay, either in a contrast or blending color.

Depending on the project, or if modesty is an issue, add a lining fabric under the openwork area so the color shows through the separation. The lining can “float” behind the embroidery as a separate piece, or can be attached to the embroidered layers. Unbacked embroidered openwork areas are best used in regions of no-to-low stress, as they can be fragile depending on the stitching structure.

Opening Up

  • Combine and align design repeats in embroidery software or at the machine. When joining large areas, rehooping may be necessary to stitch the entire open area length.
  • On unlined projects, serge- or zigzag finish the edges of the joinable seam allowances; lined items can be left unfinished. Press the seam allowances to the project wrong side. Use a narrow fusible-web strip between the seam allowances and the project wrong side to add more stability to lightweight openwork edges. Fusible web keeps unruly seam allowances from shifting and showing through the openwork area.
  • To embroider between the finished fabric edges, use an adhesive wash-away stabilizer. Or make your own using temporary spray adhesive and water-soluble stabilizer.
  • On the hooped stabilizer, draw two parallel lines centered vertically or horizontally in the hoop (note the design orientation) approximately 1/4″- to 1″ apart, depending on the motif size. The embroidery design must be large enough to span the opening edges, catching both sides of the folds by at least 1/8″. Wider openings may not be as strong as narrower ones in stressful areas, depending on how much of the fabric edges are caught.
  • Finger-press the folded fabric edges in place along the drawn lines, being sure the edges remain parallel.
  • Use matching bobbin thread to avoid contrasting show-through in the embroidered motifs.
  • If your machine has a “fix” or basting function, use it to secure the edges to the stabilizer and to double check design placement before stitching.
  • To create multiple rows of openwork, finish the fabric edges on each adjacent piece. Mark multiple placement lines on the stabilizer if the spacing fits within a single hooping; otherwise, stitch separately. Another option is to hold together “patches” with a corner motif that embroiders into four adjacent fabric pieces.

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