Are there any secrets for stitching out beautiful embroideries? I’m referring to those embroideries which do not have any puckers, where the top thread and the bobbin thread remain within their own parameters and where we are not testing the stitchouts time and again to achieve that sought after perfection. The answer is YES, definitely YES. A design is nothing more than stitches. Our embroidery machine is the means to achieving that embroidery and that is where we need to be prepared before we even take the design to the machine.

Before I even attempt to explain anything about machines, I want to draw attention to some other items that are essential to creating beautiful embroideries. The two most important ingredients to stitching out embroideries, apart from the embroidery machine, are thread and stabilizer. It is important that we understand their role and how they work.

Thread comes in a variety of weights. The most common weight for machine embroidery is 40 wt. My understanding from many years was that the home embroidery machines came pre-set with 40 wt tension from the factories. That understanding, now, however, has changed due to the majority of home embroidery machines being manufactured in Japan where majority of the embroidery thread weight is 50. The higher the count, the finer the thread and the lower the count, the thicker the thread. Thus, when we digitize our designs to use with 40 wt threads (yes digitizers, you can create your designs based upon thread weight), we often find that the bobbin thread comes to the top. Thus begins a whole new set of adjustments and loss of time etc. in creating our projects.

The easiest method is to test your embroidery machine’s tension using the thread and bobbin that you will use. Bobbins come in a variety of weights as well and just like the embroidery threads can be of polyester or cotton. But before I digress again, let’s keep it simple and go on with the process of making it easier rather than trying to understand it all.
All machines have built-in alphabets. My advice is to select the capital "I" and, using the stabilizer and threads, stitch it out on a scrap piece of fabric. If the tension of the threads is perfect, you should see a 60/40 look on the underside of the embroidery, with 60% being the bobbin thread (in the middle) and 40% should be the top thread (on either side). If this tension test works, you are set to start stitching out your design.

But, what happens if you encounter some other configuration? Tension problems occur on Brother, Babylock, Pfaff and Janome machines. The best way to avoid any problems is to do a tension test sew out as described above. If the tension is tight (and I am referring to the top tension, not the bobbin tension), then simply loosen the top tension until the tension test sew-out is satisfactory. I personally would strongly advise against changing the tension on the bobbin case. That is to be done only as a last resort. If the embroidery machine is serviced once a year, there is no need for anyone to ever meddle with the bobbin tension. If the top tension is loose and the "I" is completely covered with the top thread, tighten the top tension. This little test saves so much time in the long run.

Once the tension is set, it's time to talk about stabilizers. Stabilizers are a definite necessity to beautiful stitch-outs. I am not going to burst anyone’s bubble on home made stabilizers, but will only warn that coffee filters, dryer sheets, typing paper, etc are not good stabilizers. Your needles will not last long using paper or any of the above mentioned products. Moreover, paper has a fine white residue which can create problems with the bobbin of the embroidery machine. As all stabilizers are manufactured at a handful of companies worldwide, it pays to shop around for the best types. Surprisingly, you will find the same kind of stabilizers as sold by your dealer at any shop where Pellon products are sold (of course your dealer will have them branded by someone else). For cottons, medium weight tear-aways are best. For knits use polymesh and for items where the backside will be showing, use water soluble stabilizer (vilene). The stabilizer should always be hooped in such a manner that it creates a thump sound when hooped….that’s how tight it should be. If it is wobbly and moving around in the hoop, chances are that your embroidery will either pucker or pull to one side.

I normally hoop the stabilizer and then pin the fabric to the stabilizer. Alternatively use fabric glue stick. It dries fast and will hold the fabric taut and it washes out easily. The trick is to always have the stabilizer tight in the hoop. I have heard where friends will float a piece of stabilizer underneath the hoop. Floating a stabilizer underneath the hoop does nothing for the embroidery. All it will do is shorten the life of the needle and also make it harder on the machine.

The most difficult fabric to embroider on is muslin and general tendencies are to use two sheets of tear-away stabilizer. The more the stabilizer, the harder it will be on the machine and you will have numerous puckers. Puckers occur when fabric is stretched too taunt in the hoop. Once the tension of the hooping is released, the fabric puckers around the embroidery.