I really need to do a huge disclaimer here first to let you all know that I am NOT a very experienced machine embroiderer. I have embroidered monogrammed gifts here and there, a quilt label or two, and a couple of Bob the Builder designs on tiny little sweatshirts, and I have done some outline quilting with my embroidery module, but that's about it. Now that I've invested in a new machine with superior embroidery capabilities and a great, big Jumbo Hoop to go with it, I'm determined to do more embroidery than I did in the past, and I'm hell-bent on solving the most irksome problems that have plagued my machine embroidery projects from the very beginning: Pernicious Puckering and DetestableThread Loopies of Doom!
|Puckering with Organ Titanium 80/12BP Embroidery Needle|
I take a scientific approach to these kinds of problems. Step one was the research phase, where I read several books on machine embroidery and compared advice from different authors. (See my book reviews here). As soon as I noticed that my birdie design was puckering, I got the books out again and started hunting through them for ideas. I had learned that puckering is usually a symptom of stretching the fabric when you're hooping it, but that puckering can also be caused by insufficient stabilizing or by using a ball point needle when a sharp needle would have been more appropriate for your fabric. Since my silk fabric had been interfaced with Pellon Ultra Weft, then spray-basted with 505 to a piece of muslin that was spray-basted to a piece of midweight tearaway embroidery stabilizer, I thought for sure I had the stabilizing part of the equation under control. With all four layers sandwiched together and then starched, it felt like I was hooping a piece of card stock instead of fabric.
The first color in this design was a dense fill stitch for the top bird, but most of the subsequent colors were satin stitched elements, and lordy, how the Loopies of Doom reared their ugly heads!
|Behold, the Detestable Thread Loopies of Doom!|
I knew I could fix these ugly upper thread loops after the design was finished (I'll show you how later in the post), but there were SO many of them and honestly, I knew I must be doing something wrong and I was determined to figure out what it was. These upper thread loops have plagued my embroidery projects from the very beginning, when I tried just cutting them off (bad idea -- it makes your whole design unravel!). My preliminary internet research revealed that many people think this problem is just inherent to domestic embroidery machines, or that it's more of a problem with certain machine brands than others. Not so! These upper thread loops, which are most common with satin stitches, indicate that there is an issue with the upper thread misbehaving as your needle passes down into your fabric to form a stitch. Our variables are the needle, the thread, and the fabric. So I experimented with changing one variable at a time, taking notes about what I had tried and what results I noticed, before changing a different variable. The first suspect is the needle, so I started changing them out after each color change and taking notes on what I had tried so far and what results I was getting.
|H80/12TBP = 80/12 Titanium BALL POINT!|
|90/14 SHARP Embroidery Needles|
I consulted my book again, the one about embroidering on "difficult materials," and saw that the author recommended using a MICROTEX needle instead of an embroidery needle when embroidering a densely woven silk fabric like mine. More digging in the needle drawer yielded a pack of 70/10 Schmetz Microtex needles. DISASTER! Uber thread loops! Eek! The size 70 needle made a hole that was much too small for the 40 weight Isacord embroidery thread to pass through smoothly.
I said that the 90/14 Microtex needle ALMOST eliminated all of the thread loopies. I eventually figured out that the remaining loops resulted from the way the slippery embroidery thread was falling off the spool too rapidly, reducing the tension on the upper thread even though it was properly threaded through the tension disks. I had started out with my embroidery thread on the horizontal spool pin, then tried it on the machine's vertical spool pin (I didn't like how the larger embroidery spool wobbled around there) and finally put it on a free-standing cone thread stand next to my machine to facilitate speedy color changes (this was before I got the adapter to attach my Multiple Spool Holder to my new 750 QE machine). I was using the thread net thingy with the first couple of colors on the horizontal spool holder to keep the thread from unwinding too fast and getting caught, but I stopped using the net when I went vertical with the thread because it was slowing down my color changes, I was lazy, and didn't believe the thread net was doing anything anyway. Wrong!
|No Thread Net|
|Thread Net to the Rescue!|
This is how the thread looks at the back of the machine when I have a thread net on the spool:
|Thread Delivery is Taut When Using Thread Net on Embroidery Spool|
Here's that finished design again, still in the hoop. You can see the initial puckering and horizontal wrinkling that I had with the first ballpoint embroidery needle around the body and tail of the top bird. All of my thread loopies are still in the design at this point as well.
Remember that ugly thread loopy photo I showed you at the beginning of this post? Here it is again:
And here is that same portion of the embroidery design, after I pulled the thread loops to the back of the design with a simple sweater pull repair tool that cost less than $2:
|Thread Loopies Gone!|
|Essential Embroidery Tools: Hemostat, Curved Scissors, and Snag Repair Tool for Thread Loopies|
These are the three most important embroidery tools that did NOT come with your machine. The curved scissors at the top of this photo is perfect for trimming jump stitches while your design is stitching out. The snag repair tool at right gets inserted into your completed embroidery design from the right side, right next to a thread loop. You simply twist the tool slightly as you pull it through the embroidery design, and it catches the thread loop and pulls it to the back side of your work.
So, what's the other tool in that photo, at bottom left? It's a hemostat. It looks like a scissor/tweezers but it has serrated edges that tightly grip as little as a single slippery embroidery thread when the handles lock together.
Because I hate to waste bobbin thread, I keep sewing until my bobbin completely runs out, and I end up with 5-7 satin stitches of white bobbin thread on the top of my design that I have to remove before I can back the machine up and continue embroidering my design. I use my curved scissors to clip through the center of those satin stitches from the right side of my design (without severing the top embroidery thread), still in the hoop, and then I can grab one side of the clipped satin stitches with my hemostat tool and pull them all out with one tug. Easy-peasy! Then I just back the machine up those few stitches and continue embroidering the design.
Lest you think that I have finally solved all of the mysteries of machine embroidery, let me show you what happened when I unhooped this design:
This excess fabric and puffiness in between embroidered areas is a different kind of puckering from what was happening with the ballpoint needle around the top bird. I think the slippery silk fabric slipped loose at the edges of my hoop, and I think this because my "embroidering difficult fabrics" book advised wrapping the inner hoop with self-adhesive VetRap to prevent this problem with silks.
Remember how I said that I tried to follow the Anita Goodesign instructions as much as possible, but their directions were for an applique block? They were having you hoop only your muslin and stabilizer, and then overlay your silk fabrics as applique pieces that would be secured individually as part of the embroidered applique process, so their silk wasn't in the hoop at all. Although I had four layers sandwiched together for this design, I noticed upon completion that the Pellon Ultra Weft interfacing was pulling away from the silk in places and that the 505 spray had not prevented my silk fabric from separating and moving away from the muslin and tearaway stabilizer that it was hooped with.
Since I had spent over four hours stitching out this design, I tried to "fix" this problem by ironing the completed design from the back side, face down over a terry cloth towel, as I have heard many people recommend. Hmmm...
|After Ironing!!! :-(|
I am NEVER GOING TO DO THIS, EVER AGAIN!!!! Surely you heard my lunatic screaming reverberating around the planet? Apparently, I don't know how to iron, either! Soon after this picture was taken, my darling husband spilled COFFEE on this design, too. So this stitch out is destined for free-motion quilting practice after all. It will be interesting to see whether I can quilt out all that excess waviness in the design with close echoing or pebbling or something, and I can practice other designs around the embroidery. But I have NOT given up on this.
I'm going to try this design again, using the 90/14 Microtex needle, but next time I'm going to:
- Wrap my inner hoop with self-adhesive bandage tape to better grip the slippery silk
- Engage my machine's basting function to secure all layers around the hoop's perimeter prior to stitching the design
- Try a different fusible interfacing for my silk fabric. I brought home two different options from Sew Much Fun the other day, products specifically designed to support dense embroidery designs on lightweight fabrics without changing the hand of the fabric
I'll let you know how that works out!
UPDATED 6/17/2013: I was able to save this project with free-motion quilting! You can read about that in this post.