Monday, August 22, 2011

Sewing Patches & Pinkie Patch

A few folks have asked me about the differences between sewing a patch and sewing regular embroidery.  When you get down to it, the 2 processes are very similar.  I'll illustrate the differences using a patch design that was requested; Pinkie Pie.

One of the big differences is with the machine.  First, you need to use the smallest hoop possible.  The smaller the hoop, the less likely the design will tear itself apart when being sewn.  Second, you will need a special needle.  Originally, I tried using a regular chrome hardened embroidery needle, but I kept breaking them.  As mentioned below, the patch is overlapped in many places, in some cases there can be a bunch of layers.  In fact, this Pinkie Pie design has a few spots that are actually 7 layers of thread.  I switched to a titanium hardened HLx5 from Organ Needles instead of a chrome 15x1.  The HLx5 needle is basically a needle made for a commercial machine, but machined to fit in a regular home machine.  HLx5 needles are about 5 times more expensive than a regular 15x1 needle, but they break way less often.  I paid about $5 per needle in a store for mine, but you can get a pack of them here for a lot less.  By the way, don't hover over your machine or stare at the needle while it works.  I had a needle break once and fly across the room and hit me in the back while I was on the computer.  It didn't hurt or anything, but if my face was over the machine, it may not have been pretty.

Another change is that the embroidery design is sewn directly onto stabilizer, instead of being sewn onto fabric. In addition, instead of 1 sheet of stabilizer, several different sheets of different types are required.  In general, I use 4 sheets of stabilizer per design, though some require more depending on how many stitches are in the design.  For 2 of the sheets, I use a normal 1.5oz tearaway, while for the other 2 sheets I use a 2.0 oz cutaway.  I also alternate the sheets, starting with a 2 oz cutaway.  This alternation of types adds to the sheer strength of the assembly, which keeps the thread from tearing apart the stabilizer while the design is being sewn.  Once it starts to tear, you're done and need to toss that patch and try again.  Here's a pic of Pinkie's outline (the first sewing step) sewn directly onto the stabilizer.

The next big change is with the design itself.  In embroidery, the stitches tend to run in 'random' directions.  This is fine for normal embroidery, but when a bunch of stitches line up in equivalent directions, they will put extra force on the stabilizer and tear it.  This is most evident when you have a dense solid design that is all the same color, such as the body of a pony.  Each thread will be under about 1/2 a pound of tension (my estimate, not tested), and if you hit the tear point of the stabilizer (about 10 lbs by my estimation) the stabilizer will come apart like a zipper.  That means the colors must be put down in an order that will equalize the tension in all directions.  If too much is put down at once, it will come apart, like this design did at the lower left.

The next problem is that the design will not have any strength to it once taken out of the embroidery hoop.  If a design falls apart once it is sewn, it won't be worth diddly. Well, besides as stuffing in your next plushie I suppose. Solving for these 2 concerns requires some knowledge of math and physics when doing the design.  I think I can simplify it though, so you don't need to know any math, as you were told there would be no math in this debate.  I mean blog.  But I'm a computational physicist by trade, so you are going to have to deal with some of it anyway.

First and foremost, the design needs to be overlapped between colors.  In a normal embroidery design, there is almost no overlap, as the thread lower down on the Z axis is not going to be seen.  However, if not overlapped, there will be a weak spot in the design wherever the design changes colors.  It wouldn't do for Pinkie's mane to come off, though it would be hilarious.  Therefore, I overlap the colors by at least 1 stitch, though I generally go with 2 overlapping stitches or more.  In normal embroidery, the thread is just there to add color, but in a patch, it needs to be structural too.  Here's a closeup of Pinkie's mane, where it overlaps her body.  The magenta outline is for the mane, the pink is her body, and the purple is the mane outline.  The mane outline is 2.5mm in width for perspective.  Sorry that this is so hard to see.

For most of this design, the thread is running left to right.  This means the patch will be insanely strong left to right, but not vertically.  The only thing holding the pieces together vertically would be the outlines around Pinkies mane and body.  This weakness would make it so the patch could actually be pulled apart by hand.  Again, this is not conductive to Pinkie continuing to look like Pinkie.  To solve for this, I use 2 different runs of thread that are there just to hold the design together.

The first layer is a square pattern on a 45 degree angle.  Almost no thread in the design runs in this direction, so this will help hold both the horizontal and vertical stitches in shape.  This will also add strength to the stabilizer itself.  The thread doesn't have to be too close together for this to be effective.  Each square is roughly a square centimeter.  The color isn't too important as it will not show though the top thread.  I usually use a color that is prevalent in the design, in this case, the same color as Pinkie's body.

The next layer is much more important to how the design will stitch out.  It is a single layer of thread running from the top to the bottom over the entire design, with a very wide spacing.  Note that it goes under the entire design, including the mane and tail.  Not only does this add strength top to bottom, it distributes the tension from the left to right fill thread that will be laid down later.  This helps the stabilizer withstand the pull without tearing.

Now, we have a silhouette of Pinkie done out of vertical and 45 degree stitches.  Now, we can lay down the actual color stitches.  A balance must be found between the color order and strength of the design at a given point in the process.  For example, it would be better to sew Pinkie's eye first, but it can't be done that way because the eye needs to be on top of the body thread to look right.  Some trial an error may be required when doing your own designs and your own brand of stabilizer.  No matter how you do it, the design will have a point where it is weakest.   In my design of Pinkie Pie, it's easy to figure out where this point is.  It's right after Pinkie's Tail is sewn.

Why does Pinkie look cool in only 2 colors?
At this point, all the top layers of thread are pulling left to right.  The longest runs of thread are between Pinkie's rump and the hoof farthest to the left, and this is where the design would come apart first.  Starting now, the clock is ticking.  The longer it takes to finish the design, the more the stabilizer will pull apart at the edges, and it is going to do it at one of those 2 places.

The very last thing to do is outline the design.  This is done last as it will use a ton of stitches in a really small area.  This will weaken the stabilizer, in some cases to the point where it will come apart within minutes of the outline being sewn.  Besides adding color, the outline is necessary to survive the next steps in making a patch.  cutting the design out, and sealing the edges.

Cutting the design out is straight forward.  I use a hobby knife and a bamboo cutting board.  The goal is to get as close to the outline as possible without cutting the outline itself.  If the outline is cut, even a little, the design will start to unravel.  Leaving too much of the stabilizer on will leave a white ring around the finished patch.  A steady hand and patience is required for this step.  It usually takes me about 15 minutes to cut out a patch.  Having a sharp knife is absolutely necessary as well.  The sharper the knife, the less likely it will be that you cut yourself by accident.  Seriously.  I change the blade when I drop it from 1" high into the cutting board and it doesn't stick into the board.

Cut out Pinkie

Once cut out, it's time to cook your patch.  The point is to burn off any fuzz left over, and seal the edges of the patch so they last longer.  For this, I use a propane torch.  Don't try this at home, I am a trained pyro with a fire extinguisher handy.  I use a self igniting, spiral mixed propane blowtorch and regular propane.

The reason for this is because you want the flame to be as hot as possible so that the patch edges melt, not burn. Anyway, you want to be quick, and do all the edges, the back, and the front.  Total time in the blowtorch should be very short, 1/2 second or less.  If the patch gets too hot, it can melt entirely or catch on fire. Using a regular lighter won't get hot enough, and the patch will tend to start on fire before it melts.

Crispy Pinkie

After that, you're all done with the design.  Put out any latent fires, and start on the next one.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Luna Cutie Mark Embroidery Design

Someone requested 6 different embroidered MLP:FiM shirts embroidered with different cutie marks right before I was injured.  I already had designs for 5 of them, but I didn't have one for Luna.  Luna's cutie mark will not really work as it is in the show due to the shape, so I modified it slightly to look good from pretty much any angle.  The design is actually based on a Luna cutie mark pin by PinFilly. (Who makes awesome metal MLP:FiM pins for only a few bucks)

Patch version, which looks identical to the regular version.
You can download the embroidery file here.

Dark purple - 2209 (background)
white - 2149 (moon)

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Machine Embroidery, Embroidery Thread & Thread Colors

I have gotten a few questions on the thread that I use, what the colors are, and how to get thread for embroidery.  I'll try to explain the differences between thread types and sizes, and how to match colors for those that want to learn machine embroidery.  This is going to be more of a 'stream of consciousness' type post, and be a giant wall of text, but hopefully it will answer those questions.  first, I think a primer on thread would be good.

Cotton thread is made out of cotton, and is not very shiny.  It is good for hidden seams, or seams on things that are made out of cotton for a matching color.  It can be embroidered with (in fact, the small designs on some polo shirts are done in cotton) but it looks funny on big designs.  I have some some towels in regular cotton where regular cotton would look good.  If you do regular sewing, you probably have tons of this.

Mercerised cotton is cotton thread that has been mercerised. Mercerisation is a chemical process that makes cotton thread slightly stronger and shinier.  High end cotton is generally mercerised, while cheap thread like overlock thread is generally not mercerised.

A popular thread for embroidery is Rayon.  Rayon is semi-synthetic and is very shiny.  Some say it is even shiner than polyester, but I can't personally tell the difference.  The main reason I don't use Rayon is that Rayon is not color-fast.  The color can run, especially in cold water.  Rayon basically requires dry cleaning, especially on a white shirt, so I haven't used it much.    Rayon is more expensive than cotton, but less expensive than polyester.

Polyester thread is thread that is man made unlike wool, cotton or silk.  It is thermoplasic, and very strong for its size.  It is also very shiny, making it well suited to embroidery.  It is the thread that I use in almost all my designs, as it has many properties that other thread choices don't have. A big one is that Polyester thread is color fast (bleach will generally not harm it).  That means it will work on white towels that get bleached as part of the normal wash.  It is also available in a ton of colors, and is stocked on most sewing stores.  A drawback is that if it gets hot enough it will melt, so be careful when ironing it.   The rest of this article is based on polyester thread.

Embroidery thread is generaly one of 3 sizes (diameter).  Rayon is usually 35 or 40 weight, and Polyester is 35, 40, 50, 60 or 100 weight.  The higher the number the thinner the thread. I prefer to use 40 weight thread on the top (colored thread) and 60 weight on the bottom (bobbin thread, usually white).  This keeps the back of the desgin softer against skin with the huge amount of stitches required in some embroidery designs.

Once you decide on the thread, you need to get the size spool that will fit on your machine. The pic is of some different thread spools. from left to right it is Coats and Clark cotton thread (brown) on a normal spool (200 yards), Marathon Poly embroidery thread (purple) on a mini spool (550 yards), Threadart Poly embroidery thread (black) on a mini king spool (1100 yards) and Madeira Poly embroidery thread (green apple) on a king spool (5500 yards). In front is a bobbin wound with 125 yards of bobbin thread.  the first 2 will fit in my machine, the 2 largest (mini-king and king) will not without a custom feed mechanism.

Thread Spool Sizes and a computer mouse for relative size.

Now, on to actual embroidery. First and foremost, the designs that I post here are machine embroidery designs.  That means they are loaded into a sewing machine that can do embroidery.  This is called 'machine embroidery'. If you go to a craft store, you will see embroidery floss, (usuallty just called floss) that is sold on skeins instead of rolls.  These are generally very short, 20 yards or so in length. Machine embroidery does not use the hand embroidery floss as it will not physically fit into an embroidery machine. Much thinner thread is used.

I mainly use a Brother LB6800PRW combination sewing & embroidery machine.  It is functionally equivalent to a Brother SE-400 machine.  The only difference between the machines is the cart, and some extra stickers (seriously) on the Brother LB6800PRW.  If you don't need a cart, I suggest the Brother SE-400.  Both have the same 67 regular sewing stitches, 100 by 100mm field, hook up to your computer via USB to download embroidery designs, sew at the same speed, and they take all the same accessories.  The SE-400 is about $50 more than a good sewing machine, and it can do everything a sewing machine can along with embroidery.

Brother SE-400
Sadly, moving to a different size than 100mm by 100mm is very expensive.  The next size is about 5" by 7" and machines that can do that size are about $600, and only do embroidery.  Going beyond 5 by 7 means the machine will cost thousands of dollars.  Fine for a business, but probably not as a hobby.  don't make the same mistake I did, and assume you could make bigger designs by splitting the design into smaller pieces.  Trying to line up the designs is pretty much impossible, even with the alignment tools provided in the hoop.

To do embroidery, you need a few things besides the machine.  For the machine, you may need a hoop, but most machines will come with one.  This hoop goes on the piece of cloth being embroidered, and hooks the cloth to the machine.  The smaller the hoop, the less the fabric will move, so always use the smallest hoop possible.  The Brother machines above come with a 100mm by 100mm hoop (4 inch by 4 inch) but smaller hoops and larger hoops are available.  For example, I also bought a 4 inch by 6 3/4" hoop. (100mm by 170mm)   This allowed me to do a larger design without taking the fabric out of the hoop.  The hoop has 3 sets of mount points where the hoop mounts to the machine, so you sew part of the design, then move the hoop to the next position.  The design has to support this movement to work.  I have done a few designs that need the larger hoop to work.

Brother 100mm by 100mm Hoop. Note the 2 pins to the left where it mounts to the machine

Brother 100mm by 170mm hoop. Note the 4 pins that allow 3 separate mount points

You will also need stabilizer.  This goes under or over the fabric being embroidered and holds the stitches together.  Embroidery has so many stitches in it, that fabric can pull apart by itself.  Stabilizer doesn't have any stretch in it, and will hold everything together.  There are many different kinds of stabilizer, and you need the one suitable for what you are doing.  High stitch count (more than 10,000 in a 4 inch hoop) pretty much needs cut away stabilizer.  Smaller stitch counts can get away with tear-away stabilizer (one you need scissors to remove, the other you tear off).  Both will cost between 50 cents and a dollar per design depending on how much you buy at once.  I almost always use 2 sheets (sometimes as many as 4) for each design as it is cheaper to use extra stabilizer than buy a new shirt.

For anything with a large nap (like a towel) you will also need a water soluble stabilizer like Solvy or Sulky.  This goes on top of the design, and keeps the nap of the towel from sticking up between stitches.  It costs about 50 cents.  When washed, any extra water soluble stabilizer will wash away, leaving beautiful stitches.

Stabilizer types. Picture courtesy Threads Magazine
You will also need bobbins, which will be wound with bobbin thread.  For embroidery, the color doesn't matter much as it will not be seen in the design.  Bobbin thread will only be visible on the back of a design.  I generally use white, unless on a very dark shirt.  For dark shirts, I will use black.  Bobbins come in different sizes, so make sure you get the ones for your machine.  I used to wind my own bobbins, but that took way too much time.  Now, I buy prewound bobbins.  They cost roughly 30 cents more than the thread by itself, but to me, that 30 cents is worth the time spent winding them.

The last thing you will need is thread.  There are so many choices out there, and everyone has their own preference.  I have used many different brands, and I don't really have a favorite.  All Poly thread seems to act the same in my machine.  My recommendation is to stick with a big company, so that die lots will match.  It wouldn't be too good if your designs change color between thread spools, or even worse, in the middle of a design.

Having said that though, the designs I post have the thread color numbers for Marathon thread, and in a few instances, Madeira Polyneon. If you want to convert the colors I post into other colors, I suggest this tool.  It will convert the color to other brands if you don't use Marathon.

I usually determine how much thread each design uses by how many bobbins the design uses, with each bobbin being about 125 yards in length.  In general, my designs are between 1 and 3 bobbins, which means between 250 and 750 yards of thread total (half bobbin half top color thread).  550 yards of thread is about $5.  If you are keeping count, that means the full cost of a 4 inch by 4 inch embroidery design is $1 to $1.50 for the stabilizer and $2.50 to $7.50 for the thread.  That isn't including incidentals, like scissors, machine wear and maintenance, needles, and other stuff which will add about another $1.50 for each 100mm by 100mm design.

This was a decent primer on embroidery machines and some of the supplies.  I hope it answered your questions.  If not, please post them and I'll add those answers.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Colgate Embroidery Design

Background ponies are very popular, so here's one of Colgate.  She really does look like toothpaste, heh.

Madeira light blue - 1675 (body)
white - 2149 (mane)
blue - 2069 (mane)
orange - cutie mark top and bottom
brown - 2029 (cutie mark sand)
blue -2230 (iris)
black - 2150 (eyes)
white - 2149 (eyes)
dark blue - 2070 (mane outline)
light sky blue - 2143 (mane outline)
Madeira dark blue - 1733 (body outline)

You can download the file here.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

DJ Pon3 / Vinyl Scratch embroidery Design

Continuing on in the series of background poines, Here is an embroidery design of DJ Pon3 (also called Vinyl Scratch).  This design is the first one where I needed ti use a color that I didn't already have.  As such, there are 2 colors from Madeira.   The pic is of  the patch version, but the attached file is for normal embroidery on a shirt or something like it.

You can download the file here.

White - 2149 strength for Patch
Madeira light blue - 1675 (body)
Madeira dark blue - 1733 (body outline)
white - 2149 (body)
Purple - 2081 (glasses)
Black - 2150 (Glasses & cutie mark)
pewter - 2167 (glasses)
Grey - 2138 (body outline)
blue - 2069 (mane outline)

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Berry Punch Embroidery Design

Here's an embroidery Design of Berry Punch.  Also called 'Secondary Kiss' and 'Overly Protective Parent Pony'.  I think she had about 5 seconds of total screen time.

You can download the design here.

Lilac - 2204 (Patch & normal)
Strawberry red - 2042 (strawberry)
green - 2015 (strawberry)
white - 2149 (eye)
black - 2150 (eye)
magenta - 2269 (iris)
black - 2150 (eyelashes)
white - 2149 (eye reflection)
pink - 2041 (mane)
body outline - 2081 (purple)
dark purple - 2033 (grape outline)
Berry - 2059 (hair outline)

Friday, August 5, 2011

20% Cooler Embroidery Design

Here's a design of Rainbow Dash's cutie mark and the text 20% cooler in a stencil font.  This was requested by one of the winners of the 'Draw E' contest.  I really like the design compared to Rainbow Dash's cutie mark by itself.

colors (nice and simple):

Download the file Here