Take your embroidery to the next level with some power tips from Erich Campbell

No matter your industry, pricing revolves around the value your customers perceive in your product. Luckily for those of us who sell stitching, embroidery benefits from an overall higher perceived value than other decoration methods by default. That said, with so many embroiderers plying their trade and creating a constant stream of the same sort of logos, monograms and personalisations, it can be easy to let everything become standardised. Sadly, this regularity can render our work a little less than exciting. Embroiderers can, however, employ myriad methods to elevate their designs beyond the basic: here are six simple ways you can make your embroidery that much more brilliant.

Pioneering placements

Long gone are the days when the left chest location or the occasional sleeve were the only available options for branding. Even without changing your design, a shift in locale can be enough to make a decoration more interesting. Consider a centre yoke, shoulder or hip placement. Stitch a trouser leg, apron corner or a hat side without the centre front treatment. Better yet, separate a small element from an existing design or add slogan text to create coordinating, alternately positioned decorations either along with the primary placement or on additional items to create a combination look. With special equipment, you can even stitch shoes. The delight in the client who sees something they thought impossible is hard to beat; originality means a great deal to customers who want to project a trendy image.

Though 75wt thread isn’t for every application, it’s hard to deny that it’s impressive to see the fineness of details you can achieve in embroidery with this thin thread. This particular piece was not digitised specifically for the thread, but rather sized to match density and distance between detail lines to the scale of an original piece created for 40wt thread. If you know your measurements, amazing things are possible provided your garment’s material is forgiving

Thin threads can create smaller text and finer details – moreover, with a thickness of roughly 25% of that of 40wt thread, 60wt thread can be used to take an existing design down by 25% of its original size without adjustment, provided the minimum stitch lengths aren’t overly small after the resize. Keep in mind that material matters; what looks like a sweater here is actually a fairly fine knit sweatshirt fleece

Thrash your thread selection

The sheen of polyester and rayon embroidery threads is one of the primary reasons embroidery is so attractive, but you don’t have to settle for the solid colour and medium shine of standard threads when you stitch. Whether your design is a single-colour set-up or a multicolour masterpiece, switching thread styles can create an interesting contrast, even if you simply swap out one selection in your palette. Imagine your next logotype in shining metallics or sparkling two-tone twists. Make a statement with the saturated colour and flat finish of a matte thread, or drop density and make designs look handmade with thick, fuzzy, wool-blend threads. The wild stripes and speckles of variegated threads, the blend of ombrés, or the arresting brightness of neons can change the feeling of a design with colour alone, all while maintaining the set-up of standard 40wt threads. Anything from these wild colours to glow-in-the-dark filaments can create a new experience for your customers. Think of the contrasts you could create mixing and matching surface styles, special effects and colours in the same design.

Even simple designs can benefit from dimensional touches created through varying stitch angles; elements of an animal‘s body can be separate objects, giving the piece more dimension

Non-standard placements can change the entire look of a piece; a lapel placement may be just the thing to spice up a standard piece of outerwear [image courtesy of Strikke Knits]

Do the detail

Another way to leverage less-than-usual thread is to add fine detail through the use of thinner threads. Though you will generally find them only in conventional colours and fibres, 60wt threads give you 25% smaller text and details under favourable conditions, while those who aren’t afraid of a little needle flexion can even create insanely fine work with 75wt thread that stitches like hair. With planning and proper needle selection, 60wt can be used in most circumstances and, with the right garment, 75wt can create something truly tiny.

Combine appliqué for stitch savings and shine with a touch of conventional embroidery and object-based carving, and you get dimension, texture and a hint of shading without undue effort

You can elevate basic appliqués by adding simple textural stitches over the expanse of an appliqué area. Standard polyester twill has a shine that works well with this kind of textural effect

Seek out speciality materials

Add appliqué and anything from classic tackle twill to fully printed fabrics and heat transfer glitter becomes available, each deepening the draw your design exerts on the viewer by making your piece distinct from designs that employ thread alone. Have your digitiser prep for 3D foam – the drama and dimension can make even a plain text treatment literally and figuratively stand out. Create a standalone patch and stitch it to a cap for a retro-decoration feel. Additional materials and processes create a sense of complexity that’s sure to increase a customer’s assessment of the work and value you put into your embroidery.

Polyester appliqué material can also be sublimated with custom prints to create an attention-grabbing addition to simple embroidery designs as seen in these custom plaid inserts

Whether subtle or high contrast, the colour combinations in variegated threads can add interest to existing embroidery designs

Make it multimedia

Combine your embroidery with a screen or digitally printed background, sublimate a pattern directly on a design stitched with white poly threads, or drop in some rhinestones to create texture and shine beyond what thread can manage. Multimedia treatments can achieve surfaces, colours and qualities that embroidery alone simply can’t. Even simple, smooth, printed gradients and photographic images paired with a pop of dimensional embroidery can make for an impressive presentation, let alone what applied materials or rhinestones and studs can oer in the way of textural variety.

Print designs can be combined with embroidery to create stunning multimedia looks. This piece is more complicated than most, consisting of a quilted, screen- printed base and 3D-embroidered appliqué elements, but a simple printed appliqué or direct print combined with embroidery can create a striking contrast in textures

Even a simple monogram can be vastly altered through thread choice. Tonal colouring creates a subdued look, while metallics garner shine, and a variegated ‘zebra’ thread creates stripes, all without a single change to the file

Digitise for dimension

For those of you stitch-slingers that create your own files, the difference can be made entirely based on design interpretation. Take that flat-filled area and break it into satin elements, alter stitch penetration patterns, create overlay shading, and manipulate stitch angles to alter the way that light plays over your stitched surface. Every silhouette has a chance to become a low-relief sculpture, and every block of stitches a chance to play with texture and light. The time you take in the initial interpretation won’t add to your stitch count, but it will add to the sense of artistry in your work.

For digitisers, stitch angles and layering should never be underestimated; even with a single-colour standard polyester thread in this skull design, there’s a tremendous amount of visual interest

Speciality fabrics, such as this textured, faux alligator skin, can create a great deal of interest in large filled areas, particularly when they are such a great fit for the subject as with this lizard character

Engage and experiment

No matter the market for which you embroider or how you choose to create, there are options beyond the materials and methods that make up most of your work. Keep your eyes open for inspiration, whether you follow retail decoration or high fashion, home décor or the crazily dedicated cosplayers – there are people in the craft market, in fibre arts and even in high technology making embroidery that you might not even recognise. Absorb what’s around you, take time to play and stitch, stitch, stitch. Only when you let your imagination run and take risks will you be able to show your customers the true, jaw-dropping potential of embroidery. Make an impression on them, and even if they return to the staples and standards, they’ll see your creativity and raise their perception of your work above decoration as a commodity.

Erich Campbell is an award-winning digitiser, embroidery columnist and educator, with 18 years’ experience both in production and the management of e-commerce properties. He is the program manager for the commercial division of BriTon Leap.