Erich Campbell offers a neat technique to prevent embroidery designs from sinking into knitwear, fleece and towels

You’ve been there before: a stack of customer-provided garments is ready for stitching and just as you check them in for production, you see it. A pairing of a thick-napped fleece jacket and knitted cap. You need a fix to keep your existing design from sinking in to those deep pile fabrics, and you need it quick. Enter the light mesh fill.

The light mesh fill is great for any fabric that has a dense covering of loops or fibres, or hairs that project from the surface, or any heavily textured and thick knit construction. Both knits and loopy fabrics like terry cloth, those with a cut pile like polar fleece, and faux fur all cause the same problems for embroidery: small elements sink into the pile and the fibres or loops stand up around the edges of even large elements, obscuring them.

The light mesh fill works well on towels

Though there are toppings that help to control this pile, the simplest, permanent fix is to stitch a base layer that traps and controls the loops or fibres, creating a smoother surface on which to stitch and allowing area for a design to escape the overshadowing edge fibres. One such solution is to create a light mesh fill under your design. You stitch this underlayment in a thread colour matching that of your garment. On natural fibre or rougher materials, you may elect to stitch the light mesh fill with a matte finish thread to allow it to recede even further into the background.

You can create generic shapes comprised of the light mesh fill under any design, or you can create a custom contour mesh using only the fill or Tatami stitch tool in any basic digitising software using the following method:

1. Create a fill shape that spans under your entire design, following its outer edge. In the case of unsupported elements like open text, extend the shape somewhat outside of the limits of the design area, perhaps 1.5-2 mm. Fill this shape with a Tatami or fill stitch with a stitch length of 3-4 mm, an angle of 45°, and a density of 3-4 mm or 30-40 points. If you want a more defined edge, you can use an edge-walk underlay on the first shape.

2. Copy this shape and paste it directly above the first, changing the angle of the fill to 135°. Make sure that it has no underlay and that its start point is the same as the end point of the previous shape, then move the end point of this new shape to the opposite corner.

You now have a complete light mesh fill. This stable fill is less dense than a full 4 point or 0.4mm fill, has no directional grain into which stitches will sink, and provides a stable, smooth surface on which to stitch.

This fill will trap underlying fibres and loops, and support the design stitching above it impeccably and without alteration of the existing design in most cases, leaving you with an embossed look that’s sure to please your customer.

When you need to tackle the texture and flatten the fibres of some unruly material and don’t have the ability to edit your design, the light mesh fill may be your best hope for a smooth finish and high-quality stitching.

Stitching on a sweatband

Erich Campbell is an award-winning digitiser, embroidery columnist and educator. He works for Black Duck Embroidery and Screen Printing in New Mexico, US.