Wikipedia defines Embroidery as the craft of decorating fabric or other materials using a needle to supply a thread or a yarn. Textbook definitions aside, it is important to understand how our mind or our aesthetic senses receives embroidery in order to truly grasp the concept: Embroidery, particularly embroidery in fabrics and clothing characterizes its efficacy in the high-fives you might get from your friends as you flaunt your latest tailored suit or an extravagant saaree; it lives to create appeal in the eyes of the beholder.
We all understand man’s (and women’s, obviously!) fascination with wanting to look good. It is self-evident in a plethora of ancient rugs worth a million dollars, the deep ferocity with which embroidering techniques are guarded and proliferated and the lifelong, perhaps history-long lingering appreciation of the finer arts involved in making a piece of cloth look more appealing – to add character to the piece of cloth. We see that as techniques surrounding the process of mending fabric and fancifying it have proliferated across generations and travelled considerable number of miles to influence design itself, one thing has remained constant. Man must look good and he stoppeth not then, for anything else or indeed anyone.
As with a lot of other things, the Industrial Revolution prompted a more or less complete re-evaluation (I dare say, revamp) of the processes involving sewing threads on a piece of fabric. You’ve probably seen it yourself, the image of dozens of cheery women working in small to medium rooms sitting peacefully and sewing, in rhythm, in a TV show, an old film or even in your neighborhoods – immortalizing the art of embroidering and advancing it with the aid of machines.
Here we are, probably centuries far from when our planet first saw fabric being made and embroidered with carvings, sitting in our homes, libraries, workplaces and cafes snug against the weather in our fancy knockoff LV casuals and our cheap (or expensive) checkered Denim Jeans almost playfully ripped at the knees ordering – you guessed it – the latest AC Milan outfit in preparation for the football season, or a brand new linen suit for our significant other, some might even be designing their own fabric styles and embroidery. How exactly did we come about at this point, you appear to ask. Massive strides made during the industrial revolution are one answer, another is the digital revolution which took these once inaccessible grounds and made them such that people like you and I can manipulate computer software into creating our own designs. Even to the extent of printing a portrait of our favorite pets on our new beach shirt.
Digital Embroidery, as it is referred to in official terms, entails processes that convert designs or logos into embroidery patterns, with the pattern either made legible or designed for machines OR humans; this is a fairly important distinction in that most digitized embroidery nowadays functions upon increased automation, i.e. the usage of more machines rather than humans. Talking about the techniques involved in making designs legible for whichever entity, man or machine, it can be stated with a degree of certainty that digitizing embroidery patterns generally includes: the conversion of all parts of design into ‘stitches’, this is mainly aided by computer software which helps read the material surface and the design intended to be imprinted or embroidered. Another neat feature that most digitizing software will offer is a preview of the expected output – furnishing users with an insight into how the finished product will look and allowing them to institute careful adjustments and evaluations.
Functioning of Available Software
A logo or design, premade, self-made or bought, is loaded/input into a digitizing software which then sets about converting it into a legible design for a machine to create on a piece of fabric. The logo or design is processed within digitizing software in a number of ways, the most prevalent include: either separating all colors inherent in the specified design and digitizing them individually on the basis of color, or digitizing all colors and portions simultaneously. A digitizer must be careful in selecting these processes as they heavily affect the outcome design on the finished product.
Imagine that you set about crafting a tulip t shirt for your infant niece, you would probably go for a process that would blend all colors into an appealing color scheme of the tulip, adding to its beauty and on the other hand your company just changed its logo and it needs to be embroidered on every staff shirt. In the latter case, it is probably best to go for technique that favors individual digitization of different colors inherent in a single design, so as to make it more visually legible and make every color distinguishable.
Can you do it?
Rapid modernizations have made the previously revered art of embroidery and crafting very accessible to even the most inept of designers or fabricators. This is not to take away from the art itself, but it is showcases that unlike a lot of complex DIY, this isn’t a whole lot complicated. All that is required is an investment of time and energy to learn the dynamics of the different processes involved and in no time, you will be able to do more than just sew your initials on your favorite jeans.
A few fundamental things to know and understand are simple. Know the fabric, know its limits and know your design specifications and know the software, all else will neatly follow if these essentials are paid great attention and handled with care. In order to understand the job, evaluate and re-evaluate your designs in your head and processed in a software-displayed-output, check for inadequacies or inaccuracies and redesign, repeat until you have a solid vision of what you want the end product to look like. Preparing artwork or design is a key component since that constitutes the design that is going to be presented on fabric, digitizers may choose to create their own fascinating designs and logos or choose from millions available online. Artwork or graphics or logos can then be processed by a digitizing software and ‘pathed’ into legible designs that can be read by machines or be copied by humans as per the wish of the digitizer.
After understanding the design and specifications, carefully assess the fabric and combination possibilities both in your head and on a digitizing software and decide the crucial details of stitch types in various portions and colors of design. Being thorough here will result in your designs being translated the way you want on fabric and not be maligned by artificiality. Another key aspect of the production process is the fact that design may be influenced as the fabric comes out of an embroidering machine, and hence any inadequacies that may occur must be accounted for by the digitizer in some way.
Whereas simple designs and corporate logos (and initials to your name) are easy even for an inexperienced digitizer, more complex designs require a lot of patience and resolve. And hence to master digitizing embroidery one must invest continuous time in trial-and-error processes and fine tune their skill.
In summary, the process of digitizing and the accuracy of results in embroidery depend upon the primary factors: a deep understanding of material, fabric and design, technical knowledge about stitching and embroidery and, finally, an understanding of running digitizing software efficiently.
An important industry
Commercialization has resulted in there being many embroidery digitizing services available for procurement worldwide, especially online. It is commercialized to the extent that independent review and regulatory bodies exist to better regulate business practices that involve digitizing. One such example is Better Business Bureau’s recognition of Digitizing Services as a major corporate and business collective, and hence it issues out letter grades to digitizing service providers on a nationwide scale.
Apart from being touted as a commercial giant, digitizing has found its way not only into arts and crafts of the modern world but ventured into academia as well. City and Guilds qualification in Embroidery allows embroiderers to become recognized for their talents in the area. This qualification also provides them with the credibility to teach and proliferate their acquired talents in this arena. One example of a very successful embroidery digitizing enthusiast is Kathleen Laurel, who began her teaching career by acquiring City and Guilds Embroidery 1 and 2 qualifications, not only that, she has gone on to write a book on the subject.