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Anyone interested in embroidery, whether a veteran or a novice, examines the stitches (and the backing!) on every embroidered piece he or she sees. The beginner might approach with a feeling of awe, wondering about the stitch choices, the underlay and other decisions made by the designer/digitizer, perhaps watching it sew as a learning experience.
The veteran might be impressed but more likely will dissect the work and place her own artistic and practical choices into the design. The experienced digitizer might see areas where more loft would enhance the appearance. Watching it stitch out, he might disagree with the order of segments or see where like colors could have been combined to decrease trims.
But whether the eye is educated or hungry for learning, the basics of a design are the stitches. Understanding the kinds of stitches and when to use them is a great place to begin when learning to digitize. What you do with them is what makes your digitized design stand above the rest . . . or not.
The run stitch
Also called a walking stitch, this is the only stitch type that never needs compensation. It is what it is and it stays what it is no matter what the target fabric. You can be assured of a fine sew out with run stitches, no matter what the fabric. Many digitizing systems offer a manual stitch, which means you place the needle points where you want them. They also have the run stitch which allows you to set the length of the stitch, then place the start and stop point, allowing the stitches to fill in between. All the stitches will be uniform in length.
There are variations on the run stitch such as the bean stitch, a heavier application of thread that stitches back on itself to create an overlapping effect. Running stitches can be manually placed in a stipple effect (a great look on quilts). They can be used as outlines (single, double or bean) or accents. Many of the old hand-embroidered stitches can be imitated with careful placement of the run stitch.
Drawing with the run stitch is one of the greatest joys I have found in the art of digitizing. I love to create one-color designs (usually black) that imitate the look of drawing with a charcoal pencil. You can use a run-stitch design as a learning tool, concentrating on getting from beginning to end as efficiently as possible. The fewer the trims, the more production-friendly the design. When you add satin stitch or fills to the design, you will already be trained to look for the best path possible for the stitches.
The fill stitch, whether plain or fancy, is rows of stacked run stitches creating a solid area. It differs from the simple run stitch in that, once you create a fill of multiple running-stitch rows, it may require compensation for the pull and push of the fabric. (Compensation is a word used to describe, say, the shortening of columns or the widening of fill areas when the movement and physics of the fabric will cause the stitches to fall too short or be too narrow.) Fill stitches also are combined with underlay, something that is not needed with simple running stitches.
For these reasons, many discussions place the fill stitch in a category of its own (teaching three stitch types) but I prefer to keep it simple and teach only two, run and satin. I find that those learning for the first time are less overwhelmed by the fill stitch when they recognize it simply as a stack of running stitches.
Fancy fills are created by changing the offset of the needle points in the rows of stitches which carves a pattern into the finished area. Many digitizing systems come with pre-programmed fancy fills, lending the look of chains, bricks or weaving to the pattern. These patterned fills can be used in a wall to give the look of brick and mortar without the tedium of digitizing each brick. Use your imagination with the fancy fills and you will get a lot of mileage from your digitizing system and save yourself time as well.
If this is something that interests you, shop for a digitizing system that allows you to create your own fills and save them for use time and again. Some systems also offer the ability to carve a logo into a plain fill, which opens many creative doors.
The satin stitch
Also called a radial or column stitch, the satin is shinier than the run stitch and most fill stitches where the more stitch penetrations there are in a segment, the more matte and distant the stitching will appear. For this reason, the satin stitch is used (when the size of the segment allows) on areas where you want the design to really shine. When it stitches in its one pass across components of a letter or the stem of a flower, it makes that segment appear brighter and closer to the viewer.
Sometimes, in order to maintain the look of the satin in a span that is too wide for it (the rule of thumb I use for satins is 10mm or less), a split-satin can be used. The split-satin places a stitch randomly to give more stability to that part of the design, while striving to maintain the glossy look of the satin. Wide satin stitches can catch and tear or unravel, so it is best to choose a split-satin or a fill on any garment that will get heavy wear.
Besides creating the columns that comprise lettering, plant stems and other narrow elements in a design, the satin stitch is also used as a border on many fill segments to give a finished look. It has almost become a “given” to use a satin border to smooth out the edges of a fill.
Consider placing that satin border under the fill, allowing it to even out the fill’s edges but not compromise the look of the finished design. The main reason it impairs the completed project is the shiny, “closer” look of the satin stitch. It appears a different color and a different distance from the eye than the flat, matte fill it encloses, so becomes an independent part of the design rather than a quality finishing edge on the fill.
Deciding on stitches
Analyze your graphic at the size it will be stitched to determine the narrow, wider and widest segments, and decide on a stitch type. The small details and accents—and any “drawing” imitations—call for a run stitch. Narrow “column”-shaped areas need a satin. And large segments need a fill, or a series of running stitches stacked to cover the area well.
Do remember that, if you reduce or expand your design, you will have to deal with changing the stitch type. This is the main reason stock designs can’t be enlarged or reduced without limitations: Run stitches can’t do the job of the fill needed in a larger version; by the same token, fill stitches will be far too dense in a reduced design.
Learn about the stitch types and experiment as you digitize. Once you are familiar with these building blocks, you can experiment and stretch your digitizing muscles as well as the capabilities of the digitizing system you have chosen.
Hug those stitches this month, and yourself when you dare to be different.
The “building blocks of embroidery” are represented by essentially two stitch types: the run stitch and the satin stitch. While some embroidery authorities also place the fill stitch in a category of its own, the author does not owing to the fact that the fill stitch is simply “a stack of running stitches.”