Embroidery Glossary

Appliqué — Decoration or trimming cut from one piece of fabric and stitched to another to add dimension and texture. If appliqué occupies a significant amount of the design, the stitch count is lower.

Backing — Woven or non-woven material used underneath the item or fabric being embroidered to provide support and stability for the needle penetration. Best used when hooped with the garment, but also can be placed between the item to be embroidered and the needle plate on flat bed machines. Available in many styles and weights with two basic types (Cutaway and Tearaway).

Birdnesting (Birdnest, Birds Nest) — Accumulation of thread caught between the embroidered item and the needle plate, often caught in the needle plate hole and hook assembly. Formation of a birdnest prevents free movement of goods and may be caused by inadequate tensioning of the top thread, top thread not through take-up lever, top thread not following thread path correctly or flagging goods. Bobbin — Spool or reel that holds the thread used to form the underside stitching.

Boring — Embroidered goods that have been punctured with a sharp pointed tool known as a bore, the edges of the hole produced by the bore are embroidered, the hole is enlarged by the embroidery.

Buckram — Coarse, woven fabric, stiffened with glue, and used to stabilize fabric for stitching. Commonly used in caps to hold the front panel erect.

Cartoon — Artwork used for embroidery punching. Also called an enlargement.

Center Line Input — When the embroidery software creates a satin stitch around a single line entered by the digitizer.

Complex Fill — Refers to a digitizing program that allows areas to be designated as voids at the same time the design's edges, or perimeter points, are defined. The design can thus be digitized as one fill area, instead of being broken down into multiple sections.

Compensation — Digitizing/Punching technique used to counteract the distortion caused by the interaction of the needle, thread, backing and machine tensions. Also a programmable feature in some software packages.

Condensed Format — Method of digitizing where a design is saved in a skeletal form, so a proportionate number of stitches may later be placed between defined points after a scale has been designated. If a machine can read condensed format, the scale, density and stitch lengths in a design may be changed. See expanded format.

Digitize — Modern term for punching, reflecting the computerized method of converting artwork into a series of commands to be read by an embroidery machine's computer.

Editing — Changing aspects of a design via a computerized editing program. Most programs allow the user to scale designs up or down, edit stitch by stitch or block by block, merge lettering with the design, move aspects of the design around, combine designs and insert or edit machine commands.

Emblem — Embroidered design with a finished edge, commonly an insignia of identification, usually worn on outer clothing. Historically, an emblem carried a motto, verse or suggested a moral lesson. Also known as a Crest or Patch.

Embroidery — Decorative stitching on fabric. Generally involves non-lettering designs but can also include lettering and/or monograms. Evidence of embroidery exists during the reign of Egyptian pharaohs, in the writings of Homer and from the Crusaders of the 12th century. It has evolved from hand work to manual sewing machines and from handlooms and schiffli machines with hundreds of needles to high-speed, computerized multihead machines.

Expanded Format — A design program where individual stitches in a design have been specifically digitized for a certain size. Designs punched in this format cannot generally be enlarged or reduced more than 10 to 20 percent without distortion because stitch count remains constant. See condensed format.

Finishing — Processes performed after embroidery is complete. Includes trimming loose threads, cutting or tearing away excess backing, removing topping, cleaning any stains, pressing or steaming to remove wrinkles or hoop marks and packaging for sale or shipment.

Flagging — Up and down motion of goods under action of the needle, so named because of its resemblance to a waving flag. It is often caused by improper framing of goods. Flagging may result in poor registration, unsatisfactory stitch formation and birdnesting.

Frame — Holding device for insertion of goods under an embroidery head for the application of embroidery. May employ a number of means for maintaining stability during the embroidery process, including clamps, vacuum devices, magnets or springs. See hoop for more information.

Hook — Holds the bobbin case in the machine and plays a vital role in stitch formation. Making two complete rotations for each stitch, its point meets a loop of top thread at a precisely-timed moment and distance (gap) to form a stitch.

Hoop — Device made from wood, plastic or steel with which fabric is gripped tightly between an inner ring and an outer ring and attached to the machine's pantograph. Machine hoops are designed to push the fabric to the bottom of the inner ring and hold it against the machine bed for embroidering.

Hooping Device — Device that aids in hooping garments or items for embroidery. Especially helpful for hooping multi-layered items and for uniformly hooping multiple items.

Lettering — Embroidery using letters or words. Lettering, commonly called "keyboard lettering," may be created using an embroidery lettering program on a PC or from circuit boards that allow variance of letter style, size, height, density and other characteristics.

Lock Stitch — Commonly referred to as a lock-down or tack-down stitch, a lock stitch is formed by three or four consecutive stitches of at least a 10-point movement. It should be used at the end of all columns, fills and at the end of any element in your design where jump stitches will follow, such as color changes or the end of a design. Lock stitches may be stitched in a triangle, star or in a straight line. Lock stitch is also the name of the type of stitch formed by the hook and needle of home sewing machines, as well as computerized embroidery machines.

Logo — Name, symbol or trademark of a company or organization. Short for logotype.

Looping — Loops on the surface of embroidery generally caused by poor top tension or tension problems. Typically occurs when polyester top thread has been improperly tensioned.

Machine Language — The codes and formats used by different machine manufacturers within the embroidery industry. Common formats include Barudan, Brother, Fortran, Happy, Marco, Meistergram, Melco, Pfaff, Stellar, Tajima, Toyota, Ultramatic and ZSK. Most digitizing systems can save designs in these languages so the computer disk can be read by the embroidery machine.

Marking — Marking of goods to serve as an aid in positioning the frame and referencing the needle start points.

Monogram — Embroidered design composed of one or more letters, usually the initials in a name.

Needle — Small, slender piece of steel with a hole for thread and a point for stitching fabric. A machine needle differs from a handwork needle; the machine needle's eye is found at its pointed end. Machine embroidery needles come with sharp points for piercing heavy, tightly woven fabrics; ball points, which glide between the fibers of knits; and a variety of specialty points, such as wedge points, which are used for leather.

Network — To link embroidery machines via a central computer and disk drive system.

Paper Tape — One punching format. Continuous reel of paper or Mylar® tape containing x-y coordinate information in Binary, Fortran or other numeric code to control pantograph movement. It is currently falling out of favor and has mainly been replaced by computer disks.

Puckering — Result of the fabric being gathered into small folds or wrinkles by the stitches, caused by incorrect density, loose hooping, having no backing, incorrect tension or a dull needle.

Registration — Correct registration is achieved when all stitches and design elements line up correctly.

SPI — Stitches per inch; system for measuring density or the amount of satin stitches in an inch of embroidery.

SPM — Stitches per minute; system for measuring the running speed of an embroidery machine.

Scaling — Ability within one design program to enlarge or reduce a design. In expanded format, most scaling is limited 10 to 20 percent because the stitch count remains constant despite final design size. Condensed or outline formats, on the other hand, scale changes may be more dramatic because stitch count and density may be varied.

Scanning — Scanners convert designs into a computer format, allowing the digitizer to use even the most primitive of artwork without recreating the design. Many digitizing systems allow the digitizer to transfer the design directly into the digitizing program without using intermediary software.

Short Stitch — A digitizing technique that places shorter stitches in curves and corners to avoid an unnecessary bulky build-up of stitches.

Stitch Editing — Digitizing feature that allows one or more stitches in a pattern to be deleted or altered.

Stitch Processing — The calculation of stitch information by means of specialized software, allowing scaling of expanded format designs with density compensation. A trademarked software feature developed by Wilcom Pty. of Australia.

Stock Designs — Digitized generic embroidery designs that are readily available at a cost below that of custom-digitized designs.

Tackle Twill — Letters or numbers cut from polyester or rayon twill fabric that are commonly used for athletic teams and organizations. Tackle twill appliqués attached to a garment have an adhesive backing that tacks them in place; the edges of the appliqués are then zigzag stitched.

Tension — Tautness of thread when forming stitches. Top thread tension, as well as bobbin thread tension, needs to be set. Proper thread tension is achieved when about one-third of the thread showing on the underside of the fabric on a column stitch is bobbin thread.

Thread — Fine cord of natural or synthetic material made from two or more filaments twisted together and used for stitching. Machine embroidery threads come in rayon, which has a high sheen; cotton, which has a duller finish than rayon but is available in very fine deniers; polyester, which is strong and colorfast; metallic thread, which have a high luster and are composed of a synthetic core wrapped in metal foil; and acrylic, which is purported to have rayon's sheen.

Thread Clippers — Small cutting utensil with a spring action that is operated by the thumb in a hole on the top blade and the fingers cupped around the bottom blade. Useful for quick thread cutting, but unsuitable for detailed trimming or removal of backing.

Topping — Material hooped or placed on top of fabrics that have definable nap or surface texture, such as corduroy and terry cloth, prior to embroidery. The topping compacts the wale or nap and holds the stitches above it. Includes a variety of substances, such as plastic wrap, water-soluble plastic "foil" and open-weave fabric that has been chemically treated to disintegrate with the application of heat. Also known as facing.

Trimming — Operation in the finishing process that involves trimming the reverse and top sides of the embroidery, including jump stitches and backing.

Variable Sizing — Ability to scale a design to different sizes.

Verify — Sample sewout of a new embroidery design to make sure the pattern is correct.