My first few posts here were about how challenging digitizing is and what you should think about before buying digitizing software. Those are important considerations, but I’m afraid I may have missed a really important point. I LOVE digitizing. It is an art and a science and it works with my brain. I even go to Maker Faires to share machine embroidery and digitizing with a whole new audience.

Maker Faire embroidery In the hoop
Maker Faire Milwaukee 2016

I believe that there are 2 main kinds of digitizers. There are those who are naturally good at the art and those who are good at making the software do what you want it to. You definitely need both to be successful, but I think most people tend to one end or the other and have to learn the other side. Personally, I couldn’t draw my way out of a paper bag. Somehow I have raised two daughters who draw beautifully, but that is not my skill. What I CAN do, is find cute art from talented artists who allow commercial use and add my technical expertise and make it a great design. I can bend the software to my will, which at times is quite easy and at other times it is quite a challenge!

digitizing is hard but digitizing is fun
I used clipart for the face and ears of this kitty – that is way beyond my simple drawing skills

I love to create In The Hoop designs – those are designs that create an entire project on the embroidery machine. I could put a design onto a zipper bag that I bought in a store or sewed on my sewing machine. OR, I can create the entire bag on my embroidery machine, including sewing the zipper in place.Other examples are Felties, Stuffed toys, Mug Rugs, Stockings and on and on.

All of these projects were made entirely on the embroidery machines. Each one was a fun digitizing puzzle.

In the hoop designs are often quite simple from a digitizing standpoint. Many of them are just straight lines. The challenge is in figuring out how to make them work. How can you make this Christmas stocking with no raw seams, fully lined and just a small turning hole to sew or glue closed? The short answer is – by layering fabrics in the right order, with folded edges in the right places. For the long answer, you would have to stitch one out to see what I mean.

People have asked how you do that. There is really no simple answer, you pick a place to start and then experiment, either in your mind or with fabric until you figure out how to make it do what you want it to. My Peekaboo line of toys took several years to figure out. I saw a sewing pattern for a reversible stuffed toy and started trying to figure out how to do it. It turns out that the Peekaboos are entirely different, but from the idea spark to the design, it took about 2.5 years and a lot of tests that did not give me the result I was looking for. It was all worth it though when I pulled Peekaboo Bunny off the machine for the first time. The customer response to it has been amazing and I am so grateful for it, but that IT WORKED! moment is what pushes me to figure out what is next.

Figuring out an applique is a different kind of puzzle. Which elements need to be laid down first so that they overlap correctly? Is there any way to make a run from one spot to another rather than a jump so that the machine doesn’t have to slow down, tie off, trim, move, tie in, speed up? What order should I stitch the colors so that I don’t have to go back and repeat a color, yet still have them overlapping correctly? Would that spot of color be better as a filled stitch or should it be another applique fabric? It is a logic puzzle, making all of the pieces fit together as efficiently as possible. This is the part that people either find tedious and frustrating or a fun brain stretching challenge.

The objects on the right are the top and bottom of the belly patch with a run connecting them – that has to stitch before the feet so that the feet look like they were in front of the belly. The run makes it so that the two pieces stitch as one, so that the machine does not have to stop and jump from one to the other.

I participate in many Facebook embroidery and digitizing groups. Frequently someone will ask “How do I ___?” fill in the blank. There will often be multiple responses that are completely different – and none are wrong! That can be quite frustrating for people who just want a straight answer. Just tell me what stitch I should use to make an applique! It is the beauty and frustration of digitizing though – there is no right or wrong way, just the way that you like. My personal “secret sauce” of Column width, underlay and density for an applique is just that, my secret sauce for MY perfect applique. My next door neighbor might think my underlay takes too long and is a waste of time and thread. Neither of us are wrong. Don’t even get me started on the options for applique tackdown stitches – single? double? bean? vintage? zigzag? Whatever you choose, people will passionately tell you how wonderful it is and others will tell you exactly why you are wrong.

Each part of a design is a chance to make decisions – should the tip of that arrow be a flat fill or satin stitch? Should the stitches run side to side? at an angle? I want it to look like the stick is on top of the feathers of the arrow but under the tip – how can I make that work?

You might read this and think I am nuts for finding it all fun. Maybe I am! There are many wonderful artists out there who do not want to have to think about all of these things. You want to spend your time figuring out fabric combinations, new color schemes, ways to take the same design everyone else is stitching and make it your own. Thank goodness you are out there so that crazies like me have someone to stitch our stuff. Or maybe you just want to get the project done – I do that all the time, I buy from other digitizers rather than re-inventing the wheel. If you read all of this and thought that it sounds kind of fun – you might be a digitizer in the making! Personally, I really like StitchArtist from Embrilliance for new digitizers. It is simple yet powerful. They have a TON of YouTube tutorials to help you get started and learn new techniques. I also offer one on one tutoring via Skype or other video platforms, so that you can learn from your own comfy chair.


One Response

  1. I really enjoyed reading your article. I have considered learning to digitize because I find the need to tweak some designs or letters to work better for me. I recently stitched out a pillow design for my grandson and was disappointed that the letters were satin instead of fill. Knowing how he will toss this pillow around, I know the wide satin stitches will pull out in no time. I tried another font, Bodoni, which looked great, until it stitched out and I noticed the letter N did not match the other letters. Another disappointment. I don’t want to do this a third time, but I will keep searching for just the right font. I want a simple serif one, like the traditional Times New Roman, that will look good at 1 inches tall and have secure stitches that won’t pull out. I am a recovering perfectionist, so I may be a good candidate for learning digitizing. I currently use Essentials and love it–much easier than Brother’s PE Design Next. Your designs are beautiful. I will have to check out more of them.

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