Like most artists, I sprouted my skills and talents early in life at home, honed them in school, and explored them out in the world. I’ve worked with a lot of media both traditional and. . . not so traditional; from oil paint to plaster, from water balloons to charcoal straight from the fireplace. I rarely say “no” to trying a new medium and although I don’t expect every artist to be as gun-ho about trying everything they can get their hands on, there is one medium I’ve worked with that I feel shouldn’t be overlooked by artists, especially graphic designers. That medium is embroidery, or “painting with thread” if I may.
Contrary to a lot of logo designers and graphic artists I have spent a lot of time working in embroidery shops learning the ins and outs of embroidery; from digitizing to mass machine running. I spent several years creating meticulous custom designs (my most notable piece being the rendition of Gram Parson’s Nudie Suit) and a year working in a high-production facility pumping out as many as 500 garments in a day by myself. It’s this combination that has taught me how to create a truly unique piece of embroidered art, and how to recognize a well-digitized design.
What IS Embroidery? And what the HECK is digitizing?
Embroidery is a type of decoration that, today, can be done using computerized embroidery machines to stitch on a fabric surface with a needle and thread and can be done using a wide variety of thread colors. Modern machine embroidery involves digitizing the design first in order for the machines to know what to do. (They’re not self aware yet!)
Back in the days before machine embroidery existed, and hand embroidery was the method used, people followed patterns or made up the design themselves. Machine embroidery is kind of like following a pattern, but the pattern has to be created and that’s where digitizing comes in. The digitizer creates shapes in various colors to make up the design/logo and essentially programs each and every stitch that goes into a design because the machine needs to know what to do and what sequence to do it in. Digitizing is an often tedious task and involves a lot of knowledge of not only the digitizing software, but the variations to expect and plan for when working on different types of fabric (stitching on a knit fabric is far different from stitching on a woven fabric) and not to mention the machine tensions, speeds, hooping specs. . . the list goes on.
Embroidery and digitizing are their own unique species from graphic design, but embroidered items are very common marketing and design tools. People don’t give it enough consideration and I think that’s mostly because they don’t know enough about the process. I don’t think everyone should go out and learn all there is to know about it, but as a graphic designer it’s important to know some basics. I believe it’ll make you all the more well-rounded in your knowledge and insight into your clients’ potential needs.