Mattie’s Method for Multi-Hoop Digitizing – Part 1

Hello! Today I want to talk about digitizing for machine embroidery. Computerized embroidery machines run off files that tell the machine where to move their hoop in order for the design to stitch out correctly. Think of it as a “connect-the-dots” game with 30,000 dots! Embroidery digitizing software provides us, the artists, with an interface to draw out our shapes and patterns and select colors and styles of stitching for those shapes. Then it transforms our work into a list of coordinates and other commands for the machine to follow. Wild, right?

When we make Irish dance dresses, we are often embroidering over large areas, such as an entire bodice which can be over 24 inches in length. But you don’t need a hoop that big to accomplish your design. Breaking your work over multiple hoopings takes careful planning and execution, but you can achieve a beautiful result! I’d like to share my method for digitizing multi-hoop designs.

A short disclaimer: This is not a post teaching you how to use digitizing software. For help or basic instruction on your own program, I’d suggest finding a course, forum, or Facebook group dedicated to that software. I would not consider myself to be a master-digitizer. It’s definitely the aspect of solo dresses I have the least experience in. Today I’m focusing on breaking up designs you’ve already made into multiple hoops, and what you can do to ensure the alignment stays as true as possible as you stitch them out onto your garment pieces.

Also, for those curious, the digitizing software I’m using is Stitch Artist (Level 3) by Embrilliance. (This is not a paid promotion, but I do like the program a lot!)

I bought my embroidery machine at the age of 25 when my budget was, well, conservative. I was lucky enough to snag a discounted floor model from a local shop that was moving to a smaller location and didn’t want to move all their machines. My largest hoop is 200x280mm / 7.875×11 inches, or about the size of home printer paper. For the 1-3 dresses I make per year, it’s fine enough. If I quit my day job and made solo dresses full time I would probably upgrade, but I have no regrets about the model I bought. However, the size does mean I need to break large areas such as the front bodice of a solo dress into 3-7 hoops. So let’s dive in with a couple main concepts:

Concept #1: Center-Out
My primary method for stitching out these multi-hoop designs is to start in the center and move outwards. This minimizes how much the design can shift on the fabric. See below some examples of bodice front designs and the order in which I stitched them. If you have a smaller hoop you make need to break your designs up into more pieces. But keep the same concept of starting in the middle and moving outwards. The left-most dress is the one we’re going to be looking at in this post.

Concept #2: Guide markings

When I am doing embroidery for solo dresses, I usually “float” my fabric in the hoop. This means that the stabilizer is hooped but the fabric is not – it simply “floats” on top (in reality it is rigidly pinned and basted, but that is the terminology). Floating the fabric makes it easier to fine-tune placement, and prevents fabrics like velvet from getting crushed and scarred by the hoop. I create guide lines in my embroidery files that stitch out first (right onto the stabilizer), and show me how to align the fabric in the hoop. I make two kinds of guide markings in my files.

The first is general alignment of the embroidery on the fabric (I’m using GREEN for these). Let’s look at a single-hoop design as example. For this triangle shape below, I made 3 guides; one on the tip of each of the three pear stone outlines. I like to use points or corners as it is easier to be precise. After creating my embroidery file, I print it out and tape it to my sewing pattern. This makes it easy to mark the same 3 points on the fabric. When I’m ready to embroider it, I simply stitch out those guides first, and match up the 3 points on my fabric with the 3 points on my hoop. Easy-peasy!

(The ring of basting stitches shown in the last photo were also added to the file – after the guides but before everything else. This helps keep the float-ed fabric from shifting. I use the longest stitch length and no ties/knots so it’s easy to remove later.)

The second type of guide helps with multi-hooping (using BLUE for these). On a second, third, or further hooping, they will show how previous embroidery should be aligned in the hoop, in order to blend seamlessly with the new embroidery. They use generally the same concept previously described, except that instead of matching to a marking on the fabric, they match to embroidery that has already been stitched out. These are what we will be looking at below!

Note 1: I chose Blue and Green to differentiate these two types of guides because both colors are in contrast to my gold and red embroidery. Obviously you can make them whatever color you want! I like to choose a contrasting color so they’re easy to see while I’m working in the file. In reality I make all my guides the same color, but I am using two colors here to differentiate their purpose.

Note 2: For all of the guides, I use a single running stitch with a long stitch length and no ties/knotting. Since they’re only stitching into the stabilizer, they won’t be visible and don’t really matter. However, sometimes I re-stitch them once the fabric is pinned in to double check my alignment so I like them to be easier to remove if needed.

Now that we’re ready for the specifics, here’s the dress I’m digitizing (you already saw the skirt). We’re going to look at the V-shaped design on the bodice front. I will need to break it over 3 hoops (as shown above in Concept #1).

Note: I tend to do my design work in a graphics program rather than my embroidery software. Some folks will design right in the embroidery software which is fine but it’s just not for me. I design outside of the software (shown), move the designs onto a JPG of the pattern pieces so they become to-scale, then create photos of them that I can import into Stitch Artist. Below, you’ll see the photo in the background of my embroidery file, showing the pattern piece and design elements.

Above, you can see my digitized front embroidery. The main features are the gold scroll-work and pear stones, and the burgundy line of satin stitching to join the two fabrics. If you look closely in the center, you’ll see a blue line. This is where I’ve indicated that I’d like to break the design over the multiple hoops. Since the top right and left are mirror images of each other, I can use the same file for both and simply flip it on my machine.

Below, I’ve zoomed in and re-colored the elements that will go in the bottom hoop so they are easier to see.

If you look carefully at the photo above, you’ll see three BLUE lines of stitching. There is a small V on the right side, a V on the left orange curly-cue, and a larger arc at the top of the orange section. I’ll be stitching the orange first, which means it will already be on the fabric when I am trying to line up my upper hooping. The most important place the upper hoop needs to be aligned is right here next to the existing orange embroidery. These three blue guides will stitch out FIRST in my embroidery hooping, right onto the stabilizer, allowing me to line up the existing embroidery perfectly (the guides are not layered first in the file as shown – I moved them to the end so they would be “on top” and visible for the photo, rather than hidden under the other shapes).

Once I have created my BLUE multi-hoop guides, I can make my individual hoop files.

See Hoop #1 below. Much like the skirt triangle I did at the top of the post, hoop #1 only needs green-type guides for general placement, since it is the first to be embroidered. There are three of them – one at the bottom point, and one each at the upper curly-cues. (Again, I moved them to the end of the file to make them more visible – but they should be FIRST!)

And here is Hoop #2. The first picture shows the top, where there are a couple GREEN-style guides (one in the upper left, one in the bottom-right). This is the end farthest from Hoop #1, so this end just needs general alignment.

This second photo shows the bottom of this hoop, where we do want to line up with Hoop #1. See the three blue lines from earlier? We will line up our existing embroidery (Hoop #1) against these BLUE-style guides.

Here’s the BLUE-guide matching, happening in real life. The left photo shows all my guides (3 BLUE-style on the bottom, two GREEN-style on top). In the right photo, see the 3 pins with yellow heads lining up my existing hoop #1 embroidery on the BLUE guides. Once I’ve pinned that corner in place, I will do the same for the GREEN-style guides.

And my finished embroidery. Can you even tell where the breaks were? I can’t!

I hope this was helpful!

In Part 2, I’ll go over a couple related but more complicated scenarios.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *