Embroidery has been around for more decades than we would like to think of. All types of needlework, decorative or otherwise was done by hand only until the mid-19th century when the first hand-embroidery machine was invented in 1828 by JosuéHeilmann.
The machine required an operator to move the fabric with a hand crank and to guide the needles through the pattern. Despite the type of assistance required, the machine was efficient enough to save the labour of four (manual) hand embroiderers.
At the beginning of the 20th century, the first multi-head embroidery machine was introduced, which allowed the users to embroider multiple pieces at the same time. However, it took quite some time to become popular as it posed a serious threat to the hand embroidery industry. The first computerized embroidery machine was introduced in the year 1980. Soon, it was followed by multiple variations with updated technologies such as embroidery digitizing.
Thereafter, Wilcom and Melco were two of the pioneer companies that contributed towards automating the embroidery industry. Wilcom introduced the first embroidery design system for embroidery that could run on a minicomputer. Whereas, Melco created the embroidery sample head that discarded manual sewing of the design sample, which later became the first computer-controlled machine to be marketed to home sewers.
In the past few decades, machines have made the embroidery process really efficient and cost-effective. There are mainly three types of computerized machine – single-head, multi-head and schiffli embroidery machine.
Single-head machines are widely popular for personal use. Whereas, multi-head and schiffli machines are used commercially. Schiffli machine is a fully automated, multi-needle machine that uses a lock stitch to create machine embroidery and certain types of lace.
The process of machine embroidery consists of the following steps:
Creating an embroidery design: You can either create the design files using industry-specific embroidery digitizing software or can purchase them. Design file formats broadly fall under two categories – source formats are specific to the software used to create the design and machine formats are machine-specific and contain stitch data, machine functions (stitch, trims and jumps).
Loading the design: After editing and finalizing the design, load the file into the machine. Different machines require different file formats according to the manufacturing company, so you may need to convert the files accordingly.
Stabilizing the fabric: The base fabric must be stabilized to prevent wrinkles or any other problems. There are several types of stabilizers available such as cut-away, tear-away, water-soluble, etc. The stabilizing method depends on the type of machine, fabric and design stitch density.
Embroidering the design: After adjusting the needle over the start point of the design, you can start the machine. Thereafter, the operator has to monitor the embroidery machine and troubleshoot errors when they arise. Multi-head commercial machines are fully automated but the single-head home machines require manual cutting and changing of threads.
Digitizing and automation of the process make machine embroidery commercially adaptable and more profitable than manual work. It also offers a wide range of designs and special effects including appliqués, foam, 3D puff, sequins, etc. However, the quality of the final product depends on the base material, stabilizer choice, design size and type of thread.