Glossary of Embroidery Terms
APPLIQUÉ - 1) 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. 2) In schiffli embroidery,
an embroidered motif, hand cut or aetzed away from base fabric.
BACKING - Woven or non woven material used underneath the item or fabric being embroidered to provide
support and stability. Can be hooped with the item or placed between the machine throat plate and the hooped
garment. Available in various weights and in two basic types: Cutaway and tearaway.
BEAN STITCH - Three stitches placed back and forth between two points. Often used for outlining because it
eliminates the need for repeatedly digitizing a single-ply running stitch outline.
BIRD NESTING - Collection of thread between goods and needle plate, resembling a bird's nest. Formation
prevents free movement of goods and may be caused by inadequate tensioning of the top thread or flagging
BOBBIN - Spool or reel that holds the bobbin thread, which helps form stitches on the underside of the fabric.
BORING - Open-work incorporated into embroidered designs; a sharp-pointed instrument punctures, or bores, the
fabric, and stitches are made around the opening to enclose the raw edges.
BUCKRAM - Coarse, woven fabric, stiffened with glue, used to stabilize fabric for stitching. Commonly used in caps
to hold the front panel erect.
CHAIN STITCH - Stitch that resembles a chain link, formed with one thread fed from the bottom side of the
fabric. Done on a manual or computerized machine with a hook that functions like a needle.
CHENILLE - Form of embroidery in which a loop (moss) stitch is formed on the top side of the fabric. Uses heavy
yarns of wool, cotton or acrylic. Created by a chain stitch machine that has been adjusted to form this stitch type.
Also known as loop piling.
COLUMN STITCH - Formed by closely placed zigzag stitches. Often used to form borders. Also known as steil
stitch. See Satin Stitch.
COMPLEX FILL - Refers to a digitizing capability that allows areas to be designated as voids at the same time
the designs edges, or perimeter points, are defined. The design can thus be digitized as one fill area, instead of
being broken down into multiple sections.
CONDENSED FORMAT - Method of digitizing in which a design is saved in a skeletal form. A proportionate
number of stitches may later be placed between defined points after a scale has been designated. With a machine
that can read condensed format, the scale, density and stitch lengths in a design may be changed. See Expanded
DESIGN LIBRARY/CATALOG - A computer program which catalogues a collection of digitized designs kept by
embroidery shops for embroiderers to access the design by subject, stitch count, number of colors or icon.
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. Sew & Sew Embroidery understands that digitizing is
the most important factor in achieving high quality custom embroidery, and we use only the best in-house and
outside digitizing experts. See Punching.
DIGITIZING TABLET - A computer-aided design device used by digitizers to plot needle penetrations for
embroidery designs. Typically, a pencil drawing of the design is enlarged and then taped to this tablet. The digitizer
then uses a device known as a puck to indicate stitch types, shapes, underlay and actual needle penetrations.
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 or verse or suggested a moral lesson. Also known as a crest or
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. Evolved from hand work to manual sewing machines and from
hand-looms and schiffli machines with hundreds of needles to high-speed, computerized multihead machines.
EXPANDED FORMAT - A design program in which 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 percent to
20 percent without distortion because stitch count remains constant. See Condensed Format.
FILL STITCH - Series of running stitches commonly used to cover large areas. Different fill patterns can be
created by altering the angle, length and repeat sequence of the stitches. Also known as a geflect stitch.
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. Often caused by improper framing of goods. Flagging may result in poor registration, unsatisfactory
stitch formation and BIRD NESTING.
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.
GEFLECT STITCH - See Fill Stitch.
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 - 1) 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.
May be stitched in a triangle, star or in a straight line. 2) 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 embroidery surface 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, Fortron, 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.
MODULAR - Machine system where many separate stitching heads or head configurations are controlled by a
MONOGRAM - Embroidered design composed of one or more letters, usually the initials in a name.
MOSS STITCH - See Chenille.
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 - 1) To link embroidery machines via a central computer and disk drive system. 2) A group of
machines linked via a central computer.
NIPPERS - See Thread Clippers.
PAPER TAPE - A punching format. Continuous reel of paper or Mylar(r) tape containing x-y coordinate information
in Binary, Fortran or other numeric code to control pantograph movement. Becoming less favored and replaced by
PULL COMPENSATION - A degree of distortion built into a design by the digitizer to compensate for pull on the
fabric caused by the embroidery stitches.
PUNCHING - Conversion of artwork into a series of commands to be read by an embroidery machine's computer.
Derived from an early method of machine embroidery in which part of the machine, the automat, reads paper tapes
or Jacquards punched with holes representing stitches, pantograph movements and other commands. While still
capable of producing paper tape, many computerized digitizing systems now store this information on disk formats.
REGISTRATION - Correct registration is achieved when all stitches and design elements line up correctly.
RHINESTONE - A colorless artificial gem of paste or glass, often with facets that sparkle in imitation of a
diamond. Because rhinestones could be made to imitate diamonds, the name rhinestone was applied to artificial
gems made from paste, glass, or gem quartz and as a result often carries a connotation of showbiz glitz.
Rhinestones offer a great alternative decorating process for client's wanting a glitzy, 'bling' effect to their logo. Also
known as rhinestuds and nailheads.
RUNNING STITCH - Consists of one stitch between two points. Used for outlining and fine detail. Also known as
a walk stitch.
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.
SATIN STITCH - Formed by closely arranged zigzag stitches. Can be laid down at any angle and with varying
stitch lengths. Adapted from the blatt stitch used in schiffli embroidery. See Blatt Stitch.
SCALING - Ability within one design program to enlarge or reduce a design. In expanded format, most scaling is
limited to 10 percent to 20 percent because the stitch count remains constant despite final design size. In
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.
SEQUIN EMBROIDERY - A specialized embroidery process that places sequins on to fabrics to create reflective,
glittery, and holographic effects. Sequins are typically round in shape, and have a reflective coating that provides
an unique 'bling' effect. Sequins can be used as accents in a logo, or as major design elements and as type or
fonts within a design element. Sew & Sew Embroidery produces in-house sequin embroidery with a state of the art
multi-head sequin machine.
SHORT STITCH - A digitizing technique that places shorter stitches in curves and corners to avoid an unnecessary
bulky build-up of stitches.
SPECIALTY FILL - Born of recent technology, a fill stitch capability that produces a fill with a "relief" or motif
design within the fill-stitch area.
STEIL STITCH - See Column Stitch.
STITCH EDITING - Digitizing feature that allows one or more stitches in a pattern to be deleted or altered.
STITCH PROCESSING - 1) The calculation of stitch information by means of specialized software, allowing
scaling of expanded format designs with density compensation. 2) 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-
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’s, which have a
high luster and are composed of a synthetic core wrapped in metal foil; and acrylic, which is purported to have
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.
UNDERLAY STITCH - Stitches laid down before other design elements to help stabilize stretchy fabrics and to
tack down high wales or naps on fabrics so the designs details don't get lost. May also be used to create such
effects as crowned, flat or raised areas in the embroidery, depending on how they are laid down.
VARIABLE SIZING - Ability to scale a design to different sizes.
VERIFY - Sample sew-out or print-out of a new embroidery design to make sure the pattern is correct.
WALK STITCH - See Running Stitch.
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