I am going to talk about obvious and less obvious embroidery puckering causes and prevention.
We already know the most common causes, which are:
- Incorrect hooping technique
- Incorrect stabilizing method and inadequate stabilizer
- Incorrect thread tension, either bobbin or upper thread, or both
- Poor digitizing
The following little known factors also have a big influence on how the design sews out:
- The hoop size in relation to the design
- The embroidery thread weight and thread type
- The design stitch density/complexity for the type of fabric used
- The needle size and condition
- Machine speed
Embroidery puckering: causes and prevention, in more detail:
I write in detail about every issue, in the order they were mentioned.
The most common causes:
- Incorrect hooping technique: many embroiderers use the “floating” method. I recommend this method only when you have no other choice, for example when you are embroidering caps or narrow garments like socks, gloves, etc. In this case, I recommend using temporary glue and pins, the stabilizer to use should be cut-away. In all other cases, you should hoop the stabilizer and fabric together, between the “rings” of the hoop. The use of a temporary glue is recommended in the case of flimsy fabrics like quilter’s cotton, etc.
- Incorrect stabilizing method and inadequate stabilizer: in many cases, people are using the stabilizer they have at home, no matter what kind of fabric is used or the design density. A more dense design with large filled areas and/or short dense stitches requires a firmer cut-away stabilizer, or at least 2 layers of tear-away, one layer with fibers in the opposite direction to the other layer. Designs that have more stitches have more pucker potential than designs that are more open.
- Incorrect thread tension, either bobbin or upper thread, or both: We all know that the satin stitch has to show on the reverse side, 2/3 the bobbin thread and 1/3 the embroidery thread. But is that all? What if the ratio is correct but both threads are equally too tight? The fabric will pucker. Make sure that both threads are correctly tensioned.
- Poor digitizing: For custom projects, choosing a good Digitizer is crucial. If you buy online ready-made designs, check the digitizer’s feedback before buying. I know that many of you prefer cheap or free designs but remember: you get what you pay for. There are exceptions: reputable sites will offer free designs for you to try them out, that way they prove they are trustworthy. If you do the digitizing yourself, you might already know how to digitize properly. A few words to keep in mind: you always digitize for the type of fabric you’ll be using! If you are using multiple different types of fabric, you must do adjustments for each fabric, which means you should make the same design with 2-3 or more settings. If you have more filled areas, never go towards an already filled area, start the second one to sew outwards, away from the first area.
Embroidery puckering: causes and prevention – less known factors:
- The hoop size in relation to the design: Choose the smallest hoop the design will fit into. The bigger the hoop, the more movement the fabric will have, then displacement, and possibly puckering will occur.
- The embroidery thread weight and thread type: Rayon, polyester, or cotton? 40 or 35? All the threads have their own strengths and weaknesses. Polyester threads stretch more, they don’t snap too easy. Due to this characteristic, the polyester thread will pull the fabric more than other threads. Threads that stretch have a greater pucker effect than threads that snap if pulled too tightly. Rayon thread snaps easily when pulled tightly, giving you nightmares when embroidering a dense pattern. You have to think about it when digitizing or buying a design, will Rayon thread be suitable for that design? Cotton thread is not stretchy, doesn’t snap easily but is prone to shrinkage. You won’t see the puckers before the first wash, which usually happens when the garment is already handed over to your Customer. Ouch…you possibly have lost a Customer. Conclusion: You can prevent puckering if you use polyester thread and a design that has the proper pull-compensation or if you use Rayon thread with a less dense design. Avoid cotton thread. Thread weight: Thicker threads cause more fabric displacement which results in puckers and/or cupping. (Cupping is when the embroidery stands out in a 3D-like way from the fabric) Use a high-quality thread with low-friction and with even unwinding tension for smooth flow of thread to the sewing area. The most commonly used thread is 40.
- The design stitch density/complexity for the type of fabric used: As I said earlier, for different designs you need different fabrics and vice-versa. You can’t embroider heavy complex designs to light fabric. Try to avoid heavy, stitch-filled, shaded designs. Instead of stitch-filled areas, choose the applique method when possible.
- The needle size and condition: Ballpoint needles will penetrate the fabric between the fabric threads while sharp needles can easily catch the fabric, distorting it. The same happens if the needle is dull. Also if the needle is too thick, it makes bigger holes than necessary, not only distorting the fabric but also cutting/ weakening the stabilizer. For organza, silk, light quilters cotton use 70/10 and 80/12 for poplin, rayon, medium weight cotton.
- Machine speed: The higher the sewing speed, the greater the distortion. Set the speed to the lowest setting, especially if you use polyester thread. No harm to use the lowest speed when using rayon either, you will have less thread breakage. Remember: it’s always better to get the embroidery right the first time than using the high speed and have a puckered embroidery.
Thank you for reading my article “Embroidery puckering: causes and prevention“.