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How to inspect an embroidery design

Author: Lindee Goodall  

Imagine machine embroidery as a jigsaw puzzle. When assembling a jigsaw puzzle, the easiest way to start is by finding and piecing together the edges and corners because they are the most identifiable pieces. Then you gradually begin fitting in the middle pieces.

With machine embroidery, it's pretty easy to grasp how to operate the machine, select needles, thread, fabric, and bobbin. Even hooping is not all that difficult. These are your embroidery puzzle edges.

But the design … understanding what a makes up a design and how it impacts the other pieces of the embroidery puzzle can consume a lot of time – just like assembling the interior of a large, complex jigsaw puzzle. Here is an overview of things you need to check before you sew the design.

What you need

  • An embroidery design to verify
  • Suitable embroidery software capable of viewing the design at a stitch level with tools for measuring stitch attributes and watching it "sew" on screen e.g. Embrilliance Essentials.

What to check

  1. Design Size. How big is the design. Will it fit your machine's sewing field? Do you have a hoop that will accommodate the design without excessive empty space between the hoop and the design? Designs sew best in a hoop that is just slightly larger than the design.
  2. Stitch Count. Does the stitch count seem reasonable for a design of this size? "Reasonable" can be hard to gauge so you may want to compare it to similar designs that sew well and see if this one has a stitch count in the ball park or if it seems excessively high.
  3. Colour Count and Colour Change Count. Colour count is the number of individual colours used in the design. Colour change count is equal to or greater than the number of colours and includes repeated colours. If your design has numerous repeated colours is there a good reason for it? Two good reasons are: (1) layering of background and foreground objects and (2) optimizing for precision registration of objects.
  4. Trims and Jumps. Are the jump and trim counts reasonable? If you have a design with scattered disconnected elements, it will by nature necessitate more jumps and trims. Smart digitizers avoid unnecessary jumps and trims by (1) keeping the needle travelling through the design in an inconspicuous manner and (2) careful pathing of entry and exit points to maintain a smooth sewing flow while keeping fabric shifting to a minimum.
  5. Sewing Efficiency. Use the software's virtual sewing option to watch the design sew on-screen. Run the simulation at a slow enough speed to mentally assimilate what's really going on. Replay any areas that may look odd or inefficient. Do the colour changes look efficient and appropriate? Does the sewing order seem efficient and appropriate? Does the underlay look adequate and appropriate? Are there areas of layers of stitches that might indicate a problem? These are all things you can learn over time through experience by sewing lots of designs and analyzing their results.
  6. Measure Stitch Length. Some of today's embroidery programs will display a graph of stitch lengths. If yours doesn't, use the measuring tool to measure the shortest stitches, the longest stitches, and the stitch length within fill stitch areas. Excessively long and short stitches each have their own set of problems.
  7. Measure Stitch Density. Closely spaced rows of stitches combined with short stitch lengths in fill areas can really run up stitch counts quickly and contribute to hard, stiff embroidery and even fabric damage. Measure densities of fills and satins and see if they are realistic. Stitch length and density values can be managed to achieve both good fabric coverage without excessive stiffness.
  8. Evaluate Compensation. Compensation is how the digitizer offsets the distortion effects that occur during sewing. (Proper stabilizing is how the embroiderer helps maintain the digitizer's work.) If your design has running stitch outlines that are perfectly aligned around the edges of fills and satins, they won't be that way when sewn. Also, you will notice that in a well-digitized design, objects overlap or meet differently depending on their stitch angle. Mastering proper compensation is one of the harder concepts a digitizer must learn and a full explanation is beyond the scope of this overview.
  9. Why do you need to do this? Not all designs come from experienced, professional digitizers. And even if they do, they may not work ideally for your intended fabric. By becoming more knowledgeable about design construction, you can save yourself a lot of sewing time and unsuccessful results. If you check a design and find that it is not up to par, just get rid of it. It won't get any better with age!


  • Improving your embroidery skills is a continuous process and develops over time.
  • Challenge yourself to learn something new each time!

Where can I learn more?

If you'd like to learn how to apply these skills to your embroidery, you can learn by reading Anatomy of a Design: How to Think Like a Digitizer & Become a Better Embroiderer.