Embroidery as a craft industry:

embroidery-shop-sampleThe slow, delicate craft of embroidery has been part of civilization since ancient times. The word "embroidery" came from the French word for "edge," since it referred to the decorative stitched borders on medieval church vestments that were wrought by hand. The word "embroidery" gradually extended to stitched decoration on fabric as well as on leather and paper.

Mechanization of the craft:

In the 1800s, French inventors, Duncan, Heilmann, Bonnaz, and Cornely invented semi-mechanical embroidery silk fabric machines. These modified sewing machines gradually enabled the bulk production of decorative embroidered fabric designs. Although machine stitching made the production of embroidered designs more efficient, they were still fundamentally designed on the fly and executed during production.

Following from the early embroidery machines, available today are:

  • Automated sewing machines that produce small embroidery from digital files.

  • Sewing machines that use cams to create automated repetitious embroidery details for sewers.

  • Automatic "Punch Embroidery Machines," invented in 1981: hand-held sewing devices that "draw" raised embroidery designs when the operator follows a pattern laid out on the fabric.

Industrial embroidery machines:

Industrial grade embroidery machines can do continuous, high-speed embroidery based on pre-loaded digital designs. Basic machines store hundreds of designs and millions of stitch patterns. Many have 8 or more embroidery heads. Chenille machines and combination chenille and embroidery machines produce multiple colored embroidery. These machines output 19" X 14" embroidered fields at the rate of thousands of stitches a minute. The fabric can be on a three-dimensional object like a cap, or flat on a sewing table. They can act as a computer printer analogue, connected to computer software via a USB port.

embroidery-shopsThe embroidery business:

With the advent of modern industrial potential, embroidery has advanced beyond its former purely delicate decorative role. Where classic embroidery focused on romantic, church inspired, florals and scrolls, contemporary embroidery has entered the modern post-industrial world of words, cartoons, trademarks on everything from flags to t-shirts to baseball caps. Many consumers look to embroidery to replace silk screen designs and direct to garment (DTG) printing.

Embroidered designs are less expensive than silk screen when the design is relatively small, the quantity is relatively small (less than 100 garments), and there are multiple colors in the design. The set-up cost for most embroidered designs is a flat one-time amount that is not dependent on the number of colors (which just translates into the number of colored threads). Screen printing requires a separate setup for each color plus a "base print." Large images favor silk screen. Large print runs of several hundred shirts or items usually also are more economical to produce by screen printing.

Embroidery is more durable than screen printing and maintains an air of elegance that makes it superior for business shirts and polo shirts. Screen printed business clothing often looks "cheap." On garments with a lot of seams, like caps, screen printing is ill-advised. Embroidery is superior in circumstances where a small pocket-sized logo and a 'premium' appearance is desired. Screen printing is better for thin fabric like lightweight t-shirts, because the embroidery may create puckering or wrinkling around the embroidered design or weigh heavily on some types of fabric.

EmbroidMe, San Diego is a promotional marketing company that specializes in embroidery, screen printing, and promotional products. Please contact us if you're interested in finding out more about embroidery and other apparel decorating methods.