Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Which Embroidery Pattern Format Is Right for You?

Embroidery Format Chart

It's not hard to find a fellow embroiderist who will tell you that their least favorite part of every project is the pattern transfer. Depending on the format of an embroidery design, you might be spending a a lot of time and effort transferring a pattern before you make your first stitch, or, you may be able to skip a step or two and go straight to threading your needle. Needless to say, the format of the pattern you've chosen may or may not work for your stitch goals so it's important to consider it carefully.

That's why I decided to create a helpful chart that is designed to help make the process of making some of those initial choices for your project easier so you can get a result that works for you. 

PDF Downloads

PROS: PDF downloads offer a great deal of flexibility. They can be used for embellishing clothing or irregularly shaped items like lampshades. With their instant delivery, re-usability, and generally low cost, they are a convenient and budget friendly option. There are also lots of options for transferring your design to your fabric. Iron-On markers/pencils, water soluble pens, fabric solvy stabilizer, and even just a pencil and a bright window can all be used to transfer the design onto whatever fabric you are stitching. Depending on your home printer, you may also be able to enlarge or reduce the size of your pattern to fit your needs. 

CONS: When you start with a PDF, plan to spend more time transferring your pattern to fabric than you would with other pattern formats. You'll need to have a home printer and you are also going to need some extra tools/supplies to get the job done. A pattern transferred by hand will never have those perfect tidy lines that you find with other formats so you'll need to accept a certain degree of wonkiness. 

** One quick side note about PDF downloads: Some people believe that sharing and distributing PDF embroidery patterns is okay but please know that it is not. Once a PDF pattern is purchased it is intended for personal use by the buyer only. Yes, it's tempting to want to share with friends but it hurts the artist who created pattern and is essentially stealing. PDF downloads are the least expensive of all the pattern formats and it's important for all of us to encourage our fellow embroiderists to support the pattern designers out there so that they can continue to create the patterns we all love to stitch. Stepping down from soapbox now 😀

Iron-On Transfers

PROS: Iron-On Transfers have been a popular format for decades and it's easy to see why. They are easy to use and create a crisp clean transfer of the design onto fabric. Although it may seem like once a design has been ironed on it is useless, that's not actually true. Iron-on transfers can be used more than once although subsequent transfers will appear progressively lighter. It's also possible to transfer iron-on designs to other soft natural surfaces such as wood or cardboard. Check out a project I completed using this process here.

CONS: While iron-on transfers were once the format of choice (as proven by my grandmother's huge stash), they have become much more scarce as digital options have become the status quo. Usually the selection in stores is small with only slightly more options available online. Of all the different formats, this is the one that designers are least likely to offer. While this format allows for a huge variety of fabric options, there are some limitations. Dark fabrics are not a good choice since the dark ink of the transfer will blend in with the fabric making it difficult or impossible to see. Additionally, synthetic fabrics that cannot be ironed will not work (I learned this the hard way, believe me - turns out you can't embroider fabric that has melted 😳). You also won't be able to alter the size of your design with this format. 

Pre-Printed Fabrics

PROS: There is no pattern transferring required at all with this format making it ideal for anyone who wants to get going on their project right away. Often, pre-printed panels are sold in kits so you may even have all the floss and other supplies needed at your fingertips from the get-go. Because they are professionally printed from digital files, the designs appear crisp and clear and often in color, reducing or eliminating the need for a color guide to follow. You are not limited to pre-printed fabrics sold specifically for embroidery - any fabric design you like can be embellished with embroidery. For some gorgeous examples, I recommend checking out the work of Wild Boho. Just try to not be inspired by her creative and colorful work, I dare you. 

One more advantage is the "filled in" look that pre- printed fabrics have since, in general, all the areas of the design is filled in with color. This gives you the choice to go over those areas and cover them with fill stitches if you like, or, to simply leave them as they are. Either way, the final piece will have a more completed look than designs that are comprised of outlines alone.

CONS: Pre printed panels and kits are often the most expensive format. You will often have fewer creative decisions to make (this could be seen as a "pro" as well)  since you won't be able to choose the type of fabric and may not be able to choose the floss colors. These are also a one-time deal so you won't be able to use the pattern again without purchasing a second kit/panel. There is also limited uses for the finished piece. Many are meant to be used as wall hangings or framed art once completed and are sized and packaged accordingly.

It may seem a little overwhelming at first but overall, but having lots of options is actually a good thing. It allows us to make choices that work for both our comfort level and our project goals. I hope this information is helpful and if you have any questions or comments please let me know!  

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