Kenny's Korner Mind the Gap! Common Causes and Solutions by ufb11016


									Kenny's Korner

                                         Kenny's Korner: Mind the Gap!
                                     Common Causes and Solutions for Gapping

          One of the most troubling and disheartening things about embroidery is when a piece
          fails. We've all experienced it -- we spend money on fabric, designs, and materials;
          time setting up and embroidering the design; and at the end of all that, we're left with
          an embroidered piece that has gapping, shifting, or spaces in the embroidery.

          Don't give up and throw your machine out the window. There are four main causes to
          gapping (also called "poor registration"), and they're all easily fixed with a little time,
          materials, and ingenuity.

          Here are the main causes of poor registration that I'll discuss in greater detail below:

          1. Stabilizer and fabric mismatch;

          2. Fabric slipping in the hoop (or fabric not hooped);

          3. Too-tight bobbin tension;

          4. Hoop obstruction.

          First, stabilizer and fabric mismatch. If there is too much or too little stabilizer, or the
          wrong kind, then chances are, you'll have problems.

          When manufacturers make fabric, they don't know that we'll be using it as a canvas
          for our embroidery. That's why we need stabilizer -- to support and "stabilize" the
          fabric for the extra stitches that we add to it.

          Here's an example from Jackie, an embroiderer who stitched a patriotic panel scene
          onto felt, with no stabilizer. The image on the left is Jackie's, and you can see how
          there's significant gapping in the area where the bush on the left is to meet the house.
          Also, notice how the shading on the roof is looking a bit straggly, and not very crisp.
          Finally, see how the bottom right section is 1/4 inch out of alignment with the design.

          Compare that with the design on the right, that was stitched on felt with cutaway
          stabilizer. The differences are amazing!

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          Jackie's idea of not using stabilizer with her fabric choice didn't work because of the
          physics of embroidery. As each stitch is made, the fibers of the fabric are pulled every
          which way -- up, down, left, and right. The fabric didn't have any stabilizer to hold it in
          place, so it stretched under the weight and tension of the stitches, resulting in
          gapping and shifting.

          The example on the right shows the the results on the same fabric (felt) with cutaway.
          The cutaway stabilizer does a great job holding the fabric nice and even during the
          embroidery, and the results are perfect.

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        That's an example of how a piece can fail if no stabilizer is used. Now let's take a look at
        how a piece fails when the wrong kind of stabilizer is used. Embroiderer Agnes was
        having problems with her Sheltie design. She was using a fabric that was a little heavier
        than linen, with tear-away stabilizer.

        Note the gapping in the back foot area, how it's separating from the leg. Also, stitches
        appear to be missing in the dog's left ear. Compare that to the stitchout on the right,
        which was on fabric backed with cutaway stabilizer.

        The piece on the left failed because the wrong kind of stabilizer was used. When working
        with wildlife or animal designs, designs that are complex with solid fills, cutaway
        stabilizer is going to do the best job. Because wildlife designs have a lot of stitches for
        the layering and shading, the needle is perforating the fabric and stabilizer over-and-over-
        and-over again in the same spots as you embroider the design.

        With each needle perforation, the tear-away stabilizer gets weaker and weaker until
        nothing is left to support the fabric. That leaves the fabric fibers free to shift and move
        around -- thus the rear leg separated from the body. It also means that stitches are going
        to land on top of each other rather than next to each other. See the gap in the upper
        ear? The stitches are actually there -- but they look like they're missing because they
        landed in the wrong place! You'll note puckering in Agnes's piece, which is also caused
        by tear-away stabilizer. More about that can be found in the article All Puckered Out,
        which you can find by clicking here.

        There are many, many different brands of stabilizer on the market today -- so much that
        it can be a little overwhelming when trying to find the right one. Please feel free to use
        my stabilizer and matching guide, which you can find by clicking here.

        It's also worth mentioning that using too much stabilizer can also cause gapping. Some
        folks use two pieces of cutaway, or two pieces of tear-away, or one of each to make sure
        they have all their bases covered. That will also cause gapping -- the needle working

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        through so many layers gets dull pretty fast, which means that it moves the fibers around
        more and more with each perforation. The layers of fabric and stabilizer shift, and you'll
        see gaps in the stitchout.

          Second, hooping. Not hooping, or not hooping tightly enough, can result in gapping. I
          mentioned before about how stitches add weight to a piece of fabric, and how
          stabilizer helps to support the fabric. The hoop serves a similar purpose.

          As each stitch is made on the fabric, the fabric's physical reaction is to contract under
          the weight and tension of the thread. The hoop's purpose is to counteract that natural,
          physical reaction, and keep the fabric nice and even. If you're hooping the stabilizer,
          but not the fabric, then you may see gapping and shifting.

          Take a look at this example:

                                                                             We embroidered two
                                                                             sweatshirts with the same
                                                                             design -- one sweatshirt was
                                                                             hooped with stabilizer, and
                                                                             one was stitched with the
                                                                             stabilizer hooped and the
                                                                             sweatshirt adhered to the
                                                                             stabilizer with temporary

                                                                             Sections of the sweatshirt are
                                                                             side by side to the left. Note
                                                                             how the unhooped sweatshirt
                                                                             has less coverage (the blue
                                                                             sweatshirt is peeking through)
                                                                             and how there's a gap in the
                                                                             hat. Now, this is a minor
                                                                             problem, and if someone is
                                                                             standing 4 feet away they
                                                                             won't be able to tell, but if
                                                                             you're like me, you want your
                                                                             embroidery to look great!

                                                                             Here's another section of the
                                                                             sweatshirt showing similar
                                                                             gapping, and fuzzy stitches.
                                                                             Remember that the fabric
                                                                             wants to contract and pull
                                                                             together under the stitches,
                                                                             and hoop's job is to counteract
                                                                             that, and hold the fabric nice
                                                                             and tight.

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          I know a lot of embroiderers don't want to hoop the fabric, for a variety of reasons.
          Maybe the fabric is hard to hoop (like thick and thirsty bath towels), or they don't want
          to wash the item to remove the mark left by the hoop. I understand -- really I do! I
          struggle with hooping towels too, it usually takes me 2 - 3 tries to get it in the hoop
          with the stabilizer. But to get the best results, hoop as much as possible.

          Also, keep in mind that even if you hoop everything, your hoop has weak spots. If you
          have a rectangular hoop, the weak spot is the lower left corner. If the fabric is hooped
          loosely, or slipping in the hoop, you're most likely to find the problem in that area.

          Embroiderer Anne Campbell wrote an excellent article about reinforcing the weak
          areas of the hoop -- click here to find it. And, many embroiderers have submitted tips
          that help with hooping, from using foam pencil grips on the screw to using rubberized
          shelf liner to using rubber bands and double-sided tape to make sure that fabric is
          hooped firmly. Click here to find those tips. The ideas that have been sent in are

          Third, bobbin tension troubles. This is most common when working with designs that
          have outlines, but I've also seen examples with complex designs that have solid fills.

          If you're stitching designs that have a thin outline, and your outline is separating from
          the main part of the design; and if you are 100% sure that you're using the right fabric
          and stabilizer combination, then try loosing your bobbin tension just a bit. If your
          bobbin tension is a little too tight, that's going to pull the stitches down, and the fabric
          fibers out, and that'll cause your outline to be off.

          If you're working with a design that has solid fills adjacent to each other, and you're
          finding that there's a slight separation between the fills, that's an indication that your
          bobbin tension is a little too tight.

          Please note that in order for a bobbin to cause gapping in an embroidered piece, the
          tension would need to be dramatically off, and you'd probably notice that problem in
          other areas, too. It may be time to take the machine in for service, and ask the tech to
          check the bobbin tension.

          One good way to see if your bobbin tension is right is to stitch a design that has a
          satin column -- small letters are good choices. Flip the piece over and look at the
          backside. If you see that 1/3 to 1/2 of the stitches in the satin column are bobbin
          stitches, then that bobbin tension is right.

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          Fourth, hoop obstruction. This is unusual, but worth mentioning. A few months ago an
          embroiderer contacted us -- she was having problems with sections of the design
          being out of place. She was using a sturdy fabric with cutaway stabilizer, and we
          worked with her for several days trying to find the problem.

          She finally found the problem -- a tissue box had fallen behind the machine, and the
          hoop was hitting it as it was moving around! That caused the stitches to be out of
          alignment. It's worth noting that before beginning a project, check to make sure that
          your work space is free of anything that could restrict the hoop's movement.

          And, if you have little critters in your home, keep a close eye on them when you're
          working! We've received some adorable photos that gave us "paws." We know that
          we wouldn't be inspired without our little kitties Rocco, Trixie, and Natasha helping us
          in our sewing room, but do make sure that your felines are well out of the way in
          order to avoid a "catastrophe."

           Lacy, the kitty, spends a lot of hours with                       Missy takes charge of hooping method
            embroiderer Kathy, stitching together.                                   and stabilizer choice.

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                 Jazelle is caught sleeping on the job                         Ramona is dedicated to thread
                       in Susan's sewing room.                                care in Rebecca's sewing room.

             Misty makes sure that all fabric is pre-
                                                                              Lily is responsible for timing and
            washed and folded, so that embroiderer
                                                                             calibration in Janice's sewing room.
              Jo can get a jump start on projects.

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                                    Snoops is the king of trims in Priscilla's sewing room.

          To make sure that your embroidery is free of gaps and holes, remember these four
          points of great registration:

          1. Choose the right stabilizer for the fabric;
          2. Hoop the fabric with the stabilizer as often as possible, and if necessary,
             reinforce those weak areas of your hoop;
          3. Make sure that thread tension (especially bobbin tension) is balanced;
          4. Keep your work area free of any obstruction.

                                                             Kenny is a master digitizer and Vice President of
                                                             Production at Embroidery Library, Inc.

                                                             Ask Kenny! Send email to

          Click here for a printable version of this article.

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                         Previous "Korners" can be found by clicking on the link below:
                                                 See Them All

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