“Embroidery was the love of writing your dreams with a needle, with a pearl, with anything that could enchant and bring tenderly to life a décor, an ambiance, a souvenir.” – Francois Lesage
“…embroidery is a dynamic and exciting medium. And today is all about losing your inhibitions, losing your fear of creativity.” – Lou Gardiner
Embroidery is an ancient art that began with bone, sinew, and animal pelts. During the 1700s, displaying or wearing embroidered material was a clear sign of wealth. All embroidery was done by hand – an agonizingly slow process that made it incredibly expensive.
Things have certainly changed since then. Modern technology has given us computerized embroidery, a fun hobby and potential business opportunity for creative individuals.
What is computerized embroidery?
Also called digital embroidery, this pastime is the newest and fastest way to decorate fabric with thread. A computerized embroidery machine holds a small piece of the fabric taut and moves the needle in accordance with a programmed pattern.
For sale to the public are home embroidery machines and commercial embroidery machines, both requiring the use of a computer. Home machines are built for small projects; they usually have one needle, meaning they can do only one garment at a time. About the same size as a traditional sewing machine, they don’t take up much space. Commercial machines, on the other hand, are built for production work and have several needles. These beasts can take up entire rooms and cost several thousand dollars.
How does computerized embroidery work?
First, you’ll need a design file. The individuals who create the design files are called punchers. If you are new to the embroidery process, you’ll probably want to purchase your designs. There are two main file formats:
- Source Formats: these files are easy to edit and specific to the software that was used to make the design.
- Machine Formats: these files are specific to a certain brand of embroidery machine. Because they contain offsets (stitch data) and machine functions such as trims and jumps, these files are difficult to edit.
All embroidery files contain information like original artwork, object outlines, and thread colors. Despite the fact that some vendors advertise auto-digitizing capabilities, it is best to purchase a solid digitized design if you are not a trained puncher.
Although different embroidery machines are compatible with different machine formats, some file types have become so common that even rival brands support them. If you find a design you like, but your machine isn’t compatible with the file type, you can use a conversion program.
Once you have chosen a design, you can use embroidery software (on your computer) to make changes, such as:
- Add text
- Change color
- Add or remove individual stitches
When your design is perfect, it’s time to load it into your embroidery machine. Depending on the machine, you might upload via a flash drive, USB connection, or CD. Next, you need to stabilize your fabric to prevent problems (like wrinkles). The type of machine, type of fabric, and density of design are all factors that must be considered when stabilizing the fabric. Small designs use a hoop (something you attach to the machine) to stabilize the fabric. The arm is responsible for moving the hoop under the needle. Types of stabilizing include:
- Open Mesh
Finally, turn on the machine and monitor its progress . Most home machines require the user to cut jumps and change thread color manually.
Monograms are one of the most common requests for embroiderers. A monogram refers to letters, usually a person’s initials, that are stylistically combined or overlapped.
Machine Embroidery Business Ideas
Many individuals have taken advantage of today’s embroidery technology to create home businesses. This is only possible because we have technology that greatly reduce the time it takes to embroider. In addition, you can find lots of designs online and purchase them right from your computer! The only time you’ll need to leave the house is when you need to buy supplies. A home embroidery business is a creative outlet and a fun way to make money, especially if you are retired or must stay at home.
There are lots of perks about having a business at home:
- You can set your own hours
- You decide how much you spend
- You set your own prices
- You can expand your business and hire assistants or keep it small
Before you purchase your first machine, do some research about the custom embroidery market. There are associations you can join, shows you can attend, and books you can read. Decide to whom you are marketing and write a business and marketing plan. The type of items you will be producing depends on your target market.
When you’re ready to purchase a machine, consider both new and used options. Most machines hook up to a computer and include some built-in software. Make sure the machine you purchase has a warranty along with training/support. Consider your production goals and the types of materials you will be using. Finally, take your budget into consideration. You can always purchase a home machine now and upgrade to a commercial machine later.
If your business is small and you have a lot of time on your hands, you might be able to do it all on your own. However, you might want to talk with the following people first:
- IRS – Register your company and figure out if you need any licenses.
- Accountant – Make sure you know all about taxes, insurance, and liability.
- Business assistant – Do you need to hire someone to manage marketing, customer service, orders, and accounting?
- Suppliers – You need to know where you’ll be purchasing your materials and how to order quickly.
In addition to an embroidery machine and a computer, you will also need:
- Computer software
- Stock embroidery designs
Commercial machines cost $10,000 or more. If you are new to the world of embroidery, start with a home machine (these can be anywhere from $200 to $3,000). For start-up supplies, figure in about $500. Some basic software will be included in the machine, but an advanced program sells for about $2,000. Check professional embroidery sites like www.stitches.com for more info on pricing.
Potential Customers & Marketing
The materials you buy depend on your customers. Here are some examples:
- Sports teams – athletic apparel
- Interior décor
- Pet items
- Corporate apparel
- Weddings, graduations, baby showers, & family reunions
The first step in finding customers is word of mouth. Let your friends and family know that you are starting a business. Talk with local schools, businesses, churches, and clubs. Advertise in your local sporting goods store and newspaper. Build a database and send out emails and/or newsletters. Consider creating a website both to help market your products and allow customers to purchase items online.
Once you have created a database, you can start to expand. But remember, it is more cost-effective to market to your current database than to search for new customers. It is important to create and maintain relationships with your customers. Encourage them to tell their friends about you. Some ways to maintain a good relationship with your customers include great customer service and thank-you notes.
To find new customers, consider the following:
- Network as much as possible, both online and offline
- Donate products
- Ask a current customer for a referral
- Advertise at art fairs/trade shows
Finally, establish a unique personality for your business that makes you stand out from competitors. What can you offer your customers that they can get nowhere else? Because a small, at home business cannot compete with big manufacturers, it is important to remain customer-focused, not profit-focused. Good luck and happy embroidering!