Does Machine Embroidery Shrink Fabric? 6 Causes of Fabric Distortion

Does Machine Embroidery Shrink Fabric? 6 Causes of Fabric Distortion


Technically, embroidering on fabric won’t actually „shrink“ fabric but as stitches are embroidered into the fabric and the machine pulls each stitch taut, distortion occurs, which can result in the appearance of „shrinkage.“ These distortions occur as a result of „push“ and „pull.“ Stitches push out on their open ends or parallel to the length of the thread and pull in along the sides where stitch direction reverses. Digitizers attempt to correct for these distortions through the use of proper compensation.

Primary Causes of Fabric Distortion

A list of the usual suspects that impact distortion include:

  1. The design. Stitch intensive designs–those with lots of fills particularly when combined with high density and many stitch directions–apply more stress and contribute to greater pushing and pulling. Appropriate underlay and digitizing techniques can reduce excessive push and pull.
  2. The fabric. Stretchy, unstable fabrics distort more than stable ones–which is why we use stabilizers.
  3. The stabilizer. The correct stabilizer can support the design on the selected fabric without adding undesirable stiffness or thickness to the final result.
  4. Machine speed. The faster a machine sews the more distortion it imparts. Slowing the machine down will reduce distortions.
  5. Machine tensions. The more tightly a stitch is pulled during the sewing process, the more the stitching will pull on the fabric. And while your tension may be balanced, the tension can still be too tight overall.
  6. Hoop tensions. Unless you are embroidering on Lycra or a similar fabric that will be worn stretched on the body, fabric should be hooped with a neutral tension and not stretched between the rings of the hoop.

Should You Embroider Before or After Cutting Fabric?

If you are embroidering on fabric that will be made into a garment or pieced into a quilt, I recommend embroidering first and then cutting out the fabric pattern or piece. Not only will you be able to combat any shrinkage, you will also be able to fine-tune your placement.

Some Additional Notes on Fabric Shrinkage

Actual fabric shrinkage can occur during washing and drying, especially if the fabric was not pre-shrunk prior to embroidering. If you’ve ever purchased a knit garment with a large or dense design on it you may have experienced this: It looked great until you washed and dried it, after which it resembled a roller coaster with dips and hills. Stabilizers will not prevent this kind of shrinkage; it’s not the stabilizer or the thread that has shrunk, it’s the fabric sandwiched in between.

The best prevention in this case is pre-washing and drying, possibly several times. While that extra step is not a big a deal for home embroiderers or when working on a few items, washing and drying garments can turn into a major effort for production work. If you think it will provide the best result, let your customer know why you think so (samples help!) and let them know what the extra charge will be.

For more information on compensation, please see my Ezine article Understanding Compensation – An Embroiderer’s Guide to Digitizing Terminology.

Source by Lindee Goodall

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