Getting Started in Embroidery
BY MATTHEW RICHARDSON
Tips and tricks for ensuring your start in embroidery is successful.
Like so many entrepreneurs in this industry, I started my screen print shop, Relentless Merch, Lincoln, Neb., in 2012 in my garage. My first piece of equipment was a four-color single-station manual press.
After three years, once I had mastered the screen printing process, I knew if I didn’t want customers going down the street, I needed to offer embroidery.
As a screen printer adding embroidery, you may wonder how this experience is going to compare. I was recently asked if embroidery or screen printing was easier and I said, “Screen printing is a lot more labor intensive, but embroidery requires a lot more patience.”
Essential Tools of the Trade
When you are getting started and on a budget, you have to make decisions about which accessories to add first. Here are some must-have embroidery aids.
Placement and Hooping Aid. I highly recommend purchasing a Placement and Hooping Aid. It takes the guesswork out of knowing where to place the hoop, which is especially important with new employees. It also speeds up the process and reduces errors.
Thread Tension Gauge. You also will want to get a gauge to measure and adjust the top thread tension. A bobbin thread meter serves the same purpose. It lets you know if your tension is within the recommended range so you can adjust it if it’s not.
Poor tension causes thread breaks, skipped stitches, looping and other issues that will slow down your production and produce poor-quality sewouts. Tension meters help prevent that. They are easy to use, and they make embroidery more dummy proof.
Magnetic Hoops. Most machines, even used, will come with hoops, but I recommend investing in magnetic ones. These differ from traditional hoops in that the top piece does not go inside the bottom piece. It lays on top and magnets hold it together, sandwiching the stabilizer and the fabric between the magnetic pieces. The advantage is you don’t get hoop burn, and you save time trying to remove the marks.
Magnetic hoops have been a game changer at my shop. My crew doesn't know what it's like to not have them. Sometimes they have to get out the old hoops, and they hate me for it.
Quality Thread. Thread brands vary in quality. Beware of cheaper, off-brand products, because typically they cause many more problems when sewing. What you save in thread, you lose in labor.
Tip: Stick With One Brand. We use only polyester, because it’s stronger than rayon and has less thread breaks. No two manufacturers’ colors are going to exactly match so by sticking with one maker, you can send clients a digital color thread chart, and they can pick what they want. If you mix brands, you might not be able to match a color they picked.
Focus on Making money. I added embroidery originally because I knew I needed it to retain my customers, and it wasn’t until after I bought the six head, I realized I needed to focus more on making money. You don’t make money having an employee sit in front of a singlehead all day watching it sew. You need to have at least three singleheads or two singles and a six head to make it worthwhile to pay an operator to run them.
Contract the digitizing. We farmed out the digitizing until we started making money on embroidery. We passed the cost directly through to the customer and had the benefit of it being done right every time.
Today, we digitize simple jobs like sewing on a patch or woven tags, but if it's something complex, it's easier to farm it out and keep my guys running embroidery machines all day.
Keep Processes Separated. Ideally, keep your screen printing and embroidery in separate rooms or at least separated areas. Otherwise, the lint from your screen printing jobs builds up on the threads causing tension issues.
Build Up Customer Base First. In hindsight, instead of buying a used machine, I should have used a contract embroiderer until I built up my embroidery customers to the point, they would pay for a new machine. In the beginning, I wasn’t making money on it.
That dynamic changed when I brought in our six head. I was able to produce large quantities easily. We also started doing puffy foam, which was a door opener, because we had a lot of requests. It also has a wide field, so we're doing a lot of bigger locations.
Many entrepreneurs got their start in this industry with no money, knowledge or expertise. I was certainly in that category. But through patience, perseverance and a lot of hard work, today I have a thriving shop with two automatics and 10 employees. Don’t get discouraged when first starting out. You will make some mistakes and some of them may be expensive, but if you keep at it, you will succeed.