Got a question for Jen? Send an email.

Q: How do I place an order? How do I download my designs?

Unfortunately I don't have an online store with instant download, but given that limitation, I have tried to make ordering as straightforward as possible by pricing nearly all the designs at a single price for each of the three sizes --  all 5" designs are $6 each, all 4" designs are $5 each, and all 3" designs are $4 each. There is a 20% discount on packs of five in all sizes, and you can mix and match designs from any of the catalog pages. The process is simple enough: Order the size and number of designs you want, send me your list, and I will e-mail the designs to you within 24 hours of receiving the notice from Paypal. The exceptions to this pricing are few: the in-the-hoop designs, the alphabets, and custom designs are priced separately. You can find order forms in the upper right of each page, and there is more detailed information about how to order, along with generic order forms, at this link. If you're still confounded, you can send me a list of the designs you want and I will let you know the amount to send via paypal.

Q: I find the ordering process cumbersome; do you have plans for an online store?

I'd love to have an instant download set-up but unfortunately I haven't been able to figure out how to manage one with my web hosting platform, not yet anyway. Last year I spent the money on an on-line store feature, and three months of my time painstakingly adding designs, working many hours each day. After all that work, I had only a fraction of the designs listed when I discovered that my quota for products had been reached! (Nothing in the site host's information spells out that there's an upper limit, never mind telling you what it is, and you can't scope out how the store functions until after you have purchased it  . . . Grrr.)  So I abandoned the idea of a store for the time being because there wasn't room for all of the designs on this site to be accommodated, and it would take me a year or more to get them all loaded up.

Given that this site is mainly a hobby for me and that it doesn't generate enough revenue to pay for my Internet access, putting all of these designs, in several formats and three sizes is an incredible amount of work. I am already spending a minimum of 30 hours a week on digitizing and updates, so I think my only option for now is to leave things as they are. I do check my e-mail several times a day every day and I fill orders as they come in. You will always receive your designs within 24 hours at the most, unless there is a problem with e-mail.

Q: What does it mean to "digitize" a logo or design for embroidery? Can't I just send the image directly to my machine for stitching?


A:Embroidery machines cannot read image formats directly, and so cannot use jpgs, pngs, gifs, or other image files. Logos and other images must be "translated" into a language the machine can understand, using specialized software that the digitizer uses to create a kind of stitch map for the machine to follow. This process is known in the trade as digitizing.

Digitizers draw the stitch map in the software, either freehand or by following the outlines of an existing an existing image or logo. The design isn't "converted" from an image; instead, it is recreated by hand as a digitized design file and saved in one of the many formats that embroidery machines use. An effectively digitized design has to accommodate the limitations and features of the embroidery process and the technical demands of the embroidery machine, while also satisfying the client's visual and aesthetic expectations, so a digitizer has to adjust and adapt the image so that it can be portrayed with thread. This means taking into account size, proportion, stitch order, underlay, cuts and jumps, stitch direction, pull compensation, and any special stitch effects that may be required. Embroidery has some technical limitations that don't exist in image software, particularly with respect to fine lines, small lettering, and cross-hatching/shading effects. These elements would have to be re-interpreted by the digitizer in making an embroidery design.

Digitizing programs are typically very complex  and very challenging to learn, just like any other complex program. If you have experience with programs like AutoCAD or Photoshop, you will have some idea what's involved in learning the digitizing process. Like these programs, the software for digitizing can take years to master.

What embroidery software do you use? How did you learn to digitize?

I work in Embird Studio, which I have been using for nearly 20 years. All of the designs on the site were produced with Embird.
Like most beginners, I began by working with the software that I purchased along with my first embroidery machine -- in my case Brother's PE Design. However, I never did get beyond its auto-digitizing function, because I found the program cumbersome and not at all intuitive. I wasn't especially satisfied with the results it produced either, so I found that I still had to "clean up" the finished design in Embird Editor in order to get something usable. It was a painstaking process, and though it did improve the designs considerably, it wasn't anything like the equal of digitizing by hand.
When I was ready to progress to manual digitizing, I opted for Embird's digitizing software rather than continuing with PE Design, and I have never regretted it. Like any complex program, it has a steep learning curve, but since I had already been working with their editor program and found it more user-friendly than PE Design, I decided to go with the Embird product rather than struggle to figure out PE Design's manual digitizing process.  It was certainly the right decision for me, and I can recommend it most enthusiastically.
Over the past decade, I have digitized hundreds of designs, many of which are featured on the site; currently I spend approximately 5 hours a day digitizing or working on the site. I add new designs regularly, so be sure to check back to see what's new.

I have heard of something called "auto-digitizing", which automaticallyturns an image into an embroidery design. Can I make my own designs that way?

Most embroidery software packages include an automatic digitizing function, which reads a line drawing and produces a stitch map automatically.
However, because digitizing is a delicate process that requires both artistry and skill, designs made this way can look amateurish, and almost always will stitch out poorly. The illustrations belowshow examples of auto-digitized designs and hand-digitized versions of the same images.

This "Love" patch at top right was one  of the first designs I ever made, way back when I first tried my hand at digitizing. For this illustration, I left it just as the auto-digitizer produced it, without any touch-up.

Like many embroiderers, I started out with the auto-digitizing function in the software that I bought along with my first machine, in this  PEDesign. But like most embroiderers, I was far from satisfied with the results I achieved. This patch didn't sew out at all the way I had envisioned.

At bottom right is the hand-digitized version that I made once I learned how to digitize by hand. I slightly changed the shape of the letters, but that's not the main improvement -- the difference in stitch quality is obvious even in these screen simulations.

As in the previous example, you can easily see the difference between auto-digitizing and hand-digitizing when you look at a design, but the difference isn't only in appearance. The quality of the stitching is also at issue.   Auto- digitizing tends to have many more color jumps and more problems with registration. Fine details are also more difficult to manage neatly.

You can quickly spot these differences if you look closely at Don's hands and face (left) or at the windows and lettering on the space ship (below).

At right, the two versions of my elementary school may look similar, but the hand-digitized version stitches out more neatly, with far fewer jump stitches.

Like many digitizers, I like to minimize the use of outlines in my hand- digitized designs because they are so often the cause of registration problems (when the outline doesn't quite line up with the rest of the stitches). This is not only due to the regular push-pull effect of the fill stitching, but can also be the result of variations in hooping, stabilizer, or fabric choice.

I also think the look is neater without the outlines, which clutter the first (rejected) version of the design.

By the time I first digitized the Arrow design (far left), I had become proficient enough to obtain what I thought was a reasonable result using PE Design auto, as long as I also did some pretty extensive corrective editing in Embird Editor. Starting with a clear, high-quality line drawing also helps to improve an auto-digitized design. 

Although at the time I first completed it, I was mostly satisfied with the Avro Arrow design (above, left), my standards changed once I started using Embird Studio, and I found myself re-digitizing the whole thing. You may have to look closely to see the differences in the maple leaf and the jet itself, but the design is hugely improved and gives a muchcleaner and more professional stitch-out.

What are the limitations of embroidery digitizing? Is there anything that can't be stitched out?

Although most illustrations can be digitized, some may need to be altered or simplified to accommodate the technical limitations of the process.

For example, very small lettering and very fine lines do not generally reproduce well with embroidery. Embroidery techniques can also vary depending on the material to be stitched; machine embroidery needs a firm foundation, so is more compatible with sturdy woven fabrics than with soft knits or fleece, which tend to distort during the stitching process. However, even these materials can be embroidered if the design is suitable and proper stabilizer is used. Embroidery Library has some really good tutorials on embroidering on these and other challenging materials, and they're worth checking out.

Why is the 4" design I downloaded actually only 3.9"?

Although your embroidery hoop is nominally 4x4", this measurement is only an approximation. The actual stitching field is smaller -- about 3.9", in fact. Therefore, a design sized to exactly 4" in the digitizing software would be too large to fit into the hoop. Similarly, the stitch field for a 5x5" or 5x7" hoop is slightly smaller than its nominal dimensions. For this reason I have sized my 4" designs to approximately 3.9" across the widest dimension, and my 5" designs to approximately 4.9" at their widest or tallest, so as to ensure that they will stitch satisfactorily within the actual sewing field. The difference of 1/10 of an inch is so slight that you won't notice it in the finished stitch-out.
I can render most of the designs on this site in larger sizes, so if you are interested in a larger version of any of the designs please send me your query.

Do I really need to buy the same design in different sizes? Can't I re-size it using my embroidery software?

While it is technically possible to re-size embroidery designs using software such as Buzz Tools or Embird Editor, the process isn't foolproof, and results can vary quite dramatically from one design to another. Some designs re-size without presenting problems, but others will be ruined. Because the process is so iffy, particularly for complex designs, most embroidery editing programs recommend that you re-size a design no more than 10% at most. However, you should know that even this small amount can affect the quality of the finished stitch-out.

Depending on the nature and complexity of the design, it may or may not come through the re-sizing process successfully, and nearly every design will lose some of its quality after being re-sized.  At worst, enlarging or reducing a design can compromise the stitch coverage and density, rendering the design too stitch-heavy -- resulting in a "cardboard" effect when it's stitched, and possibly breaking needles -- or producing stitch-outs with very poor coverage. Both satin stitches and fills can be affected. For example, enlarging satin stitches too much can cause your machine to read them as jump stitches, resulting in a complete failure to stitch; reducing them can produce a column so narrow that it makes holes in the fabric you're stitching on. Changing the size of a design can also compromise many fancy stitch fills, and can cause show-through of the fabric underneath.

All that said, if you do decide to experiment with changing the size of a design, make sure to save the re-sized design with a different file name from the original (the re-sizing process isn't reversible once you've closed the design file, and if you save the design with the original name and then discover that re-sizing has compromised it, you won't be able to restore it to its original quality). It's always a good idea to test-stitch any design before attempting to apply it to a garment, but doing a test stitch-out is essential for a re-sized design. That way, if there are problems with density or coverage, you have at least avoided ruining your garment.

Although it costs a little more, it's always better to buy the design in the size(s) you need rather than to rely on enlarging or reducing a design with your software.

Why does the same color stitch more than once in a single design? Can't I use the color-sort function in my software to reduce the number of color changes?

Nobody likes doing extra thread changes, and it's sometimes tempting to sort colors so that each one stitches only once. However, assuming that the design has been carefully digitized, you probably should not color-sort it. A good digitizer will set the stitch order to allow for more effective placement of portions of the design. As an example, consider this design of a hand holding a baton; although there are only two thread colors in the design, it stitches in three stages, as shown in the exploded illustration: the bottom part of the hand, then the baton, then the remaining fingers.

Though I could have digitized the design to stitch in two steps, I don't think the quality would be as good. The design is more realistic when the fingers are stitched on top of the baton, giving the impression that they are closed over it, as they would be in reality.
In a design like this one, color-sorting would be a mistake and can actually ruin your stitch-out of a design.
The picture at far left shows the design color-sorted so that both hand segments stitch first, followed by the baton.  Unfortunately, the black connecting stitch runs over the fingers, ruining the stitch-out. Even if the connecting stitch were removed, the baton obscures part of the thumb and little finger.
The picture on the right isn't a whole lot better. This color sort stitches the black baton first, followed by the hand segments. But part of the baton is now obscured by the palm of the hand, and the connecting stitch can be seen crossing over the baton. The picture below shows how the design should look when stitched in three steps, as it was digitized.
Had I digitized the design with only one color change, I would have ended up with many more jumps and cuts. My embroidery machine knots and cuts the thread at each jump, creating unattractive and uncomfortable lumps on the inside of a garment. Partly for this reason, I like to eliminate as many of these as possible when I'm laying out a design.

Unless the design you're using has been carelessly or inexpertly digitized, most of the time you are better to leave the color sorting as-is. If you're not sure, try viewing the stitching sequence in your embroidery software before attempting a color-sort. In most cases, you'll discover why the digitizer chose to order the colors as they are.

Why are embroidery designs, and especially custom designs, often so expensive?

The primary reason is that they are complex to create, requiring not only a great deal of time but also a level of skill that takes years to master.

You've probably seen ads for digitizing software that suggest you can simply plug in your illustration and end up with a professional-looking design. This is just not the case. Auto-digitized designs are relatively quick to produce, but the quality is very low: in my experience they almost always need hours of tedious stitch-by-stitch correction before they will sew out even halfway satisfactorily. A manually digitized design produced by an experienced digitizer will sew out as it should, and even a beginning embroiderer can immediately see the difference. However, it takes years of practice to learn how to produce a good design, and many hours to digitize each one.

Given the time and expertise required for digitizing, the real question is why embroidery designs are actually so relatively cheap!  Commercial companies depend on volume sales of their stock designs to offset the heavy investment in digitizing time; for the same reason, most do not accept custom custom work because it just doesn't pay them to spend hours digitizing something that is of interest to only one customer.

This leaves a niche in the market for small businesses or individuals who have the skill and who are willing to do custom work. They may set prices according to stitch count, color changes, design complexity, or time spent, or they may offer to do a custom job for a set price (anywhere from $35 to $50 per design). To get an idea of how much of a deal this is, think about the level of skill needed and the time it takes to actually produce a design (on average, 4-5 hours for a simple design, and as much as 18-24 hours for a complex design), then multiply that by what you make per hour at your own job, you'll easily see what a bargain you're getting when you purchase a custom design. Considering the work involved and the skill required, this is actually a terrific bargain for a complex product that most embroiderers cannot produce for themselves.

Do you have any plans to add ART format? Can I use your designs in a Bernina machine?

I'd love to be able to offer ART format, but unfortunately I don't have a program that will write it, since it is proprietary to Bernina and not available to developers of other software. I suppose this is because -- naturally enough, I guess -- they want to sell their own digitizing programs.

Depending on the model of Bernina machine you have, there may be a work-around for you. Apparently some of the Bernina machines can also read PES (and a few can read DST, PEC, PHC, or HUS). Embroidery Library has a helpful chart with this information; they are very reliable and their information is always up to date. Or try this site for similar information. 
 
If you have an ART-only machine, Bernina does offer a free program called Artlink that allows you to save files to a special Bernina USB or disk for use in one of their machines. It won't convert and write to a hard drive, however, so unless you have a Bernina machine and special USB, you can't use it to create ART files, so it's not an option for me to offer ART on the site. One of my clients with a Bernina machine has used the Artlink program with success. Here's what she said: "You just download the software, install and then simply open the PES files in the software program…once you’re happy with choosing hoop etc, simply save as an .ART file, and write the design to a your Bernina USB stick. Plug into the embroidery machine and Bob’s your uncle!" The link I've given is the one my client used, since unless they have recently repaired it, the link on the Bernina USA site has a glitch in it.

I have also heard that Tajima has a converter program called Ambassador that will write ART files, but I don't know much about it. It's supposed to be a free download, but the last few times I checked, the link on their site was broken and I wasn't even able to access the download page.

I understand that the magic box for Bernina could convert other files to ART, but apparently the product has been discontinued and is no longer being supported by the manufacturer, so that's out as an option unless you can acquire one second-hand and connect it to an older computer.

Finally, one of my clients reported that she was able to take embroidery files to her dealer, who could convert them for her. This obviously wouldn't work if you have lots of files to be converted but might serve in a pinch if you need one or two done.

Look for more freebies throughout the site!