Got a question for Jen? Send an email.

Q: How do I place an order? How do I download the designs I have purchased?

Unfortunately I don't have instant download; you will receive the designs by e-mail attachment (or via a download link) within 24 hours of placing your order.  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. You can find 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 didn't receive the designs I ordered. What happens now?

If you don't hear from me within 24 hours, please e-mail me. I check my e-mail multiple times a day, every day, and I process orders as they come in. This means you should *always* receive a response within a few hours of placing an order. You will receive a download link from me where you can access a zipped file containing the designs themselves (if I have your list), or an e-mail query asking for the names of the designs you wanted.

If you haven't heard from me in that time, something is amiss with the e-mail connection. Please click here for more information.

Q: I notice in the instructions for the Tiny ITH Toys that accompany the Mini Stocking Ornaments, you suggest using plastic as stabilizer. Won't that hurt my machine?

A: In a word, no, it won't hurt your machine, any more than regular stabilizer would do. Here's why:

In machine embroidery, stabilizer performs two important functions. Its first purpose is to provide a sturdy foundation for the embroidery stitches, especially on knits or lightweight fabric. When properly selected and hooped, it helps to keep the design from distorting during stitching or losing its shape when the project is laundered. Plastic isn't the best for this purpose and is best saved for sturdier fabrics, unless reinforced with a piece of tear-away or cut-away stabilizer (see below). 

However, the second job performed by stabilizer is just as important: it anchors the project to the hoop so that the machine can move the fabric around to form the design. This combination of hoop movement and needle movement is what makes a complex embroidery design possible, so it's important that the fabric move to the precise position required by the software. But because the hoop is larger all around than its largest stitch area, you always end up with a fair amount of "waste" stabilizer when the stitching is complete.

We all know how expensive stabilizer is, but what many of us don't realize is that on many projects, you can actually use plastic to perform the second of these functions. For example, a plastic wrap like Glad Press & Seal works well for some applications that require only a lightweight stabilizer -- and its sticky surface means you won't need spray adhesive, at least for small projects. Plastic bags are even more economical than Glad wrap, and are cheap or free.

As you can see from the photos, using these alternatives results in less wasted stabilizer, and perhaps best of all, recycling plastic bags reduces the amount of plastic you send to the landfill. If your project requires regular tearaway or cutaway stabilizer, you can cut a piece just large enough to back your design, meaning that you don't need to waste stabilizer by filling the entire hoop. You can plainly see how this works in the images below, taken from the instructions for my ITH Toy Eyes.

Although I would not use plastic as a stabilizer on wearables like shirts or other clothing, I do routinely use it when I stitch patches, when I embroider names and motifs on Christmas stockings, bags, and banners, and of course when I make many in-the-hoop projects, such as ornaments or those Tiny Toys that slip into the Mini Stocking Ornaments

For projects such as patches or embroidered ornaments, I hoop the plastic, spray and place a piece of fabric on top of the plastic in the hoop, then spray and adhere a piece of tear-away stabilizer to the bottom of the plastic, beneath the hoop. You end up with a three-layered "sandwich" with the plastic between the fabric and the tear-away stabilizer.  Here's a great youtube video (not mine) showing this technique in action; he's using a commercial machine, but the method works just as well on my PR600. And here's another video showing the same sort of technique demonstrated on a home machine.

The tiny toys are a little different from patches. They are stitched on felt, and because they need to remain pliable enough for stuffing, I just use the felt directly on plastic without adding additional tear-away stabilizer as I would for patches. I just spray the felt with adhesive and stick it in place, or tape it in position, then stitch as shown in the instructions for each toy. Using plastic in this way allows me to reduce waste of both stabilizer and felt.

Here you can see the Tiny Lion stitching on one layer of felt on top of the plastic that anchors it in the hoop.

Before the final line of stitching sews out, I remove the hoop from the machine and tape (don't spray)a second piece of felt to the underside of the hoop, sandwiching the plastic between. This will form the back of the toy. Replace the hoop and run the final line of stitching.

The finished lion toy, ready to be cut out. The felt piece that forms the back of the toy was placed on the bottom of the hoop, so that the plastic is sandwiched between the front and back pieces of felt; it will be trimmed away in the final steps of the project.

Click here to see the complete instructions for the Tiny Lion.

I've also used plastic on other projects where the inside doesn't show -- such as the embroidery on lined Christmas stockings, banners, pillows, or bags -- adding a piece of cut-away or tear-away stabilizer as necessary. If the item will be pressed or ironed, either during construction or after completion, you'll probably want to skip using plastic, or at least remove it after stitching is complete, since it will likely shrink from the heat of the iron and cause wrinkling to the embroidery.

To embroider these projects, start by hooping the plastic as before. Then attach the stabilizer to the wrong side of the fabric using a light spray of temporary adhesive. Position the stabilized fabric on top of the plastic in the hoop, holding it in place with temporary adhesive spray or with pins. Once the stitching is complete, unhoop and tear away the plastic from the back of the embroidery before finishing up the project.

Here are two stockings that I made using plastic as stabilizer for the embroidery. The stockings are fully lined so the back of the embroidery doesn't show, but I removed the plastic from the back of the embroidery before I stitched the lining in place. 

I have been using plastic bags as stabilizer on projects like these for a few years now and have never had any difficulty, but you may wish to experiment to see how it works for you and your machine.

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

A: Embroidery machines cannot read image formats, and so cannot use jpgs, pngs, gifs, or other image files. Logos and other images cannot be used as-is; instead, a separate embroidery design file must be created and written in a language the machine can understand. This file is a kind of map that tells the machine where to put the stitches, and is created using specialized software designed for writing these kinds of files. This process of creating an embroidery file is known in the trade as digitizing.

Digitizers set down this "map" stitch-by-stitch in the software, either by working freehand or by following the contours of 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 like any other complex program they are very challenging to learn.  If you have experience with programs like AutoCAD or Photoshop, you will have some idea what's involved in learning a complicated piece of software. Like these programs, the software for digitizing can take years to master.

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

A: I work in Embird Studio, which I have been using for about 20 years. All of the designs on the site were produced with Embird.

Like most beginners, I started out digitizing simple designs with the software that I purchased along with my first embroidery machine -- in my case, Brother's PE Design. However, I never did get very far, because I found the program difficult to use. Likely my disappointment with the results was due to my limited experience, but I was never very satisfied with these early designs.

Early on I had also purchased a basic version of Embird, and I found myself using the Editor in Embird to try to "clean up" the finished stitch files that I had made in PE Design, just in order to get something usable. Editing the finished stitch files is a painstaking and imperfect 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, mainly because I had already been working with their editor program and had become comfortable with it, and because I had read such good things about its versatility. The digitizing program, Embird Studio, is a separate add-on, and like any complex program, it has a steep learning curve. I consulted on-line tutorials and began with simple designs. With persistence and patience, and hours and hours of practice, I have been able to get the results I wanted for my own work. 

Becoming a competent digitizer, like mastering any other skill, takes hundreds of hours of application. I'm an inveterate self-teacher, and one of my quirks is that I  love both the challenge and the discipline of learning a new skill. I've been using Embird for 20+ years, and now that I'm retired, I would estimate that I spend an average of 4-5 hours a day with the program. I've digitized thousands of designs, mostly for the challenge of learning, and I continue to refine my skills.

Q: What kind of computer set-up is best for digitizing? Do I need any special equipment?

A: You really do need a full-sized computer and monitor -- an ipad or phone is not sufficient for digitizing. The other essential equipment is a pen mouse and tablet set-up (mine is a Wacom Intuous). A standard computer mouse is just not accurate enough for this kind of work, and frankly, I couldn't imagine trying to lay down the necessary detail without the pen.

I normally work on a desktop computer with a 32" monitor; you really do need a large visual field so you can clearly see details, and you also need to be able to save and easily access your design files, which can be rather large.

When I travel, I carry a laptop and tablet/pen mouse, which I use to access the web site and fill orders, but I don't do a lot of digitizing under those circumstances, since the screen is really too small to work on design details.

After 20 or so years of digitizing, I have a huge collection of designs (my current estimate tops 12,000), which I keep on a portable hard drive. I also regularly back up the work on three other drives, just as a precaution against equipment failure.

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

A: Most embroidery software packages do include an automatic digitizing function, which reads a line drawing and produces a stitch map. If the drawing is clean enough and fairly simple with minimal detail, you can sometimes get decent results from some of the auto programs, and they have been improving with subsequent program updates. However, more complex images typically do not turn out well with auto-digitizing.

Because good digitizing is a delicate process that requires both artistry and skill, an auto-digitized design -- even a simple one -- will never be as good as a well-made hand-digitized design. Most embroiderers end up dissatisfied with auto-digitized designs; almost all have issues with stitch quality, and even simple designs turn out looking crude and amateurish. A great many are not even stitchable at all.

Like most embroiderers who want to digitize their own designs, I started out by using the auto-digitizing feature in my software.  But like most embroiderers, I was far from satisfied with the results I achieved. The illustrations below show examples of auto-digitized designs, compared with hand-digitized versions of the same images.

This "Love" patch at right was one of the first designs I ever made, way back when I first tried my hand at digitizing. It was created using the auto-digitizing function in PEDesign 5.

For the purposes of illustration, I am showing it here just as it came out of the auto-digitizer, without any touch-up. If you look closely you will see many pock-marks on the lettering, plus a gap in the bottom of the E. As you can imagine, it didn't sew out at all the way I had envisioned and the stitch coverage was poor. Possibly I could have improved this design somewhat if I had corrected it stitch by stitch using an editing program such as Embird Editor, and I did do that with a number of my early designs, but that's a very tedious and imperfect process that can't really compensate for poor quality digitizing. And in any case, the flaws in this design are too great to remedy that way; even after correction it would never sew out as well as a hand-digitized design.

The second picture (bottom right) shows a much later version, hand-digitized using Embird Studio.  As I created this design, I kept to the original idea but made my own letters. The difference in stitch quality is obvious even in these screen simulations, and this design sews out as it should.

As in the previous example, you can easily see the difference in the look of an auto-digitized design and one made by hand, but the difference isn't only in appearance. The quality of the stitch-out 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 at first glance, but a closer look will reveal why 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 partly 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 began with a really clear line image and followed up with extensive corrective editing in Embird Editor.

Although at the time I first completed it, I was mostly satisfied with the Avro Arrow design (above, left), my standards changed once I learned to digitize by hand, and I found myself re-digitizing the whole thing. If you look closely, you will  see the differences in both the maple leaf and the jet itself; the design is hugely improved and gives a much cleaner and more professional stitch-out.

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

A: Although most images and illustrations can be recreated as embroidery designs, 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. Subtle shading and hatching are also difficult to achieve with stitching. Embroidery techniques can also vary depending on the material to be stitched; machine embroidery needs a firm foundation, so is more compatible with felt or sturdy woven fabrics than with soft knits or fleece, which can 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.

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

A:  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.

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

A: While it is technically possible to re-size a stitch file 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. For instance, freestanding lace and in-the-hoop designs are among those that can't be re-sized at all.

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 suffer some changes in 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, embroidery software is getting more sophisticated all the time, and re-sizing is a safer bet now than it used to be. 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 close the design file, and if you save the revised design over top of the original 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 in the case of a re-sized design, doing a test stitch-out is essential. That way, if there are problems with density or coverage, you have at least avoided ruining your garment.

When I want to stitch one of my designs in a different size, I always re-digitize it rather than enlarging or reducing the size of the stitch file; if I am sewing someone else's design I would be careful to purchase the design in the size I need. Although it may cost a little more, it's always better to buy the design in the correct size(s) rather than to rely on enlarging or reducing it with your software.

Q:  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?

A: 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, and sometimes that means arranging the design so that the same color sews out over two or even more color changes. 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 now runs over the fingers, ruining the stitch-out. Even if the connecting stitch were removed, the baton obscures part of the thumb and fingers.

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 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.

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

A: 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 of work 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 for hobbyists 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). When you 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 deal for a complex product that most embroiderers cannot produce for themselves.

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

A:  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 can't be written by other software such as Embird. 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.

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

A:  Unfortunately, for the time being at least the answer has to be no; the reasons are a bit complicated, and have to do in part with the history of the site and how it evolved.

When I got my first embroidery machine, I was the beneficiary of some of the free designs generously posted by others, and once I started digitizing my own designs, I wanted to give back in kind. I started this site mainly as a vehicle for sharing a selection of free designs and for showcasing some of my projects, but it was only ever intended as a hobby.

At the same time, I was doing some custom digitizing as a courtesy for people in an embroidery group I belonged to. I was urged by some of them, and by some of the people who were finding the free designs on this site, to make some of my other designs available for purchase. I did this somewhat reluctantly at the start, because really I had learned to digitize mainly so I could create designs that *I* wanted to stitch -- ones that weren't available elsewhere. That's why the site is heavy on heraldic crests and badges, geocaching, math and science, books and teaching, sewing and crafts, and Canadiana: they're all interests of mine, and none are widely available elsewhere. At the same time, it's light on categories like sports, vehicles, holidays (except Christmas, which I love), and Americana, mainly because those subjects are already fully covered by a host of  very good commercial sites, where you can find just about any such design your heart desires.  

Once I decided to post designs for sale, I found myself spending many hours a week on digitizing, and increasingly on the site itself as it grew. The method I devised for orders and payment worked just fine at the beginning, and is still functional, though it's a bit more high-maintenance than a real on-line store with instant download would be. But although in some ways I'd prefer the convenience of an on-line store, making the transition isn't really in the cards, for several reasons.

A couple of years ago, I decided to give it a try, and I spent the money on an on-line store feature. Then I spent three months painstakingly adding designs, working many hours each day. After all that work, I had managed to upload only a fraction of the designs, when suddenly I discovered that my product quota had been reached! (Nothing in the site host's information tells you that there's an upper limit, so I discovered only after I had reached it that I couldn't list any more designs.)  I ended up abandoning the idea of a store, because there wasn't room to accommodate all of the designs I had already posted on the site -- currently about 12,000 (36,000 if you count each size as a separate entry; the site host allowed only 999 designs to be uploaded). Even if I could get enough slots for all the designs, putting all of these designs in an on-line catalog, in several formats and three sizes, is incredibly time-consuming, and would take me well over two years of full-time work. Doing so would leave me little time for digitizing or anything else.

And there's another wrinkle. With a proper on-line store, the site would get even busier; the problem is, I don't actually want it to, because it's still mainly a hobby for me, and I'm not really looking for it to be anything more than that. For this reason, I don't have a facebook presence or do any other kind of promotion. Although it would be nice to get the site to the point where it's consistently revenue-neutral (currently it doesn't quite cover the cost of Internet access, site hosting, and equipment), I really have to consider where I want to put my energy, and all told, I'd rather spend the time digitizing and making things than tinkering with the conversion to an on-line store. For these reasons, I think my best option for now is to leave things as they are.

Although I don't have instant download, 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, in which case I'll try alternatives for getting the designs to you.

Look for more freebies throughout the site!