Computerized embroidery

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Machine embroidery
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Computerized embroidery
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Computerized embroidery, also called Computer-controlled embroidery or simply machine embroidery is a kind of Computer-aided design and manufacturing (CAD/CAM).

See the Machine embroidery portal page for a list of all embroidery-related topics.

In this short article, we shall introduce some basic principles. More technical information about computerized embroidery is available in other articles available indexed in the computerized embroidery category. Computerized embroidery machines are specialized machines that can create embroidery from computerized designs. Such machines exist for the home market, for the small independent professional and for mass production. Many home sewing machines can be turned into an embroidery machine by adding a hardware module. Embroidery machines can be found in fab labs and other maker spaces.

Embroidery design software exists in various form, either as special-purpose tools for various design stages or as complete design suites. Embroidery designs can be stored in a multitude of proprietary design formats, that can be exported to proprietary machine formats (now often sold over the Internet). Free "open source" designs files are difficult to find. Converter software between various machine formats exists. Most design formats cannot be translated.

See also:


It can be argued that computer-controlled embroidery machines are older than computers. In the beginning of the 19th century, Jacquard invented looms controlled by a "chain of cards". However, embroidery machines controlled in real-time by a "puncher" through pantographs dominated the market in the 19th century and lasted until the 1970's we believe. Models made between the two WWs used punched tapes for control, i.e. software driven embroidery machines became important. In the 1980 the first computer-controlled machines for the home market appeared (Wikipedia, retrieved May 2018). Chitter Chatter Embroidery Machine History and Ann the Gran Embroidery History include some interesting pictures.

According to Wikipedia and other sources, the first modern day computer controlled sewing machine was built by Orisol in 1987 for making shoes, i.e. much later than embroidery machines.

Stitching and design steps

More or less according to Wikipedia, the basic steps for creating an embroidery are as follows:

  • [Optional] Get or create a digitized embroidery design file in some kind of editable format. Typical formats are .emb, .exe, .dst, .cnd and .fdr. Each software manufacturer has its own proprietary format.
  • [Optional] Combine it with other designs, e.g. add some custom lettering (optional)
  • Translate the design to machine executable code (or get a file that is executable). Typical formats are .art, .pes, .jef, .sew and .hus (see below)
  • Load this "stitch" file into the embroidery machine
  • Stabilize and hoop the fabric and attach the hoop to the machine
  • Start and monitor the embroidery machine, i.e. change the thread if needed.

Creating a digitized embroidery file itself includes at least two steps:

  • (Optional) Create a drawing in an editable vector format. It is also possible to vectorize (traced) raster images, but this can be very time consuming.
  • Digitize (translate, punch) the vector drawing to a (preferably) editable embroidery design format. A stitchable design includes embroidery-specific information like stitches and thread color. Good software rather defines "stitch objects", e.g. lines and fills (columns and areas) that are parameterized with stitching information such as the filling patterns, density, stitch density, pull compensation, stitch direction, etc..
  • Export to machine-specific formats.

Typical paradigm

While some more modern machines perform actions like dropping a sequin to be sewn in place, most modern embroidery consists is entirely of the same looped interlock stitch that have been the mainstay of sewing machines since their inception. Computerized embroidery formats ultimately contain instructions for the embroidery machine to perform. Move to a new location in two different directions, move but block the needle-bar (jump), cut the thread, drop the needle, switch to the next thread. These are all the actions that a sewing machine can take, usually in increments of 1/10th a millimeter. The goal then within design software is often how to pattern these stitches in useful ways for the person using the software. These patterns result in a lot of the underlying concepts within embroidery software. Stitches like zig-zag, satin, flat fill, bean stitch, and others are simply straight stitches in particular patterns, and the methods used to generate these are not explicit to the media.

Typically modern embroidery software uses vector shapes with fills applied to the objects. This allows the users for editing of the objects and thus the fills those objects create and adjustments to the density, direction, or any other property used to generate the resulting stitches. The advantages to this is that embroidery can be done quickly. A lot of stitches in recognizable patterns can be applied quickly with skilled users getting the results they expect. The software then stores the vector object and the fill properties to generate the underlying stitches. When the underlying stitches are edited by the user, regenerating the stitches would lose those modifications.

While vectors are a key aspect of this paradigm, it's not the case that you could go from vector to embroidery without some additional information about the type of fill being applied to that object. While software could take a vector as the answer of where to fill, they don't answer the question of how to fill. There's also a considerable amount of things that are technically permitted of a series of short line-segments (and thus embroidery) but are not easily accomplished through the dominant paradigm.

This seems to be the reason there are so many different formats, basically a different one for each type of embroidery. And different versions of formats add more such features to the software. If you wish to edit a design later, you need to have all the objects the file used to generate the stitches. Often software suites develop different methods for filling various objects or different features and these are unique to that particular brand. It's also the reason why, even when some formats have vector information (say PES files), these are not loaded by other software (eg. Wilcom Trusizer) in a manner that could be resized beyond about 10% without noticeable loss of coverage for the fill. Other software that can load a format, will often only load the actual stitches themselves (since that's what, all embroidery files must have to be sewn), which prevents any editing of the shapes used to generate them initially.

A straight stitch or running stitch is the typical name for a stitch that is generally not in the pattern of one of the other types of stitches. Technically all stitches are the same and they are all running stitches. They can't be anything else.

Fill stitches, also called tatami stitch are montone fills of particularly defined areas. These tend to be a sort of flood fill done with stitches. Most modern embroidery software executes this by using vector objects which then have a fill applied to them.

Mathematically the objects being filled must be monotone or broken into different parts. Monotone geometric objects can be filled with an unbroken scanline starting from the top to the bottom without changing directions. Since some objects being filled will lack this property, the objects are converted into monotone objects by clipping off the non-monotone parts. These are then underpathed (a straight stitch to the other merge/split node occurring such that it will be covered) and filled, and merged with the current fill. There is a lot of differences in how this algorithm is implemented between different software suites.

Sometimes even monotone objects are broken in this manner to allow for a start and stop location to be predefined. If you are filling a circle from the top to bottom, but want to start from the left, the algorithm will need to underpath to the top, then fill to the bottom. If an exit location is needed, it will stop at the level of the exit-node, underpath to the bottom, then fill up to the exit position.

Satin stitches are so-called because they have a soft satiny look. They are geometrically sweep fills of sweepable objects. A sweepable object is one that can be completely filled by a sweepline that transverses the object and is permitted to change directions. By definition if an object is sweepable it is monotone, as it does not need to change directions. Satin stitches are usually done with areas small enough that a single stitch can fill the objects.

This covers most of the conceptual design aspects within embroidery software. Some popular tools like Wilcom B, generally work by creating the vector object and fill direction and fill information at the same time. Which is a step away from the paradigm of vector + fill -> embroidery.

Read embroidery stitch type for a short presentation of various options available in embroidery software.

Moving on

The concepts of computerized embroidery article will introduce some important practical concepts of machine embroidery. Embroidery stitch types are discussed in a separate piece. Hooping and stabilizing in computerized embroidery explain how to ready a fabric for embroidery.

Embroidery software tries to provide an overview of various embroidery software. Stitch Era tutorials is the starting point of a vector-drawing centric series of tutorials of a powerful and relatively cheap complete embroidery software. InkStitch is the start page of a tutorial series for an open-source platform based on Inkscape, the open source drawing program.

For technical people, software developers in particular, Embroidery format assembles everything that is known about propriety machine embroidery formats.


General links

Sewing and embroidery websites (unsorted)
  • k2g2 “is an open platform that is spearheading the brains and crafts movement of the 21st century, taking a hacker's perspective on everything from handicraft to crafting machines”. This website includes good "portals" for machine knitting and machine embroidery. Best resource for open source projects, but doesn't show much activity over the years.
  • Embroidery Machine Encyclopedia (Wiki, 148 articles as of May 2017). As of Jan 2018, the site is full of spam (>20'000 pages) but still includes the useful information.
  • has free sew, quilt and craft projects
  • Sewing & Craft Alliance provides educational information and creative resources to the sewing and crafting enthusiast
  • SewReview, includes a blog with entries on various topics plus buying guides and reviews
  • eHow includes entries about sewing, embroidery, etc.
  • rumblr includes a few entries about sewing etc.
  • The Embroiderers' Guild of America (EGA). A few interesting links.
  • patternreview Popular site for sharing patterns and advise (including computerized stuff)
  • Embroidery. Nice traditional embroidery website for junior stitchters, textile students and teachers.
In other languages
Other links of links
  • Embroidermodder has some good links (including broken ones, last update was 2004)


(Retrieved April 2011, unless otherwise stated)

Introductions to traditional embroidery
  • Embroidery (Wikipedia). Follow-up the various Wikipedia links at the bottom.
Introductions to computerized embroidery
Introductions to computerized sewing machine
Introductions to normal sewing machine
Specialized tutorials

Software links

(see our own links in the embroidery software article)

Useful websites

The best table we found is Wikipedia's Comparison of embroidery software. However, it does not really choosing a good software.

A (good) 2013 comparison of software by Floriani (a software producer) is kept in the wayback machine

File formats

Hardware links

In other languages
Do it yourself

Free design repositories

There don't seem to be many truly free and easy to use websites. Most commercial web sites offer some free designs. In addition, some of the free open source or close source software packages include free designs (see above).

  • Thingiverse. Search for em broidery. As of 1/2018 only a few designs....
  • You could search for embroidery patterns on Flickr. Some are free (but you then need to digitize these or find another version)

Fablab work, open source, etc.

(more needed)

Bibliography and journals

Introductory books for machine embroidery
  • John Deer (2007). Digitizing Made Easy: Create Custom Embroidery Designs Like a Pro, Krause Publications. ISBN 0896894924 (Good introductory book to digitizing, a cheaper and simpler alternative to Nielsen)
  • Jones, Deborah. (2009). Machine Embroidery on Difficult Materials (Book & CD Rom), Krause Publications, ISBN 0896896544. (Explains how to embroider on silk, leather, lace, etc.)
  • Twigg, Jeanine (2001). Embroidery Machine Essentials: How to Stabilize, Hoop and Stitch Decorative Designs, Krause Publications, ISBN 9780873419994 (Useful for absolute beginners. There are several companion books from the same author).
Other introductory books for machine embroidery

(I don't have any of these, and therefore can't recommend any - DKS June 2011)

  • C&T Publishing (2004), All About Machine Arts, ISBN 9781571202277.
  • Betty Barnden (Author) (2003). The Embroidery Stitch Bible, Krause Publications, ISBN 9780873495103.
  • Deb Menz (2004). Color Works, Interweave Press, ISBN 1931499470 (This book address color for crafters).
  • Linda Turner Griepentrog, Rebecca Kemp Brent (2006). Machine Embroidery Wild & Wacky, Krause Publications.
  • Linda Miller (2010). Creative Machine Embroidery, A&C Black. ISBN 1408103982.
  • Van Holmes (2008). Encyclopedia of Machine Embroidery, Anova Batsford, ISBN 9781906388188.
Academic Journals (may contain articles about embroidery)
  • Irene Posch and Ebru Kurbak. 2016. CRAFTED LOGIC Towards Hand-Crafting a Computer. In Proceedings of the 2016 CHI Conference Extended Abstracts on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI EA ’16). ACM, New York, NY, USA, 3881-3884. DOI:
Trade journals
  • Graphics Pro, includes articles about embroidery (some education)
  • Impressions, information for apparel (screen printing, embroidery, heat-applied graphics and digital decorating).