Embroidery / Digitizing Glossary

- everything about embroidery / digitizing

3D Embroidery

Also known as Puff Embroidery, is a special technique to give three dimensional appearance to embroidery. A layer of foam is placed under the area where the design will be embroidered. A high stitch density is used to cut the foam for easy removal, and the foam beneath the design will not show through.


French term meaning applying. Decoration or trimming cut from one piece of fabric and stitched to another to add dimension and texture and reduce stitch count.


Woven or non-woven material used underneath the item or fabric being embroidered to provide support and stability for the needle penetration. Best used when hooped with the garment, but can also be placed between the item to be embroidered and the needle plate on flat bed machines. Available in many styles and weights with two basic types - Cutaway and Tearaway.

Bean Stitch

Three stitches placed back and forth between two points. Often used for outlining because it eliminates the need for repeatedly digitizing a single-ply running stitch outline.

Birdnesting (Birdnest, Birds Nest)

Accumulation of thread caught between the embroidered item and the needle plate, often caught in the needle plate hole and hook assembly. Formation of a birdnest prevents free movement of goods and may be caused by inadequate tensioning of the top thread, top thread not through take-up lever, top thread not following thread path correctly or flagging goods.


Spool or reel that holds the thread used to form the underside stitching. Bobbin thread works with upper thread to create stitches.

Bobbin Case

Small, round metal device for holding the bobbin. Used to tension the bobbin thread, it is inserted in the hook for sewing.


Embroidered goods that have been punctured with a sharp pointed tool known as a bore, the edges of the hole produced by the bore are embroidered, the hole is enlarged by the embroidery.

Buckram or Buckram Lining

Coarse, woven fabric, stiffened with glue, and used to stabilize fabric for stitching. Commonly used in caps to hold the front panel erect.

Chain Stitch

Stitch that resembles a chain link, formed with one thread fed from the bottom side of the fabric. Done on a manual or computerized machine with a hook that functions like a needle.


Type of embroidery. Commonly found in appliqué and athletic applications characterized by a design surface comprised of heavy loops of thread; sewn with heavy threads or yarns, chenille is created on specialized embroidery equipment.

Column Stitch

Typically used to form borders around fill areas and for rendering text, the column stitch consists of closely spaced satin stitches.


Embroidery digitizing technique used to counteract/compensate the distortion (pull or push) caused by the interaction of the needle, thread, backing and machine tensions. Also a programmable feature in some software packages.

Complex Fill

Similar to standard fill. Refers to an embroidery digitizing technique that allows digitizer to 'knock out' area(s) within fill, creating openings or negative space (visualize Swiss cheese). The design can thus be digitized as one fill area, instead of being broken down into multiple sections.

Condensed Format

Method of embroidery digitizing where a design is saved in a skeletal form, so a proportionate number of stitches may later be placed between defined points after a scale has been designated. If a machine can read condensed format, the scale, density and stitch lengths in a design may be changed. See "expanded format".


One of two basic types of backing materials. Another type is Tearaway.


Number of stitches in a specific area. Determines the total thread coverage in a design.

Digitizing or Embroidery Digitizing

Modern term for punching. Embroidery Digitizing is the process of taking any form of artwork and transforming it into a language that the commercial embroidery machine or home sewing machine can understand and stitch it out. Embroidery Digitizing is a complex process which uses stitch types including running stitch, satin stitch and fill stitch to create an embroidery design. It requires many steps from starting with a simple clip art to a stitched out design. Embroidery Digitizing Software is needed for this process. Software vendors often advertise auto-digitizing capabilities. However, if high quality embroidery is essential, then industry experts highly recommend either purchasing solid designs from reputable digitizers or obtaining training on solid digitization techniques.

Digitizer or Embroidery Digitizer

A person who creates embroidery designs is known as an embroidery digitizer or puncher. A digitizer uses digitizing software to create an object-based embroidery design, which can be easily reshaped and edited. These files retain important information such as object outlines, thread colors, and original artwork used to punch the designs. When the file is converted to a stitch file, it loses much of this information, rendering editing difficult or impossible.

Digitizing Tablet

The platen or surface on which original art to be digitized is placed; holds the artwork flat, allowing digitizer to specify various design characteristics by 'tracing' and otherwise designating them with a digitizing 'puck' (input device similar to a computer mouse).


Changing aspects of a design via a computerized editing program. Most programs allow the user to scale designs up or down, edit stitch by stitch or block by block, merge lettering with the design, move aspects of the design around, combine designs and insert or edit machine commands.


Also known as Crest or Patch. Embroidered design with a finished edge, commonly an insignia of identification, usually worn on outer clothing. Historically, an emblem carried a motto, verse or suggested a moral lesson.


Refers to Machine Embroidery here, or more precisely, Computerized Machine Embroidery. A process whereby a computer-controlled embroidery machine is used to create patterns on textiles. It is used commercially in product branding, corporate advertising, and uniform adornment. Hobbyists also machine embroider for personal sewing and craft projects. Most modern embroidery machines are equipped with computers specifically engineered for embroidery. Depending on their capabilities and usages, these machines range from signle-needle, single-head sewing machines for home use and hobbyists, to industrial and commercial embroidery machines that are multi-headed (6 to 20 heads are common), with multi-needles (9 to 15 are common) under each head. They all have a hooping or framing system that holds the framed area of fabric taut under the sewing needle(s) and moves it automatically to create a design from a pre-programmed digitizing file prepared by an embroidery digitizer.

Expanded Format

A design program where individual stitches in a design have been specifically digitized for a certain size. Designs digitized in this format cannot generally be enlarged or reduced more than 10 to 20 percent without distortion because stitch count remains constant. See "condensed format".

File Format

Embroidery file formats broadly fall into two categories. The first, source formats, are specific to the software used to create the design. For these formats, the digitizer keeps the original file for the purposes of editing. The second, machine formats, are specific to a particular brand of embroidery machine. Machine formats generally contain primarily stitch data (offsets) and machine functions (trims, jumps, etc.) and are thus not easily scaled or edited without extensive manual work.

Fill or Fill Stitch

Also known as Tatami stitch. Relatively large design area covered by series of running stitches, the pattern of which may be varied in terms of stitch length, angle and density.


Processes performed after embroidery is complete. Includes trimming loose threads, cutting or tearing away excess backing, removing topping, cleaning any stains, pressing or steaming to remove wrinkles or hoop marks and packaging for sale or shipment.


Up and down motion of goods under action of the needle, so named because of its resemblance to a waving flag. It is often caused by improper framing (hooping) of goods. Flagging may result in poor registration, unsatisfactory stitch formation and birdnesting.


Holding device for insertion of goods under an embroidery head for the application of embroidery. May employ a number of means for maintaining stability during the embroidery process, including clamps, vacuum devices, magnets or springs. See "hoop" for more information.

Guide Stitch

Running stitches used to assist in placement of an applique or in the placement of a die for cutting of emblems, also called a cut line.


Holds the bobbin case in the machine and plays a vital role in stitch formation. Making two complete rotations for each stitch, its point meets a loop of top thread at a precisely-timed moment and distance (gap) to form a stitch.

Hook Timing

Proper synchronization of hook's rotary and needle's up/down movement; necessary to form stitches.


Device made from wood, plastic or steel with which fabric is gripped tightly between an inner ring and an outer ring and attached to the machine's pantograph. Machine hoops are designed to push the fabric to the bottom of the inner ring and hold it against the machine bed for embroidering.

Hooping Aid or Hooping Device

Device that aids in hooping garments or items for embroidery, in order to enhance hooping efficiency and consistency. Especially helpful for hooping multi-layered items and for uniformly hooping multiple items.

Jump Stitch

Movement of the frame without stitching but with take up lever and hook movement.


Embroidery using letters or words. Lettering, commonly called “keyboard lettering,” may be created using an embroidery lettering program on a PC or from circuit boards that allow variance of letter style, size, height, density and other characteristics.

Lock Stitch

Also known as lock-down or tack-down stitch, a lock stitch is formed by three or four consecutive stitches of at least a 10-point movement. It should be used at the end of all columns, fills and at the end of any element in your design where jump stitches will follow, such as color changes or the end of a design. Lock stitches may be sewn in a triangle, star or in a straight line. Lock stitch is also the name of the type of stitch formed by the hook and needle of home sewing machines, as well as computerized embroidery machines.


Graphic mark or symbol commonly used by companies, organizations and even individuals to aid and promote instant public recognition. Logos can be purely graphic symbols/icons (logomark - e.g. Apple) or just the name of the organization (logotype or wordmark - e.g. Google) or the combination of the two (lockup - e.g. McDonald's Golden Arches with their name underneath or across).


Loops on the surface of embroidery generally caused by poor top tension or tension problems. Typically occurs when polyester top thread has been improperly tensioned.

Machine Language or Machine Format

The embroidery digitizing codes and formats used by different machine manufacturers within the embroidery industry. Common formats include Barudan, Brother, Fortran, Happy, Marco, Meistergram, Melco, Pfaff, Stellar, Tajima, Toyota, Ultramatic and ZSK. Most embroidery digitizing systems can save designs in these languages so the computer disk can be read by the embroidery machine. Also see "file format"

Merrowed Edge

A merrowed edge is a 3/16" overlocked sewn edge done to secure the cut fabric from unravelling. Usually used for the bottom edge of emblems, pant cuffs or garment interior cut edges.


Embroidered design composed of one or more stylized letters, usually the initials in a name.


Small, slender piece of steel with a hole for thread and a point for stitching fabric. A machine needle differs from a handwork needle; the machine needle's eye is found at its pointed end. Machine embroidery needles come with sharp points for piercing heavy, tightly woven fabrics; ball points, which glide between the fibers of knits; and a variety of specialty points, such as wedge points, which are used for leather. See "Embroidery Tips and Techniques" page for more information.


Small, scissors-like cutting tool specifically designed for thread trimming, during finishing of embroidery.


Result of the fabric being gathered into small folds or wrinkles by the stitches, caused by incorrect density, loose hooping, having no backing, incorrect tension or a dull needle.

Push Compensation and Pull Compensation

Deliberate counteraction digitized into a design to compensate for thread push and/or pull effect that would otherwise cause a 10mm wide stitch (for example) to shrink to a 9mm stitch. Also see Compensation and Push and Pull below.

Push and Pull

The distortion of design elements caused by the interaction of the needle, thread, backing and machine tensions. In most cases the element and/or the fabric are causing either push or pull, but not both. The exception to this rule tends to be in satin stitch columns, whether in a letter, outline or otherwise. Satin columns can pull in on the ends (thus reducing column width) and push out on the sides (thus increasing column length). To counteract these distortions, digitizers use a technique call Compensation.


Correct registration is achieved when all stitches and design elements line up correctly.

Running Stitch

Sometimes called 'walking' stitch, used for fine detail, outlining, and quickly covering space between separate design elements; used primarily for underlay.

Satin Stitch

Closely spaced stitches, similar to zigzag, except that they alternate between straight stitches and angled stitches (rather than all angled) of varying length, angle and density. A satin stitch is normally anywhere from 2mm to 10mm


Stitches per inch; system for measuring density or the amount of satin stitches in an inch of embroidery.


Stitches per minute; system for measuring the running speed of an embroidery machine. Ranging from as slow as 60 SPM to as high as 1500 SPM.


Ability within one design program to enlarge or reduce a design. In expanded format, most scaling is limited 10 to 20 percent because the stitch count remains constant despite final design size. Condensed or outline formats, on the other hand, scale changes may be more dramatic because stitch count and density may be varied.


Scanners convert designs into a computer format, allowing the digitizer to use even the most primitive of artwork without recreating the design. Many embroidery digitizing systems allow the digitizer to transfer the design directly into the embroidery digitizing program without using intermediary software.

Short Stitching

An embroidery digitizing technique that places shorter stitches in curves and corners to avoid an unnecessary bulky build-up of stitches.

Special Fill

A function available in some embroidery digitizing software that automatically incorporates special patterns, motifs or textures into fill areas.


The property of a bonded fabric that prevents sagging, slipping or stretching. This is conducive to ease of handling in manufacturing, and helps the fabric to keep its shape in wear, dry cleaning and washing.

Stitch Count

The total number of stitches in a particular design.

Stitch Editing

Embroidery digitizing feature that allows one or more stitches in a pattern to be deleted or altered.

Stitch Processing

The calculation of stitch information by means of specialized software, allowing scaling of expanded format designs with density compensation. A trademarked software feature developed by Wilcom Pty. of Australia.

Stock Designs

Digitized generic embroidery designs that are readily available at a cost below that of custom-digitized designs.


A stitched out sample of an embroidery design used for inspection, comparison, construction, color, finish and sales purposes.

Tackle Twill

Letters or numbers cut from polyester or rayon twill fabric that are commonly used for athletic teams and organizations. Tackle twill appliqués attached to a garment have an adhesive backing that tacks them in place; the edges of the appliqués are then zigzag stitched.


One of two basic types of backing materials. Another type is Cutaway.


Tautness of thread when forming stitches. Top thread tension, as well as bobbin thread tension, needs to be set and balanced. Proper thread tension is achieved when about one-third of the thread showing on the underside of the fabric on a column stitch is bobbin thread.


Fine cord of natural or synthetic material made from two or more filaments twisted together and used for stitching. Machine embroidery threads come in rayon, which has a high sheen; cotton, which has a duller finish than rayon but is available in very fine deniers; polyester, which is strong and colorfast; metallic thread, which have a high luster and are composed of a synthetic core wrapped in metal foil; and acrylic, which is purported to have rayon's sheen.

Thread Clippers

Small cutting utensil with a spring action that is operated by the thumb in a hole on the top blade and the fingers cupped around the bottom blade. Useful for quick thread cutting, but unsuitable for detailed trimming or removal of backing.


Also known as facing. Material hooped or placed on top of fabrics that have definable nap or surface texture, such as corduroy and terry cloth, prior to embroidery. The topping compacts the wale or nap and holds the stitches above it. Includes a variety of substances, such as plastic wrap, water-soluble plastic “foil” and open-weave fabric that has been chemically treated to disintegrate with the application of heat.


Operation in the finishing process that involves trimming the reverse and top sides of the embroidery, including jump stitches and backing.


Stitches applied prior to other design elements to either A) neutralize fabric-surface characteristics (see also topping); or B) to create special design effects such as depth and dimensionality.

Variable Sizing

Ability to scale a design to different sizes.


Stitches that progress in an alternating-angle (zigzag) fashion; typically used for final stitching on appliqué and tackle twill.