Monday, September 14, 2015

Add Sparkle to Your Embroidery to Stay on Trend

While some may point out that I don’t qualify as a fashionista (who has all that time to shop?), when you are in the embroidery field, a sense of fashion and fashion trends is second nature. Embellishment is what we are all about. Specialty threads are designed to offer customers something different and designers a rich palette with which to experiment and shine. And shine is exactly where I am going with this blog! A recent perusal of top fashion magazines (purely in the name of research) crystallized for me the trend toward shine and sparkle: 

From Fashion magazine, “Somewhere between the sky-high shoulder pads and bedazzled skirt suits of the eighties, metallics got a bad rap. Today, however, shiny clothing and accessories mean one thing: glamour. On the spring 2014 runways (the introduction of 2015 trends), everyday outfits were injected with a shot of glitz thanks to some flashy, not trashy, twists on the metallic trend.” Fashion goes on to name “sparkle and shine” (in my humble opinion, the fashion equivalent of “shock and awe”) as “one of the top 6 trends for 2015.”

Harper’s Bazaar concurs in its “10 Style Risks to Take in 2015:” “Once relegated to cocktail dresses on New Year’s Eve and cocktail waitresses in Las Vegas, sparkles are starting to see the light of day…”.

As does Elle magazine: “Trend Alert: Precious Metals. Whether they come in the form of cool silvers or rich golds – we can’t get enough of these metallic colored dresses, sweaters, heels and beauty must-haves. Shine on (straight into fall!)” As well as Glamour: “Don’t wait for that evening party to pull out your metallics! This season, try metallics for day, too.”

I could go on and on (InStyle magazine lists Metallic Shimmer as “one of the 10 Top Fashion Trends seen on the red carpet”)…and Marie Claire, noting “over-the- top metallics at Europe Fashion Week,” clearly states, “…there’s no better way to make a look stand out than to incorporate a huge amount of metallic sheen.” You probably read that BeyoncĂ© recently paid $300,000 for diamond-encrusted heels. You don’t need to go that far! 

You would have to be crazy not to take advantage of the trend that is pushing fashion -- and embroidery -- towards the metallic, considering the vast choice of metallic threads ( smooth, shiny, sparkly) that you have at your disposal. And if you’re timid, your ability to charge around 20% more for a design that incorporates metallic thread should toughen you up real fast!

For the purpose of this blog, I’d like to shine a little light on Madeira’s popular Supertwist #30 thread. Unlike the smooth metallics on the market, Supertwist is the result of a three-twist process that gives the thread a unique sparkle with texture. It offers a strong nylon core that is wrapped with metallic foil in order to provide the most reflection. And while you wouldn’t want to set any speed records on your machine, it is designed to run smoothly and efficiently on commercial embroidery machines.

Running Tips 

A special effect thread, Supertwist #30 does demand some special considerations when running. Make sure you begin with a fresh #90/14 needle. A large eye variety will make it easier to thread. A thicker thread, Supertwist is best behaved when chosen for a design highlight, using longer stitches like running stitches or as an overlay for special effect. To incorporate Supertwist into a design, you may need to reduce the density by about 20%, from a 4.0 to a 6.0. As an alternative, try increasing the
size of the design by 10%. My final tip would be to lighten up your top tension for this twisted thread, since it is more pliable. Madeira recently produced a webinar on working with its metallic threads, including Supertwist. You can click here to view it and see for yourself how to run this fashion-friendly, season-stopping specialty thread. And did I mention your ability to charge more for designs that include it? Ah-hah!

Finally, if the fashion scene is of absolutely no interest to you whatsoever (have I not convinced you?), look at the calendar. We are fast approaching that time of year when snowflakes, pine cones, evergreens – wishes of the season and more -- can all be enhanced by some genuine shine and sparkle.

Monday, August 10, 2015

It Just Kills Me to Throw Anything Out. How Long Will My Thread Last?

We are asked all the time about the shelf life of thread. Well, not every day, but often enough that we’ve put some info together.

Thread Shelf Life
Rayon thread will last on the shelf at least five years under normal conditions. If the work area is comfortable for you to work in, it's fine for the thread. Some moisture in the air is a plus. Polyester thread will last much longer. The thread is a petroleum byproduct, basically plastic. In time, the worst that will happen is that the finish will dry out on the outer layer of thread. Putting the thread in the refrigerator overnight will help to restore it. Neither should be stored in direct sunlight lest they fade. With any kind of volume you’ll use up your thread long before it dies on the shelf.

The way to economize on thread, plus eliminate the shelf life question, is to buy full 5,500 yard cones only for your staple colors (black, white, red, etc.) and popular colors (the colors for the customers for whom you do a lot of work) and buy 1,100 yard Mini Snap Cones (MSCs) for fashion colors you may never use again. You should get 1,000,000 stitches from the full sized cones and 250,000 stitches from the MSCs. What value!

Operating Guidelines
As a guide-line, humidity levels ranging between 40% and 60% and temperatures ranging between 50 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit are comfortable for employees and safe for thread storage and usage. It has been our experience that, as the relative humidity increases beyond 60%, the tensile strength of rayon increases, while there has been no significant change observed in the tensile strength of Polyneon thread.

Madeira threads are sold and warehoused in all the states in the U.S., plus countries in Africa, Asia, South America and the Middle East and the tens of thousands of customers served have not reported any difficulty resulting from very extreme variations in temperature and humidity.

Thread tends to be somewhat tender. Dropping it will cause “bruising” where the thread contacts the floor. This actually creates a weak spot that can cause thread breaks during embroidering, so handle with care. And no, on the dropping!

Thread Storage
If you have unused thread sitting on machines or shelves and not covered, your thread may get dusty and after a while the dust can eat away at the finish (the “finish” contains lubricant that’s applied to protect the thread from needle heat). Storing threads that won’t be used right away in their original containers will significantly increase usability, as will keeping them out of direct sunlight. Thread can also be stored in clear plastic stacking units, like those found at The Container Store, so that you can see which thread is inside without having to open the box.


Only semi-protected, in boxes without covers allows dust and humidity in. The next to pictures illustrate cones kept in clear boxes that protect, and have the added bonus of allowing you to see the color of the thread before opening. The only disadvantage here is that thread is happiest when it is standing up, rather than lying down.

Storage Location
Threads should be stored in a clean and dust-free atmosphere. Ideally, they should be stored in a warehouse or storage room that is as close to the shop floor as possible. This makes the stored thread easily accessible. And storage areas for rayon, polyester or specialty threads should be situated in areas where atmospheric pollution (such as smoke, fumes and gases) is at a minimum.


Monday, June 22, 2015

Size Matters: Thinny-thin Thread

So your embroidery looks pretty good. You have a goodly amount of repeat work and your customers compliment your efforts. But you’re more critical; the detail looks a little blurred and the small lettering, well, the smaller it is, the more difficult it is to read. An obvious answer is to just soldier on. A better answer is to go smaller!

The smallest lettering you can do with your regular 40 weight thread and still be able to read it easily, is about 6 mm; but many customers are requiring lettering that’s smaller. So you consider using 60 weight threads which will achieve readable lettering down to 3 mm. And the fine detail!! Of course, for best results, you will need to downsize your needle to a size #65/9 (oh, stop your moaning!) You have a commercial machine (or machines) with 13 or more needles on it (or on each head), more than you need for most designs, so simply designate one needle position for your thin thread, install the #65/9 needle and get on with it. And if you have a home-style machine, with a single needle, it’s not that big a deal.

But now your customers -- never satisfied -- are pushing you to achieve even smaller lettering and with even greater detail in their logos (the ingrates!) My company, Madeira USA, has created 75 weight polyester thread as part of our Polyneon thread product line. This is the thinnest thread on the market and will enable you to embroider lettering below 3 mm. Wow! And you will need a size #60/8 needle to get the best results. Sorry! But this tiny needle punches a smaller hole in the fabric relative to the minuscule detail and lettering that is accomplished by the thin thread. C’mon! Needles are the cheapest investment in your business; a tray of 10 needles costs bubkis and will last a while.

The new 75 weight is available in 40 solid colors on yellow plastic Mini Snap Cones of 2,734 yards, while black and white are available on 10,936-yard cones. And since black and white are the main colors you will use for your teeny-tiny lettering, a cone will last quite a while.

So, in conclusion, contrary to what you may have heard, size matters, but don’t hesitate to get smaller. You’ll like it and so will your customers.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Pricing: How Much Should I Charge?

A while ago, a young embroiderer called me, and very excitedly told me about a job she had just taken on. “It’s for 78 motorcycle jackets for a local club. With the design on the back, the rockers and a left chest, it’s over 135,000 stitches per jacket. And I’m supplying the jackets!”

“That’s great”, I said. “Are you going to make any money?”

The loud silence coming from the other end told me that she didn’t have a clue!

And I think a lot of small embroiderers have a real problem with pricing. Charge too little and you won’t be able to cover your expenses. Quote too much and you won’t get the job. Remember, the objective is to charge as much as you can and still get the work. But if you can’t make a profit, let the embroiderer down the street take the job and lose their money. Of course, if this is a hobby, none of this is important and you can stop reading and do something for fun. But if it’s your business, you need to know how to arrive at a “fair” price.

In order to do this, you will need to know two things. First, what is the average cost to operate your business on an hourly basis, your “fixed costs” (these are the costs you have whether there is any work to do or not). Second, what is your estimation of what it will take, in time and effort, plus the cost of any special materials, to complete the job?

Hourly Rate X Hours Required + Special Materials = Price $.

To make money you have to pass ALL your costs along to the customer, plus add a profit margin. To do this reasonably, you need to do a little book work.

This is what I advised that embroiderer:

Take out your checkbook register and go back six months. List every check amount for business-related costs. For instance:

· Machine payments (consult your accountant about depreciation, whatever that is)
· Rent (easy if you have a separate facility; if you operate out of your house use the 

  amount you are claiming on your tax return -- very carefully)· Utilities (see Rent, above)
· Labor cost (what you pay yourself + any employees)
· Health insurance (if you pay it on your business)
· Bank charges and business insurance
· Office supplies + equipment + business cards + flyers
· Embroidery supplies (top thread, bobbins, stabilizer, etc. all of which you 
  can get from Madeira USA)
· Phone + mobile phone
· Advertising (Yellow pages + print ads)
· Internet (Web site host + Web maintenance)
· Other overhead: waste removal, cleaning (even the occasional pizza)

So you add that all up and it comes to $40,000 (for 6 months of operation)

In six months of operation there are 26 weeks; each week X 40 hours = 1,040 hours which is reduced by 40 hours to account for holidays. Therefore, dividing the Operating Costs of $40,000 by the Hours of Operation, 1000 hours = $40 cost per operating hour.

So if you average $40 per hour for the 2000 hours per year that you operate your business, you will break even. Now if you want to take a vacation between Christmas and New Year’s, possibly to Aruba, now that you’re the President of a Company, you’ll have to add about $2 per hour under overhead (a little more if you’re taking me with you). And you should add some for savings to buy the next piece of equipment and the rainy day when you don’t have enough work for the full day.

And don't forget setup times, machine maintenance, giving out samples, tweaking the digitizing your customer brought you, running stitch-outs, etc.

Put together everything you spend to produce an item -- any item. Make sure that what you charge the customer covers everything, and then add your profit. If you don't do it in a way similar to this, then you don't have a business, you have a hobby.

You must learn to estimate run times closely. If you’re new to this, you will need to set up some basic guidelines. Try not to guess on something as important as price! If you need your machine to make $25 an hour to pay for itself and you pay yourself $15 and hour, and your other costs (electricity, rent, office supplies, coffee, accountant, etc., etc., etc.) amount to $5 an hour, then you have to charge $50 an hour for your work. If the embroidery job takes 30 minutes to run, then your estimate should be $25 plus your markup and any cost for goods. Don't forget the markup on goods! The standard markup is called "keystone," and is double the price of the goods.

As you will see, each job has its own particular set of problems to solve. That's what customers are hiring you for.

Usually industry trade publications, like Stitches, Impressions and Printwear, have articles on pricing, and so does the library. Check out some other methods which may be more scientific.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Where to Look for Business: Leave No Stone Left Unturned!

Where to Look for Business: Leave No Stone Left Unturned!

Being an embroiderer and having your own business is a fulfilling and demanding enterprise. There are a number of activities which will fill your every waking moment (and possibly your dreams and nightmares) which have little to do with the creative act of embroidering:  

      1. Marketing – what market should I serve; pricing, competition, etc.
      2. Finance and Accounting – collecting money, paying bills, insurance, etc.
      3. Maintenance – keeping your facility operating and machines running.
      4. Advertising – letting prospects know you exist and where to find you.
      5. $ales – getting new business.

Clearly, none of these responsibilities are the reasons you got into the embroidery business, but they all have to be accomplished in order to stay in business. In my view, the most important is Sales; if you don’t bring in any business, the others are irrelevant. 

So, here are a few suggestions for where to look for business: 
• Start by always wearing a denim shirt or polo shirt with your logo and your company name  
  EMBROIDERED on it. Then, when people ask what you do, you can point at it. Be a walking, 
  talking billboard! And have at least 50 business cards in your pocket at all times. You can never tell!

• Check out Community Sports teams: soccer, for names on warm up suits; softball leagues, 
  for uniforms and caps; wrestling singlets; T-Ball, etc.

• Visit bowling alleys and ask the owner/manager if you can post a small flyer on his bulletin board. 
  Lots of teams need their shirts embroidered.

• Try local Car Dealerships. You'll need to digitize their logos and be certain you get an 
  authorization in writing before you reproduce the car brand.

• Make a trip to Doctor's Offices to offer embroidery on employee shirts and scrubs. 
  And don't forget Dentists, Medical Labs, Veterinarians, and Chiropractors.

• Barber shops, Beauty shops, Bath shops, Christmas shops, Spas, etc. all require embroidery.

• Any place where there is a Bridal Registry - Monogramming special items for the 
  Bride & Groom or the bride’s hankie and the Ring Bearer's Pillow, etc.

• Funeral homes and mortuaries –lots of embroidery opportunities here.

• Real Estate Offices. Florists. Furriers. Gift shops.

• Alteration shops and Dry Cleaners – show samples of your work and leave cards.

• Social organizations – community centers, scouts, motorcycle clubs (they love their embroidery 
  on leathers and denim), civic organizations (bear in mind that all manner of social organizations
  may expect a donation, but you will emphasize your ability to help them in fund-raising), 
  political clubs, etc.

• Sewing Machine Dealer's and Fabric shops. Uniform stores – they may not have their 
  own embroidery machine for personalization.

• Churches and synagogues. The choir, sisterhood, annual picnics and fund raisers are all possibilities.

• When you get gas, sell the manager/owner; and get gas at a different station each time; 
  and fixit shops.

• If you have repair men or contractors come in to your shop or home to work, 
  check out their uniforms or shirts and tell them about your business.

• Most Supermarkets have a bulletin/corkboard in the entranceway; put your flyer (5” x 7” is a 
  good size; colorful and eye-catching) up (bring thumb tacks) and make the circuit every
 week because, hopefully, a potential customer will have taken it down to call you.

• You will probably not be able to get any school accounts, at least not right off the bat, 
  but there are things going on in the school with which the school’s embroiderer may not bother. 
  For instance, a towel set a teacher may want or some shirts that need to be monogrammed. 
 Additionally, many teachers have side businesses (hard to live on teacher’s wages, in most places) 
 like trades (plumbing, carpentry, painting) or summer camps. See if they’ll let you leave samples 
 of your work and business cards in the Teacher’s Lounge. If you can find a couple of hours a week 
 to volunteer at a school, hospital or senior citizen’s home, you’ll find it a great way to get your 
 foot in the door (I know. Where do you find a couple of hours a week to volunteer? Stop whining! 
 Figure it out!).

• Avoid the temptation to go after your competitor’s customers; you don’t need enemies. 
  But you can use allies, to wit, a larger embroiderer to whom you can subcontract large jobs 
  that would tie up your machine for days and in return they will give you the small jobs 
  they don’t want to run.
Think of everybody as a prospect – 
either they need something embroidered or they know someone who does.