Wednesday, March 26, 2014

What Can I Say About Rayon... That Hasn't Been Said Before?

Recently, I was asked to deliver a few words explaining why so many embroiderers prefer Rayon embroidery thread.

I decided the best way to describe Rayon, was in terms of something else. You wanna know about Rayon? I’ll compare it to Polyester! Rayon is warm and elegant; Polyester is bright and brassy. Rayon is Ava Gardner, Ingrid Bergman, and Grace Kelly; Polyester is Rita Hayworth, Lucille Ball, and Marilyn Monroe (if you’re under 40, ask your mother).

Rayon is lustrous, smooth, and soft. Polyester is shiny. Rayon colors are deep and romantic. Polyester colors are shiny and uninhibited. Rayon is colorfast. Polyester is colorfast. Wait! What? You heard me! I said it!

Rayon is colorfast! You can wash it in very hot water up to 203⁰F (hotter than McDonald’s coffee), let it sit in hot water up to 100⁰F and send it to be dry cleaned and the colors will be as vibrant and alive as the day the stitches were put down. The one thing you can’t do is throw bleach into the wash. But why would anyone want to bleach their embroidery purposefully? Especially when most fine garments come with washing instructions forbidding the use of bleach!

And then there’s sewability; nothing sews with such consistent trouble-free performance, holding up to high-speed stitching without breaking or fraying. While it’s true that Polyester is marginally stronger, that doesn’t mean Rayon is weak. All factors being equal, (productive digitizing, machine capability, operator experience, etc.), using good quality Rayon will result in many hours of stitching sans thread breaks. As a matter of fact, thread breaks become memorable because there are so few of them. And because the thread “hand” is soft and smooth, it’s easy on the parts it runs over and the automatic trimmers.

And for us tree-huggers, Rayon is a renewable product unlike Polyester which is a derivative of petroleum (oil). Rayon is a manufactured, regenerated cellulose fiber. It is made from purified cellulose, primarily from sustainable wood pulp, which is chemically converted into a soluble compound. It is then dissolved and forced through a spinneret to produce filaments which are chemically solidified, resulting in fibers of nearly pure cellulose. A few years before I was born, English chemist Charles Cross, in 1894, patented his artificial silk, which he named "viscose" (thank you, Google).
Rayon thread comes in a wide range of solid and variegated colors. Most Rayon threads are available in a standard 40 weight, a thicker 30 weight (very useful and economical for saving stitches in large fill areas) and a thinner 60 weight (for fine detail and teeny, tiny lettering).

Concluding, I promise you, bleach notwithstanding, Rayon is a safe choice, an economical option, a good bet.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Golf, A Good Walk Spoiled

I like golf. I remember the first time I played. It was a little more than 30 years ago and I was working on a consulting project in Columbia, South Carolina. It was August and it was hot. My client, Jim, came into the office I was using after lunch one day and said, “Hey Arnie, why don’t we get out of here around three and go over to my club and play the back nine?” I tried to get out of it; it was hot. I told him I had never played golf or even hit a golf ball in my life and that was the truth, and that it wouldn’t be any fun for him. “On the contrary,” he said, “it will be fun for me to have someone else to laugh at. I’m the worst golfer in my regular foursome.”

So I ran out to K-Mart and picked up some golf shoes and I rented clubs at the pro shop and we played the back nine. It was hot -- so hot -- and we agreed to limit my hacking at the ball to six swings on par three’s and eight swings on par four’s and five’s. And, oh boy, it was hot and Jim did have a lot to laugh at, especially when I refused to look for my ball in the rough – I just knew there were copperheads, spiders and rattlesnakes in there. Oh my!

So the next day Jim came back and said, “That was fun. Let’s do it again.”

“Oy,” I said. And I thought that perhaps if I looked more like a golfer, I might play better. So I went to a golf store and bought a pair of bright red plaid trousers – I’m talking blood-on-the-sun bright red! But when it became time to change clothes and go to the club, I lost my nerve. I wasn’t a golfer and I hadn’t earned the right to wear the uniform. So I wore my chinos and headed out.

We played the front nine on that second day and on the first par four we came to I made par! I don’t know how. I probably didn’t do anything right; I just got really lucky. The exhilaration was immediate. I thought my heart was going to thump right out of my chest! And if that was the last hole we played, I might still be a golfer today. But no, we played the rest of the nine holes and I got my usual six’s and eight’s. What frustration! What disappointment! What a stupid game!!

I never played again. Why would anyone want to go through that angst on a regular basis? But in the process of relocating from Charlotte back up to Brooklyn recently, I found those preposterous pants in my closet. I tried them on to see how they looked but apparently, as many of you know, apparel has a tendency to shrink over the years, hanging in a closet (it probably has something to do with climate change). So I included them in the four or five bags of clothes and housewares I left out for the National Kidney Foundation pickup. And the next morning, when I was going out for a Starbucks, the pants were back on my doorstep with a note saying – we’re not that desperate!

So I’m not a golfer, but I know what supplies will result in a competitive advantage to those of you who do embroidery for golfers. These are products you will want to have readily available in your machine room.

Get some thread with a demonstrated reputation for withstanding the sun’s rays – increased UV protection is what I’m talking about. Golfers, duffers and hackers all play the game in the sun and no one wants their beautiful embroidery to get bleached by the sun and fade. The same is true of non-apparel golf items – towels, golf bags, club head covers, gloves and pin flags. An additional benefit to the thread I’m thinking of is that its vivid colors and weight make it ideal for the small lettering associated with country club logos. Unfamiliar with what I’ve described? Just ask me.


Thursday, October 31, 2013

Real Embroiderers Use Metallics

Through the ages, embroiderers have always been known for their high intelligence, enthusiasm, resourcefulness, great courage and good looks. It puzzles me, then, why so many current artisans of the embroidery craft exclude metallics from their repertoire and, in fact, avoid using metallic thread to the extent of not even mentioning it to customers. BABIES! CHICKENS! Cluck, cluck!

There are no GOOD reasons not to use metallics, which can breathe life into otherwise ordinary or boring embroideries. I strongly recommend you try 50 weight metallic. This size metallic thread doesn’t require any special digitizing, can be run with your regular 75/11 needle and can be used in practically any stock design, replacing a standard 40 weight thread. Its thin construction enables you to do small lettering.

So, let’s deal with some of the reasons (and myths) embroiderers have used to avoid metallics.

1. It’s expensive. Ok, I’ll give you that; it is more expensive than the top rayon or polyester thread you normally use. On the other hand, you should use it frugally, saving it for highlights, for emphasizing parts of the design and not for large fill areas. And you can charge more for it.

2. It requires special digitizing. No, not “special digitizing,” but the design must be programmed for metallic thread so that the density is lowered, allowing for the metallic threads to lay into the garment properly, without looking uncomfortably cramped into a small space. If the design isn’t digitized with metallic thread in mind, you can experience thread breaks as the stitches are “forced” into the too-small space.

3. You have to change needles. Not necessarily; though for the heavier sizes, such as 20, 30 and 35 weight, you should switch to 100/16 or 90/14. For the lighter 40 weight metallic, you can use an 80/12 or in some cases, don’t even have to change your 75/11. And remember that with the thinnest size metallic, the 50 weight, you change nothing! Except for the brilliant shine reflecting off your embroidery that may require the use of sun glasses, you need to change nothing.  But okay, technically, for the heavier weights and twisted foil metallics, you may be changing needles.

4. You will have to reduce your machine speed. Yeah, you should slow it down somewhat. Metallic threads are not as “supple” as rayon and polyester and at high speeds, changing directions might result in a thread break. Speeds between 600 and 700 stitches per minute should work ok.

5. Tensions have to be readjusted. So, metallic thread, being less supple than other top threads, tensions generally needs to be relaxed, looser than normal. You should try a sample run before starting production and, after getting the tensions properly adjusted, the metallic will run as well as rayon and polyester.

6. Special backings? No, not really, but you should avoid very stiff backing and material as they may be too abrasive and shred the thread.

7. Misdirections:
a. Don’t spray the thread with silicon or anything else.
b. Don’t put it on a stand across the room or in a different room.
c. Don’t heat it or freeze it.
d. Don’t lay the thread sideways or upside down.
These methodologies are used as a substitute for using good quality thread.

8. Directions:
            a. Use the best quality thread. See earlier blogs on how to make that decision,
                but it starts with getting samples.
            b. Use cones where possible instead of spools; the smaller the put-up,
                the more “memory” the thread has when coming off.
            c. Use the right sized needle.
            d. Ensure the design is meant for metallic thread or reduce the density to fit;
                make a sample run.
            e. Loosen the upper tensions.
            f. Slow down.

So, why bother making the changes to your embroidery life by introducing metallics? Because the results, esthetically and profitably, make a little bit of bother more than worthwhile. Even a small amount of metallic silver or gold, in place of gray or yellow, richly enhances a corporate logo or any embroidery.
So, don’t be chicken! Use metallics! Start with the 50 weight; it’s the easiest, requiring no changes to your machine. Then move into the heavier weights, after you’ve gained some confidence. Finally, segue into the rich variety of specialty threads available in the marketplace to enhance your product offering.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Tomato, Tomahto, What’s the difference? When to Choose Rayon or Polyester Embroidery Thread

I’ve been asked a hundred million times, “Which is better: Rayon or Poly?” What the askers really wanted to know is, “Tell Me What I Should Use: Rayon or Poly.”

The decision is being made in a variety of ways. If you’re buying an existing business from someone, you’ll carry on (at least in the beginning) with what was being used. If you’re starting a new business, you may use the recommendation of the machine sales person or continue using the thread that came on your new machine. If you’re the “creative” partner, you may take the recommendation of your “business-head” partner and choose Polyester over Rayon (“No-brainer, Dude, it’s 30% cheaper!”).

The most prudent way to make the decision should be based (85%) on the type of embroidery business you do (or will do) and the balance (15%) on what thread you like best. But you should understand the properties of both types of thread.

Rayon thread is made from wood pulp and is therefore a renewable resource (important to us “tree-huggers”). It takes the place of silk thread, which was used for centuries when all embroidery was done by hand (and I was young, so young!). Machine embroidery requires a stronger fiber, hence rayon. (I love saying “hence”.) Rayon has a soft hand, or feel, even when the stitch count is high, keeping the embroidery and fabric in balance. It has a silkier sheen and warmth; the color is especially sensitive to light refraction, which makes the embroidery look more vivid and appear to have more depth. Finally, its low elongation (stretchiness) and flexibility prevents looping and puckering (trust me Newbies, you don’t want looping or puckering). I should add that rayon is color-fast and responds very well to washing (203 degrees F) and dry cleaning, except where chlorine bleach is a requirement (No, no, no!).

Polyester is a synthetic fiber made from polymers (no idea what that is!), a by-product of petroleum (not a renewable resource!). Its use as an embroidery thread started to explode when embroidery went from mostly fashion wear and home decorating (remember, before NAFTA?) to include outerwear, sportswear, uniforms and corporate apparel. A more durable thread was needed, hence (love it): polyester. Polyester thread is shiny, strong, holds color very well and is impervious (liberal arts education!) to chlorine bleach. It has a stiffer feel though, especially in high stitch count designs, and the colors, while bright, are not as lively as rayon (my opinion).

The Decision!

So, if you are doing items that will be used more as fashion items (fine ladies apparel, formal gowns and lingerie, corporate wear, and leather jacket backs) or as decoration (lamp shades, draperies, table clothes, photo album covers), basically, items that will be handled carefully and not abused, go for using the rayon.

If you are embroidering something that is going to be receiving tough treatment (caps, denim jacket backs, chair backs, car seat covers, canvas boat covers, stadium blankets) or items that are going to be washed a lot (uniforms and baby clothes) by persons who don’t always read laundering labels, consider using polyester thread.

To pick the brand of thread to use, see my first Blog #1 – Choosing the Best Embroidery Thread.

By the way:
I know you read the manual that came with your embroidery machine and you’re current with all the Preventive Maintenance items for it. Nonetheless (guffaw) there may be occasions when, despite the TLC, your machine needs the attention of a technical specialist (and it’s out of warranty, of course), Ta Da!!!...

Welcome to Madeira USA’s newest service: Embroidery Technicians Page. Use this page to research a machine tech when you need one. We’ve researched and sent out queries throughout the U.S. to find the technicians who are best suited for your needs. Please visit this page to learn which techs service your machine, where they are located and how to contact them. Go to the Services tab at

Monday, August 12, 2013

Choosing The Best Embroidery Thread

My Company (Madeira USA) has asked me to try my hand at writing the Madeira Blog. I think they did it because I’ve slowed down a bit in the last few years; I used to be on the road, selling thread (sewing and embroidery) for more than 200 days a year and now I work four days every other week and they want to keep me busy. You know the saying about “idle hands.”  That is not to say that I don’t answer the phone when I’m not (officially) working, if you or one of my other customers or one of my colleagues calls, because I do. I’m just an old firedog answering the bell whenever it rings. Additionally, and more importantly, I have more than 20 years’ experience in the embroidery business and they feel I have something to contribute in terms of helping to educate embroiderers and, oh yeah, help them be more $uccessful!

So I thought I’d begin blogging by addressing some of the questions I’ve heard time and again, mostly from embroiderers new to the business, but from veterans as well. And I’ll try to be brief and to the point because I know you’re busy.

Standing in the Madeira booth at an industry show or in my Madeira shirt on a sales call, I’m invariably asked, “Which is the best brand of thread?” or “Why should I use your thread?” Now, I’m always momentarily tempted to extoll the many virtues of our thread and the many reasons to do business with Madeira. But really, you’re the best judge of which thread is “best.” And here’s how to do it.
Google “embroidery thread” and (discounting the ads from Amazon and others like it) call or email each of the thread manufacturers and distributors. Tell them you’re new to embroidery and ask for a thread sample and a thread card. If they ask you for your credit card number, cross them off your list. If they want your business, they will be happy to enter you into their data base and send you the sample(s) and thread card (I know we will).

There are three benchmarks for you to determine the “best” thread for you.
1. How does it perform? Comes off the spool (or cone) smoothly? Sews design after design without thread breaks?
2. How does it look? This is how your customer will judge your embroidery. Does it look like you want it to be representative of your craft and business?
3. Is it a good value? Here we have a blend of many elements: the cost per unit, of course, but factored by thread quality, availability, shipping costs (how close is the shipping point), color selection, ease of ordering (mail, phone, fax, on line, email), great customer service (source of information and advice), one-stop shopping (everything you’ll need in one place), etc.