Saturday, February 06, 2016Embroidery's Voice and Vision



Expand your understanding and hone your technical skills as veteran award-winning digitizer, e-commerce manager and all-around technophile Erich Campbell explores and explains the intersection of embroidery, technology, creativity and business. He’s the go-to guy for stitches and tech at Black Duck Embroidery and Screen Printing in Albuquerque, NM, one of the Southwest's largest screen-printing and embroidery firms. You can find him on Facebook at, follow him on Twitter at or e-mail him at


Judging the Golden Needles - What Qualities Determine Embroidery's Best?

The deadline for entering Stitches Magazine's Golden Needle Awards is fast approaching; what should you look for when you send in your entry?

Stitches Golden Needle AwardsMany people in the industry have this lingering fear that their production work isn't good enough to enter in contests – this is especially true when it comes to digitizing. Each digitizer has his or her idiosyncratic way of doing things, and many worry that their technique just won't make it when scrutinized by the top creators in the industry. I'm here to tell you that you are likely wrong. If you are creating good-looking pieces that run well, you probably have something you can enter, and you may well surprise yourself at how far you can go. The problem isn't likely with your designs; it's with your perception of the judging process. It may feel subjective, and when it comes to the artistic merit of a piece, it can be, but there are quantifiable elements that the judges are looking for when they start poring through the entries.

1. Stitching Quality - We all know the standard things you look for in a design; it must be free of thread breaks due to overly small/compact stitches, it must have good coverage, and it must stay in register, with no gaps between elements that should be in contact. These things are easy, but there's more to this category. The design must have a good use of underlay, and be punched in a way that makes sense for the fabric on which the submission sample was stitched. If you have a beautiful design that you couldn't bend in half with a pair of pliers, you can bet the judges will have something to say about your densities. It's not just about looks, though making sure outlines hit where they should, fills and satins don't poke out past their intended stopping points, and that the substrate doesn't show through the stitching unless it's clear that it should, are paramount.

2. Production Friendliness - Remember, this is a commercial competition; excessive color changes and bad pathing/sequencing means extra time on the machine and extra steps in finishing a piece. Great pieces should take the order and direction in which elements stitch into account, making a logical progression around the design in a way that minimizes excessive movement and helps the embroidery stay in register. Don't worry if you have a cap design with extra traveling/jump stitches because you've started from the center and worked out; the judges know about the proper path for each use case, and they understand that registration and stability sometimes require deviations from the path with the least number of trim points. Production friendliness is just what it seems: You want to make a design that is sincerely friendly to produce, one that runs cleanly and quickly, doesn't cause problems for operators, and needs as little finishing work as possible. In this industry, a good-looking design, even one that has a good feel and takes the garment into account, that takes twice the time it should on the machines will lose you money and production time. If it doesn't run well in real production, it can't be the best of the best.

3. Artistic Merit - This is the only really subjective part of the judging, but you shouldn't be worried that you don't have a 'pretty' enough design. You have to remember that the judges, as commercial digitizers themselves, have worked with all manner of art styles. This isn't a contest as to what sort of source material you used – this is about how you rendered your art. Did you make a pleasing embroidery design, taking into account whether the design worked for the garment you submitted? Have you used a pleasing or interesting color scheme? If you did use special effects or materials, did you use them to good effect? Did you do anything interesting with your stitch types, angles, or motifs that was noteworthy? No matter what the image is that you are rendering, there are so many artistic choices you can make that can change the outcome of the final piece, and this is where you can pick up points for really understanding how the qualities of embroidery shape that outcome. Paying attention to the dimension, light-reflection, texture, and finish in your design will get you some extra credit here.

I'm sure that some of this scrutiny sounds daunting, but here's the truth of the matter: I myself have judged the Golden Needles for years, and I can assure you, the winners don't have to be perfect. We look for the merits of each piece and report them honestly, and moreover, as people who have devoted a good chunk of our lives to this work, we really want to see you do well. We may be your greatest supporters more than your greatest critics.

It's time to do this, and I know you can. You don't need to create some new, far-flung attempt at a complete masterpiece. All of the wins I had as a contestant were garnered from work I had taken right from my production line. You no longer have to fear the judgment – I've given you the qualities we seek, and now the key is to look for those standout designs from your personal catalog. Find a piece that looked great and ran well, one you believe in, and get it ready to send. If you are concerned about the design, check it against this post and submit it for a quick round of editing. When you have it where you want it, sample your design, and SEND IT IN! I want to see your work, and believe me: You have nothing to lose, and everything to gain from the attempt. This could be your year!

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