Design Dilemmas

Continuing with our Enlightened Embroidery series, we‘ll take a look at choosing the correct design to match your fabric.  First, let’s start with some basic vocabulary and definitions.

The Anatomy of an Embroidery Design

Size:  The height and width of the design measured in either inches or millimeters.

Stitch count:  Stitch count refers to the number of stitches in a design.

Stitch type:

  • Satin – Formed by closely arranged zigzag stitches, it can be stitched at any angle, and with varying lengths. The thread is laid across a shape with a zigzag sewing action where two stitches form a column. It is only suitable for small or narrow shapes.
  • Run – Run stitch (also called Walk stitch) places a single row of stitches along a digitized line. The needle penetrations are placed in consecutive order. Run is generally used for stitching outlines and connector stitches.
  • Fill – A series of running stitches commonly used to cover large areas. Different fill patterns can be created by altering the angle, length, and repeat sequence of the stitches.

Underlay:  This helps to stabilize fabric and reduce distortion due to the pull effect. It also provides ‘loft’, raising cover stitches and preventing them from sinking into soft fabrics. When no underlay is applied, the embroidery lays flat on the fabric. It not only looks flat, but the fabric often shows through.*

Pull Compensation :  Embroidery stitches pull fabric inwards where the needle penetrates. This can cause fabric to pucker and gaps to appear in the embroidery. Shapes are slightly narrower and longer in the final embroidery than they look on the screen. Pull compensation counters this effect by ‘overstitching’ outlines of filled shapes on the sides where the needle penetrates.  The amount of pull compensation required depends on the fabric you have chosen. *

Jump Stitches:  Embroidery machines have a maximum possible stitch length which is determined by the frame movement limitations of the machine itself. If a stitch exceeds this, it is broken into smaller stitches. This can affect the embroidery appearance, especially in Satin fills. Note:  Many times after we have purchased a design we find out to our dismay that the designer did not sequence the color stitch out correctly and we see an ugly mess of jump stitches.  This situation is impossible to detect until you purchase the design.  The only way you can deal with this is to make sure you stop your stitching and clip the jump stitches as you go along.*

Thread color/brand:  Each design that is digitized will show recommended thread colors and the thread brand they used for their design sample.  This information will allow you to reproduce the design as they intended, but also allow you to tweak the colors and/or brands to suit your needs.

Taking a Closer Look

When you fall in love with a design you see on the shelf or online, it is nearly impossible to know if the designer properly created the design for your project. Generally, you’ll see the design’s size, stitch count, and thread color/brand.  So what do you do?  Take a close look at how their sample was stitched out, the fabric they used, and the size of the design.  Designs that are light and airy can be stitched out on any fabric type (knit/stretch, woven, or delicate), but a design that has a high stitch count, multiple colors and/or a  large size should be mainly considered for woven fabrics and some knit/stretch fabrics.  As we previously discussed in our Enlightening Embroidery: Stabilizers article, the correct stabilizer(s) must be selected to prevent puckering.

To show you how to go about this, we’re going to walk you through a close look at some embroidery designs.

New design from OESD – Animal Alphabet


Size: The size of this design is 77.9 x 83 mm (3.07 x 3.27 in) and would be considered a medium-sized design.

Stitch Count: The stitch count is 17, 201 stitches, which also falls into a medium stitch count category.

This would be a great design for a baby knit onesie, a woven cotton block in a baby quilt, or a wall hanging with the baby’s name.

Using Bernina Embroidery Software Designer Plus software,  we see that the designer, Krista Hamrick, has expertly layered multiple colors, providing the needed underlay for our stitch out and giving the design a realistic look.


Elk – Designer Unknown


Size: This size of this Elk design is 258 x 228 mm (10 x 9 in.) and definitely falls into the large design category.

Stitch Count: The stitch count is 60068 stitches.

This design would be perfect for the back of a denim jacket, tote bag, or wall hanging.  It will require multiple layers of stabilizer to prevent puckering.  Notice that there are multiple layers of colors, like the design above, providing the needed underlay.  Also notice the green jump stitch across the elk’s body.  You’d need to correct the stitch-out sequence to eliminate it


OESD – Horse Impressions #12166***



Size: This design is 157.73 x 108.2mm (6.21 x 4.26 in.) and is considered a large design.

Stitch Count:  The stitch count is 6404.

Even though it is a large design, this stitch count means that it could be stitched out any just about any type of fabric (knit, woven or delicate) or a non-fabric material.  This design was expertly digitized for multiple purposes.

We hope this helps you select the right design for your embroidery projects.  If you have any questions or suggestions, please give us a call.

Until next time – happy stitching!

Sharon & Becky


*For more information on Pull Compensation, Underlay and Jump Stitches, see the Bernina Embroidery DesignerPlus Software V7 User Manual.


**See Animal Alphabet collection at


***See Horse Impression collection at