Digitizing Embroidery Designs and Finding Your Niche
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When I first started off in machine embroidery, I joined every machine embroidery group I could find. And, when the subject of digitizing embroidery designs came up and how to learn how to do it, people often mentioned the name, Sue Taylor (formerly Sue Lough).
Sue Lough has been in the machine embroidery business, digitizing embroidery designs and teaching people how to do it for over 20 years. While she used to train aspiring digitizers one-on-one, she now primarily focuses on creating embroidery, appliqué, and in-the-hoop designs that she sells on her website: www.memories-in-thread.com. Sue has become known for a very specific type of embroidery design: in-the-hoop gingerbread people. If you want to make gingerbread people – you get your designs from Memories in Thread.
Sue believes that if you want to start a business selling embroidery designs you really need to develop a niche. With digitizing becoming more and more accessible, you can’t expect to make a lot of sales selling the same types of designs everyone else is selling.
Why did you learn how to digitize?
When I first got an embroidery machine the choice was very limited. I had a Brother machine and bought the embroidery cards which were very expensive. There wasn’t the ‘home’ digitizing software available then. There weren’t many places you could buy designs online. Then, when the software became available to home users, there wasn’t that much help available. So, I taught myself to digitize.
What digitizing software do you use?
I use PE design V.11 and have used this software since it first came out around in approximately 1999.
Since you first got in this field do you think machine embroidery has become more popular?
Machine embroidery is much more popular since I started in the mid 1990s. At that time there was very little information available, one or two Yahoo groups to join and not many places to purchase designs from. Mostly they were sold by the big digitizing houses, like Amazing designs, Brother, Husqvarna etc. Not many ‘home’ embroiderers [sold designs]. Designs were very expensive too. There was none or very little help for digitizers apart from the manual that came with your software.
What is the best way to learn how to digitize?
The best way is to learn how to use the manual tools and not auto digitizing. There are online lessons, CDs etc. where you can actually see what to do, including mistakes and how to correct them. This way you will also have something you can refer back to.
Do you recommend embroiderers learn how to digitize embroidery designs?
It depends on what sort of designs they are looking for, and what time they can spend learning. Software for digitizing is not cheap to purchase, and it does take a while to get to know your way around.
Digitizing embroidery designs isn’t for everyone. Sometimes it is better to purchase the designs you are wanting to use, as they are ready made and available. If it is a special design just for you, then you can have it digitized by someone else.
On the other hand, if you are planning on making embroidery your business and are going to be doing logos and other personalized items, then yes, you will need to learn how to digitize. But, if it is just for hobby purposes – probably not necessary.
If you do decide to learn to digitize, then take the time to learn your program inside and out. I have seen a lot of people move from one make of software to another thinking that the next one will be easier to learn. But, basically they aren’t giving themselves the time to learn one properly.
Do you teach people how to digitize?
I used to teach a lot of people how to digitize. In fact, I do have a few ladies I have taught that have gone on to have their own websites [and sell their designs].
When I first started teaching PE Design online, I had a Yahoo group and we did lessons that way, with people uploading their designs for me to check if they had understood etc. The first lesson we did is still in my Let’s Begin tutorial. It was the daisy flower, very simple but they enjoyed the sense of achievement and we went from there.
While I offer tutorials on my website, they are older ones now. I stopped making them after V.7 PE Design. Although the tools and techniques are all the same as they are in the current versions, the interface in the program is different now. They have added a few new bells and whistles.
When I went over to digitizing embroidery designs full time, there were more people making tutorials, so I decided to stop doing them. I think the turning point came with the [emergence of] Youtube where there is a lot of digitizing help now. And, Facebook which has opened up a whole new platform for information, selling etc. But, it has also increased the competition greatly.
I have taught in classes and also have done online one to one tutorials, but not so often now. If I do any teaching now, it is because someone has asked me to help with a particular design or problem they are having. So, it is more aimed at their specific requirements rather than me advising.
What are the most common mistakes beginning digitizers make?
Auto-digitizing – thinking they will get a very good design and then wondering why they don’t.
Now that you are focusing on digitizing embroidery designs, what types of designs are you making?
Ideas will come to me from nowhere really. Or, I will get asked to do a particular subject. I do enjoy working out how to make items in the hoop and have several of those designs too. If I see something that is made on the sewing machine, I like to think how it can be made on the embroidery machine.
I am still digitizing the gingerbread men, all jobs and hobbies, nationalities etc. And, I enjoy making little felt characters to add to my stuffed letters sets to make name banners, wreaths etc. I really enjoy the more challenging aspect of digitizing as well, with more complex detailed designs. So, I don’t know that I have a particular favourite style of digitizing, just whatever I am working on at the current time.
My first reading pillow design set is the most popular single item on the website https://www.memories-in-thread.com/reading-boy-and-girl-set
Is there a demand for a certain type of embroidery designs?
I don’t think there are any one type of design that is more popular than another. It depends on the individual and what they are making. I think designers now tend to focus more on a particular style of digitizing rather than just general designs because there are so many doing it now.
Digitizers need to find their own interest, as it is much easier digitizing something that interests you. I did used to do custom work, but found it wasn’t as enjoyable as working on something that I liked.
Thank you so much, Sue, for your interesting insight and digitizing expertise!
Learn more about Sue by visiting her web site: Memories in Thread where she has some really unique embroidery designs and tutorials for PE Design software: www.memories-in-thread.net You can also checkout the Memories in Thread Facebook group.
Note: all images on this post were used were provided by Sue and used with her permission.