Creative Education

“You”-Driven Words are Always New and Appealing        

 One of my life’s greatest adventures has been speaking at the NBM Shows (our newly-minted name)—and, of course, writing for several of the magazines that National Business Media publishes.

Once in a while a reader will ask, “Why did you just write another column/feature on hooping/digitizing etc.? Haven’t you covered that before?”

My answer? “Yes. But there are always new people entering our industry. We have to keep in mind that the trade magazines are trying to serve those with experience as well as the clean slates we affectionately call ‘newbies’.”

And the columnists and writers do try to serve the entire readership by covering the basics while adding new slants and ideas and striving to keep up with an ever-evolving industry.

It’s a fine line we walk, trying to keep readers with any amount of experience interested—reading, learning, sharing and thinking.

 The You Factor

 I wrote the first embroidery-related article for Printwear in November of 1997 when this predominantly screen printing publication decided to branch out into other types of decorated apparel information. That means I’ve been writing for the NBM stable of trade publications for 13 years…how time flies when you’re having fun!

My favorite question/remark from readers is, “How can you keep coming up with new ideas/subjects—and new ways of presenting them? I would think the well would run dry!”

My answer?


 I am constantly inspired by the folks I meet at the trade shows, the ones who write to me via my websites ( and and, of course, the great group at the Embroidery Line, a forum I created for embroiderers/digitizers/apparel decorators to share ideas and resources.

The trade show side of NBM brings many of our readers together to explore what’s new, and the seminar program (education is one of CEO Bob Wieber’s priorities) is always “on the table” being tweaked, strengthened, and reinforced.

 Behind the Curtains

 Knowing the thought and work that goes into the educational program at the shows, I am concerned when I see posts at the Embroidery Line and hear comments in the field that suggest that the seminars are “the same as last year” and thus not worth even considering let alone attending.

My first thoughts go out to the speakers (some of whom are also columnists and feature writers) because I know first-hand the amount of research, thought, communication and heart that goes into those presentations. For the writers, they are “animated columns” with the bonus of being able to interact with our “readers” immediately.

 Tools of the Trade: Embroidery Essentials from Machines to Garments

 Imagine being on deck every year to present a seminar on the ins and outs of purchasing a machine and everything that goes along with creating embroidery! It’s an important topic because the shows are attended by many looking to enter the decorated apparel industry…which makes it imperative that we address shopping tips as well as any caveats that will benefit the purchaser.

There will be veterans in attendance, returning buyers who are looking to add another machine, move up to production-oriented multi-heads or investigate specialty applications that require machines and software that can do sequins, chenille, boring and more—and that makes it important to include advanced and creative buying information as well. The goal is to help the novice without boring the veteran and encourage the growth plans of the veteran without intimidating the newbie.

The overreaching goal is to simply help any buyer—giving them the tools they need to make a wise purchase.

 For the Newbies

 Marrying a machine and a shirt to create embroidery is accomplished by a series of tasks and a selection of supplies. I can’t emphasize enough that attending a trade show should only be one step toward becoming an embroidery entrepreneur. The most important step is research—and lots of it. That might begin with a trade show or, as many I have met have done, attending several trade shows before making a final decision. But don’t discount surfing the Internet, joining and participating in email discussion groups, and networking with other business before committing to a purchase. A list of satisfied customers from a machine company will bring you feedback from…satisfied customers. Find groups that are independent and ask your questions there.

It’s important to choose a company that has a good reputation for support—you want to know that, even after the purchase, you are not alone. Trade shows and networking give you the benefit of “shared” experience before you shop so that you can create and control an interview with the vendor, not be the target of a sales pitch. Always remember that, until the money is transferred, you are the person in charge.

Study and learn about the relationship between software and machines. Each digitizing software program has its own proprietary file format but all can output a .dst file, which is the compilation of machine code that directs the machine to stitch the design on the goods. What this means is that ANY software will work with any machine. Don’t buy into a slick sales technique that tries to convince you that the software that they are packaging with the machine will work better. If that were true, there would be no digitizing software being sold without a machine; machine companies would not change their brand of software when offered a better deal.

You should shop for your software with the same care that guides your machine purchase…perhaps even more as you will be spending many hours interacting with the software and learning to create designs that will set your work apart. The time on the machine is pretty straight forward—the time with the software is the innovative and creative time that makes embroidery exciting and, in the case of originality, potentially more profitable.

Thread, needles, backing, a hooping device—all of these and more are needed to prepare, hoop and stitch the goods. But do you need an expensive library of stock designs? Remember that sales come around again and it might be a better idea to purchase designs when you have a firm handle on where your business is heading. If your niche ends up being custom corporate embroidery, thousands of dollars spent on pre-digitized designs might be better spent elsewhere—or kept in the bank to pay for operating expenses.

I remember a phone call from a government office that had purchased an embroidery machine to stitch their own shirts—“save money” was their rationalization. The reason for their call? “I have the design here on paper. I have the machine. How do I get the design on the shirt?”

They had purchased no software, had no idea that they needed it or what purpose it served.

That makes the case for research.

 For the Veterans

 It is such a treat to be in a position to recharge the enthusiasm of people who have been in the industry for a while—and be recharged by them. There are so many positive aspects of the embroidery industry!

The trade shows point the experienced embroiderer to the newest technology and the machines that will help them with the creative applications that will set their business apart.

Embroidery machines are simply magic these days. Some do chenille, embroidery and set sequins on the same head. Cording (designs created with a combination of stitching and cord), boring (creating embroidery with “holes” like embroidered eyelet fabric) can be created with embroidery machines as well.

Put on your thinking cap and just imagine how these special applications can set your -business apart. Do some research in malls and with catalogues to see what is being offered that is new and different. Do you want to be part of that? Ask on the Internet networks and chat sites and find out how lucrative these creative techniques are.

It is important to ask the machine vendors if the specialty feet and applications can be added after the sale—sometimes by an educated owner—or if the installation must be done at the factory. Is a needle sacrificed by the specialty attachment or can it still be used for embroidery? Ask the questions and get the answers because all machines are not the same.

Does the software you own digitize for chenille or sequins or are you going to have to upgrade or trade for something else if you add those capabilities?

 New and Appealing

 Buying equipment as a novice or a veteran is easier with research, research and more research.

One of the best places to do that research is at a trade show—and taking advantage of the educational offerings.

The key to why so many seminars are not the same year in and year out, no matter what the working title, is that the substance of the seminar is driven by those who sit in the seats…at least that’s the way it is in my room. When many levels of experience are present in the seminar, the real fun begins. The experienced can help newcomers benefit from their buying experiences. And, I have seen many a seasoned embroiderer’s eyes light up when a novice asks a question or shares an idea that is new and innovative or simply a new twist on an old idea.

The one in the front has a presentation screen and a mental list of objectives, just like the teacher in a classroom has a book and a list of what must be covered. But how it is covered, the real essence of the seminar is unknown even to the presenter until the ideas and aspirations—and inspirations—walk in the door and take their seats.

Some of the slides in the presentation remain the same—a picture of a machine is a basic necessity in any “essentials” seminar, but the ingredients are ever changing. I have had many folks attend my seminars year after year, no matter what it is called, because they never know what to expect and most realize that one golden nugget mined in ninety minutes, can be a valuable find.

So, don’t pass up these seminars and the other great offerings at the NBM shows this year if you have the opening in your calendar. Don’t judge a seminar by its title or assume that it is static. Give as good or better than you get in any seminar you attend—and give your feedback as well so we can all improve. That is how the presenters grow, how the presentations improve, and how this industry is enhanced.

We need your fresh ideas, your seasoned experience and the enthusiasm that any blend of characters brings.