Embroidery Dictionary

Glossary of Embroidery Terms A – Z


A point used in embroidery software in which a design or portion of a design can berotated, scaled, mirrored or otherwise manipulated.


A technique which incorporates the use of fabric into an embroidery design.

Commonly used to reduce stitch count by replacing large fill stitch areas with pieces of fabric.

Applique Iron

Also called Tacking Iron. A heat conducting tool suitable for fusing heat-sealable items such as appliques, emblems or lettering to fabric.


The process of storing unused designs on electronic storage media such as floppies, cd-r’s or zip disks for future use.


Images imported into embroidery software for the purpose of editing and/or digitizing a design. These images will generally be either raster [such as .jpeg, .bmp, or .gif] or vector [such as .cdr or .ai].

Automatic Thread Trim

The process of inserted automatic thread trim commands incorporated into a design which will instruct an embroidery machine to cut top threads and/or bobbin thread, usually before jump stitches or color changes.


Generally either woven or non-woven material used to provide stabilization and support during the stitching process. Usually applied to the backside of a design by hooping it together with the item being stitched. Available in different weights and types.

Bean Stitch

Also known as Triple Stitch. A type of running stitch, in which the process will involve one stitch forward, one stitch back and then one stitch forward again. This results in three stitches between two points and is often used for outlining.

Bird Nest

A tangled mess of thread, which collects on the backside of a stitchout and/or through the hole of the needle plate.

Bitmap Images

Also called raster or paint images. Graphics which, are made up of individual square dots called pixels. Each individual pixel is assigned a specific color and location within the image and it is the specific combined arrangement of these pixels which creates the complete image. Available in a number of different formats including .jpeg,.bmp, .tiff or .gif.

Blatt Stitch

Also called a Column or Satin Stitch. A Schiffli term which means “to feed more yarn”, therefore producing a long zig-zag stitch with threads laying close together.


An advanced digitizing technique in which the digitizer will create stitching so that one color gradually changes to the next.


A spool which holds an embroidery machines lower or bottom thread. Stitching is formed when the upper thread and this bobbin thread are joined together during the sewing process.


An embroidery process in which a sharp-pointed instrument cuts “holes” in material and then the edges of these holes are finished by over sewing with a satin stitch.


Also called Flagging. Vertical movement of the item being stitched due to the “up” and “down” action of the needle. Can result in poor registration, poor stitch formation and/or “birdnesting”.

Bridge Machine

A type of commercial embroidery machine in which the head is suspended from an upper bridge or beam. This design generally allows the pantograph a wider range of movement on the Y-axis [front to back].


A heavy woven fabric, which is stiffened with glue or other substance. Often used as a stabilizer behind the front panels of structured caps.

Cap Frame

A special cylindrical hooping system available for commercial machines, which makes it possible to easily embroider finished caps and hats. Some are designed for embroidering only the front of caps, while others offer 270 deg. [front and both sides] capabilities.


An enlargement of original artwork, which is used as a template in tablet digitizing.

Usually six times larger than finished design size. These “larger than life” drawings provided accuracy plus made it easier for the puncher to gauge stitch length and densities.

Chain Stitch

Stitching used to outline and detail a chenille design.


A deep pile form of embroidery in which a loop stitch is formed on the topside of the fabric. This process uses heavy yarns and no bobbin thread. Requires a Chenille machine.

Color Change

A command within embroidery software, which indicates a thread change or a function available on an embroidery machine, which will change thread.


An ability for a material or thread to retain its color during normal wear and laundering.

Column Stitch

Also called Satin or Steil Stitch. A pattern of stitches which is formed by very closely arranged zig-zag stitches, producing a column with only one stitch crossing the column width.

Column Width

The width of a column stitch formation. Often measured in millimeters or fractions of an inch.

Complex Fill

A method of digitizing, which allows digitizing software to determine individual fill segments of an object to be automatically completed by the program.

Compressed Lettering

Alphabetic lettering characterized by heights which, are lower than normal.

Condensed Format

A digitizing format that includes data for the point entries and machine function commands, allowing for easy changes to size, stitch densities and stitch lengths without effecting the quality or stitchability of the design. Originally associated with Melco Software and identified by the .cnd file extension but today most digitizing programs have their own proprietary outline formats.

Condensed Lettering

Alphabetic lettering characterized by widths which are narrower than


Contour Stitch

A fill stitch, which follows the contour of a shape or object in order to create a unique artistic pattern.


Legal protection against copying the work of an original creator, author or artist.

Available for both published and unpublished works.


Attaching any type of round, decorative cord to items. Requires a cording device to be used together with an embroidery machine.


Also called Patch. Embroidered motif’s such as Coat of Arms, emblems, insignias or official logos.


The process of removing the unwanted outer limits of an image. Usually used to reduce size of an image or to select only the required portion, so that the image is suitable for importing into editing or digitizing software.

Cross Stitch

An embroidery technique in which a design is composed of a series of two stitches crossing at the center to form an X. Traditionally, this was a hand stitching process used to create pictures or images. Now there are a number of software programs which will create cross stitch designs.


On screen pointer which indicates position dictated by computer mouse or tablet pen.


A computer function which allows the user to select an onscreen object or text, remove it and at the same time, store it on the computers “Clipboard” where it will be made available for the systems “Paste” function.


Also called Puckering. The curling of embroidered designs on fabrics, usually due to high stitch density or improper stabilization.


A type of stabilizer, which offers the most support during the stitching of an embroidery design. Requires the use of scissors in order to remove excess material.

Cylinder Arm Machine

An embroidery machine designed with a long narrow arm, which contains the hook assembly and bobbin. This type of construction allows for easier embroidery of small, curved or unusually shaped articles such as pockets, caps, sleeves, bags and pant legs on finished items.

Cylindrical Frame

Also called Narrow Cylindrical Frame. A cylindrical hooping system available for many of the commercial machines, which allows easier stitching of small narrow items such as pockets, sleeves, bags, socks and pants legs on finished items.


Generally referring to functions or values which, are automatically used unless they are over ridden by entering new settings.


Unit of fineness for silk, rayon or nylon yarn. Equal to weight in grams of 9000 meters of thread and represented by the weight of the strands of thread, a slash, and the number of strands per thread, [eg. 120/2 Den].


The amount of thread in a given area of an embroidery design. Generally referred to and measured as the distance between parallel stitching.

Design File

A saved embroidery design available for future use.

Design Format

A specific form or language in which information is saved so that it can be read and understood by an embroidery machine. Many embroidery machines are capable of “reading” only one format.


A person who “digitizes” or creates an embroidery design.


The process of using special computer software to create an embroidery design by converting artwork and/or ideas into a series of commands which can then be read by an embroidery machine in order to stitch the design.

Digitizing Tablet

An electronic board connected to a computer which, allows the user to input commands to on screen design work. Used with a puck or pen instead of a mouse.


A computer storage media to which information can be saved. Most often referring to magnetic media such as floppy or zip disks.

Double Zig Zag

A type of underlay stitching usually used beneath column or satin stitches.


The transfer of data from the Internet to a computer or from a computer to an embroidery machine.


The process of moving a selected object or highlighting text on screen. Usually accomplished by holding down the left mouse button while manipulating the mouse.

Drop Down Menus

A list of available commands or functions under a software menu. Not visible until the main menu option is selected.

Drop Shadow

A shaded area behind an image or object which, adds definition and/or 3D effect.

E Stitch

A decorative stitch resembling the letter “E”. Usually found in country and western design work, children’s wear or applique.


To change an existing design by making necessary additions, deletions or corrections to the design information.


An embroidered design which, is usually an insignia, Coat of Arms or specific identification.


A process of raising an entire design or specific portions of a design to create a 3D effect.


Decorative stitching on fabric which usually incorporates specific design elements and colors. Originally done by hand and available only to the rich and elite members of society but with the invention of the embroidery machine, it is now common and available to all.

Expanded Format

Also called Stitch File. An embroidery design file format, which shows individual stitches and stitch points. Examples would be the Tajima .dst and the Pulse .psf formats.

Expanded Lettering

Alphabetic lettering characterized by widths which are wider than normal.


To save a file or design in a format not specific to the software in which it was created.

This is normally done so that other programs can read and interpret information contained in the file.

Extended Lettering

Alphabetical lettering characterized by heights which are higher than normal.


Also called Topping or Solvy. Generally, a water soluble or heat disintegrating type of

material which is hooped or placed on top of items which have an undesirable nap or surface texture for embroidery such as corduroy, fleece or terry cloth. The purpose of the facing is to compact the material while at the same time, preventing the embroidery stitches from sinking in.


Saved computer information.

File Extension

The abbreviated designation following the “.” of a file name. Normally three letters in length, it identifies the type of file and ultimately, the program it is associated with.

File Name

The specific name given a saved computer file, including the file extension.

Fill Stitch

Also called Tatami. A series of parallel running stitches used to cover large areas in an embroidery design.


Specific procedures which, are performed during the stitching process or after embroidery is complete. May include trimming loose threads, removing excess backing or facing, cleaning any stains, steaming and packaging.


See Bouncing


A file organization system used to sort information stored on a computer. Used the same as storing printed files in a filing cabinet.


Alphabetical or numerical characters of the same general typeface [style and overall appearance].

FOX Test

A word [FOX usually 1″ to 1.25″ high] stitch file used to check thread
tensions, plus

consistency in horizontal, vertical and diagonal directions which will give an indication of correct machine timing. By examining the back of the stitched out column stitches in the word FOX, an operator can determine if the relationship between the bobbin and top thread tensions is correct.There should be a consistent 1/3, 1/3, 1/3 ratio of “top thread/bobbin thread/top thread”.


A garment or item holding device which attaches to the arms of an embroidery machine so that the embroidery process can proceed. Usually not referring to regular hoops but instead reserved for devices like clamping or vacuum systems, magnets or springs, etc.


A software or machine control application which results in an action such as trim, color change, stop, etc.

Guide Stitch

A series of running stitches in a design which are used to assist in the line up and placement of subsequent embroidery when multiple hooping or applying pieces of fabric in applique.

Group Objects

A function available in software which allows the combing of two or more objects into one.


Also called Rotary Hook. The rotating circular component of an embroidery machine located below the needle plate. With the bobbin case held in the center, the hook makes two complete rotations per stitch and forms the stitch by passing its sharp point through a loop of top thread.


A round or rectangular holding device which, is made from wood, plastic or steel.

Composed of an inner and outer ring, the hoop is designed to hold material taunt during the stitching process and attaches to a machine’s pantograph.

Hoop Burn

The crushing of material fibers which, results in permanent marks being left on fabric after an embroidery hoop has been removed. Often the result of the hoop being too tight and unlike, hoop marks, hoop burn cannot be removed.

Hoop Mark

The temporary marks left on material after an embroidery hoop has been removed.

These marks can usually be removed using steam, misting with water or Magic Sizing spray.

Hooping Board

See Hooping Device below

Hooping Device

Also called Hooping Board. A device which aids in hooping of garments or other items for embroidery. Extremely useful for providing proper and consistent placement of design location on items.

I Test

A letter “I” [usually 1″ to 1.25″ in height] stitch file used as a test to check thread tensions.

By examining the back of the stitched out column stitches in the letter “I”, an operator can determine if the relationship between the bobbin and top thread tensions is correct. There should be a consistent 1/3, 1/3, 1/3 ratio of “top thread/bobbin thread/top thread”.


In computer terms, a small on screen graphic representing a file or larger image.


To bring data into a program, which is not specific to that particular software. Normally done so that one program can read and interpret information contained in the file which, originated in different program.

Interlock Stitches

Also called Thread Blending. Generally, two or more rows of overlapping satin stitches which “blend” with each other.


An alteration to typeface which, slants letters and/or numbers to the right.

Jump Stitch

A movement of the pantograph in which there is no needle penetration and no stitching occurs. Generally used to get from one point in a design to another which, are not connected.


Selectable, automatic spacing of text so that words, sentences or paragraphs will line up with center, left margin, right margin or both left and right margins.


Space between individual letters and/or numbers.

Keyboard Lettering

Also called Lettering. Embroidery using letters and/or words generated by embroidery software. Generally, the user of the program will have at least some control over letter styles, size, height, density, etc.


The space generated between lines of text.


See Keyboard Lettering

Light Fill

Embroidery fill area containing a low stitch density resulting in more distance between parallel running stitching.

Lip Hooping

Also called “Recessed Hooping”. A method of hooping bulky or slick fabrics, in which the inner ring is pushed past the edge of the outer ring, so that the outer ring sticks up higher, forming a lip. This method of hooping helps to prevent the inner ring from popping out during the embroidery process and also helps to place the item being stitched, closer to the needle plate.

Lock Stitch

Also called Tie-Off or Tie-In.

A series of consecutive stitches placed close together to prevent stitches from pulling out. Normally used prior to a trim in all fill, column or running stitches but in some cases may also be desirable in starting stitches as well. Most embroidery software and many machines will give the user lock stitch options such as number of stitches and in some cases, lock stitch pattern as well.


A defined and recognizable company, organization, club or group name and/or symbol.


Erratic stitching which, leaves loops of upper thread on the top surface of a stitchout.

There are a number of causes but most often, it will be the result of top thread tension too loose, design stitch density too high or needle size too small.

Manual Stitch

A stitch which, is created manually, one point at a time.

Maximum Stitch Length

In embroidery software, it is the longest allowable length of stitch in a design and generally can be set by the program user.. In terms of machine function, it will be the longest stitch that the machine will make before performing a jump stitch.

Minimum Stitch Length

The shortest allowable length of stitch in an embroidery design. In most software, this value can be set by the program user.


An overlock type of stitch used to finish the edge of crests or patches. Applied by a special sewing machine called a merrowing machine.


Embroidered design normally composed of three or less letters which, usually representing initials in a name.

Moss Stitch

The looped portion of a chenille stitchout. The height of this loop is determined by the needle height.


A group of stitches which, can be stored, recalled and duplicated during the creation of a design. Often used for creating borders or specific patterns within a given area.

Narrow Cylindrical Frame

See Cylindrical Frame.


Small, slender piece of steel composed of a thicker shaft at the top to accommodate installation in a machine and hole for thread near the bottom. A point which, is sharpened to varying degrees depending on the particular needle is located at the bottom tip. Needles are available in many different sizes and types.

Needle Plate

Flat steel plate which, contains a small hole through which the needle passes in the process of forming a stitch with the rotating hook. This plate supports the portion of design being stitched at the time of needle penetration.

Needle Up

Digitizing command, similar to a jump stitch, which tells the embroidery machine to move from one part of the design to another without forming a stitch.


A small spring action type of scissors.


Generally any single portion of an embroidery design which was created, at one time.

An object can be relatively simple such as a running stitch or something more complex such as a patterned fill or column. Single objects can be combined to form a group.


The point or location in a design where the stitching process will start. Usually located in the center of the design.

Outline Format

An embroidery file format of vectored based digitizing information. This format does not contain actual stitch points, but instead it will show object outlines in which, stitching is automatically created by the software based on parameters [densities, stitch direction, underlay stitching, etc.] set by the software user. Also referred to as condensed format.


The mechanical track system of an embroidery machine which allows for the X [left-right] and Y [front-back] axis movement. Attaching hoops or frames to the pantograph allows materials being stitched to move while the head of the machine remains in a stationary position.

Paper Tape

An old system of storing design X/Y coordinate information through a series of holes punched in continues roles of paper or mylar tape. Now almost completely replaced by some form of computer disk or in some cases, embroidery machines being connected directly to a computer.


See Crest


Pellon is a brand name which, often is used as a general term referring to stabilizers or backing. See Backing.


A computer term referring to any device attached to or run by a computer. Can include printers, external drives, digitizing tablets, mice, embroidery machines, plotters, etc.


The degree of slope or angle of stitches in relation to a base line.


Stitch density where 1 point equals 1/10 of a mm. For example, a density of 5 will mean that parallel running stitches will be 5/10 [½] mm apart.

Point Size

Font typeface size. One point refers to 1/12 of a pica.

Presser Foot

A “L” shaped mechanical arm at the bottom of the sewing head which moves up and down with each stitch. Contains a large round opening in the base through which the needle must pass when sewing. It is essential that the presser foot be properly adjusted so that for each stitch penetration, it will come down and hold the material being stitched flat against the needle plate. This will help to insure good needle penetration and withdrawal for every stitch.


See Cupping.

Pull Compensation

A function found in most editing and digitizing software which, allows for the natural tendency for the stitching process to actually “pull” the material together between stitch points. By allowing the user to change the compensation values, problems of poor registration, improper alignments and varying object widths depending on the direction of stitching, can be eliminated. See Push-Pull Effect.


The process of converting artwork or ideas into a series of commands which can be read and interpreted by an embroidery machine. Originally describing a method in which holes were “punched” into continuous roles of paper or mylar tape which in turn, the machine would read. The more accurate name for today’s method of creating embroidery designs would be digitizing.

Push-Pull Effect

The natural tendency for fabric to be pulled together in one direction (parallel to direction of stitching) while at the same time being pushed out in another (perpendicular to direction of stitching), during the embroidery stitching process. This “push and pull” action will cause a circle digitized perfectly round to sew out with the sides pulled in, resulting in an egg shape unless some compensation is included in the design parameters … generally, it is necessary to extend horizontal elements and reduce vertical elements. See Pull Compensation.

Recessed Hooping

See Lip Looping.


The placement of stitches and their effect on proper design stitchout in relation to overlapping, outlining, general design appearance, etc. Correct registration is achieved when all stitches and elements of a design line up properly when the design is stitched.

Rotary Hook

See Hook

Running Stitch

Also called Walking Stitch. A line of stitches, usually used for outlining and/or fine detail. A number of variations are available and each has its particular characteristics and benefits.

Satin Stitch

See Column Stitch


A software function which, allows the user of the program to save an exisiting file. Should be used often when creating or editing a design so that work will not be lost in case of program freeze up, power failure or user error.

Save As

A software function which allows the user of a program to save either a new file or an existing file to a new file name. Often used when an existing design is to be edited but the original still needs to be retained.


To enlarge or reduce a design’s size. Generally speaking, best results are obtained when changing sizes using the design condensed [outline] format. If using the expanded [stitch] file format of a design, scaling normally should be limited to a 10% – 20% change.


A useful peripheral device capable of “copying” and then converting into raster images. These images can then be read by or imported into various software programs, including embroidery software.


Small groove or indentation on the backside of a needle, just above the eye. The point of the rotary hook passes through the scarf during stitch formation and generally, a shorter scarf requires a more perfectly timed machine. Longer scarf’s tend to help reduce skipped stitches.


A large type of stitching machine often used to embroider small repetitive items such as lace, emblems, crests, appliques, etc. Unlike a multi-head embroidery machine where the work is laying horizontally, the frames used for a Schiffli are vertical.


A group of stitches which have the same parameters such as stitch length, direction, type, etc.


Fonts which contain small perpendicular strokes at the start and/or end of each individual character.


Determining whether thread, material, backing, particular items, etc. are suitable for embroidery.

Short Stitch

A created series of short stitches interlaced with longer regular stitches within the outside perimeter of a curve or angle. The use of these short stitches will insure good coverage and density without a bulky build up of stitches within the inner perimeter.


Solvy is a brand name for a particular water soluble material. See Facing.


Stitches per inch.


Stitches per minute. Used to indicate machine running speed.


A woven and non-woven material which is used underneath the item or fabric being embroidered to provide support and stability. Can be hooped with the item, or placed between the machine throat plate and the hooped garment. Available in various weights and in two basic types: cut-away and tear-away. Also referred to as Backing. May be referred to as Pellon, which is actually a brand name.

Steil Stitch

See Column Stitch


A needle penetration made by an embroidery machine which, results in a stitch formation.

Stitch Angle

The direction in which stitches are laid.

Stitch Count

The number of stitches in a design or portion of design.

Stitch Editing

The process of changing a design either through stitch deletion, addition, alteration, etc. Available only when working with expanded files such as .dst or .psf

Stitch Gap

The area(s) of a design with insufficient stitching.

Stitch Length

The distance between two consecutive stitch points.

Stitches Per Minute

See SPM.

Stitch Processor

A function within some embroidery software which allows the scaling of a stitch file while maintaining proper stitch densities.


Stitch To Outline Conversion. A function within embroidery software which allows the user to convert a stitch file [or any portion of a stitch file] to an outline file.

Stock Designs

Pre-digitized embroidery designs available from numerous digitizers / digitizing houses.

Swiss Embroidery

Modern computerized embroidery.

Tacking Iron

See Applique Iron

Tackle Twill

Letters or numbers which, are cut from polyester or rayon twill fabric. Most commonly used for identification on athletic team wear. Generally applied to the garment using an adhesive backing and finished by stitching the outside edges using a zig-zag stitch.


See Fill Stitch


A type of backing which allows the embroiderer to “tear away” excess stabilizer outside the stitched area after the stitching of a design is complete. Does not provide the support that a cut-away backing would, so is generally best used where materials being stitched are relatively stable on their own.


The tautness or tightness of thread when stitching. Thread tensions which are too high can lead to thread breaks, unnecessary pull on materials being stitched, needle breakage, design distortion and puckering. Low thread tensions can cause looping, poor stitch formation, will be more susceptible to snagging and overall will create a general poor overall appearance.

Thirds Test

A method of testing thread tensions and/or correct machine timing. See FOX Test and I Test.


A fine cord or yarn of either natural or synthetic material used in stitching. Generally consists of two or more filaments twisted together and for the purpose of embroidery will come in either rayon, polyester, cotton, metallic or some combination or variation of these four materials.

Thread Blending

See Interlock Stitches


See Lock Stitches


See Lock Stitches


The relationship between the embroidery machine’s hook and needle in regards to proper positioning and clearance distance during the critical time of stitch formation. Improper timing can cause poor or no stitch formation and can lead to needle breakage.


See Facing


A term indicating a legally protected word, symbol or device which is used to distinguish ownership or source of particular goods, names, phrases, etc. Trademarked items can not be reproduced, copied or altered and resold without permission from the trademark holder.


An embroidery technique which creates a quilted look by using positive “puff” and negative “low laying” areas within a design. This method of embroidery works well when stitching large fonts, jacket back designs, etc. because it can reduce the number of stitches in a design. Best used when doing simple designs containing large open areas and the effect becomes most dramatic when using monochromatic color schemes. Works best on thick material or lighter material which has batting sandwiched between the top fabric and backing. Cut-away backing should always be used.


See Automatic Thread Trim

Triple Stitch

See Bean Stitch

Tubular Machine

See Cylinder Arm Machine.

Underlay Stitch

Very light density stitching laid down prior to embroidering top stitches. Used to help prevent material movement during stitching, laying down undesirable nap and fabric texture, raising top stitches and increasing thread coverage without raising top stitch densities.


The transfer of designs and/or files from a machine to a computer or from a computer to the Internet.

Variable Sizing

See Scaling.

Vector Images

A graphic composed of many different objects. Each object can be defined by a mathematical statement and has individual properties such as outline and fill colors, fill type, etc. Vector graphics have the advantage over raster [bmp] images of generally being smaller in file size and having the ability to be enlarged without loosing any image quality. Common vector formats include AI (Adobe Illustrator), CDR (CorelDRAW), CGM (Computer Graphics Metafile), SWF (Shockwave Flash), and DXF (AutoCAD and other CAD software).


A method of being assured of the quality of a design by stitching a sample sew-out on the same material or at least very similar material as used on the items which will require stitching.

Walking Stitch

See Running Stitch

Zig Zag Stitch

In embroidery, a low density column stitch. A true zig zag stitch is created by a sewing machine in which this form of stitch is built into the machine.

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