ESI: Embroidery Scene Investigations

The Mysterious Case of the Store Bought Embroidered Shirt…Part 1

My youngest daughter Beatrice came downstairs wearing a t-shirt and jeans.  I looked at the shirt and immediately told her to change.  Why?  BAD EMBROIDERY.  REALLY REALLY BAD EMBROIDERY.   After Beatrice showed me the shirt in question, we examined it thoroughly and I quizzed her about the purchase, it was almost like an old fashion mystery novel, a mysterious case in this house of embroidery- where did the shirt come from?  Was it purchased at a store?  Did it look like this when you got it?  Beatrice felt like she was under that bright light while being questioned…well, not really, but I did ask a lot of questions!   With that in mind, let’s set the stage for a good old fashion embroidery mystery….

I bring to you:


(cue the mysterious background music…..)

Here are the facts of the case known so far:

1.  No, I didn’t buy the shirt for her.  No way.

2.  She did not buy the shirt, it was given to her as a gift.

3.  It was purchased in a brick and mortar store.

4.  The shirt is not an “official” brand shirt, so, therefore, there must be copyright issues.  Copyright issues exist for a reason, and this is one of them.

5.  The person who did the embroidery did not have a licence to do this embroidered logo.

6.  I am going to guess that the person who purchased the shirt paid a lot of money for it, and wasted their money.

7.  Beatrice says the shirt looked fantastic when it was given to her – the embroidery was clear and sharp and flat.  Until she washed it.

I would like to make it clear that I did not infringe on any copyright rules here – my daughter had the shirt already and I am using it as an example, so don’t use this blog as an opportunity to discuss copyright rules.  This is a clear infringement, there is no question about that.

I present to you, Exhibit 1, the shirt in question:

Exhibit 1: The Shirt

(insert pause, for shock and awe that a shirt like this exists)

Now that you have examined the photograph in question, how many mistakes can you see, simply from the picture?

(Hint:  although this shirt looked great when it was first done, after only 1 or 2 washings, the many mistakes showed up)

I present to you Exhibit 2:  Mistakes.  Here are a few that I have found and marked in red.  Yes.  There are more.

Exhibit 2: So Many Mistakes

Take a good look at the picture above, enlarge it if you have to, and see all of the mistakes.  These are some of the common mistakes that beginners can make – the first one being that it looks good right off of the machine, with a little bit of ironing, looked great and presentable for the store.  No quality control, and of course no return customers.  When you are stitching embroidery, you want your embroidery to last.  The way to make it last is to do it properly – it may not be easy, but no one said it would be!  You want your embroidery to last and last – whether you are making Christmas or Holiday gifts for friends and family, or selling at a craft sale.  You want people to remember the beautiful and skilled embroidery, even after they wash the item.   You can’t fix this particular shirt, but we can all learn how to fix these mistakes, so your embroidery will be much better than this embroidery.

Let’s being with looking at the heart of the mystery – why all of the puckering and messy looking stitches?  The foundation of your embroidery starts with using the correct stabilizer.  Even with a mystery like this one, it is the first thing that I looked at – if you don’t start with a strong foundation, everything you build (or stitch) on top is going to fall.

What kind of stabilizer do you think was used?

What stabilizer do you use on a t-shirt like this?  Letters, especially large letters like this (the top letters are almost 3inches tall) have a lot of pull compensation going on.  Each time your machine crosses from one side of the letter C to the other, in this long stitch, it pulls a small amount of the fabric each and every time.  Long satin stitches are no mystery, they pull and they become see through because there are not enough stitches to cover the t-shirt material.

PRO TIP:  if you have to use large letters on a t-shirt, then I would change the satin to a fill stitch – you will get neater letters and no t-shirt showing through.

OK, back to the mystery of the stabilizer.  The correct answer is cut away stabilizer for a design like this.  You need to start with the best foundation possible, especially for clothing, and you want to provide a solid base for your embroidery that will continue to support the stitches even after washing.

Did you guess right?  Did you guess what they used on this shirt?  Definitely not cut away – there are gaps and puckers and registration issues, so those stitches are not supported.

I present to you, the inside of the shirt, and backside of the embroidery: proof of not using cutaway stabilizer, shown clearly in Exhibit 3:

Exhibit 3: No Cutaway Stabilizer

You can see that there is no stabilizer left on the shirt, just a little bit in between the letters.  You can also see the pulling and the gaps caused by this!

I present to you Exhibit 4:  a very large gap where the lines of the embroidered satin stitches are not straight anymore.

Exhibit 4: not stabilizing properly causes things to shift

Here is the final photo, proving that tear away stabilizer was used – I can easily tear it away!

I present to you Exhibit 5:  indisputable proof that tear away was used.

Exhibit 5: tearing away the stabilizer that should be supporting the embroidery.

The facts of this case stand:  if you don’t have the proper support, anything that you do after that will not be strong.  If you can tear away the support, how is it supporting the stitches?   If you don’t start with a strong stabilizer/hooping foundation, everything is going to fall down.

So the base of this mystery has been solved:  use cutaway stabilizer.  But there are still more mysterious things going on with the embroidery.

Join me next time when we continue to solve this case!

Sherlock Sue

Solving Embroidery Mysteries for 18+ years

One response to “ESI: Embroidery Scene Investigations”

  1. OML Embroidery Avatar

    Part 2 of the Mysterious case of the store bought shirt will be released next Tuesday! Stay tuned for more ESI fun

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