Shifting and Gapping in
Sometimes embroiderers will
notice shifting and gapping in sections of designs. This is
known as "poor registration."
The leading cause of poor registration issues is using
tear-away or water-soluble stabilizer to back the fabric.
Take a look at the example to the right. This is a rocket
design that was stitched on light cotton and backed with
tear-away stabilizer. Note how there is a large gap in the
tail and on the right side. Also, note how the main body of
the rocket looks great -- but there's a gap in the right
This design was
stitched with tear-away
stabilizer. Note how there is shifting,
gapping, and misalignment of stitches.
This is the same design
stitched with cutaway stabilizer. Note how all the sections
of the design line up perfectly. The stitches are crisp,
clean, and clear.
Tear-away or water-soluble stabilizers can give inconsistent
results. You might have used the same fabric and tear-away
stabilizer combination for years with good results, but
suddenly begin to experience shifting and gapping.
To understand why this happens, we'll need to take a brief
look at the "science" of embroidery.
This is the same rocket
with cutaway stabilizer. Note how there is
no shifting, gapping, or misalignment.
The "science" of embroidery is how different fabrics react to stitches.
When manufacturers produce fabric, they don't anticipate that any
embroidery will be added to it. When we embroider on fabric, the
stitches add weight and stress to the fabric. Even the lightest,
simplest design adds stress to fabric.
To support the fabric for embroidery, we use stabilizer (sometimes
called backing). Stabilizer comes in oodles of types. The main three
kinds are cutaway, tear-away, and water-soluble.
At first glance, tear-away is a very attractive option to embroiderers.
It "tears away" from the backside of the embroidery quickly, whereas
cutaway stabilizer needs to be trimmed away. Some embroiderers think
that using tear-away leaves a neater-looking back side too, or is less
abrasive against the skin when embroidering on garments.
However, even though the above sounds appealing, tear-away is
usually not the best choice of stabilizer. Consider the very nature of
tear-away stabilizer: it's designed to tear away easily. When
embroidering on fabric backed with tear-away stabilizer, the needle
perforations tear the stabilizer away during the embroidery. And, if one
is using a larger or dull needle, the stabilizer can rip or tear. This
means that the stabilizer is weakened and degraded -- and that allows
the fabric fibers to scoot around while embroidering. If the fabric is
moving, then you'll experience "poor registration" like you see in the
above rocket example.
Choosing the correct stabilizer for the fabric is one of the most
important steps in getting excellent results when embroidering. Over the
years we've written dozens of Fabrics 101 articles that give stabilizer,
needle, and design recommendations when stitching on a certain type of
fabric. You can find that collection of articles
Generally speaking, any fabric that is lightweight, weak, stretchy, or
has a loose weave, should be backed with cutaway stabilizer. This
includes quilter's cotton, terrycloth (yep, those thick bath towels need
cutaway stabilizer), t-shirts, sweatshirts, even most types of denim
(because they're stretchy).
Heavier fabrics with a tight weave -- canvas, duck cloth -- can usually
be embroidered when backed with tear-away stabilizer.
I mentioned earlier that the "leading cause" of shifting and gapping is
using tear-away or water-soluble stabilizer. Other causes of shifting
and gapping include:
**Loose (or no) hooping. Many embroiderers hoop stabilizer and baste or
pin the fabric to the stabilizer. If you're using this method and seeing
shifting and gapping, then hoop the fabric with the stabilizer (spray
adhesive between the two is helpful, too) to get better results.
**Hoop obstruction. Embroiderers have found scissors, screw heads,
tissue boxes, pin cushions, electrical cords, and other items that
obstruct the hoop's ability to move freely. Check the area around your
embroidery machine, and the embroidery arm's bed, too, to make sure that
the hoop can move freely.
**Software and editing. Changing the size of a design with an embroidery
software program, or using a resizing feature on your machine, will
degrade the design. This can result in shifting and gapping. And, if
you're using a software program that converts stitches to blocks (the
Artista software has this feature), then converting stitches to blocks
will cause gapping, too. Stitching a design as we sell it, with minimal
or no changes or editing, will give the best results.
**Bobbin tension. This is pretty rare, but gaps can happen between fills
and satin stitches if the machine's bobbin tension is too tight. To
gauge proper tension, stitch a satin stitch column and review the back
side of the embroidery. You should see about 1/2 to 2/3 of bobbin
If you're experiencing shifting and gapping in your sewouts, review this
list of questions:
1. Are you using cutaway stabilizer?
2. Are you hooping the fabric and stabilizer tightly?
3. Are you stitching the design without any resizing or editing?
If you answered "no" to any of the above questions, then try stitching
the design again with the above recommendations and considerations.
If you answered "yes" to all of the above questions and are still
experiencing shifting and gapping, then please contact us for
assistance. Send an email with the following information to
1. Your order number
2. The name of the design
3. The type of fabric you are stitching onto
4. The type of stabilizer you are using
5. The areas where you're seeing shifting and gapping. If you can
send a photo, that
would be great. A picture really is worth a thousand
Include all of the above-requested information.
We'll check the design, and stitch it with the fabric and stabilizer
combination that you're using, to try to replicate the problem.