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A Look at Embroidery Density


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Learn about Embroidery Density

New embroidery technologies can overwhelm even the most competent and experienced embroiderer. So when faced with hoop embroidery machines, threads, backings, digitizing software, and designs, it’s important to remember how much you already know, and how that knowledge applies in the environment of computerized embroidery…

embroidery, crisp, fleece

This is a high detailed, crisp, completed embroidered logo for fleece

New embroidery technologies can overwhelm even the most competent and experienced embroiderer. So when faced with hoop embroidery machines, threads, backings, digitizing software, and designs, it’s important to remember how much you already know, and how that knowledge applies in the new environment of computerized embroidery.

A successful project requires more than just skill in execution. Care in planning contributes equally. You look at the hand of the fabric, and how the design and how it was digitized accentuate its characteristics. These same principles are relevant in choosing a hoop embroidery pattern. Fabric weight and embroidery weight should relate closely, in the same way you match an interfacing to a fabric. As in all other areas of sewing, neither component should overwhelm the other.

A light touch in all materials and design should be used with light fluid fabrics; reserve higher-density designs and materials for more structured fabrics.


Many factors influence embroidery density:

The size of the design and the intensity of the thread coverage. A design with large filled areas, particularly fancy fills, can stitch out into fairly stiff embroidery. A design that completely covers the base fabric also reflects a high thread density. Smaller designs, built-in machine stitches finer motifs and designs with feathery edges: some spacing between threads or unstitched areas integrated into the design, are suitable for softer fabrics.

The embroidery threads used. The most readily available embroidery rayon or shiny polyester threads are 40-weight. Thicker 30-weight threads provide more fabric coverage. Fine 50-weight threads can be effective in very light designs, as might be used on heirloom fabrics.

The backing chosen. The important thing to remember about any backing is that it’s essential during stitching, but must be removed afterward. The only exceptions are cut-away  backings that are used under embroidery in washable knits and left in for the life of the garment to protect the shape of the motif during repeated laundering. The ideal  backing for any embroidery will provi

Patch Cap Program

de sufficient support to the fabric during stitching, and remove easily afterwards.


When embroidering on very light or loosely woven fabrics, consider:

The thread density of the design. Always, always stitch a real sample of the design using the thread (top and bobbin) , fabric and  backing that you’ll use in the finished project. Test the sample carefully, draping it over your hand to see if the embroidery substantially alters the flow of the fabric. Check as well to see if the  backing chosen will remove easily, and look for a lighter alternative if necessary. The size of the design itself, and how heavily the area is covered with embroidery.

The lightest weight backing that will still support the design. Again test. In sheer or soft fabrics, it’s particularly important to remove all traces of  backing after stitching. Stabilizing sprays, and water- or heat-soluble  backings can be the best choices. It’s also worth experimenting with other strategies for providing stability to the designs. Using the smallest possible hoop that will still contain the design will reduce the need to stabilize, and if your machine has a straight stitch plate with a single needle hole, try that too. During embroidery it’s the hoop, not the needle, that moves, and the narrow opening of this plate may sufficiently reduce the instability under the needle (depending on the fabric and design), enough that you may need no  backing.

Reducing the density of the design. For hoop embroidery designs, you can do this only through a compatible embroidery software. in all standard embroidery software, increasing the size of the design will reduce the density as the same stitch count is stretched over a larger area. Some new generation software gives finer control over density during resizing.


When embroidering on heavier or more structured fabrics, consider:

Increasing thread coverage by using a thicker thread. Try a 30 rather than a 40-weight embroidery thread.

Opening the design in your digitizing software and increasing the density of the design. This can be done simply by reducing the size of the design, thus compressing tile stitches (effective only in a size reduction of 10% or less; any more will over-pack the stitches into a design too bulky to stitch). Or it can be done in a more sophisticated way by using a resizing software or function that’s able to change size and alter density.


About Erik Mickelson

Erik Mickelson is the author of Northwest Custom Apparel's blogs. Erik has been with Northwest Custom Apparel since 1996 after graduating from Washington State University and is the founder of the Apparel Graphic Academy. Trained by the custom graphic apparel industry's best, Mark Venit, Erik brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise to the Embroidery Adventure blog. As they say, 'Experience is the best teacher.' We are proud to have Erik as part of our team!

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