Why does the fabric pucker during embroidery?

If you think about what is actually happening when you embroider fabric, it's not so hard to understand why fabric puckers.

Try this little experiment
Hold out your left hand with all four fingers together.
Now push one finger from your other hand in between any two of those four fingers.

What happens?
That's right! Your fingers (like the yarns in fabric) have to move apart to make room for the finger (like the needle) you are pushing through. The two fingers which had to move out of the way also pushed the fingers next to them a little.
It's a kind of ripple effect which has less effect on yarns further away from where the needle penetrated the fabric.

You can see this in the close-up image below

Fabric puckering Now just imagine hundreds or thousands of needle penetrations happening within a small area of fabric - say 70mm x 70mm.

Now you might ask what happens when the needle comes back out? Well, the yarn does recover a little bit but never goes back to it's original position.

Also don't forget that when the needle comes out, it leaves behind two thicknesses of embroidery thread, which stop the yarns from closing up fully.

So what else contributes to fabric pucker?
* Backing which does not provide enough support
* Needle size too big for the fabric
* Long satin stitches
* Too many stitches
* Too much tension applied to fabric (especially knits) during hooping

The push effect
Now as we discussed earlier, needle penetrations cause yarns to move and the embroidery thread left behind prevents the yarns from fully recovering their original position. They are pushed out!

The pull effect
Now we have another force to deal with and that is the tension of the thread, which pulls in at both ends of each stitch. Think back to our discussion about setting thread tensions and the tug-of-war team.

Each team member is like one stitch. A row of fill stitches is like 10, 20 or 50 team members all pulling together. The combined pulling force is much greater than just one. That's why large areas of fill stitch pull in so much at the ends and why most good embroidery programs have a pull compensation setting to help overcome this problem.

* Use good quality backing which does not tear away and provides sufficient stiffness for the design being embroidered.

* Hoop the fabric with enough tension to remove loose areas but do not over-tighten
(especially stretch fabrics)

* Use the smallest needle size possible for the fabric and thread being used

* Don't use very long satin or long underlay stitches (rec. max length 8mm). If wider areas have to be filled consider using a split satin or tatami/fill stitches

* Lengthening fill stitches will reduce the stitch count but may increase the pull effect whereas using a shorter fill stitch length can help to overcome the pull effect.

* Don't use a stitch density any higher than that which is necessary to cover the fabric well. Excessive stitch density causes columns and filled areas to push out past where they are supposed to end.

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