What is Good Embroidery

What Is Good Embroidery?
How do you tell the good embroidery from the bad?  Here are a few guidelines and visual clues.
By Stitches Magazine Staff
Pretty is as pretty does.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.
There are a lot of old adages about beauty and perfection, but when you apply it to the business of supplying embroidery for ad specialty clients, there’s only one phrase that means anything: Quality is what the customer says it is.  And as the ad specialty distributor in this sales equation, you need to be able to spot good embroidery from bad so you can deliver what you client has ordered.  So, what is good embroidery?
Whether you’re examining a digitizer’s samples sewn on felt, or looking at an actual production run on the garments, here are some guidelines about what you should—and shouldn’t—see in good embroidery


  • Look for crisp, clean edges on the letters, regardless of lettering type.
  • Are the letters all the same height and width?
  • Are the columns that form the letters a uniform width?  Check the “hole” letters, such as B, P, O and D to make sure the holes haven’t closed up.  These letters also have a tendency to “cut” tiny holes in garments if their stitching is too dense or if thread tensions are too tight.
  • If lettering is outlined in a contrasting color, is the registration clean, with no overlapping or gaps?
  • If it’s block lettering, are the corners “true,” with 90-degree angles at the intersections in such letters as T, F, and E?  Is there a build-up of thread in the corners of the letter, or does the whole letter lie smoothly on the fabric?
  • If it’s script lettering, is it readable, with well-formed ascenders and descenders?
  • If the lettering is unusually small—one-quarter inch or smaller—is it readable and well-formed?
  • If there’s punctuation in the phrase, is it readable?
  • Are there skipped stitches?  Are there white “flecks,” or bits of bobbin thread that have come to the surface because of improper tension?
  • Does the top thread have small irregular loops, a problem that sometimes occurs with improperly tensioned polyester thread?
  • Is the lettering placed straight on the garment or item?

Fill Stitching

  • Is the fill surface free of loops in the top thread or flecks of bobbin thread?
  • Are there any skipped or missed stitches?
  • If additional stitching is placed on top of the fill-stitched area, are the details crisp and clear?
  • Is the registration clean?
  • In large areas of fill, is there depth and texture where necessary, or just big flat areas of color?

Satin or Column Stitching

  • Are edges of the columns smooth and solid?
  • Are there skipped or missed stitches?


  • Are all edges of the applique fully covered by column stitching?
  • Does the fabric lay flat against the garment or is it puckered or distorted?
  • Do “fringes” protrude from the outside edge of the column stitching around the applique?

General Aesthetics

  • Do stitch direction and stitch length vary, adding interest to the design?
  • Is the embroidery “bullet-proof,” meaning that the stitching is too dense or backed too heavily and thus, stiff to the touch?
  • Has all topping been removed from the front of the embroidery?
  • Has the backing been either neatly trimmed or removed completely?  (The need for complete removal will vary depending on the type of backing used and the intended use of the garment.)
  • Are there visible hoop marks—or worse yet, hoop burns—on the garments?
  • Is the embroidery’s density too light, allowing the fabric to show through?
  • Look for smooth edges on all design elements.
  • Check to make sure the embroidery is free of loose thread ends.  Likewise, make sure the ends have not been trimmed so closely that the embroidery starts to unravel.
  • Is there visible looping or birdnesting on the embroidery’s underneath side?
  • Is there any puckering or distortion in the fabric around the edges of the design?
  • If viewing embroidery on a garment, is it correctly placed and stitched straight?
  • If stitching has been placed on a napped or spongy fabric, such as corduroy or fleece, does it sink into the fabric or sit nicely on the fabric’s surface so all details are clear?
  • If stitching is on a fine knit, has the edge of the design “cut” into the knit, indicating the embroidery has been stitch with too high a density or the wrong needle?
The article presented here was originally published in the “Embroidered Corporate Logo,” a 1993 special issue of Stitches Magazine.  It is presented here with permission of the magazine.  Copyright 1993 Stitches Magazine.  All rights reserved.