How to prepare fabric for machine embroidery?

For today’s post, I want to share a sewing technique with y’all. We have been plugging away at our product development here at Ecclesiastical Sewing. (Have you been following the newest product releases on Facebook or as an email subscriber?) One thing that we have to stay on top of is our embroidered orphrey bands,  in silk dupioni or brocade. These are essential to product development. We have our embroiderer, a local business woman in Foley, Minnesota, who embroiders our designs directly on stoles, pulpit falls, Bible bookmarks, super frontals, etc… Either way, whether the embroidery is sewn directly on orphrey bands or vestments, the process is almost identical. So I would like to talk about this process of prepping our fabric for machine embroidery.

Of course, before the fabric can be prepped, there are other steps that need to be taken to prepare an embroidery order. First, the design has to be created, literally drawn up from the imagination and mind. Then it is somehow put into some fancy computer program, sent to a digitizer, colors are selected, and there is probably much more that goes on than I know because I am not a tech person. I do know what comes after: planning. At first, we were making any and every design we had on different fabrics to work as tests. The fabrics, color choices, and the ability of our embroiderer’s machines needed to all be calibrated. But now it is Travis and my job to record, organize, and plan the items that will be created with embroideries. We are striving for intentionality with development. Thankfully Carrie has an actively creative mind that just drives ahead at full speed with ideas and we tag along, doing the best we can, catching and organizing the ideas to make them happen.

When we finally are ready with a plan in place, we take out our fabric and begin to prep from embroideries. For orphrey bands, our biggest orders are pieces of silk or brocades that are cut 33” long and however wide that particular bolt is. These are then ironed smooth. Early on, we realized we needed to upgrade from a hand-held iron to an iron press (as seen in one of the pictures) to make this process smoother. Then we use a product called Dream Weave Ultra and cut it to roughly the same size as our fabric pieces. The Dream Weave is applied with the heat press to the silk or brocade until it is attached. We mark the fabric with a silver quilting pencil to create a correctly sized space  (think of q block as in quilting) to hold the embroidery. The blocks tend to be wide enough for a 4.5” stole orphrey and long enough to give the proper aesthetic to the finished stole based on each design. Ta-Da! Ready for our embroiderer. Depending on the number of sheets we prepare, we can have a total of 100-200 orphreys made easily. We do mark the exact design placement so that we end up with enough matching pairs to construct our planned vestments.

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1Roberts, Carrie. Pressing Red Silk. March 17th, 2017. Personal Collection, Ecclesiastical Sewing, Minnesota.


The process above is essentially what we use for creating all of the other vestments and paraments. The only difference is that we use our patterns (pulpit falls, chalice veils, chasubles, etc) to cut the silk or brocade in the shape of the vestment’s face fabric. Then the Dream Weave is ironed on the back, the design placement is marked on the front.  Once the embroidery is completed, we have a pre-embroidered vestment that only needs to be sewn into a finished vestment. Some vestments—chasubles or frontals for instance—can have embroideries sewn directly onto the face fabric or they can have an orphrey. These orphreys are not randomly measured squares on a fabric piece. Instead part of our chasuble pattern and frontal pattern is a specific orphrey piece. We cut the orphrey out, mark it, apply Dream Weave, and have it embroidered. Then, like the stole, it is sewn to the actual vestment or parament.

So there you have it! It really is a simple process to prepare fabric for embroidery. It can take a whole day, not including the planning and pre-steps, but that is because we are very particular about cutting, ironing, and marking to make sure things are not wasted, which keeps costs down. In a day’s time, we do have many orphreys to show for our labor.

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2Roberts, Carrie. Prayer Embroidery. April 18th, 2017. Personal Collection, Ecclesiastical Sewing, Minnesota.


One final thing to mention: if anyone likes an embroidery design on our website, it can be embroidered onto their choice of fabric and mailed to them for sewing into vestments or paraments. We do sell digital downloads of embroidery files! But we realize that whether it is time, money, or availability of an embroiderer sometimes it is more practical to have the piece show up ready for your use.

Be sure to watch for some new stoles on our website. We should have some up by the end of the month if we stay on track!

~Nihil Sine Deo~

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