Machine embroidery on fleece can be challenging for 3 main reasons. Because fleece is fluffy, the nap can poke up through the middle of a design. Fleece is a knit fabric and stretches; usually this is more in one direction than the other. Thickness is another factor that can make machine embroidery on fleece challenging.
For a successful completed project on fleece you need to start with a good design. The selected design should have adequate underlay. The underlay needs to push the nap down so that the fill stitches lay smoothly with no fuzz showing through even after washing. When I digitize for fleece I use an underlay that looks like garden lattice with the lines of stitching no more than 4mm apart.
This can be done under the whole design at once at the beginning of the design or under each individual section as you go along. The underlay also serves the purpose of anchoring the fabric to the stabilizer. This keeps the fabric from stretching, and limits the amount of push and pull that occurs as the design is sewing. Another factor to consider when selecting a design to sew on fleece is the density of stitching. Density is the amount of space from one line of stitching to the next. For fleece the rows need to be a maximum of 0.4mm apart. This is the average width of 40 wt embroidery thread. Often I use a density of 0.33mm on fleece, depending on how much underlay I actually use. This is especially true for heavy weight fleece. Generally, the more underlay in a design, the less density it needs. One way to surmount a design with low density is to use a heavier embroidery thread such as 30 wt. This will help fill any gaps.
Lastly, the design needs to compensate for the push and pull of the fabric as the design is sewing. During embroidery the stitching tends to push the fabric out at a right angle to the lines of stitches. Conversely, the stitches will pull the fabric in the same direction as the stitching. This is why you may see a gap between a filled area and its outline. Because fleece is a stretchy and thick fabric it will push and pull more than a stable woven fabric like quilter's cotton. To compensate the design must be digitized so that on screen it looks like the ends of a line of stitches extends past the outline or slightly into the adjacent area.
So, to recap a good design to use on fleece should have adequate underlay, density, and pull compensation. For those of you with Embird or a digitizing program you can use the sewing simulator to see how the design is structured, and if it is a good candidate for fleece. It is always a good idea to test sew any design on the same fabric as the final project to ensure success.
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