WWIT: Zelda Stained Glass Embroidered Denim Shirt, Digitizing

WWIT: Zelda Stained Glass Embroidered Denim Shirt, Digitizing

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Here is one of those times in life that it is a good thing I don’t really know what I’m getting into until I’m already in it. To get started I needed to decide the exact dimensions of my final embroidery. I knew it would be silly if it went armpit to armpit so I measured in about 6” from both side seams, made a mark and measured the distance between the two marks. I then put the shirt on and marked roughly where I wanted the bottom of the design to be then measured from the back point to the bottom line.  This gave me dimensions of 13.5” x 16”. Nowhere near the actual dimensions of the artwork. Sigh.

Ok. Problem solver activated!

I set up a photoshop file in the desired dimensions of 13.5” x 16”. Then loaded up the artwork and shifted around a few pieces. Essentially, I pushed link and the castle higher into Zelda’s medallion. I also made a few other adjustments to make it more reasonable to digitize. I could have done it “exactly” as it was, but decided for my own sanity and the number of hours required to turn it into machine embroidery that I would be wise to make it more suitable for the medium.


Sitting side by side like this, you can see they are quite different in layout and style. While the original is still by far my favorite, I thought the edited one would translate well into machine embroidery. One thing I decided right here at this stage was not to digitize any of the lead lines. This may have been one of my smartest decisions ever. My theory was that if the lead lines were digitized, then I had more room for error. I can always add lead lines after the fact with my regular sewing machine and a zig zag stitch. This way, if the pieces don’t fit perfectly together – who cares! I’ll just cover it up. While I made that decision a bit on a whim, it turned out to be the decision that saved the project.

I loaded up my edited file in Embird Digital Studio and started digitizing it one piece at a time. There are SO MANY pieces and it is really tedious work when done manually. I kept a few 5” x 7” hoop lines (the maximum size of my embroidery machine’s hoop) and made sure anything I digitized would at least fit in a hoop without requiring feathering or object splitting. I worked on it a little bit here and there for nearly a month. I generally promised myself that if I did one object (link’s face, the left side of the castle, zelda’s hair) then I could stop for the day. Some days I did a little more, some a little less. When it was all done, I had a huge collection of objects organized into layers that should fit together. Then I had to split it into 5” x 7” sections.


At first this was fun. A big giant puzzle with no set answer.

Order of layers is so important. I had to be sure I never stitched something that was “on top” of an adjacent piece first. This means I had to try to do the background first. I could have done everything on one side and went back to the other, but thought better of it. I knew the fabric would warp a bit with so much dense stitching that I thought it smart to work in a roundabout order. I did the orange/yellow background first with as many of the other pieces as I could get in the hoop as I ran around.


It was clear early that I’d have to go around twice, once for the inside and once for the red outside and the leaves. Then go back and fill in the center pieces with two more roundabouts. Roughly 20 hoopings total. 20. No, really, 20.


Between each section I added the appropriate basting boxes and alignment lines and tried to keep them sectioned off in a logical manner. Somehow, shockingly, I managed to keep all of the pieces exactly where they go and never left out an alignment line or made an accidental shift. After about 10 hours of split work, I decided it would be wise to physically check my work before I started to stitch. I printed all 20 templates in 1:1 size and taped them together on my light box (glass door) using the alignment lines on the templates. I’d show you a picture it had not been lost in the great iphone death spiral of 2015 so you’ll just have to trust me when I tell you that it worked.

I knew I likely had a few logic errors in there. I knew there was probably a few places that it would have been smart for me to go back and revisit the splits and I knew there were some objects that could have been much smoother, but I sort of didn’t care. I’d been working on it for months and I was over all of the preparing. I just wanted to do! To the machine I went!


Next Post: Embroidery is not always for the faint of heart.

See all posts in the WWIT Zelda Stained Glass Embroidered Denim Shirt Index.

Have something to say? I want to hear it! Email me at susandowenby@gmail.com.