Even if you’ve been told that your sewing area is four inches square, you might run into some 4” designs which your machine still will not recognize. Why? Four inches is an approximation. Your sewing area, referred to as “four inches” is actually 100 millimeters. Since 1959 we accept that an inch is equal to 25.4 millimeters, which makes 100.1 millimeters equal to four inches. So you can see that when we call it “four inches” we are missing a few decimal points. That works fine for most applications, but not for the exact limitations of embroidery. 3.937” is the actual value of 100 millimeters. That is only the tiniest fraction of an inch difference, but it matters.
Unlike us humans, our machines aren’t equipped to shrug and say “close enough.” In most cases, that means the machine just will not read a design that does not fit its limits. In other cases, the machine will stitch a design right up to the limit and then quit, leaving you with an unfinished design and few worthwhile options for finishing the stitching.
What is the maximum size of design I can stitch on my machine? It’s easy to assume that you can stitch a design as large as the stitching area of your largest hoop. But that’s not always the case. You may find the information in your manual. Fair warning, that information is not always easy to find. Here it is in the manual for the Brother PE-700, page 43:
(This information is in the full manual only, not in the quick reference guide).
To add confusion, the embroiderable area of the hoop, is not the same as the machine’s sewing area. For instance, the PE-700 has a sewing area of 177.8 x 130 milimeters (5” x 7”). This is the same as the large embroidery frame. An “extra large” frame is available for the machine. It’s embroiderable area is 12”x5”. However, the machine will not recognize a larger design than the original 5” x 7”, even with the larger hoop attached. I was not able to find this information in the manual at all. It is, however, on Brother’s web site.
Unfortunately, this information does not include the millimeter measurement, which is more accurate, and could be important when selecting designs which are right at the 5” or 7” limit.
So, to help clear up the confusion, when you are looking at larger hoops for your machine, wondering whether the machine will recognize larger designs, look for the word “multi-postition” or “re-positional.” This usually means that while you can stitch multiple designs without re-hooping, you will not actually be increasing the size of design which can be used.
For a few years, I worked in an embroidery shop and used a commercial Barudan machine which did allow the machine to stitch anywhere its pantograph would reach. This meant that the machine would go ahead and stitch through the hoop (or try to) if that was how you set your design up before pressing the start button. This could break the needle, break the hoop, bend the presser foot, and even mess up the machine’s timing. For the sake of a few less embroidery room errors, and trips to the repair shop, sewing area limitations might be appreciated, am I right?
Now, most of our embroidery machines have a scaling capability. But if the design is too large for the machine to recognize, using on-board sizing won’t be an option. So what can you do if you have a design that is only the tiniest fraction of an inch too large for your machine? Sometimes the company from which you bought the design will make the small size change for you. If not, the answer is to acquire your own embroidery software on a tablet or computer. There are many options which will decrease a design up to 20% without noticeable issues in quality.
Personally, I use Embrilliance Essentials for size changes and many other editing jobs. Embrilliance also lets you check your design against your sewing area on-screen, and that’s handy, too.
This blog just skims the surface of all there is to know about hoop size and sewing area. For more in-depth discussion, and even some handy cheat sheets for sizes, I suggest this blog post by Bonnie Landsberger.