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Resizing Designs

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Design and software used in this article:
  • Floriani SmartSizer Pro III software by Floriani
  • Coffee Cup embroidery design by Arseniy
  • Eagle with Flag embroidery design by Machine Embroidery Designs
  • Wolf Spirit embroidery design by Machine Embroidery Designs

  • Preface:
    You finally find that perfect design and then discover that it’s too small for your project or it’s too large to fit your hoop. What to do? In general, a design can't be increased or decreased more than 20% without affecting the appearance of the sew-out. Even using a software program that adjusts the stitch densities accordingly doesn’t always result in a perfect sew-out, but there are things that you can try that just might work for your project.

    Consider the Possible Problems
    If you were to increase a 2 x 2” design up to 6 x 6” the final sew-out would appear washed out like a blurry picture, because the resizing option on your software does not fill in the details that can only be added into the design when digitizing. Depending on the stitch types used, increasing the size might also result with fabric showing through the stitches and satin stitch columns could become wider than many machines have the capability to sew. Some software programs will place an automatic jump between the wide stitches and some simply will not calculate the stitches, leaving a gap in the sew-out at the widest points.
    Let’s take a look at this Coffee Cup embroidery design by Arseniy. The element of steam measures almost ½” wide at its original size of 3.46" H x 2.32" W. When increasing the design 200% the design size becomes 6.94” H x 4.69” W and the satin stitch column becomes about 1.0” wide, resulting in missing stitches in the sew-out. The Floriani software suggests a tip to change this satin stitch column to a fill stitch. It should also be noted that Floriani has an excellent stitch processor, which automatically calculates the density when resizing, however, in the image at the right, I have intentionally lightened the density to show how increasing the size lightens coverage when resizing is done in a less sufficient software or on a machine that doesn't calculate density for the larger size.

    (Click Image to Enlarge)

    (Click Image to Enlarge)
    The opposite is true when decreasing a large design to a small design. Too many details cramp up tightly into the design with stitches sewing on top of stitches, leading to thread or needle breaks, or if you do manage to complete the sew-out, the design might hang heavily on the garment, puckering or tears in the fabric around the stitches.

    For example, you might be tempted to decrease a design to fit the front of a cap, such as the Eagle With Flag by vendor Machine Embroidery Designs. This design is 4.92" H x 3.17" W and contains too many details to decrease to a 2” H size for a cap. The outlines of the feathers in the wings would bunch together and small elements like the eye, nose and claws would become so small that thread breaks would likely occur.

    The Search
    First find the right design by searching for one that is as close to the size that you want for your project. At you will find an Advanced Design Search link in the Design Search box at the top left of the Welcome page, or go directly to:
    Begin with a keyword and choose the approximate size that you want your design, which is listed in millimeters. (25.4 mm equals 1 inch.) The search will bring up all suitable designs within that size range. When you find a design that interests you, look for the actual size that is listed in the design information at the center of every product page.
    Determine how much the design can be resized to meet your preferred size without exceeding 20% of the original size. Multiply one measurement of height or width by 80% to decrease the size or multiply by 120% to increase. The sum will be the final size of the design after resizing it 20%.
    Then consider the stitch types in the design. A design that contains only run or bean stitches, such as Redwork, usually can be decreased fairly well, even if you have to push the size a little further than 20%. But if the design contains a lot of fill and satin stitches the stitches would become cramped when decreasing the size.

    (Click Image to Enlarge)

    There are many different types of software programs that allow you to change the size of the design. If you are decreasing or increasing only a small degree, such as less than 10%, most any sizing software or the sizing function on your machine should be able to make a sufficient change. If you are resizing more than 10%, you will likely need to use various editing tools in your software program to make the necessary improvements.

    When you are shopping for an editing program, look first for specs that include recalculating the stitch count when resizing. This means that the software program likely has a stitch processor or stitch calculator that globally changes the density for the best coverage of stitches in the resized design. Other tools that can be quite helpful include a function to add underlay and one to adjust push/pull compensation. One program that offers those capabilities is the Floriani Smartsizer Pro III.

    Enlarge Design
    When you increase the size of a design, satin stitch columns will often need more density or perhaps a zigzag underlay to improve coverage. As seen in the image of the Coffee Cup design, the columns may become too wide and will need to either be adjusted with less pull compensation or the stitch type changed to a column fill. The tools in Floriani allow changing wide satin stitch columns to a fill stitch, offering a variety of different patterns. It also has options for adding underlay and changing parameter values, such as density and stitch length.

    If your software doesn’t include tools to make these various changes, you can try using a 30 WT thread, which will add about 15% more coverage than 40WT. Another trick is to lay down a piece of fabric or stabilizer before the sewing of the same color or coordinating tone of the top stitches to fill in those bare areas; this works well if the excess fabric can be trimmed away and then the fabric edges covered and hidden by top stitches that follow.

    (Click Image to Enlarge)

    Decrease Design
    (Click Image to Enlarge)
    The general rule is to never try decreasing a design more than 10-20%, most especially if it contains a lot of detail. For an example, I'll use the Wolf Spirit embroidery design by the vendor Machine Embroidery Designs.

    This 8.86" x 4.58" design is highly detailed and when decreased, the manual run stitches that were digitized to achieve the realistic style will not decrease when resizing, even in software that has a quality stitch processor. The details compact so tight that it not only becomes difficult to sew, but also appears quite muddled, as seen in this comparison; the image at left is the original size and the image at right has been decreased 45%.

    If the design does not contain a lot of detail it's usually okay to decrease 10-20%, or even push the rule slightly more, such as when resizing a design to fit a 3.93 x 3.93” sewing field of a 4 x 4” hoop requirement. However, the design should be simple without tiny elements that would likely cause sewing issues. If your software allows, you can try removing unnecessary elements or lightening the densities, and depending on the design, sometimes using a thinner 60 WT thread can improve the appearance.

    (Click Image to Enlarge)

    The Proof Is in the Sew-Out

    Always test the resized design prior to stitching on the final garment and don’t be discouraged if your first sew-out is not perfect. You can use that sample as a reference to determine what needs improvement. If your software offers the tools, try adjusting the properties where needed, and you might also try experimenting with different stabilizers on bottom and top, as well as different thread weights.

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    Meet The Author: Bonnie Landsberger
    Bonnie Landsberger has been a crafter and hand embroiderer since childhood and a machine embroiderer and digitizer since 1986. She was the in-house head digitizer for a 50-head embroidery shop for 11 years and later offered custom digitizing services and stock design sales through her web site for Moonlight Design since 1993. She currently also holds a position as a customer service representative at Bonnie has won several awards for digitizing, including a gold medal in the 2002 Digitizing Olympics and grand prize in all categories & first place for Winter Holidays category in the Stitches Magazine Great Greeting Card Contest 2003. Her embroidery and digitizing technical articles can be found in various trade magazines and she is currently a contributing writer and Editorial Advisory Board Member for Stitches Magazine. You can also find more of her articles online at and will continue to contribute articles to our Learning Center.

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    Jackie M Aug 09, 2014
    Enlightening article. Keep them coming Than you. Jackie M.

    Janet P Oct 04, 2014
    Thanks Bonnie for this article and the one on hooping. I have been having a tough time with some of the denser designs and reducing the stitches seems to be the only solution - after stabilizers, thinner thread adjustments.The articles are very enlightening and I wish I read them sooner before wasting much time and thread trying to fix something that wasn't going to happen. The great shading and details in todays designs are wonderful until you find out they won't stitch out well without some adjustments before you even start. Definitely test each one before making one for a gift. Jan P

    carolyn o Oct 26, 2014
    Hi, I am wanting to make some icons to fit on retractable badge reels.. in saying this I have a butterfly preset design on my machine and it will only decrease to a 2x2 and I need it to go down to 1x 1/12 how could I do that?

    Mary M Mar 12, 2015
    Thank you. This is very helpful.
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