Tuesday, July 5, 2022

Computerized Machine Embroidery with the Brother Innovis VE-2200 using Inkscape and Inkstitch

Bear with me, we are about to go down a rabbit hole that begins with a birthday present and ends with a slew of Wet Leg patches.

Last September (2021), my husband gave me a most excellent birthday present. He found a second hand Brother Innovis VE-2200 computerized embroidery sewing machine. At that time, I was finalizing the Fred Lane, Elvis Costell and Peter Weller puppets I'd been making. The machine sat on the floor of my workspace for a couple of weeks til the work table was free. While I was finishing the puppets, I was searching the internet for software capable of creating files the VE2200 could stitch. The majority of options were very expensive (not a desirable option) and were not available on the file trading networks (imagine that?!). I stumbled across mention of Ink/Stitch as a plugin for Inkscape and that the whole software package was free and open source. Free and opensource is often code for amazingly hard to learn, and with documentation that requrires a LOT of knowledge of writing code. Luckily this wasn't the case with Inkstitch.

The lovely father/daughter duo Project Anonymous on YouTube got me set off in the right direction. I watched the tutorials created by Ink/Stitch to fill in the technical gaps I had and from here, my first project was to recreate the floor mat logo patch for the Nissan PAO. I must've spent at least 9 or 10 hours working on the PAO logo, trying to figure out the intracacies of the Bezier tool, how to separate the thread into color layers for ease of stitching etc. At one point, I lost 6 hours of work because I'd been saving my work in a .pes file instead of an .svg file. The .pes file is used by the machine for stitching, but the .svg file is the one that is editable and re-workable and THEN saved as a .pes to stitch.

I moved on from the PAO logo to stitch versions of the Pike Factory cars, then I recreated the Kraftwerk heads from the Musique Non Stop video to put on the back of hoodies. From this exercise, I learned that recreating the artwork is much faster than cleaning up the software interpreted artwork. Also, there is a high value in having one contiguous running stitch or bean stitch to speed up the stitching process. The software tool 'trace bitmap' netted me a stitch count of 118,754 (nobody's got time for that mess). When I re-drew the wire frame heads (a task I desperately did not want to do but HAD to if I wanted it to stitch right), my stitch count went down to 36,6345. Much more manageable.

Next stop from the UV reactive thread in the Kraftwerk embroidery was GLOW-IN-THE-DARK thread. Oh my! I created patches from some of the neighborhood buildings and made a line of "Seminole Heights After Dark" patches which all glowed in the dark, reacted to UV blacklight, or BOTH.

It was around this time that I became aware of the band Wet Leg from the Isle of Wight through the "Now Playing" group I'm a member of on Facebook. Around May of 2022, the group was blowing UP with posts from people spinning their Wet Leg lp in all the colors it comes in. It turned into a group meme of sorts, becoming a running gag. Well, I had to go give it a listen simply due to the fact that I'd never seen a single LP get so much attention from this FB group, ever.

Wet Leg are Rhian Teasdale, Hester Chambers, bassist Ellis Durand, drummer Henry Holmes, and guitarist Joshua Omead Mobaraki with a new album out on Domino Records as of April 8 2022.

I gave it a listen and liked it (a lot!)  - then my friend Daniel in Orlando posted that Wet Leg was coming to The Plaza in Sept. I secured tickets and while I was doing that, I found this photo of Wet Leg with Rhian Teasdale wearing a jacket covered in vintage Americana trucker PATCHES. Holy smokes what a venn diagram.

I thought OH MY! I can replicate these vintage patches and maybe someone will want new ones?! So I started with the I'm a truckers' girlfriend, then the Truckers Make Better Lovers and finally the Next to Sex my CB Radio is best. Well, it seemed nobody wanted replicas of vintage trucker patches. I found the FB Wet Leggers (Wet Leg Fan Community) and posted in there about my replica trucker patches on May 24th. Crickets..

Late on the evening of June 1st, I had an idea to make a patch of Wet Leg lyrics (Excuse me, (what?)) by using the letters I'd already digitized in the CB Radio patch. The "font" in the CB radio patch is pretty cool and I only had to make the letter "c" to do the patch. I stitched up 3 of them and posted to the group - did anyone want these and I'll mail them to you with a stamp if you do. HOLY SMOKES. I think I shipped out at least 15 or more Excuse Me What patches for free. Clearly people want patches BUT they want patches that represent something NEW. Suggestions kept coming in from the group and I used the foundation of the first 3 patches I'd made to create new patches. By June 6th, I had 7 different Wet Leg patch designs and a handful of my patches were in the mail to places all over the globe.

When Wet Leg played the Glastonbury Festival June 24th, Hester's guitar strap was decorated with one of my "I feel sorry for ur mum" patches!!! 

The suggestions from the Wet Legger's group kept pouring in and I kept making patches. To date (July 5th) there are now 22 different Wet Leg patch designs! I'm keeping records of patch and sticker sales so that I can pay the profits forward to the band (perhaps when they play The Plaza in Orlando). Until then, I'm working on creating the embroidery for the uniforms they wear in the UR MUM video as well as sourcing badges and recreating the Isle of Wight patch on the left sleeve of their Angelica's uniforms.

Through this process of rapid fire creation, I've learned that it is good practice to take the covers off your VE-2200 and clean out the flurf and thread bits that will cause your machine to sew badly. It is also best practices to use T-Pins to hold the fabric really taut in the large embroidery hoop as this minimizes fabric shrinkage as the embroidery stitches pull the fabric tighter. I have learned that auto-routed satin columns are your friend and are not to be feared as they will minimize the amount of post-stiching clean up you'll need to do (trimming jump threads) and auto-routed satin stitches also make the projects stich faster overall. I have learned that the large (12x7in) hoop has to have it's screws REALLY tight or the machine won't recognize it as a hoop (this realization was had during a call to Brother's tech support). It is also good to pre-cut your HeatNBond backing to a uniform size, to minimize the need to trim the edges.

I've gotten much faster at digitizing images and getting them to a stitchable file. I recently made three patches from photos of people and got to a completed patch after investing about an hour into each of them. This is a timelapse (sped up 10x) of the processes I go through when turning a picture into a SVG/PES file.

Also, this is the basically the best birthday present ever. It's the gift that keeps giving! Thank you DAVID!!

Here's a link to my ETSY shop!! https://www.etsy.com/shop/JenniferHuber