Source: The Stitch Times

Embroidery has been a conventional favourite of those who wanted to add value to their products, especially in textiles and apparel. As the consumers' taste evolved over the period of time; so did the style and application of embroidery from logos to florals to geometric to placement embroideries, including cartoons and lettering. But, essentially, it remained embroidery done with thread alone.

Designers from across the globe, in all times, have been inspired by the rich and diverse traditions of the olden times, following and reviving long forgotten techniques and styles. Since almost all of such designs were made by artisans by hand, replicating them by machine was always challenging and, in many cases, impossible. This included using sequins, beads, cord, glass tubes, etc., all of which have the power to enhance the perceived added value by manifold.

It seems only natural that the embroidery machine manufacturers would strive to develop a technology to break the stereotype of machine embroidery being equated with using thread alone and usher a new era of automisation that would allow the use of variety of material. So was born the first automatic sequin machine way back around mid eighties. After that, there was no looking back, even though the initial progress in this direction was painfully slow.

Today, we have machines that can produce such complicated embroidery designs that, at times even for a trained eye, it becomes difficult to judge whether it was done by hand or by machine. So much so, that many a unscrupulous sales person regularly pass off machine made stuff to their unsuspecting customers as 'hand-made' and even charge a fat premium for that. In fact, new technology has opened up an entirely new range of design possibilities in embroidery that never existed before and which cannot be replicated by hand like the ribbon embroidery, threadless embroidery, coiling embroidery etc.

Even though the first generation technology was available outside India since long, it was not until early nineties when the first of these machines were imported in India. Even though the sequin attachment technology was still in its infancy, the bigger problems faced by the users was the unavailability of raw material, namely the sequin roll, which could only be imported. This, coupled with India's restrictive import policies and prohibitive custom tariff, made sure there were very few takers of the new technology. Moreover, in those days, the much-in-demand Indian hand work (sequin, bead and stone) was available at rip-off prices and the investors did not find it lucrative enough to go for the high-end technology that came at a very high price tag.

With the passage of time, the demand for hand-look grew even in the domestic market. But the scarcity of trained work force that could execute such orders ensured the steep rise in cost of these products. Their lower cost and faster deliveries made the machine made look-alikes more acceptable and the new chapter of high-end value addition was opened.

Today, machines can be ordered with double sequin, 4-sequin, even 6-sequin devices attached to each head that can attach sequins right from 2 mm to 19 mm in diameter, in any conceivable shape and colour. You can mix sizes, colours, shapes, even apply 2 sequins, one on top of another, in a single stroke, thus creating a sandwich. Then you can further embellish the design by using wide range of cords or fancy yarns or even pre-stringed beads and sequins. Not only that, the prestringed glass tubes could be twisted and turned in any way, as per the design, just like hand work.

Not satisfied? Well, then you can even add a chenille head for mossstitch / chain-stitch and perhaps also add a laser head for doing some finecut appliques. As long as money is no constraint, you can get any combination of technology that can fit your creative requirements. And the market loves it. Those who have dared to invest and create new embroidery application have not only wiped off their competition but have also guaranteed their profitability. With consumers willing to pay top money to buy exclusivity, there could not be a better time for technology developers to market their products in the ever-growing Indian market.

The latest entrant in the multi head market is Lasser from Switzerland, a well known brand in the schiffli segment. Lasser has very recently launched their schiffli-head machine which is basically a schiffli embroidery machine that looks and works like a multi-head embroidery machine. Lasser has cleverly adopted best features of both the technologies to the advantage of the customer who now has the flexibility of doing embroideries of either type as and when the need arises. Its schiffli based sewing mechanism allows any schiffli design to be embroidered on this machine (including eyelets of all sizes) and its multi-heads and sequin devices add colour and glitter to the embroidery.

Both the industry stalwarts, Barudan and Tajima have come up with technologies that have significantly raised the value addition levels. While Barudan offers their world's first 4-in-1 machine that can do combination embroidery, involving cording, chain-stitching, coiling and sequin embroidery along with normal embroidery, creating designs and effects that truly are a work of art. More recently, Barudan has come up with their rotary sequin device which has been designed for their round head machines. Unlike other sequin devices (2 or 4 sequins) designed for flat head machines, you can only use the needle next to the sequin device for attaching sequins. Barudan's device allows the sequin to be attached with any of the 9 needles of the head. Barudan has also developed Rotary twin sequin device i.e., one can use 2 sequins and combination of 9 threads on the 2 sequins. Now you can create dazzling effects even when using sequin of one size and colour. This technology is most suitable for the high fashion ladies garments, ladies purses and shoes.

Tajima's new offering, the 'shuttle hook' embroidery machine is every embroiderer's dream come true as it allows the user a choice of threads' from thin to thick and even soft twist, imparting different textures to any design. In short, the shuttle hook embroidery machine allows you to embroider on all types of material while using a wide variety of thread thickness, which are normally considered unsuitable all at the same time and without any change in hook or needle plate settings. Any creative designer cannot ask for more freedom of use of materials. Tajima has also come up with their latest zigzag cording device that inspires the desire to create. This device ensures accurate fixing of all kinds of cords including sequin cord and slub cord among a wide variety of material that is controlled by a 2step cord roller and. changeable tension springs to suit different materials.

When it comes to unconventional application of embroidery, ZSK shows the way. Considering the fact that ZSK comes from same region of Germany that produces some of the best luxury automobiles in the world, their interest and inclination to serve that industry becomes clearer. Earlier, they had introduced a machine that could lay heating wires in automobile passenger seats that would give appropriate warmth to the occupant during sub-zero temperatures. Now, with their V-Series, they have introduced a radically new technology where embroidery machine is used for the free orientation, placing and fixing of reinforcement materials.


These machines can be used in applications where the production of components or textile structures requires the stitching of variable geometry ply stacks, where fabrics need to be reinforced locally, or where fabrics must be assembled. Single layered rovings are fixed to the base material by stitching. During the process, the base material is moved by the embroidery machine's pantograph using numerical control, enabling to lay rovings in any direction and quantity. In comparison to other textile technologies for the same job, the wastage of expensive raw materials is minimal reducing the problem of waste disposal. By introducing machines for hi-tech applications, ZSK has opened up possibilities for using embroidery machines hitherto into unknown segments like technical textiles and aviation.

Even though it is interesting to know what all things can be achieved by the technology advancement in the field of embroidery, at the same time, it will not be out of place to see where the focus of future development of embroidery will be. We still see a huge gap in the products created by hand and by machines. The latest technology has still to copy the fine intricate design patterns made on Cashmere shawls and Zardozi work, to name a few. It seems it would still take a lot more time and R&D before technology is able to replace embroidery work done by hand.

Originally Published in The Stitch Times, Jan-2011