Stock it, Stitch it, Sell it!

Sometimes, when creativity needs a little boost to get flowing, borrowing some from another can provide the needed nudge for which a project calls.

Whether your client is coming up short on its new business logo or you need a unique storefront stitch-out to showcase your work, pre-digitized stock embroidery is abundant and readily accessible. With said catalog of creativity on hand, embroiderers will be well prepared when inspiration is in order.

Come one, come all

Almost every embroiderer, novice to experienced, can make use of a stock design or two at some point, according to Barbara Geer of, who adds: “Even digitizers often realize they don’t have the time to create every design their customers need.”

Companies specializing in corporate wear decorated mostly with logos will also find that clients sometimes want a stock design for seasonal or special merchandise, Geer says, offering the example of her local bank: “Most of the time, employees wear apparel decorated with their corporate logo. They do, however, have garments decorated with the local high-school mascot to wear on game day and apparel decorated with holiday designs during holiday seasons.”

In addition to decorators of differing experience levels, Geer also makes the distinction between commercial and home embroiderers, both of whom can utilize ready-made designs.

“Time and money are two great benefits in using stock embroidery designs,” reports Dakota Collectibles’ Jolene Ellefson. “Stock designs are immediately accessible and usually less expensive than digitizing a new design. It gives the customer the opportunity to select from a large variety of designs, and lettering can be added to personalize it.”

Deborah Jones of Great Notions says stock art comes in handy even to those who take pride in totally-tailored work: “The traditional stock-design mindset is that it’s not for custom work, but our belief is that it supports business models doing anything from monogramming all the way up through small-business identity apparel because it really is the jumping-off point to help people design a logo. It may even become part of that customer’s logo.”

To and from

Before these designs can become a part of anything, they must be found, selected, purchased . . . and only then embroidered. The ways of obtaining and disseminating digitized designs differ between each offering company, with several options. Made available through CD and hard-copy catalogs, at tradeshows and online, embroiderers can buy stock designs from digitizers via various programs.

Similar to the hunt-and-peck method of computer keyboarding, a decorator can seek and pay for designs on an as-needed basis. Theme packages and libraries are the “Costco” in-bulk alternative, providing access to any number of designs.

In addition to these, Jones also describes her company’s subscription delivery method, which allows decorators to unlock one design, the entire collection or anything in between through a patented CD as well as online. “People can subscribe, similar to the way you would have a subscription to, for example, and when you need a design, you have access through the encrypted CD to virtually anything in the catalog,” she reports.

Once designs reach decorators’ hands, stock-art suppliers provide different means for them to get newly-acquired collections in front of their customers.

“We have developed the Associate Online Catalog,” Ellefson explains, “which allows embroiderers to include the entire individual design library on their own websites.”

Whatever the process, having instant access to a considerable cache of designs can prove especially important when prospective business strolls in.

“When you’re in front of a customer, if you don’t have a wide variety of designs to show them, you don’t necessarily talk as confidently about what you can do,” Jones reports. “Believe it or not, even with a huge collection, you become familiar just by working with it day-to-day.”

Developing favorites and becoming comfortable recommending certain uses also makes for a stronger sales presentation, suggests Jones.

Niche stitch

Another confidence booster may come from investing in a la cart motifs and producing retail-styled garments.

Jones looks to marketplace menswear as an illustration of excellent use for pre-digitized stock designs, specifically citing decorative-type embellishments on what was once a plain ol’ dress shirt.

“They’re very hot,” she asserts. “People like Randy on American Idol are wearing this, and a typical embroiderer can duplicate that look by just flipping through the pages of a stock-design catalog and picking out some kind of phoenix design, or flames. You can get as cutting-edge as you want by using the right stock designs.”

To accompany this masculine-themed embroidery trend popular at retail, tattoo-art designs are now being offered, often found in combination with print on long-sleeved dress shirts, according to Jones.

Geer also mentions mixed media, with embroidery/screen-print recipes remaining popular this year.

“Fringe appliqué and frayed reverse appliqué are two processes that have caught on in the embroidery industry,” Geer says. “While the techniques are usually used with individual designs, I have even seen several fonts created using these processes. Basic stock designs are always needed, however, and techniques don’t disappear from one year to the next. So while there are always new and innovative techniques, many of the older designs remain in place as well.”

Ellefson sees embroidery collections coupled with project ideas on the upswing.

“Step-by-step instructions are included in these collections,” she offers. “Scenic windowpanes, fringe, appliqué, greeting cards, sparkles and free-standing lace are a few new collections that include project ideas.”

Outside of logo building, Ellefson names additional creative uses for and twists on pre-digitized designs, such as: windowpane wall hangings, metallic or glow-in-the-dark threads, personalized cards, monogrammed napkins and towels, lettering, and simply combining multiple designs. 

Adds Geer: “I have customers who use stock designs on household accessories and decorations, for quilting, on furniture, automotive upholstery and many other unique projects.”

Through some additional research, she also came across uses such as jar toppers, Christmas gift tags, stockings, ornaments, story books, stuffed toys, yard flags, shoes, jewelry, gift bags, table runners and cloths, and photo frames.

“The limits of your imagination are the limits of your embroidery possibilities!” she declares.

Copyright from wrong

With all of the networks dedicated to strengthening the craft through sharing information, ideas, techniques and experiences, this industry’s embroidery community appears to be a tight-knit one.

While most of this diffusion is encouraged, stock-embroidery suppliers’ stance on artwork borrowing is reminiscent of the music industry’s file-sharing dilemma: “Sharing designs in any form is illegal,” states Geer. “It matters not if it’s a company or individual sharing designs, the stock design is someone’s livelihood.”

While this type of design distribution is regarded as taboo across the board, stock-embroidery conditions aren’t always so clear cut, and each digitizing company sets forth its own licensing, copyright and usage limitations.

Great Notions’ Jones brings to light a form of sharing which is permitted, and another similar type which is not: “When you use a stock design to create an embroidery logo, you can furnish that to a subcontractor,” she explains. “It’s fine to transfer that data to a contract embroiderer, but you really can’t give that disc or file to a client to take to another embroiderer because it’s not yours to give. You only have a license to use that design and can’t transfer it to someone for ownership. So that’s the one caveat to using a stock design for a logo,” she continues. “Our policy is that, if a customer selects a design from our catalog to be part of their logo, we don’t restrict use of that artwork on business cards, letterhead and other identity needs. We do restrict handing it over to the customer on a disc where it would then potentially go to another embroiderer.”

Dakota Collectibles stipulates its usage by locality, says Ellefson: “When you purchase a design, you only obtain a license to embroider that design on fabric at one location. Buying, selling, trading, sharing or copying our artwork or design software is a violation of copyright law. The software license gives the embroiderer the legal right to sew the stock design on fabric or other material as many times as they would like. They may also sell the embroidered items.”

What embroiderers can’t sell, she says, are designs from licensed collections such as Looney Tunes, Peanuts, Nike or General Motors.

“We have the license to sell the software. However, these designs cannot be sewn on items for resale,” Ellefson says. “They’re for personal use only, and many customers embroider these designs for family and friends as gifts.”

As far as the design itself goes, it may be modified with embroidery-editing software to suit specific applications, according to Ellefson: “However, modified designs may not be copyrighted and sold as new designs.”

Keeping track of who owns what is no easy feat, but industry enforcers do exist. “Most stock-design companies have legal representation keeping a close eye on the copyrights,” reports Geer. “Many of the companies register each individual design, and those who choose to violate copyright take a big chance.”

On a more positive note, supplying companies are doing what they can to make designs cost accessible for everyone. And given the amount of creativity floating around out there for a small fee, innovative ideas are sure to be flowing through the stitches this year.