Back to the future

By Roy Burton, managing director, YES Group

When I was asked how the embroidery industry has changed in the last 30 years, I first though ‘wow, what a question!’ And then secondly, ‘why ask me!’

I then got round to thinking about the question and realised what a good question it is, but where to start? 30 years… hmm that was about 1990/1… not a lot to really say initially about embroidery equipment in the 90s. A few new brands and a lot of what we may refer to as window dressing, adding a few more needles to make colour change easier, more memory, a bit more speed and so on.

Hang on though I think there is much more to talk about than those little advancements.

Very fortunate

I am fortunate enough to have worked on the technical side of industrial embroidery machines since 1976, this is where the major changes took place that must be mentioned. Just imagine… no cylinder bed, five needles for the colour change, no bobbin detection systems, and no cap frames. So, what did we have then? Flat table machines, 320 to 350 stitches per minute, machines with only 12 heads as a maximum and loads of production demand as the UK Textile industry was extremely active and employed tens of thousands of people up and down the country, at that time only two real machine suppliers.

A traditional Schiffli embroidery machine

This was the time one giant step took place, after donkey’s years of embroidery machines being controlled by something called the Automat, a mechanical brain invented by a French fellow of the name Jacquard… Go on… put it into that modern stuff called Google. Now put in the words ‘jacquard inventor name’ and you should find this fellow: Joseph-Marie Jacquard born in Lyon France in 1752.

Before this it was just a ‘needle and thread. The real innovation came much later than 1752, Singer swing needle machines were developed with this becoming known as Irish embroidery machines. This was an industrial sewing machine without any material feeding system. In around the 1850s came the Singer hand pantograph, I only ever saw one of these in production in a company in the U, which must have been developed in the early 1900s. Ok, so I hear you saying what’s the relevance of this to the past 30 years of embroidery? Well Monsieur Jacquard made it all possible. A name and inventor that should never be forgotten in the wonderful world of textiles for without Jacquard where would the carpet weaving, knitting machinery and embroidery be!? This is well worth a read on today’s world wide web.

Enter electronics

Well with this step, poor old Jacquard invention got left behind in the late 1970s, it is of course the introduction of embroidery machines controlled by the first electronics, and wow, the embroidery speed doubled overnight and a mad scramble took place to have the latest and fastest technology available all over the world. Just think about it speeds from 300 up to 600, then the world of embroidery saw no boundaries. We even saw electronically controlled embroidery machine with 56-head production on one machine.

Automatic thread trimming, automatic programable colour changes, needle and bobbin thread stop, cap frame embroidery, 3D foam, and so many more.

Ok, so that was the big news then. Now, back to the future, sorry meant to say 30 years ago.

This was the beginning of when textiles started to go offshore. Overseas production driven by the high street store chasing that every penny profit. Textile and embroidery companies just collapsed because of the shortage of garment and embroidery demand. It was still there on the high street, however the production came from those overseas companies, using what we all heard about at the time… as child labour or very low cost labour.

Fight back

Fortunately, 30 years ago the UK fight back started with the established embroidery machine designers and manufacturers developing smaller more advanced capability machines with high productivity machine speed increased up to 1,500 stitches per minute, with some claiming 1,800 stitches per minute. Dual function machines meaning the one machine could produce two different jobs at the same time. Needle (colour change capacity) was ever increasing with some trying to develop thread splicing so a single needle may have no boundaries or be limited by a number of colours. Automatic lubrication. Full colour computer screen displays. The ability to automatic stitch back through the pattern to make a repair so never a lost garment.

The Your Embroidery Services team pictured at Printwear & Promotion 1996

Today, the competition for market share still drives the manufacturers wishing to gain market share embroidery developments go on and on with new ideas, ways to embroider, lower cost machines, and something I actually think is a very important, smaller footprint machines with high speed, 20 needles and more economical to purchase. What a benefit for today’s new model embroiderers who operate from smaller premises and enjoy production quantities in very small numbers but with great flexibility, just a few of the steps over the past 30 years.

“Vive la broderie”, Joseph-Marie Jacquard may have been thinking.

These are just a few thoughts from an old embroidery ‘tech- head’ who started Your Embroidery Services 27 years ago.

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