Digital Embroidery

We have a Brother Innov-is V3 Embroidery Machine which can be programmed to create custom embroidered pieces using your own Processing sketch or using the Brother software.

Using the Brother Innov-is V3 Embroidery Machine

To use this machine, you must have had an induction from one of the technical staff. This guide is to serve as a resource for students who have already had this induction, as a reminder of setup steps and as a troubleshooting guide.


The Brother Innovis V3 is a top-end domestic embroidery machine that can be used to produce high-quality digital embroidery on a range of fabrics.

A photograph of the Brother Innovis V3 machine, showing the mounted embroidery hoop.

Embroidery machines work by moving a piece of fabric (fixed within a hoop) in the x-y direction, beneath a needle that stitches by moving up and down. In this sense, they have a lot in common with many other 2-axis CAD machines (like laser cutters, routers, plotters), though because of the paticular qualities of working with stitches as opposed to straight toolpaths, embroidery software weirdness, and working with different fabrics, there's some practice involved in getting consistent results.

This guide is a condensed overview of the machine operation -- if you'd like a more detailed reference, see the Brother Innovis V3 User Manual.

Producing embroidery files

In order to embroider your design, you must first create a file in the .PES format (there are other embroidery file formats, but they are not typically compatible with Brother machines). These are then loaded onto the machine via memory stick. At CCI, there are 2 main ways that this can be done:

Both approaches have their advantages and disadvantages depending on the kind of design you want to make. In general, PEmbroider gives you a huge amount of control over how the design is stitched, whereas PE Design auto-generates stitches for you, allowing you to choose from a few different presets, and has a lot of features. As such, the learning curve with PEmbroider is a bit steeper, and generally requires a bit more tinkering to achieve a result, but is programmable, so can make generative designs, and can produce things that can't be made using PE Design.

As PEMBroider is just an extension of Processing, it can be run on your computer. PE Design is a piece of proprietary Windows software, for which we have one license, so it must be used on the dedicated Windows machine next to the embroidery machine. There is a Windows-only trial version available here.

Machine Setup

Changing the top thread

While this machine is threaded using a similar approach to most domestic sewing machines, it has some specific features that are a little less common. This is the thread that will be on the top side of your fabric, and must be machine embroidery thread (for how to tell, see 'my top thread keeps breaking' in troubleshooting).

The diagram below shows how the top thread should look when properly threaded through the machine. For a full step-by-step instruction, the guide in the manual is very thorough (page 38), though if you are unsure then please ask for a refresher.

A diagram showing the correct position of the top thread in the machine, going from right to left

The final step of threading the top thread is shown below -- pull the thread through the thread cutter, and then press the 'auto thread' button for the machine to automatically thread the needle. (it's also possible to do this by hand but much less efficient).

A diagram showing someone pulling the thread into the thread cutter on the right of the machine A diagram showing someone pressing the 'needle threading' button, which is located a couple of inches to the right of the 3 middle buttons at the top of the machine

Changing the bobbin thread

The bobbin thread is what binds the top thread to the fabric, and sits on what's know as the 'wrong side'. Typically, this thread is either black or white -- if you are sewing with dark-coloured thread, you might want to consider using black bobbin thread, but otherwise white thread is fine for most purposes.

This part can be slow the first time you do it, but precision is important -- if your bobbin is not set up properly you will spend a lot longer trying to figure out why your design hasn't come out right!

For a full step-by-step instruction, the guide in the manual is very thorough (page 36, or 31 if you want to wind the bobbin on the machine), though if you are unsure then please ask for a refresher.

Before you start:

  1. check you have the correct kind of bobbin (it's approx 11.5mm high, and should have part code SA156 somewhere)
  2. check that the bobbin thread is tightly wound. loose thread will ruin your tension later on
  3. check that the bobbin thread is actually bobbin thread (compare to the spools of bobbin thread on the desk)

Start by sliding the bobbin cover latch to the right, then gently lifting the bobbin from the machine.

a diagram showing a finger sliding the latch next to the bobbin cover to the right

Replace the bobbin, making sure that the direction the thread unwinds in the correct direction (clockwise!). As shown in the diagram below, pull out and around the thread cutter.

a diagram showing someone loading the bobbin in so that the thread unwinds in a clockwise direction, then pulling the thread around the thread cutter.

Be sure to replace the bobbin cover -- it should click when pressed in.

Tip: When about to embroider a large design, it's worth checking that there's a fair amount of thread left on the bobbin, to avoid having to change it midway (it's not an issue, just annoying).

IMPORTANT: make sure the bobbin thread is the correct way round (it will be the source of endless mystery issues if not). It has a little picture of the correct thread direction on the bobbin case,

Hoop Setup

In order to embroider fabric, it must be stretched taut in an embroidery hoop, which is tightened using one or two adjustable screws, then mounted on the arm of the machine. It is this arm that moves the fabric relative to the needle. This is low-key one of the most crucial bits of getting a design to work, and if you're having issues with distortion it's probably going to be here.

There are currently 3 hoop sizes available to use at CCI. In general, try and use the smallest possible hoop that will fit your design -- the larger the hoop, the less supported the fabric is, and the more likely you are to encounter distortion. This is particularly relevant if you are using a thin or stretchy fabric. The largest hoop is not a challenge!!

a comparison chart of hoops. The largest is 30cmx18cm, the middle is 18cmx13cm, the smallest is 10cmx10cm

If you don't know what hoops you can use, the machine will tell you -- just look for the hoop icon in the top while browsing designs. Designs too big for the hoop will be greyed out and you will not be able to stitch with them. The machine knows what hoop you have mounted and will adjust this accordingly.

It is strongly recommended that you use iron-on fabric stabiliser when embroidering -- it will keep the fabric stiffly fixed in one place, and is especially important when working with delicate fabrics. Iron this onto the fabric before putting it into the machine.

a diagram showing 2 hands pulling fabric taut at the sides of a tightened embroidery hoop

Tip: If you are using a stretchy or delicate fabric, take care not to over-stretch when putting the fabric into the hoop (or the design will pucker when you come to remove the fabric from the hoop). I would strongly suggest using the stock canvas we have at the CCI to test designs, especially when you are learning to use the machine.

You can also use the iron on stabiliser to 'float' very small pieces of fabric, ribbons or corners.