I bought my 1st embroidery machine in late 1997 and started a home business in 1998. Jonathan was 6 years old. He spent most of the day around the machine with me.
As he got older, he started helping in the shop a little. Hooping shirts, carrying boxes, helping me with deliveries.
During this time, I used outside services for any digitizing needs.
Over the years, I have always hoped that maybe one day my kids might want to take over the business and be able to work from home. Jonathan never really showed an interest until 2019. I had purchased Wilcom's commercial digitizing software along with a newer commercial machine a few years ago, took some lessons and started digitizing on a part time basis since I was still doing embroidery and screen printing. I tried to get him interested in learning to digitize many times during the last few years.
Jonathan has a natural gift for “detail”. He notices everything and has a very analytical mind. I thought digitizing might be a perfect fit for him, and he is a pretty good artist as well.
Once he expressed some interest, I purchased Wilcom Hatch Embroidery Software and put it on a second computer in my office to entice him once again to give it a try.
He finally gave in around September 2019 and sat down with Hatch. All he wanted to know from me is what each “button” did… “just show me how to use this and I will figure the rest out” is how he put it…lol.
He has watched many designs stitch out over the years, but I wasn’t sure how much he understood about how a design went together and how it needed to stitch out. He had never tried anything like this before.
Jonathan is a very determined person. Once he decides to learn something, he will study hard and give it 100%. So off he went to his desk to teach himself to digitize.
We went back and forth with simple designs. He watched them stitch out, went back to edit and stitch out again and again.
His first try was a simple apple design. Tatami fill stitch and satin stitching. There he discovered push and pull made a big difference from the computer screen to stitching out on fabric. But he kept at it editing and stitching out until he made it work. I noticed that he split the apple leaf in two instead of just using a flat fill stitch for it. That was my first indication that he might be pretty good at digitizing. He was looking at artwork with a realistic eye and adding detail most people skip.
I had taken some digitizing lessons from Wilcom and could digitize designs too but was still sending out more complicated logos and designs to other digitizers.
I had also started selling some of my designs online and wanted Jonathan to go in that direction too. We agreed on a plan for him to learn to digitize and have the opportunity to work from home if he chose to.
I think the challenge of that first design intrigued him enough that he realized digitizing would be a great learning process and that was his “thing”. A never ending challenge since artwork can vary so widely.
I added that simple apple design to my website when he was finished and together we watched it sell. We watched the photos people posted on social media of how they used the design. It sparked enough interest in him to digitize another design. And another. And watch the process. He was enjoying seeing what others used his designs for.
He was using mostly tatami fills, satin stitching, running stitches and a few of the built in, fancier fill stitches occasionally.
Jonathan was enjoying the process very much at this point, and had created a nice little collection of simple designs.
So, when I saw the online ad for John Deer’s online embroidery digitizing lessons, I signed him up right away. This was perfect timing and would be an opportunity for him to learn from one of the best digitizers in the world.
And I was looking forward to it also! I had seen the name, John Deer, in so many articles over the years that it was going to be a treat for me to watch him in action.
Jonathan was really looking forward to the class and when it started he was all in. Soaked up every piece of information he could and truly enjoyed watching John live on screen. He seemed fascinated by the process and the critical thinking it involved.
We printed out the short cut sheets and John’s Cheat Sheet for the building blocks of quality embroidery. A piece of paper that still sits on his desk for reference. He was ready to dive in.
After that first live class, he started the “homework” classes. They consisted of several recorded videos he could follow along and review and learn the basics of how designs react on fabric. Painting or drawing on paper is one thing but when you take thread and stitch it out, there are all sorts of things that come into play and affect the outcome. John did a fabulous job of explaining all these things in detail in the classes.
Jonathan and I talked about it all week while he did the homework lessons. I have been in the embroidery business for many years and even I learned lots of new things during those lessons.
They truly are great lessons for anyone, no matter your skill level.
Next, he went on to creating a running stitch design in the lessons and John taught him how to create a true red work design. It came out perfectly and Jonathan stitched that design out a few times to watch it run.
I remember one night waking up around 1:30 am and I could hear a man’s voice in the house. “Curve, curve, straight, curve, straight….”
I realized it was John Deer’s voice and Jonathan was up in the middle of the night watching and practicing some of the recorded lessons…LOL that is when I knew he was hooked and loving every minute of the class!
Jonathan went on to digitizing a beautiful floral design in class with curved fills. As he stitched out the lessons, we decided to use them on projects too…. They were just too pretty!
That was one of the best things about the class, everyone was working on the same artwork and John was guiding them though the process step by step and explaining every detail and the reasoning behind them.
Jonathan learned to use some of the powerful features in Wilcom Hatch and how to do the same thing without fancy software.
I was watching him take digitizing to a whole new level that without John’s classes may have taken him years to do.
Jonathan was learning about minimum – maximum stitch lengths, angles, density, underlay… all the components to great digitizing.
He digitized red work, used curved fill stitching, satin stitching to create a beautiful wreath, a lightbulb with layers to create shading with thread. And he soaked up all that knowledge in a few weeks.
Then John offered a more advanced online class.
He learned some advanced techniques like mylar applique, working with foam, and digitizing fonts.
Jonathan followed along to digitize a gorgeous sunflower with a light fill stitch and mylar underneath the design to step it up a notch. That sunflower came out fabulous and was a huge turning point for Jonathan. He wanted me to find more complicated artwork to try.
I purchased a beautiful and very detailed piece of artwork of a hummingbird. Jonathan worked on that design on and off for a week. I would peek in from time to time and watched the design come to life on the screen. I was stunned at what I was seeing.
The big test would come in the first stitch out. We both watched that hummingbird stitch out and I couldn’t believe what I was watching. It was almost as if the needle was “painting” the thread on the fabric.
And the biggest thing was that he did it all with very few edits. John Deer had taught him how to work through a design with the fewest possible trims and how to layer colors without ending up with “bulletproof” embroidery.
I think he had to fix a couple of trims that he did not want in the design and that was about it. Jonathan had digitized a work of art with almost no issues to edit at all.
This week he is working on another detailed design, a beautiful seahorse. I noticed he was able to do this one faster than the hummingbird.
He has truly gone from simple digitizing to beautiful, detailed and stunning designs.
Jonathan is still looking back to some of the designs he created in John Deer’s class. He keeps the stitch outs on his desk and refers back to them often when he encounters new artwork and is looking for an idea to make it unique.
The printouts are still laying there too for reference. I feel like he is well on his way to becoming the best digitizer that he can be and we are all so proud of him. Finding something you can do for a living is good, finding something you love to do for a living is a blessing. Digitizing offers everyday challenges for those who enjoy something unique and is a continuing learning experience.
And after the classes and wonderful comments from others who have seen Jonathan's work, nothing has made me prouder and more appreciative than the feedback, encouragement and help he has received from John Deer himself:
"When it comes to Digitizing, I consider myself a good instructor/educator in my field. In part, due to the decades of refining my presentations and teaching methods. But mostly due to the foundations I was taught by Schiffli mentors who I have the utmost respect.
In the over two decades of giving classes, workshops, and now webinars, I have taught thousands of people the theory that I was so blessed to have received. From my students, I've seen some show incredible talent by becoming educators, starting companies, and winning awards.
Recently, I have witnessed one person who, in my opinion, has shown to have a real gift in "The Art of Digitizing." Jonathan Sigrist recently attended our first Virtual Digitizers Dream Workshop and quickly completed the work, executing the theory perfectly. That was impressive, but seeing his results in our first Advance Class blew me away!
In the last few months since that workshop, I have been following his progress and beautiful creations. I am so looking forward to seeing what he achieves in the years ahead."
Jonathan is looking forward to taking more classes with John in the future and I am watching him develop his skills everyday and loving every minute of it.
UPDATE AS OF October 2022
Two more designs that I consider works of art that he has digitized since this blog post was originally written are his Giant Dragonfly design and his FSL Red Knee Tarantula design.
The Giant Dragonfly was an idea that came to him from talking with someone who had made a giant dragonfly out of metal as a yard sculpture. He said "I want to create one in thread at the same size as Meganeura, a prehistoric version of our modern day dragonfly."
Jonathan worked on this project on and off for about 6 months. Editing and changing the design until it finally evolved into what he wanted. He likes to experiment with digitizing and try new things. The wings stitch out in one continuous pattern with no jumps or trims. He designed them after actual dragonfly wings. They are stitched over iridescent mylar to give them the look of real wings. The head, body and tail are free standing lace.
The finished design when assembled is an impressive 26" wide by 17" long
And most recently, he decided to try and create a free standing lace tarantula. He has always had a fascination with insects, animals, etc. and had a few tarantulas as a teenager. He worked on this project for a few weeks experimenting and editing the design over and over until he got it to portray an actual Red Knee Tarantula complete with hairy legs.
It is so mesmerizing to watch stitch out. The legs are bendable when finished with no additional wire, glue, stiffener... just embroidery thread and water soluble stabilizer needed to create this little arachnid.
This design sort of went viral on Facebook in the embroidery world and it was so exciting to see everyone stitching it out and all the ways they were having fun with the design. It truly took on a life of it's own and we are mapping out all the places in the world where this design was stitched out.
PS – If you would like to see some of the designs Jonathan has digitized that are his favorites, click here
You can find Jonathan and his "quality control" assistant Mikko, at his desk most afternoons creating beautiful designs to share with you!