Tips for Hand Embroidering Clothing

January 26, 2022
Nicole Rollender
Woman in pajamas sitting on the floor while hand embroidering a dragon on a denim jacket

If you’ve been experimenting with hand embroidery on t-shirts and other garments, you already know that the possibilities are endless (like flowers climbing out of t-shirt pockets or a full-back dragon on a black hoodie) when you have the right supplies, design and garment. Of course, there’s always room to improve, with tips from masters of the craft.

Getting Started Embroidering Apparel

If you’ve watched enough embroidery videos on YouTube and have tried embroidery already, but want to go up another level, here are tips from the embroidery experts.

✔ Choose the Right Fabrics to Embroider

Embroidery experts say that medium-weight knits with a little stretch—like cotton, twill, linen, linen blends and even denims—are the best to embroider. These include items like t-shirts, no-iron dress shirts, polos and the outer layer of a soft shell jacket. These fabrics won’t shift easily in your hoop. Plus, your t-shirt or other garment won’t pucker over time under the weight of the embroidery design.

✔ Know Which Fabrics You Shouldn’t Embroider

As you probably know, embroidery requires a smoother material that’s got some thickness, heft and durability to hold the stitches without puckering. That’s why thin fabrics, like rayon, silk and ultra-fine t-shirt material aren’t ideal for stitching. Your embroidery needle might get stuck in the fabric and tear a hole in it. Plus, if you’re using a stabilizer, it’ll show through the front of a thin white or light-colored shirt when you wear it.

In addition, try to avoid textured fabrics, like sweater materials and ribbed knits, as well as high-pile fabrics like terry cloth. Otherwise, you’ll waste your time and get rough, lumpy embroidery.

✔ Prep Your Clothes Before You Embroider Them

If your t-shirts or hoodies that you’d like to stitch are brand new, wash and dry them before you start your project. For cotton, twill and other heatsafe fabrics, give them a quick pass with an iron to ensure the fabric is smooth and crease-free before you begin working. 

Shop Products Perfect for Embroidery on Threadsy

One of the benefits of shopping with a clothing wholesale supplier like Threadsy is that our online catalog is geared towards crafters and makers like you. Our product descriptions can help you identify fabric weight and quality before you buy, and we work with brands like Threadfast who specialize in wholesale apparel that's embroidery-friendly for professional and amateur decorators alike. For example, the Threadfast hoodie below has two separate pockets at the waist instead of a kangaroo-style pocket, making it easier to decorate the entire front of the garment. Threadfast jackets are also among our most popular for embroiderers.

  1. Unisex Denim Jacket
    Threadfast Apparel
    Unisex Denim Jacket
  2. Unisex Ultimate Fleece Pullover Hooded Sweatshirt
    Threadfast Apparel
    Unisex Ultimate Fleece Pullover Hooded Sweatshirt
  3. Unisex Bomber Jacket
    Threadfast Apparel
    Unisex Bomber Jacket

Embroidery Tips for T-Shirts and Hoodies

✔ Gather the Right Materials for a Hand-Embroidery Project

For a t-shirt or hoodie, you’ll generally need a stabilizer, an embroidery hoop, a round-end or ball-point needle, embroidery floss or thread, and an iron.

✔ Stabilizer is Your Friend When it Comes to Fabrics with Some Stretch

If you want to embroider a t-shirt or a baby onesie that’s made of a stretchy, knit material, your best friend will be a good stabilizer. If you opt to not use backing, your stitched design could become distorted as the fabric stretches when you wear it. On the other hand, your design will look perfect if you choose to use a stabilizer.

Pro Tip: Before you start any new embroidery projects, test out your chosen stabilizer on the clothing. You can stick it inside the t-shirt and then remove it or rinse it off.

✔ Use Removable Stabilizer With T-Shirts

We recommend using a removable stabilizer with t-shirts, rather than a leave-in backing. Otherwise, your stitches may feel itchy and uncomfortable against your or the wearer’s skin. You’ll find that there are different types of stabilizers for a stretchier t-shirt material, both temporary and permanent. There are also tear-away (or cut-away backings), along with those that dissolve in water. Finally, you’ve got stabilizers that self-attach to the fabric, and other types that you attach with basting stitches. The point? You’ve got lots of options, so pick the ones that work best for you. You can also reach out to stabilizer manufacturers to see if they have any tips or recommendations. Many will have product-use videos on their websites or on YouTube.

✔ Here’s How to Attach a Baste-On Stabilizer

First, turn your t-shirt inside out and place a piece of paper between the layers of fabric, to prevent the stitches from catching on the other side of the shirt. Next, position the backing on the area you’ll be embroidering. Use your needle and thread to create larger basting stitches to affix your stabilizer to the t-shirt. Then turn your t-shirt right side out as you’re ready to start your embroidery. These basting stitches will come out easily later, even if you’ve stitched over them with your embroidery design.

✔ Look at Using Self-Affixing Stabilizers as Another Option

You might be using a stabilizer that attaches to the shirt without stitches. One type is a water-soluble stabilizer with a peel-off backing, which you can literally place on the inside of your garment under the embroidery spot. There’s another kind of backing that you can iron on to the shirt and then easily tear away after you’re done, as well.

✔ Use a Wash-Away Stabilizer to Transfer Your Pattern Onto Your T-Shirt

With fabric, it’s hard to trace patterns onto them. However, if you use a wash-away stabilizer sheet, you can print your pattern onto it and stick it onto the fabric. Instead of printer paper, load a stabilizer sheet into your desktop printer, and then print your pattern onto it. Then, cut out your pattern and peel off the backing. Press it onto the t-shirt or other garment where you want to embroider. After you’ve finished stitching, run your t-shirt or hoodie under cool water and rub the stabilizer to remove it, leaving only your lovely embroidery.

✔ Use These Tips for Expert Embroidery on Your Favorite (or Brand-New) T-Shirt

We recommend using a ball-point or round-end needle so you don’t pull or snag the t-shirt’s knit material. Don’t tie knots in your embroidery threads; otherwise, you might stretch and distort the designs. Instead, opt to weave the ends of your embroidery stitches, and in general, don’t pull the stitches too tightly. The stabilizer you choose will also help prevent your embroidery design from stretching too much.

✔ Hoop Your Fabric Without Stretching it Too Much

When you’re working with a stretchy fabric, like a knit t-shirt material, that you’ve stabilized, you should always use a looser outer hoop. Here’s how to do it: Place your inner hoop inside the t-shirt under the embroidery area. Then, press the outer hoop over the fabric and the inner hoop, without stretching the fabric. If you find that the fabric is stretched, simply hoop it again.

✔ Remove Your Stabilizer the Correct Way So You Don’t Damage Your Embroidery

If you’ve attached your backing with basting stitches, carefully cut the thread and pull the stitches out. For a tear-away stabilizer, rip the backing around the edges, right up to the embroidery. Then, tackle the pieces under the embroidery design, but be gentle, so you don’t mess up your embroidery design. If you’re using a water-soluble backing, first cut away the extra stabilizer. Then, soak your t-shirt or hoodie’s embroidery area in warm water. Then, make sure there’s no stabilizer remaining and hang your apparel item to dry.

 ✔ Get Your Embroidered T-Shirt Ready to Wear

Turn your t-shirt or hoodie inside out. Then, iron your completed embroidery from behind the smooth wrinkles and make hoop marks disappear. Now, it’s time to proudly sport your new t-shirt or hoodie.

Take Time to Become an Embroidery Expert

People love to wear embroidered t-shirts and hoodies, but it takes practice to do it well. Once you master the basics, you can stitch smaller designs that look like they’re coming out of pockets as we’ve said, or even full front or back designs that really catch the eye. If you’re using a hoodie, you can also embroider on the sleeves. You can even work in specialty threads, like variegated, metallic and even glow-in-the-dark for a more unique look.

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