What Are the Best Tips for Doing Shirt Embroidery?

Anna B. Smith
Anna B. Smith
Woman with hand on her hip
Woman with hand on her hip

When performing shirt embroidery, designers should place a marker on the shirt in the location where the embroidery will be stitched and use a stabilizing fabric behind the material. Placing a locating marker creates a definite starting point for the sewing machine needle which will be creating the overall design. Using stabilizing fabric prevents the needles from punching holes through the fabric and provides a firm base against which the thread may pull tightly.

The seamstress can begin her project by first creating a base frame of reference on the shirt where the design will be placed. Machine embroidery typically involves centering a design over the middle point on a piece of fabric. Stitching begins by placing the needle down at the center point and allowing the sewing machine to work outwards to finish the design from that center point. When working with a quilting square or other uniformly shaped pieces of fabric, the center may be easily obtained by folding the cloth diagonally. T-shirts, polo shirts, and sweatshirts do not provide straight edges and even points from which to derive such a starting location.

The designer can benefit from hanging the shirt on a wall or asking a friend to wear it temporarily while she determines where she wants her design. Once she has decided where on the shirt the pattern will be stitched, she can place a square piece of colored tape in the location where the center of the design will be placed. The tape provides straight edges with which the sewing machine can be aligned, and provides a reference point for the needle from which the shirt embroidery can begin.

The materials from which clothing is sewn are often stretchy and provide more pull than the cotton fabrics traditionally associated with other types of sewing projects. These materials tend to require the use of a stabilizing backing material that provides added strength and durability to the fabric while it is exposed to the constant pressure and back and forth motions of a sewing machine needle. This type of fabric can be purchased through the Internet, or at specialty hobby stores. It is typically available in three weights. The designer should select the necessary weight of stabilizer based on the type of material to which she is adding the shirt embroidery pattern.

Heavy weight stabilizing material is designed to be permanent, and excess portions must be cut away from the shirt using scissors. This provides a heavy base behind lightweight t-shirts that prevents the material from pulling, puckering, or becoming punctured by the needle as the design is being stitched. Medium weight stabilizer can usually be torn away by hand, and may be used with medium weight materials, such as heavy cottons and linens. Light weight stabilizer can be washed away from the fabric once the design is complete, and can be used with heavy weighted materials, like sweatshirts, which are less likely to pull at the thread once the strain of the machine stitching has been finished.

These backing stabilizers may also be purchased with self-adhesive backing. Once the stabilizer has been cut to the desired size necessary to complete the shirt embroidery, the backing may be peeled away and pressed against the wrong side of the shirt. This adds stability to the material, and helps the fabric to stay in place while the design is being stitched. Some seamstresses may also prefer to pin the shirt into place against the stabilizer in addition to using the self-adhesive backing for a greater measure of durability.

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    • Woman with hand on her hip
      Woman with hand on her hip