By Lindee Goodall

Getting Started with Machine Embroidery

Embroidery looked so easy during your demo. The sales person popped in a swatch of fabric, punched a few buttons, changed the thread a couple of times and there was a perfect design. Now you’re sitting in your sewing room facing your newly unboxed machine wondering where to start. Or maybe you’ve had your machine for quite some time and now you’re just mustering up the courage to try embroidery. You’ve come to the right place, my friend!

Here I’ll provide a brief overview of how to get started and what you need to know. You’ll want to check the articles section frequently both as new content is added and as you try different things and become more advanced. Remember that every teacher started exactly where you are right now. The reason we know how to tell you what to avoid is because we’ve already made those mistakes.

Keep in mind that “mistake” is a word, not a sentence. Some of the coolest things I’ve discovered happened because something didn’t turn out the way I intended, technically making it a “mistake” but instead I looked at it as a “discovery.” It’s all in perspective!

Watch the Video!

My first recommendation is to start when you are relaxed and have plenty of time. Don’t try to learn how to embroider if you have a project deadline in an hour! Many machines come with a video, I recommend watching that. Even better, some newer top of the line home machines have videos built in—you can watch them right on the screen at your sewing machine.

Many years ago, I was invited to be a guest on a TV show. It was my first TV show since Miss Lucy’s Kindergarten when I was about 5 and I had absolutely no experience demonstrating sewing machines either on TV or off. The machine was a brand new, just-released model and was delivered to my house 3 days before I flew out to tape the show. I did know how to embroider on other machines so “all” I had to do was learn how to load a design, thread the machine, and make it embroider—and look like I’d done it forever while TV cameras captured every movement. I watched the embroidery segment of the video several times, practiced embroidering and the show went just fine. (Actually, I was so nervous that my mind was a total blank and I didn’t know what I’d said or done until I watched it afterwards!)

With a video, you can actually sew along. Pause the video while you thread or load a design. Miss something? Rewind and replay until you get it. Stay calm and afterwards compliment yourself for learning something new.

Take Advantage of Lessons!

Take any lessons offered with your machine. I like to start with the video before going to class because it gives me a bit of foundation and then what is covered in class seems to “stick” better. Also, many stores let you retake the owners lessons as often as you need to so if you’ve had your machine a while, you might like a review.

Other Things to Know

Producing great embroidery requires more than knowing how to operate your machine. You need to make a good match between your design and fabric choices. You need to know how to stabilize the fabric adequately and properly. Stabilizing involves the proper choice of backings and toppings as well as the hooping process. I’ve done some embroidery projects that took longer to hoop than to sew! Hooping properly means hooping in the right place with the right tension while not distorting the fabric.

Let’s talk a moment about fabric. I recommend working with medium weight woven fabrics to start with. Think back to what the sample was sewn on during your demo; it probably wasn’t a t-shirt. Knits are harder to hoop and require more attention to stabilizing and design selection. There is quite a knack to hooping an item correctly and fabric needs to remain “neutral” in the hoop. What I mean by this is that it should not be stretched or distorted in any way. Learning to hoop and embroider on stable fabrics will give you the confidence to move on to trickier ones.

Before sewing the design, you will need to know about needle selection for embroidery as well as needle and bobbin threads. Most designs are digitized for 40wt rayon or polyester embroidery thread. If you substitute specialty threads, including metallics, you may run into issues. Thread that shreds might be a sign of old or poor quality thread or a damaged or wrong size needle. Do not skimp on thread or needles!

Many home machines today will automatically adjust tension settings when in “embroidery mode.” Be sure you know how to adjust tensions manually if you have problems with looping, bobbin thread showing on top, or too much embroidery thread showing on the back. Sometimes you may need to override those automatic tensions!

Now hopefully I haven’t scared you off. Recall your demo… She made the whole process look so effortless and after a bit of time learning and experimenting you will too. Think back to the first grade when you learned to read and write. Was it hard then? Do you even think about it now? Of course not, you just do it as if you always have and embroidery will be the same if you spend some time expanding your skills and knowledge. Push yourself a little farther each time and you too will soon be an expert.

Machine embroidery is surprisingly easy once you know a few tricks. However, if you are unaware, you may end up eternally frustrated and just blame everything on a “bad” machine or dealer. When you do find yourself headed toward a meltdown, take a few deep breaths, get a drink of water and take a moment to refocus. If that doesn’t do it, come back another time.

Don’t be afraid of not producing “perfect” embroidery. I’m not sure there is such a thing as “perfect” embroidery. There is a range from “acceptable” to “fantastic” and most of your embroidery will fall into that. Save the few that miss the mark as learning pieces. Maybe you learned that you can’t sew a large, dense, highly detailed design on a particular fabric. What if you stabilized it differently? What if you made the design less dense? Or is the fabric totally unsuitable? Evaluate each piece you embroider rather than mindlessly embroidering any every item you can get in your machine and you’ll be surprised just how fast your embroidery becomes professional looking!

Notice: The copyright of the article Getting Started with Machine Embroidery is owned by Lindee Goodall. Permission to republish Getting Started with Machine Embroidery in print or online must be granted by the author in writing. Here are articles I have written that you can freely use as long as you retain my bio info.

Embroidery Tip

  • Use only as much underlay as you absolutely need in a design. Too much makes the design feel thick and stiff and unnecessarily increases the stitch count.

Mission

To inspire and nurture personal creativity and productivity by connecting embroiderers and digitizers with innovative, high-quality products and information that significantly elevate their enjoyment and experience while maximizing the use of technology. In other words, more toys and more fun!