Turning Thrift Store Finds into a Fashion Statement

I was rummaging around at the local Goodwill store to find items for testing embroidery designs and found a couple of nice sweaters for only $4 that I just couldn’t pass up.

I know this sounds odd, but I don’t actually wear a lot of embroidery and the main reason is that it’s too memorable or too seasonal.

Unembellished items just can be worn more frequently or in more combinations. I did want to put something on these garments and fortunately monograms are back in vogue.

To further tame down the designs, I chose more subtle colors. The sweater is treated to a larger single monogram from Renaissance Fleur and the vest uses two letters from Eccentric Std.

I used the 2″ size and scaled it up somewhat. To further subdue the designs, I chose colors that were close to the garment colors. The colors actually look somewhat brighter here since the polyester thread is reflecting the camera flash.

The sweater uses a standard a hooping technique. I used a medium-weight cutaway backing and Solvy topping hooped together within the rings of the hoop.

The vest presented a problem because its style would not permit an even hooping. When hooping between the rings, you want an even thickness of fabric all the way around the hoop for a secure, and even grip. The area of the monogram wasn’t wide enough to completely hoop and the edges of the garment were doubled over. All of which meant I needed to use a different method.

Another difference is the stabilizer. Although both garments are of a similar weight and texture, the designs I chose are very different. The sweater has a very large, relatively high stitch count design with fills and satins while the vest has a much smaller one composed of satin stitches.

Both garments used a cutaway but while the sweater used a medium-weight white “normal” cutaway, I used a light-weight, no-show polymesh in black for the vest.

I’m a big fan of hooping between the rings of the hoop whenever possible but sometimes it just isn’t. The hoop is a big part of the stabilization process and serves to hold the item at an even tension.

As previously mentioned, to get an even tension, the item must be evenly caught between the rings and even my small hoop couldn’t do that on this garment. In this case, I needed to float the item in the hoop, otherwise known as “hoopless” embroidery—not because a hoop isn’t used but because the item itself is not between the rings.


There are several methods for floating.

A popular one is pressure sensitive or “sticky back” stabilizer. These are typically tearaway stabilizers with an adhesive applied.

Since I’m embroidering on a knit, tearaway is not smart choice. Plus, I really don’t like working with sticky stabilizers for a variety of reasons. They tend to make the embroidery feel thicker and they can gum up the needle and increase thread breaks.

Instead, I chose the “polymesh” backing, which is a cutaway. I also chose black since this vest is very dark and there are no closures. To further camouflage the back, I used black bobbin thread.

Note: Another option for cutaway backing is to use nylon organza. It’s quite stable and particular in garments that open and may expose the stabilizer like sweaters and jackets, you can often find a color that blends well and is less noticeable.

Before sending the design to the machine, I added two basting boxes (my multi-needle machine won’t baste in the hoop). I inserted an applique stop between the two to force the machine to stop. This is a trick I use a lot.


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If you’re using a single needle machine and a program like Embrilliance Essentials, just make the basting boxes different colors and you’ll have the same result.

The normal rule of thumb for choosing hoop size is to select the smallest one that accommodates the design.

In this case, I went up one hoop size to give me more space to secure the vest. Hoop the stabilizer and sew color 1, the first basting guide, directly onto the backing.

In the following photo you can see where I’ve laid the smaller hoop inside the larger one to see the difference. The larger one provides more space for the garment to be smoothed out flat.

Remove the hoop from the machine and apply double stick embroidery tape outside of the basting lines.

You do not want to sew into this tape because it will gum up your needle enough that you’ll need to replace it and it will immediately break the thread.

This design is small and there aren’t any outlines or other major registration problems so I didn’t use any other adhesives like spray. This way once the stabilizer is removed, no sticky residues will be left in my garment

Smooth the garment into place. Pin a small piece of Solvy over the design area. You could also use cellophane tape to secure it.

Sew the next color, the second basting box, which will secure the Solvy in place and the sweater to the backing.

Truly this second basting is overkill on this tiny design but I’m so in the habit of the double basting box that I did it anyway.

Finish the design. Remove the basting stitches, tear off the Solvy, unhoop and peel the garment off the tape and trim the backing.


Monograms can be plain or fancy, as demonstrated by these two garments. Monograms transcend seasons and at least for the second one, are more ensemble independent.

Monograms are also a great way to personalize items without broadcasting the person’s name such as for children’s garments. Even many nursing homes don’t permit names on clothing for the safety of their residents.

These days there are plenty of embroidery fonts that have been made into keyboard fonts for a Embrilliance and EmbroideryWorks embroidery software so you are no longer limited to whatever fonts came with your software.

Obviously, one, two, and even three letter monograms aren’t that difficult to assemble even from individual letter designs but keyboard style alphabets are much easier to use for longer names and phrases.

Monograms are available individually and BX’d while alphabets are only available as BX keyboard fonts or DST single character designs for merging. If you need another stitch file format, download the DST and use your software to convert.


Since I’m constantly being asked, “what did you use for [fill in the blank],” I’ve begun organizing my favorite products on this Resourcepage as a convenient place for you to find them. I’ve also included links to where I get them.

  • Eccentric Standard – keyboard font (BX) or individual stitch files (DST) and available in 4 sizes from 1/2″ up to 3″ or get the bundle with all 4 sizes
  • Renaissance Fleur – large ornate uppercase letters intended for monograms or as an ornate “drop cap” when combined with other fonts
  • Embrilliance software is often available in our shop as a physical product that will be shipped (U.S. only) or as digital download from Embrilliance
    • Not sure? Download a demo version to try out any ot the apps or get the free version, previously known as Alpha Tricks Express, now known as Embrilliance Express to open access to the thousands of keyboard fonts available as BX installer files
This product has multiple variants. The options may be chosen on the product page
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