Tips and Tricks

A Compendium of Ideas

 Whenever two or more embroiderers gather together, the ideas, short-cuts and stories just fly. I thought it would be fun to put together a list of some of my favorites.


 Swab your needles with a bit of silicone to prevent adhesives from sticking to them.

  • The size of the needle is dictated by the thread.
  • The eye of the needle is dictated by the thread.
  • The point of the needle is dictated by the fabric.
  • Ragged edges? Holes in the corners or in tight corners? Check for a damaged needle.
  • Use small needles when stitching small letters and details.


 Clean the bobbin area with an electric razor brush.

  • Test tension with a full bobbin; a half-used bobbin can be flatter which can decrease the tension.
  • Clip the bobbin thread’s tail to three inches so it doesn’t get wrapped around the hook shaft.
  • Check the leaf adjustment spring on the bobbin for debris if your tension goes out or bobbin threads show on the surface of the embroidery. Debris will open the space which removes tension from the bobbin thread, compromising your stitching. Use a thin piece of plastic to clean between the leaf adjustment spring and the bobbin case.


 Slide some waxed paper under the hoop when stitching though heavy fabrics or those backed with vinyl or rubber. The wax coating this creates on the needle will keep build-up from fouling the needle and help the needle pass through the fabric more easily.

  • Adhere the backing to the fleece or knit before hooping. This lessens any movement between the backing and the fabric and results in crisper embroidery.
  • Apply iron-on stabilizer to the reverse of stretchy knits where the design will be placed and then hoop with tearaway. The result will be straight grain lines and a lighter feel to the embroidery.


 Clean residue from hoops with Goo-Gone®, denatured alcohol or even shaving foam. Make sure any oily feel is cleaned away before using the hoops again.

  • Wrap the inner hoop with velvet ribbon, florist’s tape or athletic tape to create a tighter hold. Blue painter’s tape will work but DON’T use masking tape as it will leave a residue,


 Don’t remove a shirt from the packaging to embroidery a sleeve.

  • Leave a placket shirt buttoned , hoop the target area so that the shirt loads upside down and then reverse the design on the machine. Trim through the bottom, fold the shirt and be done!
  • Hoop a piece of backing on the top of the shirt then cut a window out for the embroidery. This will create a tighter hold without wrapping the hoop.
  • Never tighten the thumb screw on the hoop after hooping. If it’s not right, start over. An exception is the t-shirt. Since the fabric can be easily bruised or cut, leave the hoop a quarter of a turn looser and then tighten it carefully. Before you unhoop, loosen that turn.
  • Digitize a walking stitch around your design when it first starts. This will baste the garment and the backing together. Use long running stitches that can be easily removed.
  • Baby or talcum powder applied to the rubbery side of a fabric will allow the goods to slip easily into the hoop and the goods to glide across the throat plate during stitching.


 Don’t forget to use your trace function before you stitch. A misplaced stitch or a wide segment in a narrow part of the hoop can cause a hoop crash…and costly repairs.

  • Fill a chalk wheel with baby powder and use this to mark your goods. Most of it will be gone before the stitching is complete and the rest just blows away.
  • Placement on Robes – The angles at the neckline of robes makes lining up a logo more of a challenge. Close the robe naturally and place face up on a table. Place a long ruler across the robe with the top at the area where the armholes meet the sides. Place a marker just above the ruler, far enough from the lapel so it won’t be covered during wear. This will be the center of a monogram unless it is very large; the marker will then serve as the bottom point of the design.
  • When stitching a design or monograms on towels, place the monogram on the opposite side and opposite end from the sewn-in label. The texture—and this the color appearance—of the towel will then appear the same on all the towels.


 For an appliqué that is more supple, cut out the center of the shape on the piece of fusible backing.  Only the edges of the design will be fused.

  • Try something different and use a printed image as an appliqué. Make it easier by using a paper-backed fusible stabilizer. Iron it to the wrong side of the fabric that you are going to print but leave the paper backing on the opposite side. Print the fabric and then remove the paper and fuse the image directly to the garment, finishing with appliqué stitching or other embellishments. (There are many printable fabrics available that work well with a standard ink-jet printer.)


 Fashion t-shirts are cut larger than undershirts. 100% cotton will shrink 3-6% during the first washing (half a size).  Blend shirts will shrink 2-3%. The length shrinks more than the width. Golf shirts are not pre-shrunk and will shrink a full size.


 To clean caps: test for colorfastness – dip a white cloth in a mild solution of laundry detergent and water (1/4 teaspoon to a cup of water) and test colorfastness inside of the cap. If no dye comes off, hand wash the cap with the same mixture, using a toothbrush to clean the sweatband. Rinse and shake out water and pat with a towel. Place a paper towel over a large can and place the cap over the can so it will retain its shape as it dries.

  • Digitize cap designs from the center out and the bottom up. This will roll any excess fabric up and away from the design area.
  • When stitching on six-panel caps, fill the “ditch” of the seam with zigzag underlay so you won’t see the ghost of that seam through the finished design.
  • Use your cap press top warm the design area on caps before stitching. This will soften the fabric (even flatten and soften a center seam) and allow the thread to pass through with ease. If this removes the finish, replace it with a spritz of Scotch-Guard® or any other fabric finisher.
  • Do your research and find out which caps fit the cap frames on your brand of machine. The better the fit of the fabric against the throat plate, the better the stitching.


 A needle threading tool or thread pusher will slip through the reverse of a shirt and grab any unruly threads or loops and pull them easily to the back. A very thin crochet hook will work as well. Secure them with a small amount of fabric glue or weave them under adjoining threads.

  • Use a table with a black light to check incoming goods. Holes and oil spots will be easy to see.
  • Fly-tying scissors from the sporting goods store are great for trimming threads. The fine points and larger finger holes make for comfortable and easy clipping.
  • For easy topping removal, steam and then blot with a coffee filter.
  • Salt added to water sets dye. Vinegar and water will set color.
  • When trimming threads between letters, cut one side and then the other so you have a longer tail to trim.
  • Remember that bleach is a color remover, not a stain remover.


 Place a bobbin on the top of your machine while it is running. If it rattles and rolls, use a carpenter’s level to check your machine. Level it if necessary. (Remember that leveling your machine may require the heads to be re-timed.)

  • Skipped stitches and broken threads are not always a sign that the timing is off. Timing should be the last resort. Always check the needle first when stitching isn’t satisfactory. So many troubles can be cured with a new and properly installed needle.
  • If the timing seems to be off, check for thread that may have wrapped around the shaft behind the hook assembly. This can force the hook closer to the needle and mimic a timing issue.