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Are you wanting to get started using your embroidery machine? It can seem a bit overwhelming at first, I know! Compared to sewing, embroidery has a steeper learning curve for beginners. An embroidery machine also requires a larger initial investment for the machine as well as the embroidery machine supplies.
To help you demystify the process of deciding the supplies needed for an embroidery machine, I put together this post of must-have embroidery machine supplies. That way you can hit the ground running once you get your new machine out of the box!
Embroidery Machine Supplies – Must-Haves To Get Started!
Here are the things I consider essentials to getting started with machine embroidery. The next section will discuss things that aren’t necessary but are still really nice to have.
I’ve included links to each of the items that I specifically use, so feel free to click on those beneath each heading to get more information!
Also, if you are new to embroidery, check out how to use an embroidery machine: beginner tutorial!
This seems like a no-brainer, but you do need to already have an embroidery machine or be prepared to purchase one. I started with the Brother SE625 embroidery machine, which is a near-identical twin to the Brother SE600. (Read my review of my Brother SE625 embroidery machine to learn more about it!) It has a 4″x4″ max embroidery area and is a combination sewing and embroidery machine.
I upgraded about a year later to the Brother SE1900, which has a 5″x7″ hoop, and I am smitten so far!
Now that we have that out of the way, let’s move on to other embroidery supplies!
How to Choose An Embroidery Stabilizer
Embroidery stabilizer is the material that goes in the hoop on the back of the item you plan to embroider. Stabilizer is necessary for most fabrics and materials and ensures the machine stitches accurately and efficiently.
Choosing an incompatible stabilizer can lead to an assortment of stitching issues, so it’s important to choose the best embroidery stabilizer to correspond with your fabric and thread. (I have a printable machine embroidery stabilizer chart and in-depth tutorial if you want to learn more!)
If you plan to embroider a large selection of fabrics, here are some stabilizers I recommend you have around.
Once you are done with this type of stabilizer, you tear it off from the back of the fabric. This is the easiest type of stabilizer to deal with because tearing away is much less of a pain than cutting away or washing away. You do not want to use just tear-away stabilizer on knits or stretchy fabrics like t-shirts, though. Why? It’s not going to stabilize the stretchy fabric enough during the stitching process, and when you tear away the stabilizer, you risk pulling out your stitches or stretching your fabric. As such, tear-away stabilizer is best for non-stretchy fabrics such as cotton (including quilting fabric), canvas, leather, and more.
Cut-away stabilizer is great for knits and other stretchy fabrics because it has less stretch and thus stabilizes better. Other fabrics I use cut-away on are denim, minky, and burlap. I even embroider cardstock cards using cut-away stabilizer. Cut-away stabilizer also works great for densely stitched designs to prevent puckering.
PolyMesh stabilizer is a type of soft, yet strong cut-away stabilizer that is great for knits when you’re wanting to minimize show-through on light fabrics. When I embroider white t-shirts or light-colored onesies, PolyMesh is what I use!
PolyMesh stabilizers are cut away after you finish your embroidery design. When deciding on which PolyMesh stabilizer to choose, you have a fusible option to iron on or a non-fusible option, which is my go-to.
Sticky, or self-adhesive, stabilizer has one side sticky that will attach to your fabric without having to use temporary adhesive. You can purchase sticky tear-away or sticky cut-away stabilizer, so after your project is completed you can tear away or cut away the excess like normal.
I usually prefer to skip the sticky adhesive and use temporary adhesive on regular old stabilizer, but this type of stabilizer can be especially useful for embroidering hats, shirts, cloth napkins, towels, and more. It’s also convenient if you don’t want to have to worry about using temporary adhesive.
Water-soluble topping is a MUST-HAVE when embroidering on fleece blankets, towels, or fabric with fluff or nap (and many other fabrics, too, such as certain knits!) It keeps the embroidery stitching from falling into the top of the object and thus becoming lost. You’ll add this topping to the top of your embroidery fabric. When you’re done, dip your design in water and the topping will dissolve. I like to use Sulky Solvy Water Soluble Stabilizer on top of my designs.
If you’re in a hurry or can’t wash your fabric, you can also purchase a heat-dissolving topping that is removed with an iron. I’ve never seen too much of a need for this before with my embroidery repertoire, but I know many people who love it! I once used mine on a velvet jumper for my daughter and haven’t touched it since!
While water-soluble topping goes on the top of fabrics (and you could use it on the back for some applications), wash-away stabilizer goes on the back of your fabric in the hoop. It also washes away with water after you’re done embroidering. It’s popular for its use when embroidering free-standing lace, and I recently used it when embroidering tulle. It also works better as a disappearing stabilizer on fabrics that won’t get enough stabilization from tear-away. Also, it’s nice for when you have an intricate design and don’t want to spend time tearing away each little piece from the back of your project.
Sulky Tender Touch Backing
Sulky Tender Touch backing is a soft embroidery backing that you iron on to the back of your finished embroidery design. I add this to every one of my girls’ outfits that I embroider to keep the hard stitching from rubbing their soft little bellies.
Heat n Bond Lite
While not technically a stabilizer, HeatnBond Lite is a double-sided iron-on backing. This works great for appliques. (Learn more in how to machine applique!) It gives more strength to your applique fabric and helps to keep it from wrinkling, especially after washing. It also helps with accurate applique fabric placement.
Embroidery Items and Applique Fabrics
Arguably one of the most important machine embroidery supplies is your embroidery items or embroidery blanks! These are your blank t-shirts, onesies, towels, hats, etc that you plan to embroider. If you’re wanting to start a home-embroidery business and want to produce large quantities of merchandise, find a wholesale distributor to buy in bulk. If you embroider for fun only, start checking out local stores for embroidery machine blanks. I’ve found Hobby Lobby, Michael’s, and JoAnn to have a large selection of blanks.
If you plan to applique, you also need to have applique fabric. I’ve been doing much more online shopping now that the pandemic has begun and have taken to repurposing items around the house as fabric sources. (Check out: where to buy cheap fabric online and where to find fabric to repurpose!)
Temporary Adhesives and More
There are many instances when using a non-fusible stabilizer that you will need to temporarily adhere it to your fabric. One example is when floating fabrics. (Read: how to float in machine embroidery.)
To temporarily adhere tricky fabrics to my stabilizers, I often use temporary fabric adhesive spray. The beauty of temporary adhesive is you can remove and reposition your items several times without the stickiness wearing off. I have used Odif 505 spray or June Tailor Quilt Basting Spray in the past to great results with both. (A can of this will last you a long time, so don’t buy too much at once.) Make sure to only very lightly spray your stabilizer before putting it into the hoop because this can make a mess and leave a sticky residue on your hoop or machine. It can also be stinky, so use it in a well-ventilated area.
For out-of-hoop fabrics, I also use pins for an extra secure attachment of my fabric to be embroidered. If I’m machine embroidering a onesie, for instance, I will also use painter’s tape or hair clips to hold the part of the item I’m not wanting to be embroidered out of the way of the hoop. Painter’s tape works great because it doesn’t leave a sticky residue on the side of the hoops.
And as a last note, when picking an adhesive spray or glue, make sure you choose one that says it will not gum up your needle!
While you can use sewing machine needles for many projects, it’s often better to use specialized machine embroidery needles. (Learn more in my post about how to choose the best machine embroidery needle.) There are different sizes (70/10 to 90/14 and larger), points (ballpoint, sharp, or universal), and different finishes. When in doubt, a size 75/11 universal embroidery needle is a good place to start and then fine-tune from there, if needed.
Embroidery Thread and Bobbin Thread
When doing embroidery, you WILL NOT want to use regular cotton thread that comes with a sewing machine. In most cases, pick a polyester or rayon embroidery thread. There are a lot of options for thread brands, but I recently switched to the budget-friendly Brothread threads without any issue! (Read: how to choose the best embroidery machine thread to learn about weights and materials!)
In addition to the upper thread, you will need bobbin thread for your machine. In most embroidery patterns, the bobbin thread color will not matter, so I like to buy pre-wound bobbins of white thread rather than winding bobbins myself. If you choose to wind your own, purchase additional bobbins for your machine and special bobbin embroidery thread.
Check your machine manual so you can make sure to purchase the best weight of embroidery thread for your machine, especially for the bobbin thread!
And, if you’re looking for ways to organize your threads, check out my embroidery thread organization ideas.
One important part of embroidery is lining up the design properly. It is thus important to be able to mark the center of your fabric temporarily. There are a ton of ways to do this! I like to use a Dritz Mark-B-Gone washable marker to mark the center on lighter color fabrics. The temporary ink washes out with water after you have finished the design. For darker fabrics, I prefer to use a chalk wheel.
Embroidery scissors are small, specialized scissors that will get right next to threads to trim them. When trimming jump stitches or trimming right up against appliques, getting a cut that is close, but not too close, is crucial. I use Fiskars curved craft scissors, which are just one of many snips that will help you with accurate thread and applique trimming.
Depending on how advanced your embroidery machine is, you will need a way to import designs to it. My Brother SE625 imports designs via a USB drive, which is not included with the purchase. Make sure to check your machine box to see the method of import to find out if you will need to purchase a USB before adding designs.
Non-Essential (But Nice to Have) Materials for an Embroidery Machine
All in all, embroidery software is not necessary if you plan to use your machine’s built-in embroidery patterns and editing features or download patterns off the Internet. (Here are my favorite sites to download free machine embroidery designs and where to get free or paid in-the-hoop embroidery patterns!) However, there are several times when having embroidery software is nice to have:
- If you have a machine with a small hoop and want to embroider large designs, you will need software to split larger designs into smaller chunks.
- To create intricate monograms and use more than just built-in fonts, embroidery software is necessary.
- If you want to create or digitize your own embroidery designs, you will need to purchase software also.
- Resizing designs and adjusting stitch density requires basic software, too.
Now, there are several types of software available. There are free, and there are paid.
Free Software Options
First, I have an entire list of the best free embroidery software for digitizing and editing. Just be aware, the more full-featured free ones are often not as easy to use as premium software.
The most extensive free embroidery software is Ink/Stitch, which is an extension of Inkscape. This is free, open-source software that rivals many paid programs. I like to use Inkscape to create SVG designs for my Cricut and then sometimes use Ink/Stitch to transform them into embroidery patterns. Beware, though. If you do not know vector graphics and have minimal experience with embroidery, I do not recommend Ink/Stitch. It does not come with a large amount of user support or tutorials and as such may be difficult to learn for novices!
Paid Software Options
Your most beginner-friendly software is going to be paid software. But y’all, embroidery software is not cheap! And there are SO many software options. Thus, spend some time getting to know the options and figuring out what you want to embroider and which software will get you doing what you want to do! Most software options do offer free trials thankfully.
If you want to auto-digitize (which does have many limitations), consider SewArt.
If you want to learn to manually digitize (this produces the best results), Embrilliance Stitch Artist and Hatch 2 Digitizer are very popular and easy to use!
If you think you’ll want to embroider hats, having a special hat hoop can be helpful for keeping the hat stabilized on single-needle embroidery machines. For my Brother embroidery machine, this is the compatible hat hoop that I use. Check with your machine manufacturer or you can look at generic options on Amazon to match your machine. It’s not necessary to have a hat hoop, and I’ve had good success without using one as well!
I like to have several extra hoops lying around for my machine. If you are working on more than one project at a time, it is nice to spend active stitching time setting up for the next project in a new hoop. Furthermore, if your included hoop size with your embroidery machine is huge, it’s nice to have smaller hoops to use to hoop small items like baby onesies. Even the biggest hoop is great if you split designs and don’t want to rehoop!
I have a set of 3 Sew Tech embroidery hoops to also use with my machine. When buying extra hoops, just make sure you check that they’re compatible with your machine!
Thread Stand Holder
If you plan to purchase extra-large spools of thread or use cones, you will not be able to fit them in the spool holder on your sewing machine. You will need to purchase a thread stand. If you’re a frequent embroiderer, purchasing huge spools will save a ton of money in the long run! This isn’t a necessary machine embroidery supply, though, because you’ll always be able to purchase smaller spools that perfectly fit your machine.
My Embroidex thread stand above is a monster (and a mess!) but it’s really helpful when I need to line up multiple colors of thread for an embroidery project.
Also, if you’re interested in using metallic embroidery thread, at least a single thread stand will help with even feeding.
Spool Huggers and Bobbin Clamps
These are in no way necessary but are REALLY nice to have around to keep things tidy organized.
These thread spool huggers wrap around your threads and keep the ends from unraveling. Meanwhile, bobbin clamps do the same thing for bobbin threads. A pretty nifty invention for sure! Especially since embroidery threads are so slippery that they unravel much more than sewing threads do!
And that’s it! Please let me know if you have any other suggestions for the necessary beginner supplies for machine embroidery or if there is a product you prefer. I’m always interested in learning more!