Machine Embroidery Applique With Heat-Transfer Vinyl (HTV)

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Years ago, I stumbled upon the rip-away applique process popularized by Stahls’. 

I imagined their vinyl had a specific characteristic that made it rip more easily when appliqued, and since I couldn’t purchase it locally, I didn’t think much more about the technique. 

However, I recently discovered that most heat-transfer vinyl (HTV) types could be easily torn away when used as an applique fabric for embroidery designs. 

The significance of this is I can use glitter heat-transfer vinyl and other fun vinyl from my stash without pre-cutting fabric OR trimming manually in the hoop when appliqueing with my embroidery machine

Follow along in this fun tutorial to learn how to embroider with iron-on vinyl as a fun alternative to using fabric as an applique!

htv embroidery tutorial

Brands and Types of Iron-On Vinyl That I Tried

When I say heat-transfer vinyl, I mean vinyl that sticks on a substrate when heated with an iron or heat press. 

This is not adhesive vinyl, which is essentially one big sticker and not something I recommend stitching through. 

So, what brands of HTV work with embroidery machines?

First, I recently received a pack of Siser glitter vinyl and correlating metallic embroidery threads from DIME, which work perfectly. (I love Siser glitter HTV and have so much white glitter HTV, which I use for sublimation.)

my vinyl stash

From my monstrous stash, I also tried Cricut iron-on vinyl, a generic Amazon iron-on, and Hobby Lobby’s Paper Studio iron-on.

All three produced great appliques and were easier to tear!

ripping away htv

The glitter vinyl from Siser was the thickest of all, so it stretched the least when I used it. However, the others weren’t too difficult to work with. 

As such, I’m concluding that most HTV types are compatible with machine embroidery, but let me know your experiences! 

Anatomy of HTV Vinyl: Finding the Right Part To Use

Regular adhesive vinyl’s right and wrong side is super easy to discern. 

HTV is another story, and I still make careless mistakes when rushing through a cutting project.

There are always (at least) two layers to HTV vinyl.

First, there’s the iron-on sheet itself (much flimsier) and then a transparent protective film, sometimes also called the carrier sheet, the liner, or the transfer tape side.

right and wrong side of htv

You must remove the clear plastic film to use HTV for embroidery. (For cutting machines, you keep it on.)

remove top layer

So, which side is which?

The side of the vinyl touching the plastic is the right side of the vinyl that will ultimately face up.

The opposite side is the iron-on side that will be placed down on the embroidery blank. 

Limitations of HTV for Applique

HTV sticks to a surprising number of things, but avoid using embroidery blanks that can’t be heated with an iron or heat press. (For example, velvet isn’t a great fabric selection.)

Also, choosing a base fabric with fluff or bizarre texture isn’t ideal either.

The texture of the nap or pile can show through the vinyl when pressed and won’t provide a secure hold. As such, the vinyl could separate interiorly from the satin stitches. 

Tips for Selecting Supplies

Thankfully, embroidering with HTV doesn’t require any more out-of-the-ordinary supplies than the HTV itself. 

As with most projects, choose your embroidery stabilizer based on the characteristics of your base fabric. 

The same applies to the needle. (Unless you’re using a ballpoint embroidery needle. I’m not sure that would provide a clean enough border where the satin stitch penetrations are.)

Any embroidery thread type will work, although using metallic embroidery threads will match the sheen of glitter embroidery vinyl. 

In terms of designs, an applique design with some empty space will provide the most dramatic effect.

Also, appliques with satin stitch (or other dense) borders will make it easier to tear the vinyl off later. A single running stitch border did not put enough needle penetrations into the vinyl for me to easily rip it off. 

How to Embroider HTV Applique Designs

I used an Anita Goodesign applique design I’d been meaning to stitch forever and added it to a drop cloth to create decor for my craft room. 

my craft room decor

I’m a big fan of pink and turquoise and already have many adhesive vinyl decorations, like the above! 

Here’s how I did this project and how you can replicate the process. 

1. Stabilize and Hoop Fabric

hoop fabric and stabilizer

First, select the correct stabilizer and hoop or float your fabric to be embroidered. 

2. Set Up Embroidery Machine

Next, load your hoop into the machine, select the correct supplies, and load your embroidery design onscreen.

3. Stitch Placement Line

Press go and watch your embroidery machine stitch the first step of all appliques, the placement stitch. 

4. Place HTV Over Placement Stitch

cut a piece larger than the placement line and remove backing

Cut a piece of HTV slightly larger than the placement line. (You want a little extra on the sides so you have something to grab onto when you later pull it away.)

Peel off the clear top layer of protective plastic. 

place HTV over placement line

Place the iron-on vinyl over the placement line, completely covering it. The patterned side goes up. 

If you’re worried it will move during the stitching process, spray it with a bit of Odif 505. 

5. Stitch Tacking Line

stitch tacking line

The tacking stitch will now secure the HTV to your embroidery blank. 

This isn’t the time to remove the excess vinyl yet, though. I tried on several of my iterations, and it tugs too much, distorting and moving the hooped fabric. 

6. Add Border Stitch

completed border

Now, it’s time for the satin stitch! I also went ahead and let my machine stitch the fill-stitch design motifs in that same color. 

7. Tear Way HTV

tear off htv

Before adding extra stitches to your embroidery design, take this time to tear away the HTV from the design body. 

8. Continue Stitching

embroidered htv applique design

If you’re worried the heat-transfer vinyl might pop away from the interior stitches or shift after this first thread color, you can iron it on now. 

I went ahead and stitched the interior fonts for my design with no issues. 

9. Press the HTV

press from back

Remove the hoop from your machine, remove the embroidery blank, and press the embroidery from the wrong side. This will adhere the vinyl to the front surface. 

If you must press from the front, make sure to use a Teflon sheet or something else to protect the surface from your iron. 

You can also use a heat press, but be careful with the temperature and pressure over the embroidery. 

10. Finish Up

remove stabilizer

Trim or tear away any residual stabilizer from the back of the design, and clip jump stitches. 

all done!

Then, marvel at the creation of your new sparkly HTV embroidered project!

Final Notes

Tearing away HTV from an embroidery design is SO easy. And, not only do I get to use fun vinyl colors, but I also don’t have to pre-cut or cut applique fabric in the hoop. 

And lastly, if you are an embroiderer who desires an alternative to trimming applique fabric in the hoop, here are three helpful tutorials: embroidery using AccuQuilt applique dies, embroidery using a Cricut Maker, and how to use embroidery design files with a Silhouette.

3 Comments

  1. Donna Simpson says:

    Hello, I was wondering why you do the border satin stitches first. In most embroidery designs, isn’t that the last step that finishes up the design? Thank you for your time. Have a blessed day!

    1. I only did it this way because that’s how it was digitized. (It’s from the Sew Inspired Collection from Anita Goodesign.) They’re much better digitizers than I am, so I’m sure they had a good reason for their stitching order!

  2. Hi.
    Thankyou for all the wonderful information, it was very informative and clear, and has been very helpful.

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