This post may contain affiliate links, which means I’ll receive a commission if you purchase through my links, at no extra cost to you. Please read disclosure for more information.
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!
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.)
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 easy to tear!
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.
I also recently had the opportunity to try Siser’s StripFlock Pro vinyl, which also worked like a pro, and their Aurora HTV thanks to DIME’s super cute Wicked Wonder applique kit (below).
The Aurora HTV from Siser is a color-shifting vinyl, and while I could tear it still, it had to be gently torn and might have been better cut with applique scissors.
All that to say, I’m concluding that most HTV types are compatible with machine embroidery, but test the thicker iron-on options before stitching an entire project with them!
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.
You must remove the clear plastic film to use HTV for embroidery. (For cutting machines, you keep it on.)
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.
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
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 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 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
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
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
Before adding extra stitches to your embroidery design, take this time to tear away the HTV from the design body.
8. Continue Stitching
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
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
Trim or tear away any residual stabilizer from the back of the design, and clip jump stitches.
Then, marvel at the creation of your new sparkly HTV embroidered project!
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.