How To Embroider Towels by Machine

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Towels are the perfect embroidery blank for beginners because they don’t stretch easily and will support almost any design you choose. 

And, who doesn’t love having festive towels in their house? I especially love gifting embroidered, monogrammed towels as a wedding present or even a simple Christmas gift for family and friends. 

Want to learn how to embroider towels with a machine?

Check out these helpful tips and tricks for towel embroidery!

how to embroider towels

Supplies List

choosing stabilizer to embroider towel

First, grab all the supplies you’ll need for this project. Below’s the list, but I’ll describe more details after the bullet points. 

  • Embroidery machine and hoop
  • Terry cloth towel
  • Needle: New 75/11 embroidery needle, but you may need to size up if you have a thicker towel.
  • Stabilizer: Tear-away or wash-away on the back and a water-soluble topper like Sulky Solvy on the front.
  • Thread: I use 40wt polyester embroidery thread for the top and white embroidery bobbin thread on the back
  • Supplies: scissors, marking utensils, and embroidery design
  • Optional: Adhesive spray like quilt basting spray or Odif 505

As a note, this tutorial specifically focuses on embroidering terry cloth towels. (For reference, terry cloth towels have loops of thread on top; most hand towels, beach towels, and washcloths are terry cloth towels). If you plan to embroider on a more delicate dishcloth or tea towel, try this tutorial instead.

Best Stabilizer for Embroidering Towels

I prefer medium-weight tearaway stabilizer or wash-away stabilizer when embroidering on towels. When finished with embroidery, these stabilizers do not remain on the back of the towel. 

However, the choice of stabilizer depends on the towel material and the embroidery design’s density and stitch count. 

For instance, if you choose to embroider a stretchy towel or have a very dense embroidery design, you may need to switch to a cut-away or no-show mesh stabilizer. However, while it will provide more support for the stitches, it will permanently remain on the back of the towel. 

All towels also need a topper like Sulky Solvy on the front surface to keep designs from sinking into the towel. 

Design Selection Tips

Because towels have nap or pile (the fuzzy surface on top), your design needs to be dense enough to show up amidst terry cloth loops.  

why you need to choose a dense design to keep designs showing

For example, check out my first embroidery project above, where I tried to embroider a blanket that said “Daddy Bear.” That little font got so lost amidst the fluff that no one could see it there! 

Lesson learned: Choose a font with wide, thick letters. The same goes for choosing a design that has some substance to it. 

knockdown stitch for blankets or towels

However, if you want to use a delicate design or have a very fluffy towel, you CAN use a knockdown stitch or its equivalent (see above) underneath the design to first flatten the towel loops.

Then, you can stitch your embroidery design, and it won’t get lost. 

Hooping vs. Floating Towels for Embroidery

embroidering the towel

I always hoop my embroidery blanks if I can fit the item into my hoop. For me, hooping provides more stability, and it is easier to line up an embroidery design.

Hooping only works for thin towels, though. (Unless you own a magnetic embroidery hoop, which is really helpful to have!)

If you cannot hoop your towel due to its thickness or your preference, you can “float” it, which means placing it on top of hooped stabilizer. 

To keep the floated towel from moving during embroidery, you must then further secure it using self-adhesive sticky stabilizer or adhesive spray, adding a basting box, pinning in place, or using a fusible stabilizer. 

Embroidery Placement on Towels

towel embroidery

To monogram, add an initial, or add a name to a towel, here are the general placement rules I follow:

  • Hand Towels: for towels with bands, the bottoms of the letters go 1.5″ above the border and for towels without borders, go closer to 2.5.” Center monograms in the middle of the towel or place them at the right edge.
  • Bath Towels: the bottom of the monogram starts 2″ above the center of the bottom hem for a towel with no borders and 4″ above for towels with borders. Center the monogram on the towel. 
  • Washcloths: the base of the monogram starts around 1″ above the border or 1.5″ from the edge of washcloths without borders. Put the monogram around on the right edge of the washcloth or center it at an angle.

Three Letter Monogram Order

In general, here are my preferred rules for monogram letter order.

For a single-person three-letter monogram with a larger middle letter: the middle letter is the last name initial, the first letter is the first name initial, and the last letter is the last name initial.

For a single-person three-letter monogram with letters of the same size: Embroider these as first, middle, and last name initials.

For a couple’s three-letter monogram: Use their last name initial in the middle, the wife’s first name initial before that, and the man’s first name initial as the last letter. 

What does the back of an embroidered towel look like?

what does the back of an embroidered towel look like?

The back of an embroidered towel should have thread tails clipped and stabilizer removed (unless using cut-away.)

And, if you have balanced embroidery tension, you should some of the top thread pulled to the back in addition to your bobbin thread showing. 

I don’t match my bobbin threads to my top thread but instead use white embroidery bobbin thread for most projects. If you don’t like the color mismatch, you can wind embroidery bobbin thread in your preferred color. 

How to Embroider Towels

Now that we have some boring details out of the way, let’s get to embroidering! 

1. Prepare Your Towel, and Mark the Design.

First, it is important to prewash, and thus preshrink, your towel using the care settings you plan to use when laundering your towel after the embroidery is finished. 

And, if your towel has a tag on it, remove it if it will interfere with the embroidered area. 

mark your towel for design placement

Once your towel is prepped, choose where you want the center of the embroidery design to go. If you don’t want to follow the embroidery placement suggestions I mentioned earlier, you can print a design template from software and eyeball a location. 

Next, mark the center of my embroidery design with your preferred marking method. I like using a blue fabric pen, which washes out with water after the embroidery is done. 

I’ve found that using target stickers isn’t super accurate if the loops on the towel are long and move around after the sticker’s stuck. 

2. Hoop or Float the Towel. 

If you plan to hoop your towel, layer from the bottom up the stabilizer, towel, and water-soluble topper. If you can’t get the topping hooped, you can place it on top of the towel right before embroidering. 

To make hooping easier, you can use a light layer of temporary fabric adhesive on the back of the towel. Just be careful not to drench it in adhesive, or you will pull loops on the towel back when removing the tear-away stabilizer. 

how to float a towel

If you are going to float your towel, hoop your stabilizer first, and then secure the towel on top of the hoop. (Above is an example of a floated blanket.)

I know a lot of embroiderers like using sticky self-adhesive stabilizer for this task, but I find that it pulls the loops of the towel when I remove the towel from the stabilizer. 

Thus, I prefer my magnetic hoop for unhoopable towels, or I will use adhesive spray and baste or pin to secure the towel when floating. 

Don’t forget to add your water-soluble topper to the top of the floated towel either!

3. Prepare the Machine

embroider on the towel!

Attach your hoop to your embroidery machine, check threads and needle, and load your design. Double-check that you will only be embroidering a single layer of towel and that no edges have gotten under the hoop. 

I also like to preview my design with my machine to see where it will stitch to confirm I have everything hooped properly. 

press start and watch the machine embroider

If all looks good, go ahead and start embroidering your towel!

4. Clean Up.

hoop marks left on the towel

Once your towel is done, remove it from the hoop. (Don’t worry, any hoop marks on the edges will wash out or can be pressed out with Magic Sizing Spray.)

trim any jump stitches

If you have jump stitches like the ones above, go ahead and cut them off. Removing the jump stitches is sometimes easier when the water-soluble topping is still on the towel.

remove the water soluble topping from the towel

Then, tear off the bulk of the water-soluble topping. Any residual bits will wash off with water or during the first wash. 

remove tearaway stabilizer

To remove the tearaway stabilizer, gently tear it away from the back. (It may take a little more effort if you adhered the stabilizer to the back of the towel.)

To remove wash-away stabilizer, trim close to the back of the design and then place the towel in water or the washing machine to remove the rest. 

And last, if you marked with a water-soluble pen, this also disappears when you dip your towel in water or launder it. 

How to embroider a towel

Towel Embroidery Tips: Final Notes

Congratulations! You now have successfully embroidered a terry cloth towel. Go hang it in your house proudly or save it to gift! 

7 Comments

  1. This was a very informative article. I appreciate it very much. I’m a beginner, and was very confused about what i should use. Thank you so much!!! Robin Clark

  2. This was so helpful for a beginner! Do you clip all the jump threads on the back of the towel as well?

    1. I don’t usually since the backs of my projects aren’t often visible. You do have to be careful what you clip on the back, too, as some stitches there may help keep parts of your design from later unraveling.

  3. Question: I’ve just embroidered a couple of towels and the wrong side looks better than the right.

    1. dana mitts says:

      I’m sure that just means that your machine tension was set perfectly.

  4. Tutorial printed, notes taken, supplies gathered. Wish me luck on my very first embroidered towel. Thank you for all the information. It helped boost my confidence to actually embroider the towel and not just browse aimlessly for embroidery files. Hats off to you!

    1. Best wishes on your project!!

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