How To Embroider A Towel With An Embroidery Machine: Tutorial and Tips

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Today’s beginner embroidery tutorial will teach you how to embroider a towel using an embroidery machine.  We’ll go over how to pick a design, the best stabilizer to use on the back of your towel, and how to place a monogram on towels if you’re going that route.

This tutorial will specifically focus on embroidering a terry cloth towel.  Terry cloth is a woven fabric with loops of thread on top.  This is the type of towel that you’ll find if you’re trying to embroider a hand towel, beach towel, washcloth, etc.  If you’re wanting to embroider on a more delicate dishcloth or tea towel, this tutorial won’t help you out!

I think embroidering on towels is one of the easiest beginner embroidery projects because towels aren’t stretchy and thus are easy to hoop and prepare.  I’ve always found stretchy knits to be much more difficult to get good results simply because you have to be careful not to stretch them.  With towels, you do need to know a few key tips to ensure success, though.   I’ll teach you those things in this tutorial.

Let’s get started!

Towel Embroidery Supplies

First, you need to get together all your embroidery supplies.  Below is what you’ll need for this towel embroidery project.

choosing stabilizer to embroider towel

  • Terry cloth towel
  • Embroidery machine (I am using my Brother SE625 combination machine)
  • Embroidery needle or sharp needle (I used 75/11 for my thinner towels, but you may need 90/14 if you have a thicker towel.  Make sure the needle is not an old, dull needle or you’ll have problems.)
  • Stabilizer (cut-away for thick towels or tear-away for thinner towels. I’ll give you tips for deciding between the two below.)
  • Water-soluble topping (I LOVE Sulky Solvy Water Soluble Stabilizer.)
  • Adhesive spray if not using fusible stabilizer (I use quilt basting spray.)
  • Embroidery scissors
  • Embroidery thread for top thread and bobbin thread
  • Water-soluble fabric pen (or another way to mark your fabric)
  • Embroidery pattern (make one with embroidery software, purchase one, or use your machine’s built-in fonts or designs)

Choosing an Embroidery Design for Your Towel

Towels aren’t a perfect embroidery blank for just every design.  Because towels have nap (the fuzzy surface on top), you want to choose a dense stitch design that will show up amidst the loops of the terry cloth.  Simple designs with bold elements are perfect, but thin designs are not!  Usually, I like to monogram towels or add floral embroidery designs.

Also, if you are creating your towel monogram or design with an embroidery program, check if it lets you select the fabric you are using.  This helps the program increase (or decrease) stitch density to best fit your fabric selection.

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

Above is my very first embroidery project ever.  It was a huge failure as you can tell!  I wanted to embroider a blanket for my husband that said “Daddy Bear.”  So, I created this great design with built-in fonts on my machine and started embroidering.  What I didn’t realize until about halfway through was if you are using a fluffy fabric with depth (like the huge sherpa blanket I chose), you need to choose a dense design with wide letters.  My little skinny letters got lost!  I look back on this project now and laugh as it’s been just one of MANY embroidery failures in my path of learning how to embroider.  If you also notice, I rehooped between the two d’s and was about half a cm off.  There’s a big learning curve with embroidery if you’re a beginner, so remember to give yourself grace!

Instructions for Monogramming Placement

If you plan to monogram a towel or add an initial to the towel, you want to think about design placement.  Here are the general rules I follow for monogram placement:

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

Three Letter Monogram Letter Order

If you’re doing a three-letter monogram for one person with a middle letter larger, the middle letter is the last name initial, the first is the first name initial, and the last letter is the last initial.  If you’re doing all letters the same size, line them up first, middle, and last name initial.

A three-letter monogram for a couple has their last name initial in the middle, the wife’s first name initial first, and the man’s first name initial last.

How to Embroider a Towel: Picture Tutorial

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

Preparing Your Towel and Marking The Design

It is important to prewash, and thus preshrink, your towel.  Go ahead and launder it like you plan to once it’s embroidered.  Since I wash my towels on hot and dry on medium, this is how I washed my towel in preparation.

If your towel has a tag on it, make sure to remove it.  Either that or let it be on the back of the towel on the opposite side you decide to embroider on.

You also need to determine where on your towel you want your design.  For an involved design, you can print the design out, cut it, and then place it on the top of the towel to help determine design location.  Since I embroidered initials and a monogram on my towels in this tutorial, I just marked the location by doing simple math and marking the center.

I mark with a blue fabric pen, which will wash out with water after the embroidery is done.  The intersection of my two lines below will be the center of my monogram.

mark your towel for design placement

Best Stabilizer for Towels

Several types of stabilizers will work on the back of towels.  The choice will depend on your intended use of the towel and the thickness of the towel.

First, you need to consider the type of stabilizer you need: tearaway, cutaway, or wash-away.  (If you don’t know much about stabilizer selection, take a look at my printable stabilizer guide!)

For thin and mediumweight towels without much stretch, a tearaway stabilizer will work great.  The nice thing about tearaway stabilizers is they are easy to work with and inexpensive.  They also tear away after use, which saves you from having to clip it away.  When looking at the back of your towel, you won’t have any visible stabilizer remaining after your towel embroidery is complete.

Now, if you’re embroidering a beach towel or other towel that’s super fluffy, you may want to consider a cutaway stabilizer or PolyMesh.  It’s going to provide more support and may protect the integrity of your stitches more.  The only issue with cutaway is you have to trim it away from the back of your design once you’re done embroidering.  Even with a trim close to the edge of your stitches, it will be visible from the back.

You also have the option of a wash-away stabilizer for the back of the towel, but this isn’t usually my go-to.

Next, you have to consider the weight of the stabilizer you’ll need: lightweight, mediumweight, or heavyweight.  Pick the stabilizer weight based on your towel thickness and sturdiness as well as your design density.  I used a mediumweight stabilizer for my towels in this tutorial, which worked great.

And lastly, you need to decide if you want fusible or non-fusible stabilizer.  Fusible stabilizers can be adhered to the back of your towel using your iron.  (There’s also sticky adhesive stabilizer, which sticks to the back like a sticker.)  Non-fusible stabilizer can be adhered using a temporary fabric adhesive.  I am using a non-fusible stabilizer in this tutorial.  You don’t necessarily need to adhere your stabilizer to the back of the fabric, but I’ve found it makes hooping easier and stabilizes the fabric better to have it adhered.

So, for my thinner towels, I found the best stabilizer for machine embroidery on towels was medium-weight tearaway stabilizer.  It worked great!  I like to use precut sheets purely for convenience. Here’s the exact link to what I used for this tutorial.

Why You Need Water Soluble Topping on the Front

Any terry towel or towel with nap will need a water-soluble topping or stabilizer on top of it.  This will stabilize the stitches and prevent them from sinking into the nap of the towel.  If you don’t use a lightweight topping, you’ll end up with stitches that look a little like my “Daddy Bear” above. This water-soluble topping will lay on top of the towel itself.  It’s a thin film but has surprising strength!  One of the reasons you need a nice, sharp needle for this project is so it will pierce through this topping well.  As I mentioned earlier, I’m a huge fan of Sulky Solvy stabilizer.

Hooping Your Towel

If I can fit an item into my hoop, I will always hoop it.  In my experience, hooping provides more stability, and it is easier to line up a design inside the hoop.  (Check out my how to hoop fabric for embroidery tutorial if you need extra help.)

To hoop everything, I first adhered my tearaway stabilizer to the back of the towel using temporary fabric adhesive.  Be careful not to drench it in adhesive or you might end up pulling some of the loops on the back of the towel when you remove your tearaway later.

You’ll want to hoop your stabilizer on the bottom, then the towel, and then the water-soluble topping as the uppermost layer.  If you can’t get the topping hooped, too, you can always just place it on top of the hoop later.

If you are unable to hoop your towel due to thickness or preference, you can float it on top of your hooped stabilizer.  Just make sure it is secure.  (Read: how to float fabric for machine embroidery for tips.)

Embroidering the Towel

Attach your hoop to your embroidery machine and get everything set up. Make sure the part of the towel not being embroidered is not underneath any part of your hoop.

If you’re using a built-in design or font, go ahead and select that.  Or if you’ve transferred a design, get that setup.  If your fabric isn’t exactly centered in the hoop, you can move your design around on the screen to center it with your fabric markings.  This is something I learned way too late in my embroidery journey and cost me a lot of time trying to be perfect with hooping!

embroidering the towel

I like to preview my design first with my machine to see where it is going to stitch.  This gives me an idea if I have hooped the design properly.  Every once in a while, after previewing, I’ll realize I measured incorrectly.  For instance, if you have an initial centered in the middle of your onscreen embroidery design but you want the base at the bottom of your hoop, you need to move your hoop up or move the design down onscreen.  (I hope this makes sense!)

Once you’ve previewed your design and your machine is set up, go ahead and start embroidering your towel!

embroider on the towel!

Clean Up

Once your towel is done, remove it from the hoop.  You will probably see hoop marks on the side if you hooped it securely.  Don’t worry, towels are very resilient fabrics!  These marks will wash out, can be fluffed out, or pressed out.

hoop marks left on the towel

If you have any jump threads like the ones below, go ahead and trim them if your machine doesn’t automatically.

trim any jump stitches

Then, to remove the water-soluble topping, just tear it off.  No need to be perfect about this.  The rest will dissolve when you place your towel in water or in its first wash cycle.

remove the water soluble topping from the towel

To remove the tearaway stabilizer, gently tear it away from the back.  If may take a little more effort if you adhered the stabilizer to the back of the towel.  It will be a cleaner tear after your first wash if you want to save the little pieces to tear off then.

remove tearaway stabilizer

And lastly, if you marked with a water-soluble pen, this will also disappear when you dip your towel in water or launder it again.

Conclusion: Enjoy Your Embroidered Towel!

Congratulations!  You now have successfully embroidered a terrycloth towel!  Go hang it in your house proudly or save it to gift!  I love to embroider monogrammed towels as wedding gifts.  Being mid-30’s, my husband and I know a LOT of people who are getting married (and having babies) and thus find ourselves in need of frequent gifts!

If you have any questions, please feel free to ask in the comments.  Or, if you have any suggestions, I’d love to learn more about embroidery, too!

How to embroider a towel

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