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How to Embroider a Sweatshirt – Machine Embroidery Tutorial

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Embroidered sweatshirts are easy to make and fun to gift.  I love to embroider sweatshirts for Christmas gifts, especially for my niece and nephew, and also add a touch of personalization to my own wardrobe.

Today’s beginner machine embroidery tutorial will show you how to embroider a sweatshirt.  We’ll talk stabilizers, designs, and then go through a step-by-step example.  You’ll then be ready to start stitching your own projects!

Let’s get started!

Sweatshirt Embroidery Tutorial

Sweatshirt Embroidery Supplies

Here’s what you’ll want to get together before starting!

Choosing the Best Stabilizer for Embroidering a Sweatshirt

Embroidery is not a one-size-fits-all craft.  Stabilizer preferences differ from embroiderer to embroiderer and can take some trial and error.  In general, though, if you’re embroidering on a stable (not stretchy) fabric, you can use a tear-away stabilizer.  If you’re embroidering on an unstable (stretchy) fabric, you will need a more stable stabilizer, like cut-away stabilizer.

Therefore, the best stabilizer for embroidering a sweatshirt, especially one that is stretchy or unstable, is cut-away or no-show mesh cut-away stabilizer.  Could you have success with just tear-away?  If your design is not complex and your sweatshirt is on the more stable side, you could probably use tear-away and end up with a good stitch out.  However, I’ve ruined too many projects by trying to get away with tear-away that I now always start with a cut-away on a stretchy fabric rather than chancing it with tear-away!

Also, if you’re embroidering a very densely stitched design, you might need to consider two layers of medium-weight cut-away stabilizer or even a layer or two of heavyweight cut-away stabilizer.  These dense designs will need extra stabilization during the stitching process.

(Read: how to choose stabilizers for machine embroidery if you want to learn more and get a printable chart!)

Sweatshirt Embroidery Design Considerations

Certain designs will work better for sweatshirts than others.  For instance, a redwork or design with single lines of running stitches will likely not show up well.  Appliques, fill-stitch designs, and even monograms, for instance, are all great choices for sweatshirt designs.

Make sure also you choose a design that fits within your hoop, or you will need to use an embroidery software to split the design into multiple sections.

How to Embroider a Sweatshirt Step-by-Step

Prepping the Sweatshirt

First, you need to mark the placement of your embroidery design on your sweatshirt. I usually mark fabric with a water-soluble fabric pen, but because this was a black sweatshirt, I instead used a chalk wheel to mark the vertical and horizontal center for my design.  (Ignore how I’m in major need of a lint roller!)

mark the sweatshirt for the embroidery design

If you need help with design placement, head on over to this guide for standard placement locations.  One other helpful way to mark designs is to print a template out from your embroidery software to lay on your sweatshirt.  This will help you visualize how your design will look in certain places.

Next, it’s time to add your stabilizer to the back of your sweatshirt.  My preference is to use temporary fabric adhesive (like Odif 505) to adhere the piece of stabilizer to make hooping easier.  A little fabric spray adhesive goes a long way, so use it sparingly!  Make sure your piece of stabilizer is at least 1″ larger than your hoop size on each side, too.

attach a layer of cutaway stabilizer to the back of the sweatshirt with spray

Hooping the Sweatshirt

Now, it’s time to hoop your sweatshirt and stabilizer.  I’m a big fan of hooping all fabrics, but if you don’t like to hoop, you can always float the sweatshirt instead.  (If you decide to do this, there’s no need to adhere the stabilizer in the previous part before hooping.  All you need to do is hoop the stabilizer, then give it a gentle spray with adhesive, and smooth your sweatshirt down onto the stabilizer.)

line up your design

Make sure to line up the center of your hoop with the center of the marked spot on your sweatshirt.  If you can’t get it perfect and your machine allows you to move your design around within the embroidery area, that’s ok!

use the plastic template to line up the design

If you’re able to hoop a layer of water-soluble topping along with your sweatshirt and stabilizer, go ahead and do this.  However, if it’s too difficult, you can just float it on top of the hoop.  I ended up floating it because it was too hard to see through to line up my design properly on my machine!  Plus, things were a bit bulky.

Setting Up Your Machine + Starting to Stitch

Attach the embroidery hoop to your machine, and pull the back of the sweatshirt out from under the hoop.  Secure it away from the embroidery area.  You don’t want to stitch the two sides of your project together!  I like to secure with hair clips, clothespins, or painter’s tape.

Then, load your design and line it up with your markings.  Here’s me lining up the design below.

line up your design!

And here’s me adding that layer of water-soluble topping before pulling it taut.  Water-soluble topping keeps the stitches from sinking down into the soft, squishy fabric and gives a better design stitch out on the sweatshirt.

place a layer of water-soluble topping over the sweatshirt

Start your embroidery machine!  Watch carefully at first to make sure everything is stitching as it should be.

Finishing Up

When you’re done embroidering, remove the water-soluble topping by tearing it off.  Any small, residual pieces you can remove with water later.

remove the water soluble topping from the embroidered sweatshirt design

Remove the sweatshirt from your embroidery hoop.  Then, using small, sharp embroidery scissors, trim away the cut-away stabilizer from the back of the sweatshirt.  This stabilizer is permanent, but it will usually soften up after the first wash.

trim the cut-away stabilizer off

Because I don’t like drenching my projects in water or immediately washing them after embroidering, I’ve had great luck using Magic Spray sizing to remove any hoop marks and residual chalk.

magic spray sizing to get rid of chalk marks or hoop burn!

And one last thing, if you’re embroidering for a child or have a dense design that’s going to be itchy when placed against the skin, consider ironing a layer of Tender Touch backing over the design’s back.  This is a soft, flexible covering to keep the design from irritating skin!  I do this every single time I embroidery onesies!

magic sprause tender touch backing to keep the design from rubbing chestsy sizing to get rid of chalk marks or hoop burn!

Embroidered Sweatshirt – Done!

And that’s it!  You’ve successfully embroidered a sweatshirt with your embroidery machine.  Enjoy wearing it out this Fall and Winter or get snuggly around your house in it.  Happy embroidering!

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