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DIY embroidered sweatshirts are easy to make and fun to gift.
I love to embroider sweatshirts and hoodies as Christmas gifts and add a touch of personalization to my wardrobe.
If you, too, want to create embroidered hoodies, here’s how to embroider a sweatshirt with a machine!
I’ll talk about stabilizers and designs and then go through a step-by-step example with pictures. You’ll then be ready to start stitching your own embroidery projects.
Here are the necessary materials to get together before starting the process.
- Embroidery machine
- Thread (I used polyester embroidery thread, 40 wt)
- Embroidery needle (75/11 embroidery needle)
- Cut-away or no-show mesh stabilizer (I used this medium-weight cut-away.)
- Water-soluble topping like Sulky Solvy
- Temporary spray adhesive (optional)
- Marking tools (example: fabric marker or chalk)
- Sharp embroidery scissors
- Embroidery design (Mine came from Embroideres; check out my list of where to find free embroidery designs if you haven’t picked a design yet!)
The best stabilizer for embroidering a sweatshirt, especially one that is stretchy or unstable, is cut-away or no-show mesh cut-away stabilizer.
Can you have success with just tear-away?
If your design is not dense or complex and your sweatshirt is not too stretchy, you can use tear-away and likely end up with a good enough stitch out for a simple design.
On the other hand, if you’re embroidering a dense fill-stitch design with a large stitch count, you might consider two layers of cut-away stabilizer for extra stabilization.
You can choose a sticky stabilizer, fusible stabilizer, or regular stabilizer. I like using regular stabilizer with a light layer of temporary fabric adhesive.
(Read: how to choose stabilizers for machine embroidery if you want to learn more and get a printable chart!)
How to Embroider a Sweatshirt or Hoodie
Here’s a step-by-step guide of the process.
1. Prep the Sweatshirt
First, unless you plan to gift the sweatshirt, prewash it first.
Hoodies made from cotton fibers are likely to shrink, and you want that shrinkage to happen before you put an embroidered design on it. Otherwise, you may find puckering around the design if you first run it through the wash after embroidering.
Once your sweatshirt’s washed, next mark the placement of your embroidery design.
I usually mark fabric with a water-soluble fabric pen, but because this was a black sweatshirt, I used a chalk wheel to mark the vertical and horizontal center of my design.
Another marking method is using a Target sticker, which you can make by yourself or purchase from Designs in Machine Embroidery.
If you need help with design placement for logos, according to this guide for standard placement locations from AllBrands, embroidered items should be placed 7″-9″ down from the left shoulder seam of the sweatshirt and either 3″-5″ from the center or centered between the side seam and placket if there’s one.
If you don’t want to be too official, another helpful way to mark designs is to print a template from your embroidery software to lay on your sweatshirt. This will help you visualize how your design will look in different locations.
Next, it’s time to add your stabilizer to the back of your sweatshirt.
I prefer using 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! Also, always spray the stabilizer rather than your sweatshirt.
Lastly, make sure your piece of stabilizer is at least 1″ larger than your hoop size on each side, too.
2. Hoop or Float the Hoodie
Now, it’s time to hoop your sweatshirt and stabilizer.
Choose the smallest hoop possible when taking into account the size of the design.
Now, I’m a big fan of hooping all fabrics when possible, but you can float the sweatshirt instead if you don’t like hooping or the sweatshirt won’t fit with the two frames of the hoop.
When hooping, it’s super important that you don’t stretch the sweatshirt to flatten the fabric once it’s in the hoop. This stretch will cause distortion and puckering around your embroidery design once you release it from the hoop.
Another hooping option, if you want to avoid hoop burn, is to use a magnetic hoop. These are the easiest way to secure bulky sweatshirts that won’t fit between the frames of your traditional plastic hoop.
As a note, if you decide to float, all you need to do is hoop regular cut-away stabilizer, give it a gentle spray with adhesive, and smooth your sweatshirt down onto the stabilizer. Adding a basting box or pins can help prevent movement during embroidery, which can also cause a poor stitchout.
As you’re hooping, make sure to line up the center of your hoop as closely as possible 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 before stitching, that’s okay.
3. Set Up Your Machine And Start 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 with hair clips, clothespins, or painter’s tape. You don’t want to stitch the two sides of your project together!
If your hoodie has a zipper, this is much easier to prepare for instead of a plain sweatshirt with only a head and bottom opening.
Then, load your design and line it up with your markings.
Now, since sweatshirt fabric is squishy and stitches have a tendency to get lost in this type of knit fabric, it’s helpful to add a layer of water-soluble topping before starting to embroider.
If you’re super handy, you can hoop the water-soluble topping with your stabilizer, but this makes it hard to see through to line up the machine with the markings. And, it makes hooping more difficult and bulky.
So, I always float my topping over the top of the project after I get it in the hoop. If you’re worried about it floating all over, you can dab the sides a bit with water, use painter’s tape, pin the topper in place outside the embroidery area, or add a few basting stitches before embroidering the design.
Once that’s all set, double-check that you have the correct design orientation, needle, and thread colors.
Then, start your embroidery machine!
Observe at first to make sure everything is stitching as it should be.
4. Finish Up
When you’re done embroidering, remove the water-soluble topping by tearing it off your embroidered sweatshirt.
Any excess stabilizer pieces you can remove with water later.
Next, remove the sweatshirt from your embroidery hoop.
Then, trim away the excess stabilizer from the back of the sweatshirt using small, sharp embroidery scissors. I like my duckbill applique scissors the best.
This stabilizer is permanent but softens up after the first wash.
Because I don’t like immediately washing my projects after embroidering, I’ve had great luck using Magic Spray sizing to remove hoop marks and residual chalk that don’t wash away with a spritz of water.
And lastly, if you’re embroidering for a child or have a dense design that will be itchy when placed against the skin, consider ironing a layer of Tender Touch backing over the design’s back.
This soft, flexible covering keeps the design from irritating skin. (I do this every single time I embroider onesies!) It doesn’t stick as well to the back of sweatshirts as it does knit t-shirts, but it’s usually good for several washes. It helps to use pinking shears on the border to make it less likely to roll off too soon.
And that’s it! You’ve successfully embroidered a sweatshirt or hoodie with your embroidery machine. Enjoy wearing it out this Fall and Winter, or get snuggly around your house!