How to Embroider a Sweatshirt or Hoodie (Easy Guide)

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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. 

how to embroider a sweatshirt

Supplies

Here are the necessary materials to get together before starting the process.

Stabilizer Selection

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. 

mark the sweatshirt for the 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. 

using a target sticker

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. 

use a template when embroidering a blanket
an example of a template I used for centering a design on an embroidered blanket

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. 

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

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

line up your design

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. 

hooping with a magnetic 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. 

use the plastic template to line up the design

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. 

line up your design!

Then, load your design and line it up with your markings

place a layer of water-soluble topping over the sweatshirt

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

remove the water soluble topping from the embroidered sweatshirt design

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. 

trim the cut-away stabilizer off

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.

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

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.

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

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. 

Sweatshirt Embroidery Tutorial

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!

16 Comments

  1. This really was a great post because it was clear and to the point without the stories and fluff that many sites and YT videos have. Thank you

    1. I’ve seen alot of videos on DIY SWEATSHIRTS and by far yours is the best. Thank you for your time and effort making this video and sharing it with those of us that need easy to follow instructions.

  2. I really enjoyed your clear, concise intructions – one point – do you you bobbin thread in the bobbin, or match the bobbin thread to the top thread?

    1. I use embroidery bobbin thread on the bottom. (I only have white or black bobbin thread, so I make the closest match, ha.) If the back of a project will be seen, or if I’m embroidering something like FSL or jewelry, I do use the same thread in the top and bobbin threads.

  3. My new machine arrived today but nowhere did it say how to embroider straight onto a finished article. I thought I was going to have to appliqué everything. Your article is so clear and easy to follow I have every confidence to have a go now.

    1. Three things I do, depending on the size of the sweatshirt:

      1. Find an area of the hoop that doesn’t have much of the sweatshirt bunched up, and slide the hoop in from that side/angle.
      2. Hoop the sweatshirt, attach it to the machine, and then bring over the underside of the sweatshirt and secure it once the hoop’s already in the machine.
      3. Remove the embroidery presser foot to give extra space, attach the hoop, and then reattach the presser foot.

      I hope that answers your question?

    1. I use the normal tension on my embroidery machine for both. The only time I change tension is when I’m stitching with specialty threads.

    1. Unless I’m gifting the item, I always wash before embroidering. I’ve had some bad final products when I wash for the first time after embroidering and the shirt/sweatshirt shrinks, causing my embroidery to look puckered.

  4. Hi! I am brand new to embroidery and am in the process of deciding what machine to buy. I am leaning towards the Brother SE1900 due to its 5×7 embroidery hoop for projects like embroidering on a sweatshirt. Are you able to embroider a word or phrase vertically? For example, some of the designs I am interested in embroidering are 7″ x 5″ instead of 5″x7″. Are you able to rotate the design so it is embroidered vertically instead of horizontally to accommodate a longer width instead of height?

    1. Yes! You can rotate designs, and then you can hoop or float your sweatshirt in whatever orientation you need to match. You can also purchase a repositional hoop (5″x12″) for the SE1900. You can then split an even longer design up to 5″x12″ into two smaller sections with software and then stitch them next to each other with this nifty hoop.

      Also, I have the SE1900 and love it–it’s about to turn 4 and has a couple million stitches on it so far!

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