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T-shirt embroidery is easy, fast, and fun and is a great way to personalize clothing.
After all, I bought my first embroidery machine to embroider shirts for my young daughters at home.
They love the customization I can create, and adding monograms, cartoon characters, and sill, cute designs to their t-shirts makes them feel so special.
Want to learn how to machine embroider a shirt?
Follow along step-by-step as I embroider a shirt for my daughter’s Valentine’s Day party!
T-Shirt Embroidery Materials
Here’s what you’ll need to gather before you start this project.
- Embroidery machine for shirts and hoop (choose the smallest hoop to fit your design)
- Embroidery design: My monster design is from Embroideres.com.
- Thread: I used 40 wt polyester embroidery thread.
- Needle: I used a 75/11 embroidery needle.
- Stabilizer: (I like no-show mesh stabilizer for the back and water-soluble topping, like Sulky Solvy, on top.)
- Soft backing (Sulky Tender Touch)
- Fabric marking tools, temporary fabric adhesive like Odif 505 or use fusible stabilizer, and scissors
The Best Stabilizer for Shirts
Because shirts are stretchy, use cut-away stabilizer for best results.
I prefer no-show mesh stabilizer, as this sheer type cut-away stabilizer doesn’t show through to the front of light-colored t-shirts.
Since it’s a little lighter weight than traditional cut-away, though, I sometimes need more than one layer for dense designs.
Now, while you might have occasional success with tear-away stabilizer for small, low stitch count designs, it isn’t the best choice for supporting dense or large designs. Not to mention, tearing away residual stabilizer from the back of the shirt can distort stitching.
Hooping vs. Floating Shirts
When possible, I prefer to hoop all projects, shirts included.
While I will float fabric above the hoop if I can’t get a project hooped, the stability from a taut (but not stretched) hooping provides the best stitch out for my circumstances.
Whether you hoop or float, ensure your fabric is secured and will not move during the process, leading to design puckering.
Design Placement + Tools
While “eyeballing it” is a way to go when deciding on design or logo placement on a shirt, there are also several other ways to achieve good results.
First, you can check out an embroidery placement guide for traditional recommendations and measure and mark based on suggestions.
Next, you can print out a design template from embroidery software, cut it out, and use it for easy visualization on your shirt.
Last, you could use a placement tool.
For example, I have multiple tools like the one above, which helps me find the center of a t-shirt.
I also have an Embroiderer’s Helper that’s also used as a guide for embroidery design chest placement on shirts.
How To Embroider a Shirt With a Machine
Now, let’s get started on the step-by-step shirt embroidery process!
1. Prep the Shirt for Embroidery.
Next, turn your shirt inside out and adhere the stabilizer to the back of your shirt. (I got away with only using one layer for this design. If you have puckering or design issues, consider a second layer or switching to a medium-weight traditional cut-away stabilizer.)
Now, I always prefer to adhere stabilizer to the back of my projects to make hooping easier.
Depending on the project, I use either temporary fabric adhesive (like Odif 505) or purchase fusible stabilizer that’s adhered with a medium-heat iron.
2. Hoop or Float the Shirt.
Next, hoop your shirt and stabilizer, lining up the center of your marked area with the center of your hoop.
If your hooping isn’t perfect, as long as your design is not the size of the entire embroidery field, you can move or rotate it once loaded into your embroidery machine.
If you have problems hooping shirts or other tubular items, consider purchasing a hooping station (like above) to help!
3. Set the Machine to Embroider.
Double-check that you’re using the right color bobbin thread, embroidery needle, and embroidery thread.
Then, pull the back of the shirt out from under the hoop, and attach the hoop to the machine. (Isolating a single layer of the shirt means you can’t stitch the front to the back.)
If the unhooped parts of your shirt will get in the way of the embroidery area, secure the unhooped shirt outside of the hoop frame.
I like to use claw hair clips, clothespins, or painter’s tape to keep the wrong parts of the shirt from being embroidered accidentally! Just ensure your clips won’t hit your machine head once it starts stitching.
Next, float a layer of water-soluble topping on top of the shirt.
While this step is debatable, I’ve found that adding it keeps stitching from sinking into super-soft t-shirts and generally provides a more professionally-stitched appearance.
Finally, load your embroidery design and line the design up with the center of your marked shirt.
Lower the presser foot, and press start! Change colors as needed.
4. Complete the Finishing Steps.
When your t-shirt has finished embroidering, remove the hoop from the machine, and release your shirt.
Tear off the water-soluble topping. If any remains, you can easily remove it with water.
Then, cut the stabilizer on the back of the shirt off, cutting close to the edge of the design. Be careful not to accidentally snip a hole in your shirt, though! (I like using duckbill scissors to prevent accidental snipping.)
If you sprayed a lot of fabric adhesive on the shirt, it will still be sticky. This will go away over time or fade after the first wash, which is why you want to spray lightly or use fusible stabilizer.
Then, clip any remaining jump stitches using small embroidery scissors or snips. (Sometimes, it is easier to trim the jump stitches before removing the water-soluble topping, but I forgot here.)
If you have hoop marks or burns on your t-shirt after a tight hooping, they will go away with the first wash. Same with any chalk marks you made on your shirt. Either that, or you can use Magic Spray!
Since the back of most embroidery designs can be scratchy and itchy, I lastly always press a layer of Tender Touch backing to the back of the design.
The bumpy part of this embroidery backing adheres to the shirt, and the softer side faces you, protecting the tender tummies and chests of sensitive wearers and little ones.
I hope this tutorial has helped you learn how to embroider a shirt with a machine!