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In this easy beginner machine embroidery tutorial, I want to teach you how to machine embroider a shirt. T-shirt embroidery is easy, fast, fun, and a great way to personalize clothing. The biggest reason I bought my first embroidery machine was so I could embroider shirts for my girls! I love adding monograms, cartoon characters, and even just cute designs.
In this tutorial, I’m embroidering a shirt for my youngest daughter for Valentine’s Day. I sewed on some pompom trim on the base of the shirt and two ribbon bows on the arms to make it even snazzier!
T-Shirt Embroidery Materials
Here’s what you’ll need to gather before starting to embroider.
- Embroidery machine for shirts and hoop (choose the smallest hoop to fit your design)
- Embroidery design (check out my list of where to download embroidery freebies! I got my monster design from Embroideres.com.)
- Embroidery thread (I used 40 wt polyester embroidery thread)
- Embroidery needle (I used a 75/11 embroidery needle)
- Stabilizer (I like to use no-show mesh stabilizer. More about this later.)
- 1 layer of water-soluble topping (like Sulky Solvy)
- Soft backing (I use Sulky Tender Touch)
- Fabric marking tools
- T-shirt to be embroidered
- Temporary fabric adhesive like Odif 505
Picking the Best Stabilizer for a Shirt
If you’re new to embroidery, make sure to check out my guide to embroidery stabilizers to learn more about the different types of stabilizers and to get a free printable.
Because shirts are stretchy, knit fabrics, they need to be stabilized well during the embroidery process. This means picking a more stable, if you will, stabilizer. As such, your best results will come with a cut-away stabilizer. I like to use a no-show mesh stabilizer because this type of sheer cut-away stabilizer doesn’t show through to the front of light-colored t-shirts. Once you’re done embroidering, you’ll cut the stabilizer off close to the edge of the design.
While you might have occasional success with tear-away stabilizer, this isn’t going to be the best choice. For dense designs, especially, the tearaway stabilizer just won’t hold your designs well. When you go to tear away the residual stabilizer, you also risk pulling out or stretching the stitching on your shirt.
I also prefer to always adhere stabilizer to the back of my projects to make hooping easier. One way to do this is to use temporary fabric adhesive or to purchase fusible stabilizer that you adhere with an iron. Since I detest getting out and turning on my iron for only one task, I usually steer clear of fusible stabilizers!
How To Machine Embroider a Shirt – Tutorial
Now, let’s get started on the step-by-step shirt embroidery process.
Prepping the Shirt for Embroidery
First, pick out where you want your embroidery design to go. Mark the center of the design on your shirt. I will usually do this with either a water-soluble fabric marker or chalk wheel. If you aren’t sure where you want your design to go, print out a template of the design from your embroidery software and line it up where you want it to be. Then, mark the location Also, you can check out this embroidery placement guide from emblibrary.com for traditional recommendations.
Next, turn your shirt inside out and adhere your chosen stabilizer to the back of your shirt to be embroidered. I used Odif 505 to adhere one layer of PolyMesh stabilizer. I considered using a second layer due to the density of my design, but I had good luck with just one layer. The stabilizer needs to be at least an inch larger than your hoop size on each side. If you’re using fusible stabilizer, iron this on instead of adhering with spray.
When possible, I prefer to hoop all my projects (read more in how to hoop fabric for embroidery!) While I will float fabric above the hoop if I can’t get the project hooped, I have better results with hooping. Therefore, hoop your shirt and stabilizer, lining up the center of your marked area with the center of your hoop. If it’s not perfect and your design does not take up the entire embroidery field, you can move your design around or rotate it to line up with the marked center once you load it to your embroidery machine. Also, in the case of my Brother embroidery machine, the hash marks and arrows on the hoop don’t correspond with the true center of my embroidery field, which is found by placing the included plastic template over the hoop.
Setting the Machine to Embroider
Double-check that you’re using the right color bobbin thread, right embroidery needle, and right type of embroidery thread.
Pull the back of the shirt out from under the hoop, and attach the hoop to the machine. At this point, if the unhooped parts of your shirt are going to get in the way of the embroidery area, secure the unhooped shirt. 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 make sure your clips won’t hit your machine head once it starts stitching.
I like to then float a layer of water-soluble topping on top of the shirt. While this step is debatable, I’ve found that adding this layer of topping to the shirt keeps the stitching from sinking into super-soft t-shirts and generally provides a more professionally-stitched appearance.
Load your embroidery design, and line the design up with the center of your marked shirt. Lower the presser foot, and press start!
When your shirt embroidery is done, 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, making sure to cut close to the edge of the design. Be careful not to accidentally snip a hole in your shirt, though! If you sprayed a lot of fabric adhesive on the shirt, it will still be sticky. This will go away over time or will fade after the first wash.
Clip any jump threads in your design using small embroidery scissors or snips. Be careful not to accidentally clip your shirt!
If you have any hoop marks or burn on your t-shirt 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! I LOVE how this removes my chalk marks without me having to get the shirt wet with water.
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 the backing will adhere to the shirt, and the softer side will be facing you. Placing this extra layer protects the tender tummies and chests of little ones, especially! My youngest won’t wear a shirt with a tag let alone a scratchy embroidery design!
Embroidery on a Shirt – Done!
I hope this t-shirt embroidery tutorial has helped you learn how to embroider a logo or other design on a shirt! Happy stitching!