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Embroidering cards, gift tags, and other fun paper items is such a unique way to use your embroidery machine!
I especially find myself excited to embroider cardstock cards around holidays like Christmas and Mother’s Day.
While it may seem difficult to choose the best combination of stabilizer, design, and paper to achieve great results with paper embroidery, I’ve put together some tips to help you learn how to machine embroider on cardstock.
Considerations For Machine Embroidery on Cardstock Paper
Let’s first talk about the supplies that are going to give you the best stitch out.
Best Stabilizer for Embroidering on Paper
With most paper types, cutaway stabilizer (or PolyMesh) produces the best greeting cards. It supports stitches the best, especially with denser designs and flimsier papers. While you can trim cut-away stabilizer away from the design after stitching, you will still have a residual piece underneath the design. This can easily be covered up with an extra piece of cardstock.
As much as I want to use tearaway stabilizer to pretty up the back of the designs, it really just doesn’t produce great results. For example, see the sunken stitches below?
If you’re looking for a fun effect, though, try doing a dense satin stitch on a card hooped with tear-away stabilizer. You’ll get a 3D effect like my flapping butterfly below thanks to the tearing!
Best Needle for Embroidering Cardstock
The bigger your needle, the bigger the hole it’s going to punch.
Thus, while you do need a needle thick enough to puncture paper, you want to choose the smallest size possible to avoid leaving a gaping hole in your paper. Choose a small size such as 75/11 or 70/10, but make sure the eye is going to be large enough for your thread selection. If an embroidery needle doesn’t do the trick, go up a size and use a sharp sewing needle to create clean holes.
For embroidering paper, it’s also best to get a fresh, new needle from your pack. Dull needles will only cause problems.
Many different types of thread will work for paper embroidery. The most important thing is making sure your thread and needle choices are compatible. Decorative threads, for instance, don’t work well with a needle that has a small eye.
Most embroidery designs are digitized for 40wt thread, but you can select a different weight. Just make sure to test the design first.
While I tend to err on the side of using my favorite 40wt polyester or rayon thread, other fun thread options for card embroidery are:
- Cotton thread in a different weight to mimic a hand-stitched embroidery look (try 30wt!)
- Metallic threads (read more in tips for embroidering with metallic thread!)
- Glow-in-the-dark thread (learn how to use glow-in-the-dark embroidery machine threads!)
- Variegated thread
When I turn down the embroidery speed on my machine, my cardstock cards fare better. This might result from my machine and the designs I choose, but in general, when I’m looking for clean, precise embroidery on difficult fabrics or surfaces, I prefer slower stitching.
While you likely won’t need to touch your machine’s tension if everything is stabilized and set up properly, certain thread types (ex metallic thread) work significantly better with a decreased tension.
Machine Embroidery Designs for Cardstock
Design selection is key to a perfectly embroidered paper item, especially if you’re using thin paper.
The biggest thing to remember is dense fill-stitch designs and designs with significant underlay stitching will not be as good as more open, less dense designs with a low stitch count. While appliques are possible, you need to aim for great stabilization and a very stable, fibrous paper to have these work out well.
Design characteristics that are preferable for embroidery on paper are:
- Redwork, chainstitch, or outline designs
- Running stitch fonts
- Fill-stitch designs if underlay is removed and stitch count is reduced (either by increasing stitch length or changing density.)
- Designs digitized specifically for cardstock (Embroiderydesigns.com, Oma’s Place, and SWAK Embroidery are the sources for the images used in this tutorial.)
- Minimal jump stitches if you don’t have a machine that automatically trims them for you.
And, since needle holes are permanent, ensure the needle doesn’t punch down anywhere it also won’t be stitching!
How to Machine Embroider on Cardstock
Now, here’s a quick step-by-step process for embroidery on cardstock and other paper types.
1. Marking Your Card for Embroidery
First, mark where on your card you want your design to be. It’s helpful to use an embroidery target sticker. If you don’t have any, a pencil or air-soluble marker will work as well.
2. How to Float and Secure Cards for Embroidery
Paper is too delicate and easily crinkled to hoop. Thus, you’ll hoop only your stabilizer and then “float” or adhere your cardstock paper on top of that.
There are several methods you can use when floating materials for machine embroidery.
Methods applicable to cardstock include using temporary adhesive spray, painter’s tape, self-adhesive stabilizer, or even a fusible stabilizer (not my go-to!) You could also try a magnetic hoop, although I’ve never had a magnet hoop small enough or a card large enough.
When using cardstock, I prefer painter’s tape to attach my paper. It doesn’t tear the sides of the cardstock when removed, and it leaves less of a mess than temporary adhesive spray.
3. Prepping the Machine & Starting to Embroider
Next, position the hoop in your machine.
Make sure you aren’t going to be stitching the sides of the cards together, and be careful to orient your card and design in the right direction!
Load your design, and double-check your thread, needle, and design orientation. Then, start embroidering,
Keep an eye on it while stitching. Cardstock and paper can be squirrelly!
4. Finishing Up
After the embroidered card is made, carefully remove the painter’s tape and trim the stabilizer from the back. I have to be careful not to bend the cardstock while cutting the stabilizer away.
Be careful also not to bend the card when trimming any jump stitches. To trim these small threads, I use tweezers to pull them up a bit and then snip them with double-curved embroidery scissors.
Lastly, find a coordinating piece of cardstock to put on the back of the card.
Adding Accents to Embroidered Paper Cards
After you’ve machine embroidered your cards, you can add hundreds of different, fun accents to the cards for an even more personalized look.
A few fun things to consider including are fabric pieces, beads, glitter, paint, buttons, pearls, rhinestones, ribbons, and other trinkets.
Paper Embroidery – Conclusion
I hope you’ve now learned a new fun application for your embroidery machine: embroidery on cardstock!