How to Machine Embroider on Cardstock – Tips for Stitching Paper

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I might not be the world’s most well-versed embroidery master, but if there’s one thing I’m good at, it’s trial and error to come up with a perfect solution.  I guess it’s the engineer, scientist, and doctor parts of me!  That being said, I’ve been experimenting lately and want to share with you some tips for how to machine embroider on paper.  Specifically, I’ve been using cardstock to embroider greeting cards and Christmas gift tags.

Here was my first somewhat-successful embroidered card.  Surface level, you might be impressed with its 3-D appearance.  This was totally unplanned and the result of a lot of mistakes and experiments.  Nonetheless, it was a fun discovery.

what happened when I used tearaway to embroider greeting cards

After fine-tuning the paper embroidery process, I put together this guide to help you learn what to do (and what not to do!) when learning to use your embroidery machine to make greeting cards and gift tags.

Embroider Card Stock Cards

Considerations For Machine Embroidery on Paper

Choosing Stabilizer and Hooping

Hands down, cutaway stabilizer (or PolyMesh) produced the best greeting cards.  It supported the stitches better, especially on denser designs.  I had to be careful not to bend the cardstock while cutting it away, though, and it did require an extra cardstock piece glued to the back to hide the stabilizer when the card was opened.

I really wanted to be able to use a tearaway stabilizer, because I wanted to end up with a stabilizer-free surface.  However, I didn’t have a lot of success with this.  The stitches sunk through the card (see below) and didn’t look great.

what happened when using tearaway stabilizer

Using tearaway is also how I incidentally made my flapping butterfly. The stitches were so dense and the stabilizer so unstable that the butterfly just tore away!

tearaway stabilizer punches out the embroidery stitches

I hooped all of my stabilizers and then adhered the cards on top.  Ultimately, I preferred to use painter’s tape.  It didn’t tear the sides of the cardstock I used when I removed it, and it gave me less of a scare than the adhesive.  The adhesive left a (luckily temporary) oily residue on the card when I got overzealous when spraying the stabilizer.  You can see those marks below.

the residue left by adhesive spray

Best Needle Size and Type for Embroidering Cardstock

The bigger your needle, the bigger the hole it’s going to punch.   You need a needle thick enough to puncture the paper, but you don’t want it leaving a gaping hole.  I had the best luck using 75/11 sharp embroidery needles.  I accidentally forgot to change my needle once, and the 75/11 universal embroidery needle did just fine also with a redwork design.  Mostly, just make sure you aren’t using a ballpoint needle.

Thread Types

You need to make sure your thread and needle choices are compatible.  Decorative threads that are large won’t work with a needle that has a small eye, for instance.  I used a 40 weight polyester embroidery thread, since that is what the designs were digitized for.

Embroidery Speed

When I turned down the embroidery speed, I found my cardstock fared better.  This might be a result of my machine and the designs I chose, but in general, when I’m looking for clean, precise embroidery on difficult fabrics or surfaces, I prefer slower stitching.

Design Selection

When choosing a design to embroider on your paper, steer clear from very dense designs.  Especially without proper stabilizer, dense stitches will tear the embroidered pieces away from the paper. Single stitch (redwork) designs, or designs produced for cardstock specifically, worked great!  I even did one small applique and had success using a cutaway stabilizer.  I downloaded or purchased all my designs from embroiderydesigns.com, Oma’s Place, or SWAK Embroidery.  Some I had within my embroidery machine already.

embroidering cardstock gift tags

If you don’t have a machine that automatically trims jump stitches, pick a design that minimizes jumps.  When I trim jump stitches on fabric, I find myself bending and folding fabrics to get to the stitches more easily.  Because bending the cardstock leaves marks, trimming tiny jump stitches is more difficult.  To go about trimming these threads, though, I used tweezers to pull the threads away a bit and then gently snipped them.

And lastly, since needle holes are permanent, make sure the needle doesn’t punch down anywhere it also won’t be stitching!

Paper Embroidery Supplies

Here are the embroidery supplies you will want to gather before starting.

  • Embroidery machine and hoop
  • Sturdy cardstock or paper
  • Cutaway stabilizer (I used this mediumweight stabilizer)
  • Painter’s tape or temporary adhesive spray like Odif 505 (be careful with the latter!)
  • 75/11 embroidery needle
  • Scissors, pencil

How to Machine Embroider Greeting Cards

Now, here’s a step-by-step process for embroidering on cardstock or paper.

1. Select your design and load it to your embroidery machine.

2. Hoop your cut-away stabilizer tautly in your embroidery hoop.  If you plan to use tearaway, be VERY careful with design selection.

3. Position your cardstock in the embroidery hoop.  I use small pencil marks to help with hooping.  Also, make sure you aren’t going to be stitching the sides of the cards together, and be careful you are orienting your card and design in the right direction!

If you can use painter’s tape to attach your card to the stabilizer, this is the least mess and easiest way, in my opinion.  If your paper will tear with painter’s tape on it, use a very small amount of temporary adhesive spray to adhere the cardstock.

how to hoop and stabilize the paper 4. Decrease your stitching speed and decrease the machine thread tension.  Double-check your needle and thread choices.

5. Start embroidering!  Watch it at the beginning to make sure it is stitching properly.  When it’s done, carefully remove the painter’s tape, and trim the stabilizer.  Then, find a coordinating piece of cardstock to put on the back of the card.  All done!

Paper Embroidery – Conclusion

I hope you’ve now learned a new fun application for your embroidery machine: making handmade greeting cards or gift tags! Happy embroidering!

make cards with an embroidery machine

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2 Comments

  1. Karen Spica says:

    Have you ever embroidery or sewn scrip on the inside of your card? If so was it successful and what script fond did you use. Cannot seem to find a fine single stitch that will not tear though my card.
    Your tutorial was very good!!
    Thank you,
    Karen
    [email protected]

    1. Thanks! There are a few built-in fonts in my Hatch embroidery software that I’ve had pretty good success with (Run Script is my favorite right now.) If the font is too small, the stitching gets dicey, and the dots on lowercase i’s aren’t always the best quality. I’ve switched to a thinner thread and had better luck with the running stitch script fonts also on the inside. Hope that helps a bit!

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