What is a Knockdown Stitch in Machine Embroidery?

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One problem with embroidering on fabric with lots of fluff (more technically known as nap, pile, or loft) is the stitching can sink into the fluff of the fabric. While changing the stitch density or size of the design can help with visibility, one of the best solutions is to use a knockdown stitch.

To help expand the possibilities of what you can make with your embroidery machine, let’s talk about knockdown embroidery designs. I’ll teach you what a knockdown stitch is, how to use one, where to find free knockdown stitch files, and finally, how to create your own knockdown stitches in two popular embroidery software.

What is an knockdown stitch in machine embroidery?

So, what is a knockdown stitch?

Essentially, a knockdown stitch is a layer of stitching added underneath an embroidery design to hold down fabric fluff, thus making the design more visible. It is stitched before your embroidery design and works great with fabrics that have a high pile, meaning there is a lot of volume on the top of the fabric. Examples include extra lush towels, sherpa fleece, and fluffy robes or blankets.

Here’s an example below of just the knockdown stitch on a robe I recently embroidered. There’s also water-soluble topping and a basting box around the design, so don’t worry too much about that.

knockdown stitch without overlying design

As you can see, this knockdown stitch is a very loosely stitched design that squishes the robe fibers down. If the design were very dense, it would be too difficult to stitch a design on top of it. A thick knockdown stitch would feel hard and dramatically change the feel of the fabric as well.

When to Use a Knockdown Embroidery Design

why you need to choose a dense design to keep designs showing

This embroidered sherpa blanket above was one of my most comical embroidery fails as a beginner. Do you see the “Daddy” text hiding in there? Not only was the text too thin, but the fluff of the sherpa covered everything even though I used water-soluble topping. Turns out, using a knockdown stitch on sherpa is a GREAT idea as is using a more appropriate text.

While I have no problems embroidering on towels and embroidering on fluffy blankets most times without a knockdown stitch, if you are choosing a design that can easily get lost in the fluff of the fabric, it’s a good idea to consider a knockdown stitch first. For instance, if you’re embroidering a name on a towel with a high pile, the nap of the towel can obstruct some of the letters with small open spaces, which makes your text partially invisible. Putting a layer of nap-tack, or knockdown, stitching first evens the playing field so all layers get a chance to be seen.

Choosing a Thread Color

If you’re looking to make your knockdown stitch as minimally invasive as possible, choose a thread color that closely matches your fabric color. However, I’ve seen fun projects stitched with variegated thread or contrasting thread colors to make a statement with the knockdown stitch. Experiment with options and see what you like best!

Knockdown Stitch Design Type: Perimeter vs Shape

knockdown perimeter design vs surrounding shape

There are two main types of knockdown stitch embroidery shapes you can create. The design on the top left is an example of a knockdown design shape that can accommodate many different interior embroidery designs. The knockdown design on the right, however, is a custom knockdown stitch made with an embroidery program and is shaped to the embroidery design. Depending on your project, desired effect, and available software, you can choose to use either type!

Do you still need water-soluble topping with a knockdown stitch? What about stabilizer?

Even if I’m using a knockdown stitch on my embroidery design, I always still use a layer of water-soluble topping. I’ve done side-by-side comparisons and found that perimeter knockdown stitches are much cleaner and more visible with topping first. Shaped knockdown stitches that take up a larger area are less visibly improved with the addition of the layer of water-soluble topping, but there is still a difference.

Also, pick your stabilizer based on the density of your design plus knockdown stitch density and then the characteristics of your fabric. Read my guide to stabilizer selection if you need help!

Free Knockdown Stitch Embroidery Designs

While I create knockdown stitches in my embroidery software, there was a time I didn’t have embroidery software and relied on freebies and purchasing designs from others. Here are two free knockdown stitches for machine embroidery that you can use if you’re not quite ready to design or purchase your own.

  1. Embossed circle knockdown shape from Creative Appliques
  2. Simple rectangle knockdown shape from Creative Appliques

If you want more specific knockdown shapes or sizes, you can purchase from Etsy or your favorite designers’ website.

How to Make a Knockdown Stitch

How to do a knockdown stitch in embrilliance and sew what pro

I’ll now show you how to make a knockdown stitch in two of the most popular beginner-friendly embroidery editing software. I prefer to always make my own knockdown stitches rather than purchase or download knockdown embroidery files because I can get the exact size match to my design.

These are the most basic of knockdown stitches that I’ll be showing you how to create. If you have digitizing software also, you can create knockdown stitches with different textures and even add satin stitch edges. There are SO many options once you start experimenting.

How to Add a Knock Down Stitch in Sew What Pro

In Sew What Pro, a knockdown stitch is called a nap-tack stitch. For the record, if you don’t own Sew What Pro and need a basic editing program, I think this program really is INCREDIBLE for the price. (Learn more about what it does in my Sew What Pro embroidery software review.)

Sew What Pro gives you the option to create two types of nap-tack stitches. To access either these nap-tack stitches, after you’ve imported your design, click on Tools and then Add Nap-Tack stitches as you’ll see below.

how to add a knockdown stitch in sew what pro

A window will pop up allowing you to choose the type of knockdown stitch you want and the stitch properties.

adjusting nap-tack stitch properties

Here, you can choose from the two types of knockdown designs. First, you can have the knockdown stitch outline your design a set margin from the edges. The default is a 4mm border, but you can change this to a larger or smaller number. You also have the option of adjusting the nap height. For super fluffy, thick towels or robes, a denser knockdown stitch will be needed. Thus, adjust the nap (pile) height to Med-Hi. If you have a low-medium nap, keep this setting as it is at Lo-Med. You can also change the nap angle if needed. Keep Select Border Shape unchecked, and then click OK. You will then get a perimeter knockdown stitch as you see below.

change the color of the knockdown stitch

You can change the thread color by clicking on the oval with the 1 inside it (showing that it will stitch first) and then selecting a color in the bottom right window that will pop up.

adding a knockdown stitch around the perimeter

Now, if you’d rather create a knockdown design that is a shape, you will go back to Tools and Add Nap-Tack stitch. Then, click the box that says Select Border Shape instead this time.

select border sahape to create a knockdown border

A box filled with all the shape options will pop up! You have your choice of shapes, so click on the one you’d like to use.

adding a knockdown border stitch in sew what pro

You will then be returned to the Nap-Tack properties window where you can change the properties to fit your taste. Click OK, change your knockdown stitch color, and view your created design!

naptack stitch in sew what pro

I’ve found that sometimes with the border function of Sew What Pro that I’ll have to play with the nap-tack stitch border properties to center it well. This is a small price to pay, though, for so many fun border shapes!

How to Do a Knock Down Stitch in Embrilliance Enthusiast

Unfortunately, Embrilliance Essentials does not have the ability to create a knockdown stitch, but Embrilliance Enthusiast does. To create a knockdown stitch that extends a few millimeters around your chosen design, hover over Utility and click on “Add Knockdown Stitching.”

how to add a knockdown stitch in embrilliance

That one simple click will add a perimeter knockdown stitch automatically.

adding a knockdown stitch in embrilliance

You can make knockdown shapes in Embrilliance as well, but that requires a lot more effort than a single click. That is beyond the scope of this knockdown stitch tutorial!


I hope this tutorial has now explained to you what a knockdown embroidery stitch is and you’ve learned when to use one and how to make it. Please let me know if you have any questions, and happy embroidering!

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