What Is an Embroidery Machine, and What Does It Do? 10 Uses!

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I first purchased an embroidery machine thinking I’d only use it to monogram kids’ clothes and make baby gifts. 

It wasn’t too long, though, before I realized how many other uses for an embroidery machine there are! Their versatility still astounds me all these years later. 

Unsure about what embroidery machines are and what they do? And, is buying an embroidery machine worth it?

Let’s discuss what an embroidery machine is and 10+ things to use it for! 

What is an embroidery machine?

what is an embroidery machine used for?

An embroidery machine uses a needle and thread to stitch a design onto an embroidery blank, which can be anything from cotton fabric to cardstock paper or balsa wood. 

Businesses like Lids use commercial embroidery machines to add embroidered designs and logos to hats, shirts, hoodies, and more. Home-based embroidery enthusiasts, like me, use hobby embroidery machines to personalize all sorts of items as well!

How Embroidery Machines Work: Brief Overview

what can you use an embroidery machine for (1200 x 630 px)

Plastic or metal embroidery hoops (above left) secure a piece of stabilizer backing along with the item for the machine to embroider.  

Then, thanks to the machine’s internal computer, embroidery designs, digitized as embroidery files, direct the needle when and where to stitch on the hooped blank. 

Designs can be built into a machine or downloaded and transferred to the machine. While you can find millions of designs online with just a click, you can also create your own designs using digitizing software. 

(To see how the process of machine embroidery works in more detail, I recommend checking out how to use an embroidery machine!)

Embroidery Machine Uses

uses for an embroidery machine (what it can do)

Now, here are 10+ useful things you can do with an embroidery machine!

1. Monogram or Personalize Everything

embroidery machines can monogram and customize

Referred to by some as monogramming machines, embroidery machines can create two- and three-letter monograms on their touch screen and stitch them onto any number of surfaces. 

I love monogramming towels, blankets, hats, backpacks, tote bags, and more. In fact, here’s a monster list of fun things to embroider!

In addition to monogramming, you can add any designs or logos to many different types of blanks. For instance, you can personalize t-shirts, beanies, pillowcases, and other things you find around your house. 

2. Applique

you can applique almost anything with an embroidery machine

If you hate the precision and focus required when appliqueing with a sewing machine, embroidery machines make this project much more manageable!

Appliqueing with an embroidery machine involves three main steps.

First, the machine stitches a placement line. Then, you place a piece of fabric over this line, and the machine tacks it down. After you trim the excess fabric, the machine finishes the border with a satin or other decorative stitch. 

If you have a Cricut, most applique embroidery designs include .svg files so you don’t even have to cut the fabric during the applique process. 

3. Start an Embroidery Business to Make Money

Janome MB-4S Four Needle Embroidery Machine with Accessories

While I recommend starting a home-based embroidery business before a commercial one, it’s easy to make extra money with an embroidery side hustle!

Start practicing with friends and family, and then sell at local craft fairs or to local organizations.

You can even find success with your own website if you’re tech-savvy. Some crafters also sell embroidered items on Etsy, eBay, Amazon, and more. (Do make sure you have a unique niche as these sites are saturated with the basics, though.)

And, if you don’t want to sell physical products, once you master the art of embroidery digitizing, you can sell your embroidery designs as a digital product!

4. In-the-Hoop Projects

using embroidery machines for in the hoop projects

One unique embroidery idea is to use your machine to create in-the-hoop designs!

In-the-hoop designs are small items like coasters, wallets, key fobs, and even stuffed animals that are stitched almost entirely by your embroidery machine. 

Using a step-by-step approach, you stitch placement lines, attach fabric layers, and add embroidered motifs within your hoop until the final design is complete. 

5. Make Gifts

embroidered burp cloth idea

Need a quick, inexpensive, and personalized gift?

Embroidery machines are perfect for knocking people off your gifts lists. I use my machine to make embroidered Christmas, birthday, wedding, engagement, and even Easter gifts. 

In fact, here’s a list of 30 embroidered gift ideas you can make! Ranging from silly things like embroidered toilet paper as a hostess gift to more practical stuff like embroidering sports bags for kids. 

I also love making embroidered baby shower gifts. I’ve embroidered burp cloths, names on blankets, and SO MANY onesies over the years for friends, coworkers, and my own daughters. 

6. In-the-Hoop Quilting (Block Piecing and Free-Motion Stitching)

Jack Dempsey Needle Art 737539 Sue and Sam Theme 12-Quilt Block, 9-Inch by 9-Inch, White

Thanks in part to fun and functional accessories like magnetic hoops and Monster Block Makers, quilting with an embroidery machine is fairly uncomplicated. 

For instance, if you’re an avid quilter who hates finishing quilts (me!), an embroidery machine does the free-motion quilting for you. All you do is load the design you want and keep rehooping the portion of the quilt you want stitched. 

In addition to finishing quilts, embroidery machines can also create quilt blocks in the hoop. In-the-hoop piecing (here’s my favorite book) means creating something like a log-cabin quilt block using only your embroidery machine. 

Also, if you prefer creating blocks with applique or redwork, your embroidery machine can do that, too!

7. Create Unique Designs and Use Unique Mediums

Xia Home Fashions Victorian Lace Embroidered Cutwork Round Doily, 8-Inch, Ivory, Set of 4

Want to mimic redwork, cutwork, or cross-stitch? An embroidery machine can do that using a properly digitized design!

You can also learn to embroider with Mylar to provide a shiny effect on embroidered blanks.

And, to create a 3D image, use puffy foam to elevate your embroidery stitches.

These are just a few of the many unique techniques an embroidery machine can mimic!

8. Make Patches

18 Pcs Embroidered Patches Iron on Clothing, Alien Spaceship Funny Patches Sun Moon Stars Landscapes Patches, DIY Embroidery Cute Patch Sewing Craft Decoration for Clothes Hat Pants Jackets Shoes

Patches are easy to make with an embroidery machine and the right supplies. 

Patches have an excellent markup when selling and are also fun to use when personalizing your wardrobe or house. 

When I was a beginner, I made a lot of embroidered patches. This is because I was too anxious to embroider directly onto hats and expensive items. It was much easier to embroider a patch and then iron or stitch it onto my embroidery blank so I didn’t mess it up!

9. Free-Standing Lace

Embroidered Water-Soluble Lace Neckline Polyester Silk Embroidery Corsage Three-Dimensional Hollow Fake Collar Clothing Decorative Sticker (White)

While most uses for an embroidery machine involve adding stitches to fabric, embroidering straight onto a dissolving stabilizer is one exception. 

Embroidery machines can create free-standing lace (FSL), which, once the stabilizer is dissolved, leaves just thread in intricate designs!

I’ve made FSL doilies, earrings, bookmarks, Christmas ornaments, and more with my embroidery machine. 

10. Embroider Hats

hat embroidery

While embroidering hats is more easily done with a multi-needle embroidery machine and curved hat hoop, single-needle home embroidery machines can accomplish this task also!

Hats have an impressive markup for small embroidery businesses, and they’re also excellent gifts for friends and family. 

11. Sewing (Combo Machines Only)

Some embroidery machines, like my Brother SE1900, are combination machines, meaning they embroider computerized designs and also function as regular sewing machines.

I prefer a combination machine because of space restrictions in my sewing room, and the price made more sense for me.  

However, if you like to multitask, you might want a separate sewing machine to work with while your embroidery machine runs. 

Final Notes

I hope you now understand what an embroidery machine is!

And, are you impressed yet with all the things embroidery machines can do besides just stitching simple designs? Me, too. 

I love my embroidery machine and highly recommend adding one to your craft corner!

And, if you are curious about the intricacies of choosing an embroidery machine, I’ve put together extra information about the important features in my article about the best embroidery machines for beginners

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