Fabrics 101: Embroidering on Towels

Fabrics 101: Embroidering on Towels

Embroidered bath towels are a great way to dress up the bath and kitchen, and also make excellent gifts for any occasion.

The tips and information below will
help you get great results when embroidering on towels!

First, we'll begin with terrycloth towels. Terrycloth has a high loft and a weak, loose weave. When embroidering on thick terrycloth towels, there are three things to consider:

1.     Stabilizer
2.     Topping
3.     Hooping


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First, stabilizer. There are three main types of stabilizer: cutaway, tear-away, and wash-away or water-soluble.

At first glance, a towel appears to be heavy and thick, so you might think that tear-away or water-soluble will be sufficient.

However, terrycloth has a weak and loose weave. That means that the fibers of the fabric move as the hoop moves. Cutaway stabilizer is the best choice, as it provides a strong foundation to keep the fabric fibers in place. This is not only essential while embroidering, but also for the life of the towel - to support it during use and laundering.

To demonstrate the difference in stabilizer, we tested all three stabilizers on the same type of towel.

We hooped one of the towels with cutaway stabilizer.

We hooped the second towel with tear-away stabilizer.

.We backed the third towel with wash-away (water soluble) stabilizer.

We embroidered the same monogram on each towel, with the same thread.

Then, the towels were laundred seven times over the course of a weekend.

Here is the first towel, the one that was backed with cutaway stabilizer. The embroidery looks great -- sections of the design are well-aligned, and there's no puckering. 

This is the second towel, the towel that was backed with tear-away stabilizer. It needs a little bit of help. The monogram is starting to look misshapen (note the satin stitches on the main bar of the K, and how they look "rippled"). This towel might need to be ironed before going on the rack.

This is the third towel, the towel that was backed with water-soluble stabilizer, and it needs a lot of help. The satin columns are misshapen, it's puckering quite badly.

Why did this happen? Embroidery is 90% creativity, and 10% science, and it's the science part that will explain this. When manufacturers produce fabric, they don't anticipate that anything will be added to it. When we add stitches with our  embroidery machines, the fabric needs extra help and support. That's what stabilizer does -- it supports the fabric. When working with weaker fabrics, fabrics that have a loose weave (like terrycloth), the fabric requires the support of stabilizer forever.

The towel that is backed with cutaway will look great for years to come. That's because cutaway stabilizer is "enmeshed" and doesn't push and pull with the weave of the towel -- it stands firm.

Tear-away stabilizer gives pretty good support, but as it's designed to tear away after the embroider is finished, it will become weaker and weaker as the towel is used and laundered over time.

Water-soluble stabilizer disappears after the first washing, leaving nothing behind to support the fabric. Sure, the backside looks nice and neat when using wash-away stabilizer, but it just doesn't work -- after just a few washings, the towel lost a lot of quality. When embroidering a towel that will be used for display or decorative purposes, wash-away will be fine, but if you are planning on using the towel, or laundering it, then it's not the best choice.

For the best quality results, choose cutaway stabilizer for terrycloth towels.

The second consideration when embroidering on towels is topping. It's never fun to lose a design in the fabric. When working on fabrics with a high loft, like a thick and thirsty bath towel, it's best to use a topping.

A topping is something that is added to the top of the towel before the embroidery to prevent the stitches from sinking down in to the pile. You can use a variety of different items as topping -- and here, water-soluble stabilizer is a good choice.

Tulle or netting can also serve as a topping. Place it on top of the towel before you begin to embroider -- and hoop it with the stabilizer and towel.

After the embroidery has finished, tear the tulle or netting away.

We found that we had difficulty removing the tulle from a design that has swirls or thin pieces in it. It might be easier to use tulle as a topping with designs that have simpler, solid shapes.

You can also use vinyl for a topping. Dry Cover-Up (tm) is a name brand product. You can find more information about Dry Cover-Up (tm) from these websites:

www.HoopItAll.com or www.Ericas.com or www.DiscountEmbroiderySupply.com

Or, you can use thin vinyl sheets, like tablecloth vinyl. Choose a color that matches the thread that you are using, or choose a clear piece. Trim a piece to the size of the area, and use a bit of spray adhesive to hold it in place. Or, hoop a larger piece with the towel and stabilizer.

After the embroidery has finished, tear the vinyl away. The needle will have perforated it, so it should tear away cleanly.

Like tulle, using vinyl topping is probably best when working with a design that has a simpler shape.

The third consideration is hooping. For best results, the towel should be hooped with the stabilizer and topping. If a towel is not hooped, or hooped loosely, then sections of the design may be misaligned.

To begin, start with a non-slip surface. A roll of shelf liner (rubberized "gripper") is a wonderful -- and inexpensive -- hooping aid. It's available in the kitchen section of most discount chain stores.

Place the outer hoop on the shelf liner, and loosen the screw.

Place a piece of cutaway stabilizer on the hoop.

Place the towel over the stabilizer.

Add the topping.

Place the top hoop over the "sandwich" and gently snap into place.

Hold the hoop down with one hand as you tighten the screw.

For the best-quality results, the towel should be hooped with the stabilizer. If it isn't, then the terrycloth is going to contract under the tension of the stitches, and you'll see puckering on the towel.

After the embroidery has finished, tear the excess topping away.

If you are laundering the towel before using it or giving it as a gift, then any remaining water-soluble stabilizer used as topping will be washed away.

If you're not planning on laundering the towel right away, then dip your fingers in a bit of water and rub it over the areas where the bits of topping remain behind.

Flip the embroidery over and trim away the excess stabilizer.

This towel, with cutaway stabilizer and a topping that held the nap down, looks great -- and will look perfect after hundreds of washings.

Kitchen towels are usually much thinner than bath towels. They can have a smooth finish (the blue towel) or a "waffle weave" or higher nap (yellow towel).

For towels with a smooth finish, no topping is necessary.

Hoop the stabilizer with the towel, and embroider the design without using a topping.

For towels that have a higher nap, use a topping. Again, you can use water-soluble stabilizer as a topping, vinyl sheets, or tulle.

Hoop all three together to prevent puckering or shifting.

Generally we recommend a cutaway stabilizer to protect and preserve the embroidery through use and laundering.

But if you are using very light designs, like toile or redwork, then you can use a tear-away stabilizer on thinner cotton towels -- including flour-sack towels.

Stitching tips for towels:

Needle 75/11 sharp needle; an embroidery needle may also be used
Stabilizer Cutaway (2.5 ounce), and a topping
Design Choice Choose designs with medium complexity; when embroidering onto terrycloth, avoid Redwork or running-stitch designs.

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