Fabrics 101: Embroidering on Towels
Fabrics 101: Embroidering on
Tea Towels & Flour Sack Towels
Embroidered kitchen towels
staples of craft fairs everywhere.
They're a delightful gift
for friends and family. Tea
towels and flour sack towels are the
simpler cousin that have
graced kitchens for centuries.
Questions arise as to which types of
designs to use, and how to stabilize
the fabric, to get excellent
results. We've tested several
combinations of designs, needles,
and stabilizer, and shown below is
our tried-and-true method to
get excellent results.
Sturdy towels have several
advantages: They'll last longer,
they'll absorb more water when in
use, they'll support a wide variety
of design and stitch types, and
they'll be less likely to let the
stabilizer show through.
As you can see in
this photo, the towels are on the thinner side. The
weave is light and loose, and the
fabric is partially transparent. I'd
prefer a heavier towel, but
sometimes we must use what we have.
Towels can be
made (toweling + hem), or bought in
discount chains (Target, Walmart),
as well as online stores like
All About Blanks,The
Sewphisticated Stitcher, and
DESIGN: If you have heavier,
sturdier tea towels, then a wide
range of designs can be used. But,
if you are working with towels that
have a loose weave, choose light and
simple designs. If you try to
embroidery complex designs onto
light fabric, you'll probably see
Types of light and simple designs
vintage embroidery designs.
They're excellent choices for all
types of fabric, including the light
and loose-weave kitchen towels.
These types of designs won't
stand in the way of the towel drying
dishes, and they're a good match for
the fabric and stabilizer you'll be
NEEDLE: A 75/11 sharp sewing
needle will produce crisp and
neat-looking stitches. You may be
used to embroidery needles; those
have larger points, and they'll
leave larger holes in the fabric.
You can use an embroidery needle,
and oftentimes get excellent
results. But, if you see large holes
in your fabric, or if your stitches
look a little fuzzy, then switch to
a sharp needle.
stabilizer is preferred, but
tear-away or a fibrous water-soluble
(like Vilene) can be used. Here's
how to choose:
If you're working with a complex
design (one with shading,
highlighting, or a lot of satin
stitches), use cutaway stabilizer.
That will support the fabric the
best during laundering and use. A sheer
mesh stabilizer such as
Sulky Soft 'n Sheer, or Floriani's
No-Show Mesh, are fine choices.
If you're working with a very light
design, like Redwork or toile, then
you can use tear-away or a fibrous
water-soluble (Vilene) with a sharp
sewing needle, but not an embroidery
needle. If you use an embroidery
needle, then that larger tip will
punch through the stabilizer and
leave big holes, and then the
stitches of the design will become
If the towel will be displayed, and
not really used or laundered, then
tear-away or fibrous water-soluble
will be fine. But if you're going to
use the towel and launder it, then
choose cutaway stabilizer. That will
support the fabric the best.
out the light-stitching Jacobean
flower twice -- once with tear-away stabilizer and once with
cutaway stabilizer. Keep reading
to see the technique and samples!
Tea Towels or Flour Sack Towels
To create a nice, tight bond between the
towel and the stabilizer, spray the
stabilizer with temporary adhesive. We
like KK100. Then, smooth the stabilizer
onto the back of the towel.
Hoop the towel and the stabilizer
together. This keeps the fibers from
shifting around as the hoop moves.
FINISHING: If you're using tear-away
stabilizer, tear the
excess carefully from the back of
the embroidery. Use caution so that you
do not tear or distort the towel fabric
when removing the cutaway stabilizer.
You may want to use a pair of tweezers
to remove small bits of tear-away
stabilizer. The parts that remain, in
this case behind the leaves and flowers,
will help keep the stitches stabilized
as the towel is used.
This is the
front of the embroidery done with
remaining stabilizer is not very visible
here. The places where the stabilizer
does remain have a stiffer feel than the
rest of the towel.
the steps above with a sheer mesh
cutaway stabilizer. At first glance, the
results are the same. But after a few
launderings, the towel with the cutaway
stabilizer looks great, whereas the
towel with tear-away stabilizer is
looking a little rumpled.
repeated washing and use, tear-away
stabilizer continues to break down,
leaving less and less behind to support
the fabric. But cutaway stabilizer
remains to support the fabric. And,
because the mesh
stabilizer is soft and light, this
towel has a more flexible feel overall
than the one stitched with tearaway
is resting on a dark background, so you
can see the cutaway stabilizer through
the fabric. To avoid this, if you're
using cutaway stabilizer, choose a towel
thick enough that you can't see through
various combinations of towels,
stabilizers, and designs that will
create a pleasing embroidered towel, so
choose what works for you. For lasting
quality, we recommend a heavy towel with
sheer mesh stabilizer, trimmed very
close to the design.
working with really light designs, like
Redwork or quilting designs, then
wash-away stabilizer can be used - as
long as you're using a sharp needle, not
a rounded-tip embroidery needle.
In these examples I hooped the towel
with Vilene (a fibrous water-soluble
stabilizer) and embroidered, using a
sharp needle. Then I soaked the
stabilizer away, machine-dried the
towels on low, and pressed them with an
Bright Butterly Border,
Golden Wheat Border, and
Fluttering Dragonfly Border look great!
A sharp needle has a finer point than a
rounded-tip embroidery needle, so will
make smaller perforations in the
stabilizer. Using a rounded-tip needle
with water-soluble stabilizer or
tear-away can cause shifting or gapping
in the stitches.
If you use
tear-away or water-soluble stabilizer,
and you see misaligned stitches, and
parts of the design aren't lining up as
expected, then that's an indication that
the needle perforations are
disintegrating the stabilizer. Switch to
a needle with a sharper point (e.g. if
you're using an embroidery needle,
switch to a sharp needle), or use
cutaway stabilizer instead of tear-away
With these tips and techniques, your
towels will be picture-perfect, each and
Stitching tips for towels: