Fabrics 101: Embroidering on Towels
Fabrics 101: Embroidering on
Tea Towels & Flour Sack Towels
staples of craft fairs everywhere,
and make a delightfully simple way
to gift the perfect embroidery
designs to friends and family. Tea
towels and flour sack towels are the
terrycloth towel's simpler
cousin, with a plain woven that has
graced kitchens for centuries.
The big question with tea towels and
flour sack towels is how to
stabilize the fabric. You want to
find a solution that will support
the stitches well and look
attractive ... and if you're selling
your towels at your church craft
fair, you have customers'
preferences to think about as well.
We've stitched out towels in
different ways to examine the
Fabric thicknesses vary greatly.
Sturdy towels that are not extremely
thin have several advantages:
they'll last longer, they'll absorb
more water when in use, they'll
support the embroidery better, and
they'll be less likely to let the
stabilizer show through.
As you can see in
this photo, the towels used in this
example are on the thinner side. The
weave is light and loose, and the
fabric is partially transparent.
Can't find towels
you like? Make your own! Find some
woven cotton or linen fabric, then
fold under the edges and stitch, as
this napkin project, to finish
Choose light, open designs such as
vintage embroidery. They 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
using. If you want to use a
solid-stitched design, your best bet
will be to stitch it on a heavy tea
towel or a
NEEDLE: A 75/11 sharp sewing
needle, which we use for most
projects, will produce crisp and
STABILIZER: The fabric of the
towel and the embroidery design will
both influence the choice of
stabilizer. Each has its advantages
will need a cutaway stabilizer to
keep the fabric supported through
the frequent washings and heavy use
that a towel will receive. A complex
design is one that has shading,
highlighting, or a lot of satin
stitches. A sheer
mesh stabilizer such as
Sulky Soft 'n Sheer, trimmed
close to the design after the
embroidery is finished, will be
If you're using
cutaway stabilizer, make sure the
towel is substantial enough that you
won't be able to see the stabilizer
through the towel.
and simpler designs, tearaway stabilizer will
often be sufficient. And for the
really simple designs, like Redwork
or quilting designs, you can even
get by with a water-soluble
stabilizer as backing.
out the light-stitching Jacobean
flower twice -- once with tearaway stabilizer and once with
sheer mesh stabilizer. Keep reading
to see the technique and samples!
Tea Towels or Flour Sack Towels
Spray cutaway or tear-away stabilizer (see
above to determine which to use) with temporary spray adhesive and
smooth it together with the area of the
towel to be embroidered.
Hoop both layers tightly together. Firm
hooping, along with the stabilizer, will
help keep the loosely woven fabric from
puckering as stitches are added to it.
FINISHING: If you're using tearaway
stabilizer, as in this example, 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 tearaway
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.
This is the
back of the towel stitched with sheer
mesh cutaway stabilizer.
repeated washing and use, this cutaway
stabilizer won't break down and peel off
in bits over time the way tearaway
might. It will continue to support the
stitches. Because the sheer mesh
stabilizer is soft and light, this
design 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.
are a wonderful way to showcase favorite
embroidery designs and share them with
friends and family. And everybody can
Stitching tips for towels: