Hooping 101: T-Shirts
embroiderer pulls her first
machine out of the box,
there's a sense of
excitement in the air. She's
about to dive into the
creative world of machine
It can be overwhelming, with all the
parts and attachments and cords and
cables and feet and accessories and
instruction manuals. And sometimes all
of the instructions overlook some basic
techniques. The series of "101" articles
are meant to be introductory and
step-by-step guides that demonstrate our
process and techniques, to help guide
those that are new to embroidery along
Veteran stitchers have, with time,
developed their own method of stitching
on T-shirts. If you have a
tried-and-true routine that works for
you, keep it up, and don't change a
thing! But if you're new to embroidery,
or want to see if you can improve on
your current results, then give the
following technique a try.
embroiderer takes her machine out of
the box and prepares for her very
first stitchout - ever - she usually
stitches on a towel, or a T-shirt.
After a bit of experience with the
machine she'll start stitching on
everything else, like cigar boxes
and umbrellas. But for that first
stitchout, she usually grabs the
first blank item she sees: towel, or
And that's when the
questions start to pop up. What should I hoop -- fabric,
stabilizer, or both? How do I get the design straight?
What in the world do I do with the excess fabric so I
don't stitch through the back? Where does the design go?
In this article Kenny walks through his steps for
embroidering on a T-shirt, explaining every step along
pre-wash the shirt. T-shirts are made of a cotton blend,
and cotton shrinks.
If the shirt isn't pre-washed when it's embroidered,
then the fabric may shrink around the stitches during
laundering, resulting in a puckered or rumpled look.
Next, determine where you want
to place the design.
Placement is largely about
personal preference -- where YOU
think the design looks the best.
There are some traditional
measurements that we've
assembled and listed in
this article for your
The shirt that I'm working with
is a women's size large, so I
want the top of the design to be
about 3 inches from the bottom
of the collar.
notice in the above photo that I have a printout of
the design on the T-shirt. That printout is called a
"template." A template is an exact-size printout of
the design that allows me to arrange and rearrange
on the T-shirt until I get the placement just the
way that I want it. Templates are made with
embroidery software programs.
There are dozens of embroidery software programs in
the market, and you may have one that prints
templates. If not, Wilcom's TrueSizer is a free
program that can open many different formats; I like
www.embird.com) and Buzz Xplore (from
horizontal and vertical axis lines, which help me to
position the design straight and hoop the shirt
straight, too. The horizontal and vertical axis
lines meet in a "center point," which is very
helpful for positioning the design.
To find the horizontal center point, measure the
distance between the inner sleeve seams. Divide by
two; measure in from one of the sides that distance,
and that is the horizontal center point.
For vertical positioning, arrange the template until
it looks "right," or use the
placement reference guide here.
After you have the template positioned where you'd
like it, mark the horizontal and vertical axis lines
on the shirt with some marking tool (air-erase
marking pen, chalk, soap, etc.). Also, poke through
the center point on the template and mark the center
point on the T-shirt.
Remove the template and draw a
cross on the shirt, where the
horizontal and vertical axis
Because T-shirts are soft and
stretchy, we use cutaway stabilizer
as backing. One piece, a 2.0 ounce.
Turn the T-shirt inside out and lay
it flat. Cut a piece of cutaway
stabilizer a bit larger than your
hoop. Spray the stabilizer with
temporary spray adhesive and smooth
the stabilizer on the shirt, over
the area to be embroidered.
Using spray adhesive helps to keep
the stabilizer with the T-shirt as
the hoop of the machine moves during
about cutaway vs. tear-away stabilizers: Many
embroidery machine stores give machine sales
demonstrations using tear-away stabilizer. This is
done so that the salesperson can illustrate how
quick and easy embroidery is -- the stabilizer just
tears away! And the new embroiderer will stock up on
acres of tear-away stabilizer, only to find that it
doesn't give very good results at all.
Tear-away stabilizer causes fuzzy-looking stitches,
thread tension and nesting problems, looping, and
other issues during embroidery. And, if the item
that's embroidered is used and laundered, the fabric
will start to ripple and pucker as the tear-away
stabilizer degrades over time. For long-lasting,
great-looking, professional, and high-quality
results, use cutaway stabilizer (2.0 ounce, a medium
weight) when embroidering on T-shirts.
Turn the T-shirt right side out, and
slide the bottom part of the hoop
inside the shirt, with the tab
facing out towards the opening at
Place the top part of the hoop on
top, and align the axis lines that
you drew on the shirt with the axis
marks on your hoop.
Press the top part of the hoop down.
It might take you a few tries, but
you'll get the hang of it with just
a little bit of practice!
Then, hand-tighten the screw on the
hoop (be careful not to over-tighten
You'll note that the shirt is hooped "sideways" so that
the tab sticks out of the neck. Make sure you rotate
your design 90 degrees clockwise so that it's facing the
Next we'll deal with the excess
fabric of the shirt. We need to keep
it out of the way so it doesn't get
pulled under the hoop, and then the
back will be stitched to the front.
There are very, very few
embroiderers who have NOT stitched
the back to the front, so if you've
done this already, you're not alone.
Roll the excess fabric up towards
the side of the hoop.
Secure the excess fabric with hair
clips (shown left) or chip clips.
Both are available at stores like
Target, Wal-Mart, Walgreens, and the
Attach the hoop to the machine, and
load the design. Most machines have
a feature where you can move the
hoop so that the needle is over the
center point. If your machine has
this feature, do that.
Some of the lower-model machines
don't have that feature. If yours is
one of those, I sympathize with you
(I have one, too). See how close
your center point is to the needle;
you may have to rehoop the fabric to
get the center of the shirt close to
where your needle will put the first
have finished embroidering, unhoop the fabric and
turn the T-shirt inside out. Cut the excess
stabilizer away, leaving about a 1/2 inch edge
around the entire design.
Does the stabilizer feel stiff, and you're concerned
about how it's going to feel? No worries. After a
few launderings, the stabilizer will be as soft as
You may notice a ring in the fabric
left by the hoop (you can see it in
the photo to the left). This is
called "hoop burn," and it occurs
when the hoop presses the moisture
out of the fabric. It comes out in
the wash, or you can steam it out
also. For a longer article about
And there you have it! Crisp clean
stitches, perfectly centered and
positioned, with the quality that
will last for years and years.
This particular article focused on
hooping, but if you'd like a longer
explanation on how to embroider on
T-shirts, including information
about needle and design choice,
Kenny is a
master digitizer and Vice President of
Production at Embroidery Library, Inc.
Ask Kenny! Send email to