Hooping 101: T-Shirts

Hooping 101: T-Shirts

When an 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 embroidery!

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 the path.

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.


Free project instructions for hooping t-shirts for machine embroidery

When an 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 T-shirt.

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 the way.


Free project instructions for hooping t-shirts for machine embroidery
To begin, 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.

Free project instructions for hooping t-shirts for machine embroidery

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 convenience.

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.


You'll 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 Embird (from www.embird.com) and Buzz Xplore (from www.BuzzTools.com).

Templates include 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.

Free project instructions for hooping t-shirts for machine embroidery

Remove the template and draw a cross on the shirt, where the horizontal and vertical axis lines are.

Free project instructions for hooping t-shirts for machine embroidery

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 embroidery.


A note 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.

Free project instructions for hooping t-shirts for machine embroidery

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 the collar.

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 the screw).

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 right way.

Free project instructions for hooping t-shirts for machine embroidery

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.

Free project instructions for hooping t-shirts for machine embroidery

Secure the excess fabric with hair clips (shown left) or chip clips. Both are available at stores like Target, Wal-Mart, Walgreens, and the Dollar Store.

Free project instructions for hooping t-shirts for machine embroidery

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 stitch.

When you 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 the fabric.

Free project instructions for hooping t-shirts for machine embroidery

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 hoop burn, click here.

Free project instructions for hooping t-shirts for machine embroidery

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, click here!

Kenny is a master digitizer and Vice President of Production at Embroidery Library, Inc.

Ask Kenny! Send email to stitch@emblibrary.com.

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