Fabrics 101: Embroidering on T-shirts

Fabrics 101: Embroidering on T-Shirts

Click on the image to the right to see the free video tutorial, or read below for written instructions.

Video is viewed best in Internet Explorer with
a high-speed connection, and Windows Media Player.

Get Windows Media Player

T-shirts are a warm weather favorite that come in a wide variety of colors and styles. T-shirts are made of a stretchy knit fabric, so they need a little special attention when embroidering on them. Read below for tips and instructions!

When embroidering on T-shirts consider three things. The first is design choice.

Choose designs that have open areas. That will help the fabric to drape beautifully. If you choose designs that are solid shapes (squares, rectangles, circles), then those designs can cause the fabric to droop, and not drape very well.

The second thing to consider is stabilizer. Because T-shirts are thin and stretchy, cutaway stabilizer will best support the fabric during the embroidery, and also through wearing and washing.

Third, hooping. Hooping the stabilizer with the T-shirt will ensure that the fabric and stabilizer stay together nice and tight during the embroidery. That means that the stitches will be clean and crisp, and the sections of the design will line up precisely where they are supposed to.

To hoop a T-shirt, turn it inside out. Spray a piece of medium-weight cutaway stabilizer with spray adhesive, and smooth that on the backside of the shirt.

Turn the shirt right-side out. Loosen the screw on the outer hoop, and slide the hoop inside the shirt.

Press the inner hoop gently into place. Keep an eye on the fabric to make sure that it's not stretched or skewed. The spray adhesive on the cutaway stabilizer should prevent that from happening.

Then, tighten the screw again.

Attach the hoop to the machine, and roll the excess shirt up and out of the way. You can use chip clips or hair clips to help keep the excess fabric away from the embroidery arm and machine.

Embroider the design. The cutaway stabilizer does a great job of supporting the fabric, and the hoop keeps the stabilizer and the fabric together, so there's no shifting or gapping.

After the embroidery has finished, turn the shirt inside-out and trim the excess stabilizer away. Leave about 1/4 to 1/2 inch stabilizer around the design.

The results are great! The design has open areas so the fabric drapes well, and the cutaway stabilizer supports the fabric well, so there's no puckering around the design.

Some embroiderers prefer to use tear-away or water-soluble stabilizers on T-shirts. But we've found that those types of stabilizer can give not-so-great results.

To test how different stabilizer work on T-shirts, we embroidered the same design on the same type of shirt, using different stabilizers. Here Kenny is hooping the fabric with tear-away stabilizer.

And here he is hooping the T-shirt with water-soluble stabilizer.

We embroidered the same design on each shirt, and then washed and dried the shirts together three times. Keep scrolling down the page to see the results!

Below is the shirt that was backed with cutaway stabilizer. The stitches are nice and crisp, and even though the fabric is a stretchy knit, there's no puckering or dimpling.

Below is the shirt that was backed with tear-away stabilizer, and the differences between it and the shirt above are striking. There's a bit of puckering around the designs, and the weave of the fabric is getting warped around the stitches.

This happens because tear-away stabilizer actually begins to tear away during the embroidery, as the needle perforates the fabric and stabilizer. That means that the fabric is getting less and less support as the embroidery continues, and when the shirt is worn and washed, the stabilizer gets weaker and weaker.

And finally, below is the shirt that was backed with water-soluble stabilizer. The water-soluble stabilizer was removed in the first wash, and that means that there's nothing to support the fabric during wearing and washing. One of the paisley pieces is actually convex and popping out of the fabric; other areas are puckering, and the embroidery itself is looking a little misshapen. This happens because without stabilizer, the stretchy knit of the shirt pulls the embroidery in different directions.

For the best results, and the longest life of an embroidered T-shirt, use cutaway stabilizer.

One piece, medium weight, works great!

We love seeing all of your fantastic project pictures! Below are photos of embroidered T-Shirts that have been sent in by stitchers like you and featured in the Stitchers Showcase. Click on an image below to read more about the person and the project, and get ready to be inspired and embroider on your own T-Shirts!

Flamingo Flip-Flop Top Glitzy Girl Power Junior Police Uniform

Stitching tips for T-shirts:

Needle 75/11 sharp needle; an embroidery needle may also be used
Stabilizer Cutaway (2.5 ounce)
Design Choice Choose designs of low to medium complexity (consider draping).

Click here for a printable version of this article.

You'll need to have Adobe Acrobat Reader installed on your computer. If you don't have it, you can download a free copy by clicking on the icon below.

Get Acrobat Reader 

Like this page? Send it to a friend!
Friend's Email:
Your Name:               
Copyright (C) Embroidery Library Inc 2016. All rights reserved.