Learning Machine Embroidery with Knits

Embellishments like applique, and embroidery are the icing on the sewing cake! Come join me on my journey to explore machine embroidery on knit garments!

I love sewing because I can achieve the perfect fit with the textiles my family craves. Embellishments like lace, ribbon, applique, and embroidery are the icing on the cake!

Like sewing construction and techniques, embellishing garments has a slight learning curve too. Come join me on my journey to explore machine embroidery on knit garments!

My new sewing machine came with dealer classes so I could learn all the features and options. A handful of the classes focused on my machine’s embroidery functions. The sky is the limit. I was hooked!

After exploring a little with machine embroidery on woven fabrics, I decided to learn how this translates to knit fabrics. Not surprisingly, the type of needle and stabilizer vary from fabric to fabric. For example, you should use ballpoint embroidery needles for embroidering on knit fabric. This wasn’t a surprise as I construct knit garments with ballpoint sewing needles.

All of the designs I’m going to show you today were stitched using a 40 weight polyester embroidery thread. I used white embroidery thread in my bobbin for each design as it would not be seen on the inside of the shirt.

Tip 1 – Practice

Also, similar to making a muslin, testing the fabric, thread, and needle together for your embroidery project is critical. I was going to use white thread on a green knit fabric but did my test by stitching the design in purple thread on a white woven fabric using the stabilizer I’d use for woven fabric. Bad decision because the design turned out looking pretty fabulous, giving me the false confidence to move ahead.

Please note: these longer threads are called jump stitches. They’re how the machine moves from one section of the design to another. Once the design is done stitching, you simply trim them away.

Moving onto stitching the design in white thread on the green knit fabric with a different stabilizer, it just didn’t “pop” like it did on my practice piece and the exaggerated holes made it clear I wasn’t using the right needle.

So, I tried a new, more dense design and a different needle. Lucky for me, this sort of trial and error is not a big deal because I have “helpers”. They enjoy watching the needle magically move (after being sternly forewarned of the potential dangers of that moving needle and closely watched).

Tip 2 – “If you wear it, don’t tear it”

When embroidering, the stabilizer is super important because it restricts the fabric from moving and stretching, and distorting your design. Until now, my only experience with stabilizer was the tear away type. For sewing this knit shirt, tear-away stabilizer is not a great choice. I want something that will help the design keep its shape over the long term, through wearing and washing.

This Soft ‘n Sheer cutaway stabilizer is perfect because it is permanent and will feel soft against the wearer’s skin. I used a basting adhesive to temporarily stick the stabilizer to my fabric. Definitely take care to spray in a ventilated area!

I initially cut a piece of stabilizer slightly larger than the hoop, sprayed it with the adhesive, and attached it to the wrong side of my fabric, hooping the piece of stabilizer and fabric. While this seemed to work alright, I later discovered many folks will hoop the stabilizer and “float” the fabric like in the image below.

Won’t this make an adorable pocket?

When stitching the snowflake, I still used the adhesive but I also added pins outside the stitching area to help prevent movement. Some folks prefer to use only sticky paper-backed stabilizer when floating to avoid gumming up their hoops. Machine embroidery is like sewing: there is more than one way to accomplish the task and largely comes down to personal preference.

From what I can gather, floating the fabric serves two main purposes:
  • Makes it easier to stitch strange sizes/ shaped pieces, this is especially true if you’re embroidering a ready-to-wear (RTW) item or garment that has already been constructed.
  • Eliminates the possibility of hoop burn (image below), especially important on fabrics like velvet or leather where it may not wash/steam out as easily as my example fabric.

As you can see, I’m having significantly more puckers here than on the other designs. My dear friend with an embroidery business has assured me that even professional embroiderers will get puckers from time to time. However, this was meant to be a free standing lace (FSL) design. I was taking a bit of a risk in stitching it straight onto fabric. If I were to repeat this scenario again, I would add a water-soluble topper and/ or try a sticky stabilizer instead.

Tip 3 – Cut Carefully

For this project, I am making the Paris Party Dress knit top (free to members of the Rebecca Page Sewing group on Facebook) with the puff sleeves from the add-on pattern. While you can technically embroider at any step (before cutting out your pattern pieces from fabric, after cutting out pattern pieces from fabric, or after construction), I’d suggest doing it at least before construction so it is easier to manipulate the fabric.

I personally prefer to cut a rectangle a little larger than the pattern piece. Using a water-soluble marker helps ensure design placement and keep track of my grainline and stretch. I have also tried stitching the embroidery before cutting the fabric to ensure precise placement but didn’t like this method as much because the placement has to be spot on.

After the embroidery design finishes stitching, I carefully cut the stabilizer as close to the outer most stitches as possible. Then, I laid my pattern piece on top of the stitched fabric, making any tiny adjustments to placement, and cut out my pattern piece. From there, I constructed the garment as in the pattern instructions.

Learning Machine Emboidery

Tip 4 – Have Fun

I was disappointed each time my project didn’t turn out as I had envisioned. But, I had a total blast throughout the process of learning though, just like I do when experimenting with new techniques when I’m sewing garments. Sewing has always been my self-care activity: I turn on podcasts and just hang out with my machines and fabric. I don’t sew or embroider as part of my livelihood so this learning-by-making-“mistakes” process is perfectly suited for my lifestyle.

Plus, my 4-year-old daughter is anything but disappointed. She thinks machine embroidery is mom’s new superpower!

Tip 5 – Share your Embroidery Secrets

I’d love to hear your experience with machine embroidery:

  • Do you have a machine that does embroidery?
  • Have you tried it?
  • What do you want to embellish?
  • Do you have any additional tips for me and other seamstresses on the subject?

We’d love to hear from you! Comment below and/ or in our Facebook group. We can’t wait to see what you’re sewing and/ or thinking about sewing!





Embellishments like applique, and embroidery are the icing on the sewing cake! Come join me on my journey to explore machine embroidery on knit garments!




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