How to Machine Embroidery on T-shirt Knits

Plain T-shirts are chic, breathable, and comfortable necessities that belong in every human’s wardrobe, the little blessings of life. However, no matter how many colors they come in, it sometimes gets boring just lounging around in plain old tees and denims. Sometimes, you need to wear T-shirts that are embroidered with designs that depict attitude and style.

Here, I will explain in detail the step-by-step process of machine embroidery on T-shirt knits.

How to Machine Embroider on T-shirt Knits?

The steps are pretty simple. You first need to wash and iron your T-shirt to make it wrinkle-free. Then proceed to choose your preferred design. After you have decided which design to go for, work on your placement, stabilize, and achieve your alignment. The final step is to go on with your embroidery.

Before going into the important details, let us look at a comprehensive list of things you need to begin:

  1. T-shirt
  2. Medium-weight (2.5 ounces) cutaway stabilizer
  3. Air-erase pen for marking
  4. Temporary spray adhesive

These, I am sure you can find in most local stores near you. Easy, right? Now, let’s get to the actual process.

  • Step One: Launder

Yes, you need to wash and dry your T-shirt before the embroidery process. This way, you avoid shrinkage as much as possible because, with the cotton and polyester nature of a standard tee, you need to be extra careful. Press the shirt so that it is wrinkle-free but do not stretch it out while ironing so it does not slack.

  • Step Two: Make a design decision

Knowing that this can make or break your work, choose a design that best resonates with you. Simple or artsy? A little bit of both? Whatever you choose, go for designs that are light and open. They are better aligned and more stylish too. On the contrary, heavy designs may cause your T-shirt to crinkle.

  • Step Three: Work on your placement

The best way to get your design in alignment without stressing too much is by printing out the design using embroidery software. I’d recommend Tajima DGML by Pulse Ambassador, Designer Gallery, and TrueSizer. However, if you want to change the entire format of your designs and make certain technical modifications, the software options include Embird and Buzz tools. You can also use Embird when creating new designs, alongside Pattern maker, Wilcom, and PE-DESIGN.

Note that in making these designs, it is important, necessary even, to allow your creativity roam free. Do you want the designs in front, at the back, or at the sides? Traditionally, the top of the design should be about 3″ down from the neck, centered between the sides. Note that this varies according to the size/measurement of the t-shirt. However, you should test out several positions using different angles and you just might be in for a pleasant surprise. After you find the perfect spot, mark the center point and the vertical and horizontal axis lines. Those marks will be used to hoop the shirt straight. Might be needing a bit of mathematics for this one. Yikes.

  • Step Four: Stabilize

Spray a piece of medium-weight cutaway stabilizer with temporary adhesive. Make sure not to use tear-away stabilizer as it can lead to shifting, gapping, and misalignment of the T-shirt stitches. Then, smoothen the cutaway stabilizer on the inside if of the shirt, at the back of the area marked for embroidery.

  • Step Five: Hoops

Turn the shirt back to the front, and slide the outer hoop inside the shirt. Then, put the inner hoop in place, lining up the marks in the shirt with the marks on the hoop. Align a piece of no-show mesh that’s significantly larger than the hoop size, then turn it right side out, find your center point and hoop the stabilized shirt. Make it snug in its hoop, instead of pulled.

Also, always double-check the placement. If it is not precise, remove the fabric completely from its hoop and start again. Do NOT pull and stretch the shirt in a bid to put it in the correct position.

  • Step Six: Embroidering

After you have achieved your alignment, Attach the hoop to the machine and load the design. For this process, a size 11 or 75/11 embroidery needleworks. Move the hoop so the needle is over the center point and embroider the design. Make sure to roll the excess shirt up and out of the way so it doesn’t get caught while embroidering. Alternatively, use clips to keep the excess shirt secure.

  • Step Seven: Finishing touches

After embroidering, trim the excess stabilizer away from the back, leaving about 1/2″ around the design. If the cutaway stabilizer is of good quality, it will soften after a wash or two because nobody deserves to be stuck wearing a stiff shirt. Chances are, the stabilizer or thread may feel rough against your skin. The remedy is to use interfacing like a cloud interfacing on the back of the embroidery.

It is okay to experiment and explore different design color variants when embroidering your tees, bearing in mind that the whole idea of machine embroidery on your T-shirt in the first place is to spice up a mostly boring T-shirt life. Pair this with a great pair of denims, or some practical pants and a cross-body bag to really emphasize that fashion statement.

The keyword, as with all skills, is consistency, and for you to achieve consistency, you must consistently practice. Should you ever get stuck, always count on this article for reference.

Machine Embroider Tips on T-shirt Knits

Hopefully, you know your way around an embroidery machine for that jazzed-up and revamped T-shirt look, yet there are a couple of things I need to reiterate. Which brings us to my special, stitching tips and recommendations.

  1. Needle and thread type: 75/11 or size 11 embroidery needle. Go for the smallest needle available. As for thread type, use polyester thread as they are less likely to fade and are bleach-resistant.
  2. Stabilizer: One piece of medium-weight (2.5 ounces) cutaway stabilizer is our top choice. Consider using a tear-away stabilizer for lighter designs, such as toile or vintage.
  3. Topping is unnecessary.
  4. Choose light and open designs that will drape well on your t-shirt
  5. Do not compromise on T-shirt quality. If you buy a T-shirt made from inferior material, everyone would notice. Scary.
  6. Don’t forget to launder properly before embroidery.
  7. When working with T-shirt knits, using water-soluble toppers are a nice touch. All you have to do is place a thin layer of the water-soluble film over the embroidery area pin in place. This helps keep thread in alignment with the knits for a more generally polished look.
  8.  Afterwards, remove the excess and either rinse or wash the rest away. If your embroidery machine has a basting stitch, use it to secure the water-soluble topping in place, as this will tack the shirt to the stabilizer to prevent any shift in the design.
  9. When you finish embroidering, trim the stabilizer carefully, keeping close to the stitches and round edges.
  10. Emphasis on placement. Every step of the way, check that your embroidery is secure in its precise position.
  11. Now that you have created your masterpiece, check all the boxes by gently pressing the back of the embroidered area using a press cloth. This releases any hoop marks and wrinkles and keeps your work looking extra neat, special and nice.

We have finally come to the end of this (Phew) rigorous tutorial on how to transform your t-shirt game from “Errr…” to “Hello there, Fabulous!”

A lot of work was put into helping you wear t-shirts that drip cool and crisp in all the right proportions and right now? All I want to say is you are welcome!

Now, on the topic of your embroidery machine, remember the manual? The little rule book that comes with the package? You should read it if you want to be an amazing T-shirt Embroiderer. What’s better, you can easily turn your hobby into a business by equipping yourself with substantial knowledge on this subject. Remember to keep it informed, chic, and incredibly stylish.

Related Questions

Is it possible to embroider on stretchy fabrics?

Ordinarily, you can’t embroider on stretchy fabrics. Luckily, you can get the job done with the help of a stabilizer

What is the best time of stabilizer to use for machine embroidery? 

The best machine stabilizer for embroidery is a medium weight cutaway.



I'm Jessica Flores, a professional fashion designer and an expert seamstress. Crafting has always been a deep-seated passion of mine, one that has flourished and evolved over the years. I've dedicated considerable time to both studying and practicing in the realm of fashion and sewing, amassing a wealth of experience and skills. It brings me great joy to share these insights and experiences with you all, hoping to inspire and foster a similar passion for the art of sewing.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *