Embroidery Blog

10 Tips for Terrific T-Shirt Embroidery

T-shirts are so comfortable, they are a staple in most of our wardrobes. That doesn’t mean they have to be casual, though. I’ll show you 10 tips for creating professional-looking shirts that will be the envy of friends and family!

Crafty Diva shirt

Photo via Craftsy member SweetJasmine in Machine Embroidery With Knits

You name it, we will embroider on everything from onesies to quilts, pillows and purses. Probably one of the most utilized items to embellish is a T-shirt. 

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Transform your T-shirts

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Here are 10 ways to achieve beautiful machine embroidery on T-shirts:

1. Choose quality

Here, you get what you pay for. Start with quality shirts. Heavier cotton blends stitch much better and pucker less than lightweight shirts.

2. Pre-wash

Even the best no-shrink cotton clothing can shrink, so wash and dry the shirt before you embroider. The most perfect embroidery design will pucker if the fabric under it shrinks even the slightest amount.

emblibrary.com paisley 

Embroidery with no-show cutaway mesh (top), and tear-away stabilizer (bottom). Photos via EmbLibrary.com.

3. Stabilize properly

If you wear it, don’t tear it. That is a key rule of stabilizing clothing. Use cut-away stabilizer, preferably a fusible no-show mesh. They keep knits from stretching out of shape and keeps embroidery where it belongs.

dzgns.com stabilized tshirt

Photo via Craftsy instructor Eileen Roche

Turn the shirt inside out and fuse a piece of no-show mesh significantly larger than the hoop size. Turn right side out, find your center point and hoop the stabilized shirt. It needs to be snug in the hoop, but not pulled.

Get the Sew Crafty design here.

4. Use the correct needle and thread

Use ball point needles when embroidering on T-shirts and sweat shirts. Always use the smallest needle for the job. Craftsy instructor Eileen Roche recommends a 70/10 needle for lighter knits and 80/12 for sweat shirts.

Because shirts are worn and washed often, polyester thread is a good choice since it doesn’t fade and is bleach resistant.

tshirt light embroidery designs 

Photos via Craftsy members Embroidery Super Deal (left) and Sew Beautiful 4 U (right)

5. Choose a light design

Embroidery designs with open areas work best on T-shirt knits. Heavy designs make shirts stiff and lumpy, often puckering around the edges because the fabric can’t support the dense stitches.

Get the Bird in Swirl design here.

Get the Tropical Fish design here.


Photos via Crafrtsy’s The Machine Embroidered Sweater class.

6. Add a topper

Using a water-soluble topper helps perfect your embroidery on knits. Place a layer of thin water-soluble film over the embroidery area and pin or baste it in place. It helps keep thread on top of the knits for a professional presentation. When finished, remove the excess and either rinse or wash the rest away.

7. Baste in the hoop

If your embroidery machine has a basting stitch, use it. That will secure the water-soluble topping in place and tack the shirt to the stabilizer to help prevent any design shift.

Get FREE basting stitch files here.

Tshirt makeover 

T-shirt makeover via Craftsy member AkEdRn in The Machine Embroidered T-shirt.

8. Test Stitch

Keep stained shirts to use for test stitching. Make sure they are a similar weight as the new shirt you want to embroider. You can hoop a test shirt several times before it is not useful any more, and it lets you try out your stabilizer, thread and design combinations before stitching on the real thing.

sew crafty emblibrary.com embroidery 

Photos via EmbLibrary.com

9. Remove excess stabilizer

When embroidery is done, carefully trim stabilizer close to the stitches and round edges. If you are worried about the thread and stabilizer irritating sensitive skin, cover it with a fusible tricot.

Get the Sew Crafty design here.

10. Press from the back

When embroidery is done, you can gently press the back of the embroidery area using a press cloth to release any hoop marks and wrinkles that occurred from handling.

Transform your T-shirts

Transform your T-shirts

Go from casual to chic with machine-embroidered embellishments.Enroll Now »


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Hola! I’ve been following your weblog for a long time now
and finally got the courage to go ahead and give you a shout
out from Atascocita Texas! Just wanted to tell you keep up the fantastic work!

Debbie Henry

Welcome and thanks so much!


typo above: “Photos via Crafrtsy’s The Machine Embroidered Sweater class.”

Rena Roach

I love what I see I am very interested in this type of work

Charmayne Brunker

Thanks so much for these tips. I wish I had found this before I read so many other things. I am a beginner embroiderer but have an avance 15 needle machine. I recently left my GM position after 32 years to take care of my sick husband. I am praying I can learn enough to make a living. I haven’t even finished my webpage and got a t-shirt order from a guest from my old store. The t-shirt design is dense and I was going to use two piece of fusible no show one at a 45 degree on top of the other and water soluble topper. does this sound like it will be ok? Thanks so much.


That sounds good to me, Charmayne. Best to try this combination on a shirt of similar blend. Read a lot. Keep notes on your projects – it will be helpful in the future. Best of luck to you, my dear!

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What stabilizer do you recommend for a tri-blend that is very light weight? I tried a heavy stabilizer but it is too thick against the skin and a breakaway stabilizer which was too thin.

Debbie Henry

A no-show mesh should work well. They are surprisingly strong despite being light weight and don’t show behind the embroidery.

Renee Fish

Hi Deb, I have tried to embroider Shopkin designs on tshirts for my granddaughter and I have used a medium cutaway stabilizer. They stitch out beautiful but when I trim the cutaway, the design puckers. Please tell me what to do.
What brand of no show cut away mesh stabilizer do u use?

Debbie Henry

Renee, try a mesh cutaway and also use Rita’s advice below! Some people also use an adhesive backing, carefully pressing the wrinkles out and holding fabric smoothly in place.

Zack Seagren

Aw, this has been an extremely nice post. In thought I must place in writing similar to this moreover – taking time and actual effort to create a great article… but what / things I say… I procrastinate alot and also by no indicates appear to get something accomplished.

Rita M Kyle

Renee Fish

You are most likely stretching the shirts in the hoop or when
you are applying the stabilizer. Try marking the exact size of the stabilizer on
the garment, adhere carefully without moving the iron. Just press and lift.
Check edges……….Hope this helps.

Debbie Henry

Great advice, Rita!


Do you have a favorite supplier for shirts with a relatively low minimum purchase (50)?

Deedee Lewis

I agree with your tip about choosing a light design for your t-shirt embroidery. Through trial and error, I learned pretty quickly that heavy designs that turn out that well on the shirt. I will be sure to keep these tips in mind for my next t-shirt design project.

Debbie Henry

Happy stitching, Deedee!

Cheralee Stover

Hello! I found this post while searching for answers on a mystery stabilizer. The mystery is if one even exists for my needs. I am hand embroidering a reverse-applique quilt, but it is on jersey rather than woven cotton. The design is quite large, and I am searching for a stabilizer that I can fuse or adhere to the top fabric. Either before or after the adhesion, I want to sketch out the design onto the stabilizer and then do the hand stitching. To reveal the design underneath, the areas of jersey will be cut away to expose the fabric underneath. The stabilizer will need to be lightweight enough to tear away without distorting the jersey, but sturdy enough to not rip as I roll the fabric onto a frame. I was wondering if you could suggest a brand? I have seen sticky tear right-away, but the one mentioned above sounds right, too. Thank you!

Debbie Henry

Sorry, I am just now seeing this, Cheralee. There is an item called Sulky Paper Solvy. You can trace designs on it or print them from your printer, stitch on it, assemble the project, and wash it away.

JoAnn Chitwood

This blog is great!! Does the info here also pertain to polo shirt material?

Debbie Henry

Thanks for reading, JoAnn! It does apply to polo shirts too.

Monica Gerard

Hello Debbie,
I have a design that is pretty dense. What should I do to ensure as great a design on the t-shirt as possible?

debbie henry

Really dense designs can overwhelm t-shirt and lightweight cotton materials, especially if the designs are large. Best thing to do is test it – stitch it out on a similar weight shirt as that which you want to embroider. I would try a fusible tear-away ironed on the back of the shirt floated on top of two layers of no-show mesh, one turned the opposite direction of the other. Use the smallest hoop possible and baste the shirt to the stabilizer before embroidery. Use a ball point needle and water-soluble topper. Let me know how it turns out!

Ivy Baker

I liked that you pointed out that it would be best to wash the shirt before you put any of the embroidery or logos onto it. My little brother is about to graduate from high school and he wants to make some senior shirts for his friends. It seems like this would be a good thing for him to keep in mind if he does make them. It could also be smart of him to just get a professional to make them for him.

Debbie Henry

If he doesn’t have any experience, or someone to show him how, it may indeed become overwhelming. On the other hand, it will be a customized gift that they can enjoy for years!

Dee Pearson

Hello, I am still learning embroidery. I have learned a lot through trial and error, however, I am still battling with stabilizing white and/or see through shirts. I have used the no show mesh and you can still see that through the garment. Any suggestion on what I need to be doing?

Debbie Henry

Dee, are you trimming the stabilizer close to the embroidery when finished? That hides all but the design area.


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