6 Tips You Need for Embroidering on Denim

denim embroidery

It’s hard to find a wardrobe without denim, so why not make your blues one-of-a-kind with a little hand embroidery? Textile artist Kat McTee, instructor of Craftsy classes Startup Library: Hand Embroidery and Hand Embroidery on Denim, shares her must-know tips for personalizing your daywear.

1. Plan Your Design

Every garment is different, so try it on to see how it fits your body and how you plan to wear it. Because while an area might look prime for an embroidery design, once you try it on you may realize it could be awkwardly placed, or hidden altogether. (Hello, tucked-in hems.)

In general, pocket flaps and the placket — the area where the buttons and snaps are located — are great places to embellish. Just remember to stitch on the fastener side of the placket so your handiwork is visible.

2. Keep It Stable

Though denim is thick and durable, it still needs to be properly stabilized when embroidered to avoid puckering. McTee recommends using a non-sticky, wash-away lightweight stabilizer. It’ll give your stitches some reinforcement and easily comes off just from soaking the garment in a bowl of water.

When you’re ready to stitch, trace the design onto stabilizer with a transfer marker or chalk pen , trim so there’s a ⅛”-¼” allowance around the design, then hand-baste the stabilizer to the denim with sewing thread.

3. Use the Right Tools

denim shirt with embroidered flowers

While you can use typical embroidery needles for denim embroidery, McTee prefers working with chenille needles because the eye is a little larger. Use 6-strand cotton embroidery floss to bring your design to life, and you can opt to stitch with or without a hoop. If you choose to work sans-hoop though, she says it’s best to use simpler motifs and basic stitches.

4. Take Note of Tricky Areas

Denim embroidery isn’t as seamless as embroidering on cotton or linen — literally. If you’re a beginner, it’s best to avoid embroidering across any seams, especially on bulky jean jackets. But if you’re leveling up those skills and dying for that over-the-seam design, you can use pliers to pull your needle through the thick layers of fabric while wearing a leather thimble for extra protection.

And while embroidery on jeans looks stellar, it might be difficult to stitch up the legs depending on the size and cut. (Boot cut, for example, is a bit easier to tackle than skinny jeans.) McTee suggests using a little 4″ hoop and moving it around one stitch area at a time. You also want to be a sewer embroider, not a stabbing one — meaning you should try to work from the top as much as possible.

5. Mind Your Stitches

Embroidery designs with heavier stitch counts are denim’s BFF. More delicate designs, like blackwork embroidery, don’t have the same eye-catching effect (unless made in heavier threads, like 6-ply floss). Use fill stitches like satin stitch, long-and-short stitch and chain stitch throughout your design, keeping in mind that loose stitches won’t wear well, so you don’t want to make your satin stitches too long.

6. Pump Up the Contrast

jean jacket with embroidered back

When picking floss colors, go bold and bright. Reds, oranges and yellows stand out on both light and dark washes. Plus, your garment is going to be worn and laundered again and again, so eventually the colors will start to fade. If you pick bright floss, your project will look newer for longer.

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22 Responses to “6 Tips You Need for Embroidering on Denim”

  1. Angela

    How do I protect my arms and legs from the backside of the embroidery. It seems like it would be scratchy or irritating with all the little knots.

    • Andrea

      Iron a piece of infusion fabric over the back side. As you wash it will come off so you may need to reapply depending on how often it comes off.

  2. Monica Pike

    My I please use a summary of these points for our Cape Embroidery Guild newsletter? We only send the newsletter to our members, and there is no charge. I will of course also include some info about Crafty and will provide details of your classes. Thank you!