Tips for Machine Embroidery on Stretch T-Shirts

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T-shirts are a summertime staple for both children and adults. Some special attention is required when embroidering jersey or interlock knit, but with the right technique, you can embroider T-shirts and get professional results every time.

Choose Your Design Wisely

  • Because T-shirts are made from a light, stretchy fabric, design choice is particularly important. As a general rule, you should stay away from very dense designs and solid shapes.
    Look for designs that have lots of open spaces. This will keep the shirt from stretching and puckering and help the fabric to drape nicely when the shirt is worn. Heavier, stitch-filled designs will tend to weigh down the fabric and cause it to stretch and droop.

Stabilizer

  • Any time you are embroidering on a stretchy fabric, use a medium-weight, cutaway stabilizer behind the design. There are several brands of fusible (iron-on) cutaway stabilizers that work well for T-shirts. Alternatively, you can use spray adhesive to attach the stabilizer to the shirt.
    For best results, you should hoop the stabilizer and shirt together. This ensures that the shirt doesn't stretch or shift during embroidery. Make sure that the shirt isn't stretched when you hoop it. Using iron-on stabilizer or attaching the stabilizer with spray adhesive should help with this.
    After embroidery, trim the excess stabilizer from the back of the design leaving 1/4 to 1/2 inch around the design. Do not try to trim the stabilizer from the open areas inside the design.
    Cutaway stabilizer also ensures that the fabric doesn't stretch or warp around the embroidery as it is washed. The stabilizer may feel stiff at first, but after a couple of washings, it will soften up significantly.
    Especially when embroidering for children, the stitches on the back of the design may feel scratchy. You can iron a piece of fusible stabilizer over the back of the finished design to cover the stitches. After a few trips through the dryer, the stabilizer will start to pull away but by then, the stitches shouldn't feel as scratchy on sensitive skin.

Use the Right Needle

  • When embroidering on knit fabric like T-shirts, it is important to use a ball-point needle. Ball-points have a rounded tip that is designed to push the knit fibers aside instead of cutting through them the way a sharp needle does. This helps to avoid "runs" in the fabric around the stitches.

Always Prewash T-shirts

  • T-shirts may shrink significantly when laundered so it is vital that you prewash the shirt before embroidering. Wash and dry using the same routine that you'll use for the finished shirt.
    As an extra precaution, you can choose to hand wash/dry your finished garment, but this really isn't necessary if you preshrink the item before embroidering.

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