Machine Embroidery for Beginners

Sewing machine bobbin
Sewing machine bobbin

Whether you have a complex embroidery machine or a regular home sewing machine, machine embroidery is a fun and creative needle art. The basic techniques can be learned and practiced with many applications including personalizing clothing and linens and unusual gifts.

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Look for embroidery thread that specifically states on the label that it should be used for machine embroidery. This will ensure the best results and prevent damage to your machine. Embroidery thread is available in a wide range of solid and variegated colors and metallics. You will need an embroidery hoop to keep your fabric taut; the kind with a metal ring inside an outer plastic frame is best for machine embroidery. Carbon pencils and water-soluble fabric pens are useful for marking your embroidery design onto fabric. All kinds of fabric can be machine embroidered and for some craft projects you can embroider paper or thin cardstock.


If you have a computerized embroidery machine that uses pre-programmed motifs or scanned-in designs, the machine will do most of the work for you. If you are using a regular sewing machine, there are a few basic techniques to learn. For free stitching, lower or cover the feed dogs. This means you can control the direction of the stitches by simply moving the fabric around under the needle. For satin stitch, set the machine to a zigzag stitch and move the hoop and fabric around slowly until the stitches build up and cover the area. Machine embroidery takes some practice, so work slowly until you get the hang of it. Once you understand the basic techniques you can create more complex stitching effects by changing the top and bobbin threads and adjusting the tension.


There are many simple projects that are suitable for beginners in machine embroidery. To practice basic straight-line stitching, try following the outlines of a patterned piece of fabric. Geometric and straight-line patterns are the easiest to follow and large prints are good for practicing control. A printed piece of fabric embellished with machine embroidery can be used to sew a simple but useful item like a needle book or a placemat. You can practice stitches and designs on paper or thin cardstock and use these pieces to make unusual greetings cards. A star outline embroidered in silver thread onto dark-colored construction paper makes an quick and easy holiday card. Metallic threads lend themselves to the art of machine lace. If you stitch a mesh of threads onto water-soluble fabric, you can make sturdy pieces of jewelry or shiny ornaments.


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