Machine Embroidery for beginners

machine embroidery

A brief guide for machine embroidery

You have a sewing machine with an embroidery module – or an embroidery machine – or you intend to get one and don’t know exactly what you need to start stitching? Here I have put together a short tutorial on machine embroidery to show you the essentials. As basic equipment you need in any case:

  • stitching threads
  • bobbin thread
  • stabilizer
  • pins

Embroidery Yarn

Yes, for beautiful embroidery results you should use embroidery threads. Sewing threads are not so suitable for machine embroidery as they are rougher/thicker than embroidery threads. The embroidery designs you can buy are normally also usually designed for embroidery threads.

You get embroidery threads in many designs, one of the most common is probably rayon/viscose, which is a very fine, soft thread with a natural gloss. Yarns in rayon/viscose are usually a bit more expensive.

The next yarn is polyester yarn. They are made of synthetic fibres and not as soft as rayon/viscose yarns, but not worse. They like to have a stronger shine than the other embroidery threads, but they are more robust and good for more demanding embroideries. Since the production is less complex, polyester threads are usually cheaper to buy. Some Polyester yarns are also available in even brighter colours (e.g. neon). There are also fancy yarns, e.g. metallic yarns which should be sewn with special needles, or frosted matt yarns which have a ceramic content in the yarn and thus conjure up a completely different embroidery effect.

…and where can I get embroidery threads?

You can get the yarns from different brands, for example the most famous ones: Madeira, Marathon, Gütermann, FuFu, Brildor, Amann etc. Which yarn is the right one for you can only be attempted.

Over and over I hear that certain machine types can’t cope with one or the other thread – I personally can’t confirm that, I have two embroidery machines from different manufacturers and use all my (different) embroidery threads for both of them. However, I never use ” cheap thread ” – with such threads you never know how long they have been stored … and this can have unpleasant consequences. Yarns that have been stored too long can become fragile and then the thread constantly cracks, which is very frustrating.

The machines are “retract” during production – and this always happens with a certain type of yarn – depending on the machine manufacturer. Find out with which yarn your machine was retracted, if the handling of other yarns seems too unsafe, or don’t buy a whole trunk of yarn – which is offered by many yarn manufacturers – but first try out individual cones.

Once you’ve started machine embroidery, you won’t have to wait long for the “addiction effect” and embroidery thread is a material you need a lot of. In order to save a little money it is advisable to look for larger cones – no small thread rolls. If you don’t know how to unwind large cones, because your machine doesn’t have a cone holder, then have a look at Elfenidee/Blog under Yarn Reel Holders, there you will get a little instruction how to build such a cone holder yourself with simple equipment.

bobbin thread

For embroidering a very fine, white or black thread is used as bobbin thread. It is available on large cones as well as wound up as “Bobbins”. When buying bobbins, make sure that the bobbin size matches the machine.

If the machine is equipped with a bobbin thread monitor, it may not function properly with the bobbins. I have 10000 m cones bobbin thread and wind up my bobbin thread bobbins myself. It is cheaper and I always have my original bobbin for the bobbin thread. For unwinding large cones I use the self-made thread reel holder.

Stabilizer for machine embroidery

The right stabilizer is probably the greatest science in machine embroidery. Yes, you need the stabilizer, because it is the stabilizer for your work. There are almost countless stabilizers… tear-out stabilizers, cutting stabilizers, water-soluble, self-adhesive, overlay stabilizers, soft, rigid…and many more.

It always depends on what kind of fabric you want to embroider. Woven fabric, or knitted fabric (jersey)? A stable fabric, or rather a fine one? Woven fabrics are a little less complicated for embroidery because they are easier to clamp into the hoop. Jersey and other elastic fabrics are a bit trickier to handle because the embroidery can distort.

For a start, it is advisable to get a few pieces of different stabilizer so that you can do some testing. The Avalon stabilizer is used on fabrics such as terrycloth or velvet to prevent the loops or pile from getting through the embroidery. This stabilizer is a thin film ( or fabric) that is placed on top of the fabric to be embroidered and can be washed out later.

Self-adhesive stabilizers are often used for knitted fabrics. Just tighten the stabilizer inside the hoop – the adhesive surface upwards – remove the protective paper and affix the fabric to be embroidered. This has the advantage that the fabric does not warp when stretched. The disadvantage here is that the needle has to penetrate the adhesive layer again and again, so that contaminants can remain on the needle and in the machine – however, there have recently been special ” Anti-Glue needles ” for this purpose.

Self-adhesive stabilizers are not necessarily the cheapest ones too. There is also the option of using spraying glue on a standard tear-off stabilizer. Spray adhesives do not stick as well as the self-adhesive stabilizer, but enough to keep jersey on the stabilizer. Here you have to take care not to spray the spray glue near the machine, otherwise it can cause damage to the machine.

Machine embroidery needles

Needles are also important in machine embroidery. There are special embroidery needles for machine embroidery (e.g. embroidery needles, metallic thread needles, anti-glue needles, leather needles, etc.), but the universal needles have also proven themselves. It is always important to change the needles in a timely manner, because if the needles are used up or slightly bent they have a considerable influence on the embroidery result.

Thread thickness and needle thickness should always match! You will find reference tables for this at most yarn manufacturers. For fine embroideries (fine, small fonts, for example) it is recommended to use a thinner needle – but then also a thinner embroidery thread. Embroidery thread is available in various strengths, the most common one being 40. Most embroidery needles and universal needles are also designed for this thread thickness.

To embroider leather requires special practice, as the leather is slightly perforated and then the whole embroidery breaks out. Now you’ve learned a little about the basic materials – now I’d like to get to the clamping of the embroidery material…and then you can get started.


Clamping is an essential part of machine embroidery, because it has a direct influence on the embroidery process later on. You will often hear the term ” drum-proof” in the embroidery language – or read machine instructions. What is meant by this should not be difficult to guess – but it is not always so easy to realize this “drum-proof”.

Non-elastic fabrics can be clamped quite easily. You place them on the embroidery fleece and clamp both together in the hoop. It is different with elastic fabrics. The meshes of the knitted fabric should not be stretched, but the fabric should still be stretched smoothly in the frame. Here many embroiderers work with adhesive fleece.

Terry, velvet and pile fabrics are not clamped into the frame. This would later leave unattractive frame prints that you can hardly get out of the fabric. But these fabrics can also be brought into the embroidery hoop with adhesive spraying. If you want you can work with a stitching border. With some machine types, the stitched borders are included in the embroidery files – or you look at the embroidery file creators. The basic principle with all the clamping is that the fabric should not warp or shift during the embroidery process.

…more, first tips

Sometimes it is necessary, for instance, to reinforce very fine, thin fabrics with two or even three layers of fleece in order to obtain a clean embroidery result – but this is always individually dependent.

If you have any specific questions, don’t hesitate to ask them in my Facebook group Elfenidee – Embroidery and Upcycling. There are always experts available who will be happy to help you, or you can write me directly here in the contact form and I will be happy to help you.

Even if the machines are set to a certain upper thread tension by the manufacturer, it can happen that the upper thread tension has to be readjusted for embroidering certain motifs – the general rule here is that about one third of the upper thread should be visible on the reverse side of the embroidery. These are the most important conditions you need for machine embroidery.

Of course, there are always special cases where other conditions have to be considered. If you are faced with such a problem, please ask. And now – I wish you a lot of fun embroidering with your machine.

Yours faithfully, Beate of the Elfenidee

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