Machine Embroidery | Lessons

Machine Embroidery

As you combine your machine embroidery with quiltmaking, these basic instructions will help you get started or serve as a refresher course.

Embroidery supplies
• Embroidery machine
• Embroidery hoops
• Embroidery designs
• Software, computer (optional)
• Embroidery and bobbin threads
• Embroidery needles
• Small scissors
• Curved scissors
• Removable fabric marker
• Temporary spray adhesive
• Stabilizers





There are two types of machines: embroidery-only models, and machines that sew and embroider. Most combination machines have a separate arm or attachment that converts the machine to embroidery functions. Consult your manual for installation instructions. Note your machine’s maximum design stitch-out size.

Some embroidery machines connect directly to a computer; others require the use of a disk, thumb drive or memory card for design transfer.


All embroidery machines require a hoop to hold the fabric for embroidery stitching. Hoops come in many sizes and shapes. Most machines offer a standard 4″x 4″ hoop, along with larger and smaller options, up to “mega hoop” sizes of 8″x 12″.

Multiple designs can be combined to fit within the hoop using embroidery software or touch-screen editing. Select the smallest hoop to fit the design size for a secure hold.

Embroidery designs

Several types of machine embroidery designs are suitable for quilted projects: fill, lace and outline motifs, applique and in-hoop piecing. Stippling may be incorporated into some embroidery motifs as well.

Embroidery designs have machine-specific formats, so it’s important to know which one you need. The format is an extension of the design file name, such as rose.huv (Viking) or leaf.jef (Janome).

Designs are available online or for purchase on CDs, disks or memory cards. In some instances, additional equipment is needed to transfer designs to a readable format.


There are many embroidery software programs available, both machine-specific and multi-format. Software is used to alter design sizing, stitch count, colors, etc. and to combine, edit or create motifs. Software is a helpful option, but is not required to do basic machine embroidery.


Machine embroidery threads differ from standard sewing threads in size, structure and fiber content. Embroidery threads are available in weights from 60 to 12, with the smaller number designating a thicker thread. The standard size is considered to be 40-weight. Variation from this size may require design and/or tension adjustments.

Machine embroidery threads are available in solid and variegated colors. Rayon and cotton threads are most common. Other options include wool/acrylic blends, monofilament, polyester and metallics, including flat foillike strands and twisted varieties, glow-in-the-dark and UVactivated threads.

Embroidery bobbin thread is available in black, white and a few select colors. It is usually 60- to 80-weight. When you embroider through a layered quilt (instead of a top only), the design underside will be visible on the backing. Matching bobbin thread minimizes the visibility; contrasting thread emphasizes it.


Embroidery needles have a larger eye and groove than universal needles, to help minimize abrasion on delicate embroidery threads as they form dense stitches. Use a metallic needle when stitching with metallic threads.

The needle size should be compatible with the fabric weight and type, and the thread size. For cotton fabrics, a size 80/12 universal needle works well with 40-weight threads.


Small, sharp scissors are needed to clip jump threads— bridges between design parts stitched in the same color. Curved scissors allow for cutting threads close to the fabric and for trimming fabric when appliqueing in a hoop.


Precise placement is critical for embroidery. Accurate marking is the key to success. Use a removable fabric marker to note the design center points and hoop placement.

Temporary spray adhesive

This dissipating adhesive is helpful for securing fabric to some stabilizers. Use the aerosol inside a box to protect the sewing area from overspray and apply it to the stabilizer layer, rather than the fabric.

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