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Alignment and Placement Applique Embroidery Tips & Techniques Wearables

Top 10 Tips for Fashion Embroidery Layout

1. Examine the garment to determine a focal point.

2. Sketch a few possibilities by making a simple line drawing of the garment.

Add dots and squiggly lines to represent flowers, vines or geometric shapes. Working with a blank that doesn’t have a tailored detail?  Then focus on embroidery near the face since a smile is everyone’s best feature.  It’s so easy to do neckline embroidery now with Nancy Zieman and my Neckline Makeovers – shipping on Tuesday – finally!  Click here to put the focus on your smile!

3. Print templates of the embroidery designs.

It doesn’t matter what embroidery software you use, you can print a template of the design in actual size.  Just go to File, Print and viola!  Now you can see the design in actual size!

4. Audition the templates on the Garment.

Make it your policy to never take a stitch without printing a template and viewing it on the garment. You’ll learn so much about proportion, scale and placement if you view the designs in actual size before you stitch.

5. ‘Play’ with the layout by making subtle changes in placement.

Avoid fashion faux pas such as landing embroidery on bust points, at the widest part of the hip or too close to the side seam.  Remember that wherever embroidery is placed, you’re drawing the eye to that part of the body.  Make it intentional, not regrettable.

6. Vary the Scale.

Use your sizing software to alter the size of repeated designs.  Boredom sets in when all designs are the same size.  Make one large design the focal point then move the eye around the embroidery layout with smaller, more subtle designs or create a collage effect with layered designs, grids or swirls.

7. Add contrast with color, sparkle and shine.

Devoting a lot of hours to a garment?  Then let it be seen!  Move down the thread rack and select a thread that contrasts with the base fabric.  It can still be monochromatic, just a different value so that the thread separates from the base fabric.  Metallic threads and crystals, when used sparingly, add a lot of zing to humdrum embroidery layouts.

8. Don’t Overlook the Power of Appliqué.

Applique fabrics incorporate a whole new dimension to embroidery without adding unnecessary weight.  Lightweight garments benefit from lightweight – but colorful – fabrics without losing their delicate hand or drape.  Of course, the same is true for heavy fabrics such as denim, fleece and corduroy.  A little applique goes a long way.

9. Include Decorative Stitching.

All those beautiful stitches on our sewing machine are ideal for revving up an embroidery layout.  And the sins they cover! If you had trouble with placement – like getting flowers to link flawlessly – then just use your decorative stitches to meld them together – no one will be the wiser.  Basic satin stitches connect all the leaves in the sample below.

10. Plan the Process

Working with sketches and templates gives you a plan.  You’ll know what design gets stitches first.  Mark the templates accordingly. I place a number in a circle to designate the order of the designs.  This way if I get interrupted during the stitching (and who doesn’t?) I’ll know exactly where I left off.

So what’s your favorite tip for fashion embroidery?  Tell us one tip – one rule of thumb that you always adhere to when working with blank garments and you’ll be in our drawing for an autographed copy of Contemporary Machine Embroidered Fashions.  This is probably my favorite book.  When I wrote this book I spent many hours exploring the best way to embellish, stabilize and hoop blanks.  I learned so much and I think you will too!

The blog discussion topic from last week was:

“Tell me who makes the difference in your hobby? Is there someone you turn to for help, for inspiration or even mechanical assistance.”

The winner for Machine Embroidery with Confidence by Nancy Zieman is Diane J!

“I have received so much good advice from new embroidery friends at Miss Sammy’s sewing nite in Jasper,Texas.It is a huge help to get help from a lot of ladies that have been there and done that.They have helped me tremendously.”

Congratulations, Diane!




  • Pat

    What good ideas. Sometimes I have not ‘pre’ designed my idea and was disappointed.

    Thanks for the tips.


  • Susan Burns

    Eileen, This is the first blog I have ever responded to. I love your magazine, and as a fairly new machine embroiderer I find your tips and patterns very easy to use.
    My tip for using blanks is to ALWAYS stitch out the design you want first on practice material before using your precious blank and finding things are not as you planned….ask me how I know this! Thanks, Sue

    • eileen

      Hi Sue,
      Welcome to the blog and thanks for leaving a comment! Many years ago, our friends at OESD coined the phrase, “There are two kinds of embroiderers, those who stitch a test design and those who wish they did!”

  • Lois

    When I want to embroider on a garment, I like to print out the realistic view of the embroidery mofit, cut it out and pin it on the garment and check the placement and size. This gives me a good idea of how things fit in the space I have.

  • Kandy

    Wow, lots of things I hadn’t thought about. Great information on adding to a garment. Thanks for sharing

  • Martha

    If it’s a high stitch count design I usually try it out on a scrap fabric similar to what I will be putting the design on. This way you know if you need more stabilizer or maybe even change colors.

  • Peggy

    Always do a practice stitch out and use them for pillows, and quilts.

  • ccesclk

    My hint has more to do with hooping. I place my garment on a mini ironing board on my counter top. I slide the base of the hoop into the garment approximately where I want it. I then place the top of the hoop exactly where I want it. I reach into the garment and slide the bottom of the hoop around until the top and bottom meet and I hoop. It is easy to gently slide the hoop to the edge of the ironing board and tighten the screws since it is elevated and my hand isn’t knocking against anything.

    • eileen

      An ironing board is a terrifc hooping aid when hooping blanks. Nancy Zieman and I illustrate how to do that in our new EIY, Designer Necklines, One Step T-shirt Makeovers.

  • Enis

    If I know I’m going to have more than one hooping of the same design on another part of a garment (or any embroidered item for that matter), first I line up all my thread colors in the color change order. As I use each color, I move that thread to the end of the line of threads. That way when I’m ready to re-hoop and begin sewing the design in the new location, all my threads are already lined up and ready to use.

    • eileen

      Great idea to rotate the colors as you use them. Whenever I have to repeat a color, such as black is used as both color #1 and #5, I place a penny after color #4 to designate the spot for color 5, the second repeat of black. This helps keep me on track.

  • Susan Spiers

    Always do a stitch test first on a piece of fabric the same as or similar to the purchased garment you are going to embroider! This will save a lot of heart-ache!

  • Karin

    I always select all the colors I think I’m going to use and lay them all out on the piece to be embroidered. That way, I can make sure they *all* play nicely together. Often, I make changes prior to sewing, but once I have them, I write down the color numbers in stitching order. I, too, line my colors up in order & move used colors to the end of the line, but sometimes gremlins come in & try to mix me up. Referencing my written chart helps keep me straight!

  • Jackie

    I always make templates and print all the templates even when the design is reversed. When I first started doing embroidery I printed one template of the design placed it printed side up on the one side and then to save paper I just flipped it over and placed it on the other side. Even though I had rough cut out the template it wasn’t exact and the flipped side was not at the correct angle and about 1/4″ too low. I’ve never made this mistake again.

    • eileen

      Oh the things we learn from doing! If nothing else, machine embroidery is precise and 1/4″ can make quite a difference in a layout. Great idea to print the templates in mirror image – eliminates all guesswork.

  • LeAnne

    I always lay out my templates on my garments and then walk away from them for a while, whether it’s a few hours or a couple of days, depending on how soon I want to actually get the garment done. There’s nothing like a different perspective a day later to see whether you still like the design placement. I also like to audition different types of designs to see which ones I like better.

    • eileen

      It’s an excellent idea to walk away from a project during the design process. You return with ‘fresh eyes’ and often spot trouble areas that weren’t visible at first glance. Thanks for sharing!

  • Loretta T

    Before I embroider I put the garment on a dress form or baby doll because where you think it goes it’s always were it should be.

  • Beth

    I did my first jean stitch out and it turned out great except I did not think on were I placed it and had to change the inside seams on the whole pants. Will look at construction more closely next time. Yuor magazine is great for the beginner that I am.

  • Cindy Davies

    I like to keep it simple. Single embroidery designs usually always come out right. With your new book, however, I could do the neckline designs.

  • Alice Harmon

    I always put the hoop in the machine with the tear away or other liner and make the first needle stitch. Take hoop out and line up the needle hole with the center of the template. Always have a pre-stitch done and place that on the garment . I like to see just how it will look before I start to stitch. I mark the center of the pre-stitch also and then when all the centers are aligned I pin the garment into the hoop and have had great success with the finished product.

  • Kelly

    I have struggled with placement alot but the target stickers have helped

  • Pat Donald Chambers

    I am about to do my first embroidery on a dress. I am so glad that I read these comments because I would have made a few mistakes and now I now what to do. Thanks to all

  • Greta James

    Thank you so much for pointing out that embroidery will accent that point so make sure you consider that placement on the body. For the last few weeks, I have been thinking of wearing this plain white sun-dress that I own. However, it is a little boring. I have not idea how to sew, but I wonder if I could look into custom embroidery services that could help me.