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Alignment and Placement Embroidery Tips & Techniques Wearables

Top 10 Tips for Machine Embroidery Fashions

1. Find a focal point. Examine the garment to determine if there’s a design detail that could serve as the starting or focal point for the embroidery. On this plain sheath, the slit is the only detail. I can choose to accent it or ignore it.

2. Sketch a few possibilities. You don’t have to be an artist. You can trace a similar garment from a pattern or catalog. You only need the basic shape and some dots, squiggles and lines to simulate the embroidery.

3. Print templates of the embroidery design(s). Never take a stitch without seeing the design in actual size on paper. Any embroidery software is capable of producing a template. Just go to File, Print. Consider using transparencies or vellum for translucent templates. Otherwise, cut the templates out paper-doll style. The template must have a center crosshair with an arrow designating the top of the embroidery design. If your templates do not have those markings, add them by drawing a crosshair with a centering guide and marker. Place one arrowhead at the vertical line pointing towards the top of the design.

4. Audition the templates on the garment. Tape the templates on the garment while wearing the garment or using a dress form. It’s very important to ‘see’ the embroidery on the figure. Garments laid on flat surface appear to be much larger than the actually are. Machine embroidery placement is often skewed when decided on flat garments. Take the time to plan the layout correctly.

5. Experiement with the layout by making subtle changes in placement. Take caution when placing templates around the bust line and hips. These are danger areas and can draw unwanted attention (or add girth) to the figure. Sometimes, all that is needed is a small adjustment, such as moving a flower 2” above the bust point. Use a digital camera to record your progress, review the images to decide which placement is best.

If some designs stitch on top of others, write numbers on each template to indicate the stitching sequence.

6. Play with scale. Machine embroidery designs in a variety of sizes create a more interesting layout than repeating the same size design.

7. Add contrast with color, sparkle and shine. If you match the embroidery thread to the base fabric, what’s the point of stitching all of those designs? Separate the embroidery from the fabric by selecting threads that are a different value or color from the base. Incorporate a little splash with metallic threads or crystals. Sparkle gets the eye in a subtle way, remember less is more here.

8. Don’t overlook the power of appliqué. Machine embroidery applique comes in many forms, you can always find one method that works on your fabric. It can pack a powerful punch when dealing with delicate fabrics like lightweight knits, and sheers. It’s a great alternative to high stitch count designs.

9. Include decorative stitching. Want to make your embroidery look like you had an embroidery machine with a 3 ft. sewing field? Just connect the embroidery designs with decorative stitching or satin stitching. In this cover garment, flowers were sprinkled on the bodice then down the sleeve. I satin-stitched the stems to fill the area. Simple to do and very pleasing to the eye.

10. Plan the Process. Once you’ve gone through the first 9 steps, you’ll know what to stitch first, second and third. This embroidery layout plan or schematic will guide you through the whole project. If you get interrupted before completing the project, you’ll know just what to do when you return.

Do you have any favorite tips for planning your embroidery projects? Tell us what works for you when planning a machine embroidery project and you’ll be entered to win a Magna-Hoop!

Last we asked you to tell us about your shopping experiences.  The winner of last weeks bundle which includes Boatload of Bags and Contemporary Machine Embroidered Accessories is…Bridget Cheatham!

“I LOVE purses…currently I probably have about twenty in my closet! I have all styles and colors (as I like to have something appropriate for different outfits) but only when I started designing and sewing my own bags did I get something that felt truly “me”. I use my bought handbags as inpiration and combine my favorite details from each to make something unique and useful.”

Congrats, Bridget!




  • JanetRecla

    I make templates of my embroidery and lay them on the item to be embroidered and move them around look at it for a few days so I can decide if its what I want and where I want it. You would be surprised at the different effects you get with placement.

  • pam duxbury

    I am pretty new to embroidery and so far I have not put any designs on clothes. I love to read the tips and get all the help I can. But, I believe that I am just going to have to bite the bullet and try one this year or I am never going to get there. Thank you for all the tips.

    • eileen

      Pam – Just do it! You’ll never look back again.

  • Lin

    If it’s a stitch file I’ve never sewn out before, I like to do a test run on some backing, and use that instead of paper templates.

  • Katrina H

    I like to use a chalk outline to help line up my hoops, as well as print the design for placement. Sometimes I realize its not the right design for the project which is better to know before!

  • LeAnne

    I plan them out using paper templates pinned to my garment. A few glaring mistakes have been diverted that way.

  • Sharon D.

    I save pictures from catalogs that have embroidered items. I then separate them by children, baby, women, gifts etc.

    When I need an idea I go to the pictures and can usually find something to inspire me. I can then go to my designs and put it together.

  • Karin

    I always lay out my item or garment, then audition the colors by laying the spools of thread out on top of the item in the order they’re called for. That way, I get to see if the colors all play nicely together and stand out or fade into the item.

    I don’t have a Magna-hoop, but I’ve been eyeing them for YEARS, so thank you for this great opportunity!

  • Janice Murry

    I use a paper template pinned where I think it will look nice. Then I try it on to be sure. Many times I have to make adjustments, but it is worth the time and effort to get the look I want.

  • Sharon @Keuka

    I apply a little washable gluestick on the back of the upper hoop, then adhere it to my project. Then align the bottom hoop to the top hoop.

  • Anita Dickson

    Always looking for embroidery designs in magazines for inspiration. Also keep a Camara
    in my purse if I happen to see a design while I am out shopping. When I am working on the project it always gets hung up in front of me for several days until I am completely satisfied with it.

  • Sharon Thomas

    I love my 5X7 magnahoop. I’ve had lots of luck with polo shirts with names as well as a very heavy robe that I put a 5″ initial with flowers. I really appreciate the info on templates. I’ll have to try that technique.

  • Nancy

    I look at the stitch count in relation to the size of the design. I stay away from small size/high stitch count designs for knits like t-shirts and save those for heavier fabrics such as denim.

  • Laura Whitley

    I print out the design templates and play with placement. Most of what I have done is fairly abstract so that if my placment is a bit off it doesn’t matter!

  • Myrna Leard

    I always take my time and plan, plan and plan. This usually takes a couple of days with the article hanging in my sewing room and I think, think, and think before I even start working on the design on my computer. I NEVER rush the process.

    • eileen

      i’m impressed by your method Myrna, and wish I could say I do the same! But I’m known to jump right in then takes days to figure out how to correct something I should have foreseen!

      • Brigitte Cowan

        Me too. I am known for jumping into a project, getting over my head and THEN thinking and thinking, planing and planing on how to fix the problem. I need to be more of a planner but when I finally get my idea, I want to forge ahead, full speed ahead, lol.

  • Linda S

    Like most, I use a printout of the design to test the location. But, once I have decided where I would like it based on aesthetic “eyeballing it”, I use your handy placement ruler included in your placement kit to refine the design’s precise center, vertical and horizontal lines. I measure between likely guidelines and will move a design ever so slightly to get better balance or symmetry. In my opinion, this makes the outcome more professional looking.

  • Brigitte Cowan

    When I plan a project, I try to take into consideration using as many recyclable materials in my quilts as I can possibly use. When I am done with a shirt, skirt, coat, etc. If it cannot be used by someone else by donation, I always try to cut the buttons, trim and any other usable knick knacks off of the garment and then I cut the piece into the largest usable material sizes I can. I put them together into my “patchwork” quilt stash. Many of my quilts have been made without any purchase. Kids clothing are really great for quilting. The memories can’t be beat and the price is right.

    • eileen

      Great ideas, Brigette! Thanks for sharing.

  • Francine Mollica

    I got really excited to see the magna-hoop as a giveaway prize. I haven’t really felt confidant about placement skills, but have enjoyed a lot of pretty surprises as I’ve embroidered. Then, I later decide what to do with some stitch outs. Just covered the company logo on an old tote bag with a beautiful flowerbox/window design and sewed it on – really re-vitalized the bag and it has caught so many people’s eyes. I’ve loved explaining how it was done – but I’d equally love feeling more sure about planned placement!

  • Catherine

    I use a printed out template as well. I have a small embroidery business and embroider logos for a few businesses. One business likes to tape a business card on each employee’s shirt where on the left chest location they want the logo to be embroidered. It can make a difference where a design is placed because we are all different sizes and shapes.

  • Barbara McKenzie

    I always start the embroidery process in my design software. There, I can change thread colors, but I also change the design page background color to one most closely matching my project. That way, I can audition many thread color combinations and get a feel for how they will look on the finished project. I keep my laptop next to my machine, so I can follow the color progression as I sew.

  • Susan S

    I love to put a bit of embroidery on the cuffs of jackets and blouses, and then tie in with something near the face like on the collar if there is one. I love bright colors and also tone on tone for an elegant look. When I’m not sure a combination works, I can always get an opinion from my granddaughters – they’re developing excellent color sense!

  • Betsy

    I’m new to machine embroidery and have not yet gained the confidence to try embellishing clothing. I haven’t gone beyond embroidering blocks for quilts. They can be easily squared up so I haven’t had to face those tricky positioning issues. Thanks for posting the question because I’m getting great tips for when I do decide to dive right in!

  • Bridget Cheatham

    Don’t skip the step of making and auditioning templates! It’s a better use of your time than ripping out stitches or worse yet, ruining your project altogether! Also, I have the Magna-Hoop for my Bernina and let me tell you that it is worth its weight in gold! It saves so much time and frustration compared to traditional hooping.

  • Patty Happel

    I mostly just stitch on sweatshirts and quilt blocks so placement is pretty easy, but I love all the ideas I’ve read here and can’t wait to try some of them!

  • Donna G.

    Many great ideas here! My biggest “lifesaver” for planning my embroidery projects is to go through a mental checklist to make sure everything’s ready to go: do I have the right stabilizer and topping for the fabric and design? Is the needle sharp and tightened? Do I have enough bobbin thread? Do I need to pay attention to any split design or repetition in the design? It doesn’t take long to go through my checklist any more, but it sure has saved me from mistakes many times!

  • Cathy L

    These tips really are great. I have not embroidered on but a few shirts. And my DH insisted that I do it for him which really scared me. But now I think I will try more things and keep your tips handy, thanks for the tips..

    • eileen

      Oh you’re brave Cathy! I had the pleasure of having a wise student in my class many years ago, who was asked by her husband to hem a pair of slacks for him. An avid quilter and embroiderer who didn’t want to waste a minute on hemming men’s slacks, she replied, “Oh honey, this machine can’t stitch men’s wear!” She was never asked again.

  • kelly campbell

    I often use scrap fabric if I am unsure about how fonts will look when I reduce their size alot.

  • Gail Beam

    I like to lay out the project to be embroidered on my large cutting board. A long fabric ruler is used to line up where the design is to be embroidered and then using the easy line up lines on the cutting board chalk lines are drawn to show placement. Applique and fringe embroidery designs are my favorite fun designs to use on projects for my grandchildren. Ric rac, cording, bias tape, etc. makes darling flower stems, extra embellishments, or running lines to connect flowers or other designs for an added 3 D effect . My embroidery software is used to combine, resize, and change colors in a design. Metallic thread gives a lot of sparkle to an item of clothing, especially on jean items. When stitching with metallic thread I try to choose designs that are not exceedingly dense with a topstitch or metallic needle.
    Thanks for the chance to win a magna hoop!! I would love to have one to use.

  • dragonintherain

    So far, I have pretty much winged it. but then, so far, all I’ve really done is a few pieces of infant clothing, and some fabric that I have turned into diapers. Since I sew my own diapers, i can embroider the design on the cut pieces and not have to deal with something that has elastic and snaps!

  • Barbara P

    I do much of my planning in Viking 5D software. I use the built in backgrounds in colours as close as I can get to the colour of the garment I am going to embroider. I print out templates on parchment to audition on the fabric and I also then use those templates as placement markers.
    I also stitch a small part of the design on a scrap of the garment’s fabric to make sure that the colours look right as often a thread will look quite different once stitched into a design.

  • tisha williams

    Well I’ve learned more from the mistakes I’ve made than anything else. I have never had a more humbling hobby…But what I have picked up is this, research, research, research. We have this great resource at our fingertips for free. The internet has saved me on more than one occasion and I believe I’ve just found one more expert to add to my favorites. Thanks for the great tips and I will be back for more!

  • obimom

    After careful consideration of where the designs should end up I pin the templates on the garment and put it on a live body (or dress form) and adjust as needed. I find that taking picures as I go makes it easy to go back to find the perfect placement. I do the same thing when quilting using a quilt wall and photos as I audition on the design wall.

  • Ginny Gaige

    I start by looking at the design and decide what color combinations can be incorporated into the design. I then decide whether the size is appropriate for the article of clothing or item it is going on. A printout of the design is always a help with the color combinations/size. Next comes which type of stabilizer should be used. Cutaway, tear away, etc. Does it need a topping? The size of hoop I have available comes next. Too many designs so many possibilities!!!!

  • Brigitte Cowan

    If in doubt of how a design will work on a fabric, always test on a similar SCRAP. Never, but NEVER, start a design on your actual garment. You think it will save you time and money but it won’t. It may possibly cost you the garment you love. Find a scrap piece of material the same as your garment and test until you make sure you have the right stabilizer, hoop, thread, needles. All of those variables will change the result of your embroidery and you may find that the density is too little or much for the garment. My advice (which I don’t always use lol) is TEST TEST TEST.

    • Brigitte Cowan

      You can also use your test design on your garment to make sure you like the design placement, size, etc on the actual garment. Also, test designs can be saved with notes on needle, stabilizers used, etc for future projects.

      • eileen

        Great advice Brigitte! Our friends at OESD often say, ‘there are only two kinds of embroiderers. Those who test and those who wish they did.’

  • marsha nelson

    I usually plan my embroidery design on my computer using sizing, turning, and color options. I then stitch it and cut it out, put the garment on the dress form and attach the embroidery. This tells me if the size, placement and colors are right. I’ve had lots of boo boos from not using this method.
    It takes patience but is worth it. No ruining the project and a lot of crying. What a great give-away. I would love a magna hoop. I don’t have any of the magna hoops and would love to try one. Thank.

  • Michele Cariveau

    I always make sure I have enough stabilizer and enough of the thread coiors I want to use. It’s terrible to run out half way through the project and realize you don’t have the right thread!! Also, I use a new fully loaded bobbin., no matter the size of the embrodiery. I’ve also have just started using the magic jenie washers. They are wonderful!! No more thread nests on the bottom of the embrodiery!
    Making sure you have the correct stabilizer is also soooo importent. I love to do towels, and use cut-away on the bottom and wash-away on the top.
    And don’t be afraid to combine embrodiery in new and different ways. You can make truly unique and beautiful designs by doing this.

  • Diane

    I’m new to embroidery, too, and have already found that testing is definitely the way to go. I get so much help from your tips! One thing I like to do is scatter a few small elements between large elements to make the embroidered field look bigger — much like your use of a line of decorative stitching.

  • Paule-Marie

    If I need something in a specific place, I will make a template to try it out. However, I find that I don’t have to do that as much any more. The camera on the upgrade for my Ellisimo sure has made placement much easier. Quilted a quilt recently using that feature. My goodness, that was way easier than what I have done in the past.

  • Brigitte Cowan

    When purchasing and planning for any project, always make sure you buy enough fabric to cover mistakes, changes in opinion, matching patterns. The absolute worst thing to happen is to get most of the project done to find that you don’t have enough fabric and they don’t have any more fabric. Granted, it makes you think outside the box but sometimes it is nice to be able to stay in the box, lol. Buying extra is far better (it adds to our stash, how can that be bad) than having to scrap a project due to lack of materials. I find I can always think of things to use the fabric with. Trim is especially hard to replicate if they no longer have it.

    • Brigitte Cowan

      It also gives you the added bonus of repairability if you have dogs, cats, toddlers around, which I have all of the above.

  • rho

    I keep my camera with me when I shop and make pics of things I like, then when I am ready to make an outfit or decor item I refer to my pics for inspiration. I think planning out all details and having all the necessary materials make for a more successful project.

  • Brigitte Cowan

    The color strip on the selvage of your fabric is easy to carry around with you to find just the right color for thread, other fabric or trims when I am planning a project. So much easier than carrying a 5 pound piece of material with you. That way, it is always in my purse with maybe a little piece of the main fabric for matching fabrics patterns to it. If I am planning a project around a particular fabric, I ALWAYS have that selvage color strip in my wallet just in case I run into something I think might match. Before I did that, I never got it right. However I will say my stash certainly benefited from all my mistakes, lol.

  • Enis

    I like to draw out my projects when I’m planning them. I find it helpful for anything from where to place designs on skirts, pants, tops or even quilts. It just helps to see where I’m going with a project and it helps me see what’s not pleasing either. This gives me a chance to make necessary design changes BEFORE I ruin a project. And believe me, I’ve ruined plenty of projects before learning this very important step.

  • Michele Cariveau

    I like to stitch out my designs on muslin first. It is easy to work with, and easy to lay out on whatever i am doing the embrodiery on. I can also cut the designs apart to audition them in different areas.

  • Margaret Brantley

    I like to plan my designs with my Viking 5-D software on the computer. Then I always do a test stitch out. Often after a test stitch out, I’ve made further changes or selected a different design entirely.

  • eileen

    Thanks for the shoutout, Karline!

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