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Applique Embroidery Tips & Techniques Hooping

My #1 secret to successful machine embroidery applique

I’ll let you in on a little-known secret – I hate to remove the hoop during the embroidery process to trim applique. I dislike it so much, I rarely do it. I’ve come up with two very different solutions to this dilemma.

The first – and easiest – is to embrace raw edge applique. That is what my whole Stipple! line is based on. It’s an edgy approach (no pun intended) but it works for me and I love the speed of the process.

But I know raw edge applique is not appropriate for every design. So I avoid taking the hoop off the machine during traditional appliqué by preparing the applique section in a separate hooping.

Here’s how I do it:

First, fuse interfacing to the applique fabric. Hoop the applique fabric. If I need multiples of the same design, I’ll load as many of the design that will fit in my largest hoop. Advance through the design to the tackdown segment of the design. Stitch the tackdown (the outline).

Remove the fabric from the hoop. Trim the appliqués as close to the outline as possible without snipping the threads. Set aside.

Hoop the project. Stitch the placement guide of the applique design.

Spray a small amount of spray adhesive to the wrong side of the cutout applique. Place the applique over the placement guide. Smooth in place.

Stitch the tackdown. Complete the design.

Our resident expert, Deborah Jones, addresses applique in her Ask the Expert column in the May/June 2011 issue of Designs. She gives an in-depth discussion on selecting and preparing fabrics, techniques for raw edge, reverse and traditional applique. Read it and you’ll be expert too!

I think I speak for many when I say Deborah Jones is a wealth of embroidery information – I know I’ve learned so much from her through the years. In 2009, Deborah compiled tons of embroidery information into her first book, Machine Embroidery on Difficult Materials (Krause Publications, Cincinnati, OH). I consider it a must-have in every embroiderer’s reference library. If you don’t have a copy, here’s your chance to win one.

Just tell us what fabric you find the most challenging when it comes to embroidery. Feel free to share your experience or just vent your fear! We love hearing from you.

Last week’s blog giveaway was for a  Stipple! All Seasons Borders!  The winner is…Jane Waite!

“I am currently making a top for myself and may consider using the embroidery machine for the buttonholes as I have never tried it that way. I previously had done some ITH projects such as coasters, a nook cover, zipper cases and a placemat done ITH. Your designs look like they would be fun to add to a jacket.”

Congratulations, Jane! 




  • Rita Corey

    I have had so much trouble trying to embroider on fleece. I use water soluble stabilizer on top, but the stitches still tend to disappear in the fleece. I also hate the hoop marks that are left on the fleece.

    • Noel Williams

      I started on fleece to make blankets for my daughter and her friends that were heading off to college. I have discovered the best way is to hoop your stabilizer, then pin the fleece to the stabilizer if you don’t have a Magna Hoop. On top I place Maderia Waffle Weave stabilizer. It is a tear away that is not water soluble and it tears away very clean. I have found if the design is a fill design with a satin stitch outline, it is best to stop the machine before the outline begins, tear the waffle weave off and then start the machine back up. This keeps you from having any little pieces of the white showing through the edge of the satin stitch.

  • Janice Thompson

    I think a hard fabric t hoop or embroidery on is a sweatshirt. The thing is heavy and I keep thinking I’m going to break my hoop, I try to hold the shirt up the whole time.

    • Eileen Roche

      You’re smart to support the weight of the shirt during the embroidery process. It can easily pop out of the hoop if part of the shirt drags on the table.

  • Brigitte Cowan

    I absolutely fear and avoid silk. I love it, don’t get me wrong but it doesn’t like me. Every time I have tried to embroider silk, something has gone wrong. I just received a Magna Hoop for Mother’s Day so hopefully this will change and silk will come to love me as much I love love silk.

    • Brigitte Cowan

      Oops, posted wrong place. sorry girls, lol.

  • Katrina H

    I always have issues with different weights of cotton. Each one has a different hand. But I’ve had more success using an iron-on tearaway to help stabilize the stitches.

  • Nancy

    I know this comment isn’t related to a difficult fabric, but it is my biggest problem at the moment. As a new machine embroiderer, I don’t probably have all the right tools and software but here is my biggest problem. It is finding the design I want on my computer. I try to be very descriptive of each design I download and I do save them in one file just for embroidery downloads. If I forget to write the description, it just saves it as usually the a code number. Then I don’t remember what that design looks like. I can’t open the file on my computer to actually view the design. I have to put it on a thumb drive and then put that on my machine. Even then, my machine has only a small screen, black and white, and it is difficult still to see the picture. Make sense? I’m sure there must be an easier way to save downloaded files as I’m new and don’t have all that many whereas I’m sure some of you who have been doing this a while have many.

    • Bev


      There is a wonderful software program called Embrilliance Thumbnailer that will solve the problem for you. It’s about $40 and worth every penny because it allows you to see the designs that belong to the cryptic file names. It works with your Windows Explorer (My Computer) and shows you pictures of the various files that you have. You won’t see any details, such as size, stitch count, colors, etc., but it will help to easily find the design you’re looking for. At some point in your embroidery experience (I’m a newbie of about 6 months) you will want to buy a software program that allows you to resize designs and make other adjustments, but this program will help you get started. A Google search will help you find it many places online. There also several software programs (for various prices) that allow you to catalog your designs into categories: birds, flowers, teddy bears, etc. Then no matter where you have your designs filed, you can click on “butterflies” and see all your butterfly designs.

      Once you identify the design you can change the file name from “MP4076” to “yellow daffodil” so you will always know what it is. It’s a function of Windows. If you don’t know how to do this, look in your Windows help pages for how to change a file name or rename a file. It’s an easy process. I rename my designs at the time I download them so that I don’t have to go back and do it later.

      Another tip – you will find lots of free designs online and download many. After awhile you won’t remember where you found a particular design (they all become a tangle!).To help me stay organized I made a sub-folder for each website I get a design from, then download the design into that folder. Later, when I can’t remember where I found the design, I just do a search for “yellow daffodil” in my embroidery downloads file and it comes up.

      Good luck to you! It’s an exciting hobby.


  • Bridget Cheatham

    A couple of years ago, one of my very dear friends asked me to personalize a Christmas stocking she had bought for her daughter. Of course I said yes…if only I had known what I was in for! The stocking was made of thin, loopy (I don’t know how else to describe it) fleece, pale pink with a white cuff in the same fabric. The fabric was so fragile I had to be super-careful when taking out stitches to open up the cuff…and even with sticky and mesh stabilizer on the bottom and two layers of water-soluble on top the embroidery stitches sunk in so badly I could barely read the name I had so carefully embroidered. Instead of ripping out the stitches (disaster!) I embroidered the name on a piece of white satin, added a decorative border to make a “patch” and then hand-sewed the patch over my previous stitching. In the end it turned out great, but it was certainly a challenge!

  • Gail Beam

    Embroidering on satin is the one fabric that I find most difficult to embroider on. Even if the design stitches out perfectly, ripples often eminate from the design. I have found that using a lightweight iron on stabiliber helps to eliminate this problem, but not always. Heavier weight satin seems to stitch better than a light weight satin too.

  • Sudu

    I have the most trouble with knits staying put. I use iron on stabilizer and usually hoop with another tearaway. but I usually like the results-just not the process.

  • Susan Burns

    I have been thinking about making a two sided shawl/scarf with one side taffeta or dupioni silk and the other side a sheer color matched organza. I want to stich some designs on the silk that will show through to the organza, and then add a few complimentary designs to the organza, but I am too terrified to spend the money for the materials, and have it all slip out of the hoop and be a loss!

  • Lindi

    Satin. I don’t like the way it frays

  • Shirley R

    I find that many of my projects involve embroidering on 100% cotton quilter’s fabric. No matter how many layers and or type of stabilizer I use the project always ends up puckering. This is SO frustrating. On my most recent project I used a heavy weight cut-away stabilizer. I do not stretch the fabric while hooping, and I also used another light weight interfacing under the hoop for extra good measure. It showed no puckers when completed and still in the hoop. I removed the completed design from the hoop and cut away the stabilizer and the interfacing close to the design. The project was perfectly flat, both fabric and stabilizer. I did iron or steam press this but since I often burn the midnight oil, I went to bed. In the morning, the design was puckered and it appears that the stabilizer(s) are the culprits because they were puckered, hence the quilter’s fabric was pulled and puckering around the edges. If I could find the solution to this, I would be one happy camper!

    • Shirley R

      Correction to my post: I did NOT iron or steam press this…

    • Bev


      Here are some thoughts that came to mind: I’ve had this same problem and was told it’s not the stabilizer, but the hooping that causes the puckers. You need to be super careful that you don’t pull on the fabric and stabilizer once it’s in the hoop to try to smoothe it out and get it tight. The fabric needs to be taut but not so much so that you could bouce a dime on it. If it’s pulled too tight in the hoop it will go back to its original shape once it’s out of the hoop. Along with this, be sure that your hoops are as tight as you can get them and that your fabric is held tight between the inner and outer hoop all the way around the hoop. If there are some places where the hoops aren’t tightly together, try wrapping the inner hoop with blue plumber’s tape to take up the gap.

      I have

      I’m assuming you pre-shrink your fabric. That’s a must also. Plus embroidery thread will sometimes shrink if you touch the iron directly to it, so you always want to use a press cloth.

      Be careful that you’re using the right kind of stabilizer. I was told at a Floriani seminar that stabilizers are designed to be used single-thickness. I know some use multiple layers, but you may be over-stabilizing. I have had good success with a medium iron-on tear-away. I’ve also had good luck hooping just the stabilizer and using a temporary adhesive spray to tack down the fabric. If your machine can do it, it also helps to add a basting stitch to sew before the design stitches out. One other tip: your designs should always be hooped on grain for best results. Don’t rotate the fabric; rotate the design.

      I know how frustrating this can be. To find the one you like best, take some quilt fabric scraps and test some different methods when you aren’t working on a project that has to be perfect. You’ll find the one that works best for you and your machine. (You are aware that each machine has its own personality, aren’t you?!!)

      Good luck!!

  • Karin

    Oh my gosh – all this time, I’ve been printing the design on paper, tracing onto fusible, fusing, then cutting out the fabric/fusible. MOST of the time, it’s ok, notice not ALL the time. YOUR idea is absolutely ingenious!! 100% correct, 100% of the time! THANK YOU!!

    I think satin or seersucker is hard to embroider….I try to just stay away, far away from both of those fabrics~

  • Maureen Teachman

    I have only been machine embroidering for a short time. I’ve sewing however for many years.

    My most difficult fabric to embroider is the knit cuff of a child’s sock. You know the ones, Not the nice smooth baby socks that are single knit…but the heavy sock with a thick cuff that sometimes is even folded down 3 times to make the cuff. These socks are similar to what cheerleaders wear.

    I use an iron on stabilizer on the wrong side, that is designed for knit fabrics. I do use a small hoop. But still it seems to have a mind of it’s own!

    When the design is being stitched over one of the more prominent ribs, either the stitch will distort the rib or the stitch stands out and just looks sloppy or wrong. When the rib is distorted it is twisted. The rib outside the design area is no longer straight up and down. It may turn so much that it can look like you have a defective knit fabric.

    Remember there is an overall bottom/base knit fabric in the cuff, but where these intermittent thicker ribs are knitted the additional thickness or raised rib isn’t in direct contact with the stabilizer and thus it isn’t controlled by the bottom iron-on-stabilizer.

    I wonder if a specially digitized design that takes into consideration the rib and its characteristics is the solution.

    I really don’t like the idea of making a badge or appliqué type design. I prefer the appearance of the embroidery, when sewn directly to the sock fabric. That is of course, if this problem can be corrected.

    Now that I am writing about it, I wonder if I couldn’t also use an iron on wash away stabilizer on the top. It would have to be pressed straight up and down, just as one should do on all knit fabrics and not move the iron from side to side, to avoid distorting the fabric beneath the top stabilizer before starting the embroidery.

    Any suggestions?

  • Bev


    I don’t know if this would help, but I’m thinking that a wash-away topping (looks like plastic wrap) might solve the problem. It’s function is to keep the stitches from sinking into the knit so that they stay on top, like you would use on towels, sweatshirts, etc. Also, my repairman swears by ballpoint needles when embroidering on knits because the needle slips between the fibers instead of piercing them, which then distorts the knit.

    Good luck!

  • Mary Haggenmaker

    Many times what thread I use depends on the article being embroidered and/or the colors I want to use. If it is something that will not see a washing machine very often and I want it to be very colorful i will go with the rayon. If it is a child’s outfit that will see a lot of wear, I prefer the polyester. There are some embroideries that will end up as earrings. When I do these I use the rayon and I then put a couple of coats of decopauge on them to keep dirt from sinking into the design.

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  • Vici Fallin

    I love your great information!!!I sometimes ha ve trouble embroidering on Minkie. I found the wet activated stabilizer and not hopping works great and I use water soluble topper, but sometimes need to stitcha name twice, is that o.k.

    • Noel

      Yes I have done that in the past. Since I started using the Madeira Waffle Weave I don’t have to go over the embroidery a second time as often as I use to. The only disadvantage is it makes the design stiff.

  • Brenn

    I just started embroidering about 4 months ago. It has been going great for the most part but I am having trouble with machine applique. Every time I do it… my top fabric starts to tear away from the applique stitches. Even in the places that it doesn’t tear… it looks as though after one or two washes it probably will. I put a stabilizer between the two pcs of fabric but it still happens. Any suggestions?? Thank you!

    • Wanda-J

      Hello Brenn … just wondering if you ever received a reply to this ?issue. I’m having similar challenges and I’m looking for answers. Do you have any?

    • Sarah

      I think using a different needle would be your solution. When using a sharp point needle it can rip or pierce through the material causing small fibers to almost fray and look like they could rip. This is something I’ve also dealt with and using an actual embroidery needle has semmed to solve it for me. Sometimes I even have to test a certain needle to see if it will pierce my appliqué material or not. I’m still new and learning too!

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  • nadenegaynoremb

    I am trying stand away butterfly -I down loaded the pattern and printed out the instructions I cant find the dieline file I need . I have done several emb. but this has got me.

  • Angela Franklin

    I have a new machine. I usually buy a file and save on my machine but it seems as if once saved and try to go back and use the pattern again, its usually out of line. I don’t know what is wrong.

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