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Diary of a Novice Embroiderer: A Harrowing Tale

Eileen's Machine Embroidery Blog

Preface:  My friend Gus asked me to embroider a pillowcase as a birthday gift for his wife, Sophia.  I agreed and expected him to purchase a pillowcase.  Instead, he purchased fabric, sewed the pillowcase and presented it to me to embroider.  It was flawless—and I was so touched that a husband would do that for his wife.  Not only that—he had a special sentiment he wanted embroidered for his dear wife.

For reasons that defy logic, I chose the day before Sophia’s birthday party to start stitching the gift.  The timeline below showcases my thought process while completing the project.  I share my tale in hope that you can relate and find solace in knowing the creative process is indeed a process—full of ups and downs but this is how we grow and gain experience.


6:00 pm.  I guess I should start stitching the pillowcase.  I am relieved Eileen improved the layout of my design.  My original versions weren’t as artistic as I wanted.  My biggest concern is hooping the pillowcase.  It’s probably wise for me to stitch a test sample.   I am glad Gus bought tons of extra fabric—hopefully I won’t need it to make a new pillowcase.

6:30 pm.  Everyone at the office left for the weekend.  Eileen gave me advice on hooping and assured me I could call if I needed help.  Now it’s just me, the pillowcase and dozens of tools.  I felt like Sheldon from the Big Bang theory.  This pillowcase HAS to be perfect.  I better unhoop it and try again.


This is an important engineering feat.  Wait… no, it’s just a pillowcase.  But it really does need to be precision placed.  Yes, I should unhoop and try using a different method…IMG_8042BL

I decided to start over using a different hooping method…Eileen's Machine Embroidery BlogEileen's Machine Embroidery Blog

7:38 pm.  I sent a frustrated text to my friend:  “the opposite of fun is right now!  I will never ever agree to stitch something special for someone else.  It’s so difficult!  No, it’s impossible!  However… I did learn how to use the camera function on THE Dream Machine… so that’s a positive.”

7:45 pm.  I guess it’s time to hit the Start button to take my first stitch.  I wondered if I would look back at that moment with regret.  I looked at the design on-screen—it indicated it will take 31 minutes to stitch.  After that time, I will know if the design is crooked or not.  But by that time it’s too late.  This is highly stressful.

7:51 pm.  Wow!  This is working!  It’s absolutely working!  The rich purple thread I chose is perfect!

7:53 pm.  I kept a watchful eye on the machine as it stitched.  Because the pillowcase is cylindrical (and a tight fit) in the hoop, I had to make sure the excess fabric didn’t get caught during stitching.  I should have listened to Eileen and used one of our Hoop Guards.  That would have helped.

There was a brief moment I took my eyes and hands away from the excess fabric.  Sure enough, the fabric got eaten by the machine. I remained calm.  This is why I’m at the machine, watching and waiting.  I can fix this.


I carefully clipped away the few stitches that were eating the fabric.  Then I used the machine’s stitch advance/reverse feature to back up and redo the stitches.

8:00 pm.  Look at me!  I’ve got skills.

8:15 pm.  I sent a photo to my friend showing the progress.  My friend’s reply, “Because stitching text wasn’t challenging enough, you had to add the butterfly!  You really challenged yourself!”

Eileen's Machine Embroidery Blog

8:34 pm.  My ears perked up to the familiar, comforting chime of the embroidery machine, indicating the design is finished stitching.  The friendly smiley face appeared on the machine, as if sharing in my joy of accomplishment.

Eileen's Machine Embroidery Blog

I examined the pillowcase, still hooped in the machine and proclaimed, “look at me, I stitched my first pillowcase!”

Eileen's Machine Embroidery Blog

Eileen's Machine Embroidery Blog

About the design:
Butterfly from Kreations by Kara.  Search:  BB Shadowed
Lettering from Perfect Embroidery Pro software.  The path tool was used to create a unique curved effect.


Here’s your assignment this week:

We are going to turn the table and ask you to post an embroidery related question for us in the comments below this week! Denise and Eileen will do their very best to get you an expert anwser and one lucky commenter will be chosen to win Eileen and Marie Zinno’s new, yet to be released Hoop It Up book!

The winner of the last assignment answered the following question:

Thank you all for allowing me to share this occasion with you. I hope you’ve learned some tips and maybe even thought of using an idea or two for a special bride in the future. What tip or idea from this wedding do you think you are most likely to use?

The winner is:  

Beth Daniels: “I would use the ribbon idea on even some clothes that I would make with the pattern number and name of clothing.”

Related posts:




  • beth

    I use the embroidery buddy to place designs on shirts. I also use an eraser that fits on top of pencils to hold the screws so they are easier to grasp with my fingers.

  • beth

    How do you get the right placement in the middle of the t-shirt for the design? Invariably, I always get it a little to the right or left of the middle.

  • Karen

    The pillowcase turned out absolutely beautiful! I’m always afraid to do embroidery on someone elses items.

    • Denise Holguin

      Thank you! I was so excited (and relieved!) to discover it turned out.


  • Belinda

    Are Perfect Embroidery Pro software updates free? I am looking for a good software package without having to spend hundreds of dollars every time the software is updated like some companies charge.

    • eileenroche

      Yes, Belinda, the updates are free for all of the Inspirations’ line of software: Perfect Embroidery Pro, My Quilt Embellisher, My Block Piecer, Word Art in Stitches and My Quilt Planner.

  • Sheila S.

    It looks like you ended up hooping the stabilizer and “floating” the pillowcase. I almost always hoop this way now, except when the design is really dense. My machine can do a basting stitch around the design, making it pretty stable. Aside from dense embroidery, is there any other reason not to float the item being embroidered?

    • eileenroche

      Sheila, the most stable and secure hold on fabric is achieved when hooped with stabilizer in a standard hoop. Of course, it’s not always possible or desirable to do that. And frankly, many people use their basting feature to hold fabric in the hoop. So…if that’s what your comfortable with, then by all means, do it!

  • Trellis Stewart

    I still consider myself machine embroidery novice. Each project i tackle I get a little better. A blank T-shirt can’t be around me because it will end up with a design on it. Here is my question: when working with knit t-shirts should a ball-point needle be used?


    • eileenroche

      Good question, Trellis. A ball point needle should be used on knits. However, machine embroidery needles are ball points – so if that’s what you’ve been using then you’re in good shape!

  • Dee

    i have been embroidering s number of years now, have mastered towels,sweats,tshirts etc. now I want to embroider quilt squares, wall hangings. Everything I stitch puckers, I am embroidering on cotton,checking the instructions for correct stabilizer and I think I am hooping correctly but still puckers!! Any tips for me?

    • eileenroche

      Without knowing anything else, I would think your designs are too dense for the cotton squares. If you are actually embroidering (not quilting) on the cotton then add interfacing to the wrong side of the cotton before embroidery. Use an additional stabilizer and you’ll be set. This is a great topic – I’ll address this more fully in a future post.

  • Kathy E.

    A few years ago, I bought an expensive piece of plush black velvet. I had hopes (and still do) to embroider a large, fancy “E” on it, then make it into a pillow. I’ve never taken on the project because I don’t know what stabilizer and needle to use. I’m thinking it would be best to use a topper too. If you could give me any tips, I’d be so thankful, then I could get this project going!

    • eileenroche

      Hi Kathy,
      This is a great topic and just in time for the holidays. I’ll address it in full in a future post because images would really help you understand.

  • Pat

    I love stitching on pre-made pillowslips, except when I don’t do them far enough down from the edge or I forget to turn the design around so that the top of the design is in line with the top of the pillowslip.
    I have an upside down heart; mushrooms; cross stitch heart/flowers/basket; and lot of other designs on my bed linen.
    Makes me feel almost an embroiderer. (after all the machine did the stitching, I just sat there being nervous about it all or overconfident on the times it turned out wrong)
    When I was over confident, that is when I forget to do the last minute checks and oops happens.

    • Denise Holguin

      Some say “upside down” other say, “artistic and unexpected!”

      I love that you keep trying. That’s what every hobby is about– practicing and improving our skills!


  • Gail Beam

    Is there an easy way to embroider a design and then add words on the bottom with another hooping, and still get the wording centered correctly?

    • eileenroche

      Sure – look for the full info in a future post, Gail.

  • Shirley Clark

    What’s the best stabilizer to use for stitching on pillowcases or cotton fabric? I know I’ve played with this a lot, and even used a spray on stabilizer to keep it from puckering. Stitching on knits are easy, but cottons are always challenging.

  • Barbara

    What’s the secret to embroidering names/words/letters on T-shirts? I use fusible no show mesh, hoop with tear away, and use WSS. I always get some areas on the letters where the bobbin shows. I don’t believe it’s the tension as the rest of the design stitches out perfect. This only happens on t-shirts using my Brother PR1000e. tia

  • Pam

    I am going to do a ranch brand on a synthetic suede, would you use a heavier stabilizer and a topper? I don’t want it to be too stiff.

    • eileenroche

      Pam, most synthetic suedes have a bit of stretch in them so I would fuse polymesh cut-away stabilizer to the wrong side of the suede and add a lightweight water soluble topper to the top. Use a ballpoint needle and it should turn out well. If your design is very dense, float a layer of tear-away under the hoop.

      • Doree shandera

        Eileen, I understand fusing no show to the suede but would you also hoop a piece of stabilizer?

  • Penny Kitzmiller

    I am new to embroidery and I have a tshirt that I want to embroider around the neckline. Can you help me by telling me which stabilizer and needle to use?
    Also how big of a design would you suggest for a v neck? Thank you, love this blog!

  • Teresa Rizzo

    Would it have been easier to stitch out using a 10 needle? How do you decide between the multi needle or single needle embroidery machine? Would you need to stabilize any differently between the two?

    • eileenroche

      Shhh…don’t tell Denise she can use the 10-needle! It definitely would have been easier and the stabilizer treatment would be the same!

      • Denise Holguin

        Eileen has set up a series of Embroidery Skills Tests to prove I’m ready to start driving a multi-needle machine. (crossing fingers… I hope I pass!) haha!

        All kidding aside, I’ve not explored the multi-needle machines. But you do raise a good point– I bet the pillowcase would have been a breeze to stitch. I better get going on those Skills Tests! 😉


  • Sherry McCary

    Love this post! Glad to know I’m not the only one who can stitch my own stuff all day just fine, but give me something that’s important to someone else and I’m on pins and needles the whole time.

    • Denise Holguin

      Yes indeed! The way I see it, my stuff doesn’t matter. But you’d think other people’s stuff is made of gold!


  • Barbara Grant

    I want to embroider little flowers or a vine on a collar for a toddlers dress. The heirloom kind that I used to sew by hand. How can I set up placement so the machine enbroidery will stitch precisely where I want it?

    • eileenroche

      We give you the step-by-step how-to in a future post, Barbara.

  • Rebecca

    How do you add decoration around and existing buttonhole?

  • Doree shandera

    I have the snap hoops but am still not really clear on how to use them. Also, which machines do they work with? I can’t figure out how to put it on my dream machine.

    • Denise Holguin

      We will be happy to assist you! Call our toll-free number: 888-739-0555 and we’ll help you with your Snap Hoop.

      Thank you,

  • Saundra Romanus

    I made a baby’s romper and interfaced the fabric with iron on interfacing and then hooped the front and appliqued it (before making the romper). When I pressed the design it wrinkled on the applique part. I asked where I bought my machine and they did not know why that happened. Any advice, thanks

    • eileenroche

      That’s a bummer! My first thought was the applique fabric shrunk when you pressed it after embroidering. But I’m doubtful that happened because you already applied heat to the applique fabric when you fused the interfacing. Would it be possible that the host fabric (the romper fabric) shrunk when you pressed the appliqued area causing the applique to wrinkle (because it would be larger than the host fabric at that point)?

      • Karen W

        I’ve had this happen to me, too & I think it’s that the item wasn’t pre-shrunk. I know it is so tempting to embroider on a brand-new item, but it’s a good practice to have it laundered at least once. Doing alterations many years ago (especially hemming jeans), I always told my clients to launder the new item as they normally would before I altered it. Now I try to apply this rule for my embroidery clients. Sometimes, if I’m giving a gift item, I give it to them new & unaltered, with a gift certificate enclosed, saying to launder & return to me for the embroidery to be placed. This also allows them a chance to let me know if they have some preference in the design or colors — often that’s the best gift: one they’ll truly cherish, as it reflects their tastes.

  • Saundra Romanus

    PS. I also used cut-a-way stabilizer

  • Donna G.

    How do you hoop knit fabric so that the fabric (“grain”) remains straight and the design is centered correctly? Hooping knit shirts is always my biggest challenge!

  • Christine

    I really enjoy reading all the embroidery topics…. As I have had so many of the experiences mentioned. My problem is that I want the “fix” now not in later article( afraid I will miss it ) thanks for all the tips

  • ginger

    I’m relatively new to embroidery and seem to always have some little glitches in my embroideries. On my last project it seemed my thread wanted to shred… even though it was good quality thread and I had the appropriate sized needle. I tried slowing down the machine dome but that just let me catch the goofs faster.

    Any other ideas on why the thread would do that? Or should I just toss that spool and get another?

    • Karen W

      Ginger, It may have been the way your thread was feeding off the spool. Some threads do better off the end (or top of the spool), but that method might cause twists or loops & eventual kinks on others, as they prefer to be fed off the side. Observe your spool & make a note on which brands prefer one direction over the other. Superior Threads’ website has a good explanation of what happens with different threads & how to correct it.

  • Mary Nesemann

    Boy, do i know that feeling of being so nervous doing someone else’s special project on something they have purchased. For me, it always seems to happen when it is a gift for a new baby. I cringe every time someone buys a onesie and wants me to embroider their special idea on it. It always seems to give me a migraine trying to hoop these tiny garments. By the time I finish I am just shaking. Is there some special trick to doing a onesie with ease?

  • Sara Redner

    I have tried using embroidery needles and apparently my machine doesn’t like them. Would a ball point needle like I use in the sewing machine work in the embroidery machine?

  • Becky M

    I love making pillowcases for my grandkids from fabrics they choose. Is it always necessary to prewash the fabrics before doing the embroidery? Sometimes we just want to get started right away.

    • Karen W

      Many quilters differ on this very topic. At the very least I would press the pillowcase fabric with lots of steam, to help pre-shrink. it wouldn’t hurt. Some folks would like to get all those manufacturing chemicals out of the fabric, knowing kids will want to snuggle/ sleep on them right away!

  • Doreen Linehan

    Do you have any advice for embroidering the stripes on karate belts? I recently had to embroider another stripe on a belt. I have embroidered some belts before but this one was embroidered by someone else. I thought I was being thorough. I matched up two of the stripes on my software added a third stripe and printed out a template and made sure the two stripes matched up & the third was the same distance. I then advanced the machine to the third stripe. My problem is that I unfortunately assumed they had done both sides the same but they didn’t. When I went to do the other side the distance between the two stripes was narrower. So I had to adjust the distance. When he brought the belt in all the ends of the stripes were unravelling because they’d embroidered off the ends. I had to sew the ends to hopefully stop the whole thing from coming apart. My question is that even though I printed out a template and centered the needle over the center of the template, one end still went a bit over the end of the belt. How do I prevent that from happening on future belts? They want the stripe to take up the full space. Another problem is that the belts are not always the same width so they need to be measured individually.

  • Beth R

    When is it recommended to use wash-away stabilizer that does not completely wash out – fibers are left behind to provide long-term support. I’m wondering what the advantage is to using this type of stabilizer. Thanks!

  • joanna

    Do i have to unstitch a baby onesie if i want to make a cute pattern on it? how? How??

  • cheryl schwarz

    I have someone that wants me to make clothing labels for his new clothing line. first question…how do I add the register trademark (circle with the r in it) and he wants me to use distant galaxy font is that in Emb. pro. software. and my next question is what do I use as material? I don’t want to sew around 96 labels. so I need something that wont ravel. I was thinking a ribbon.
    Please help! Thanks

  • Vicky Isliefson

    I use painter’s tape to hold items in place for ITH embroidery. Sometimes the tape gets stitched over a bit if I put it too close and it is hard to remove it from even a line stitching. Do yo have any recommendations for a way to help remove bits of tape?

  • The Shed Lot

    Clearly one of the top blogs on the net.


    Nice post. I always learn something interesting from different blogs every day of the week. Thanks for sharing.

  • Awesome post!

  • The Witmer Company

    You definitely know how to bring an issue to light and make it important. I can’t believe you aren’t more popular because you definitely have the what it takes.

  • Newmart

    You always know how to bring an issue to light and make it important. I cannot believe you aren’t more popular because you definitely have the what it takes.

  • Great effort on this post.

  • Aimee Aimee

    Thank you for a great explanation. I was looking online for a similar idea and really appreciate it


    Confused about vinyl for machine embroidery. Is there a difference in the cutting machine vinyl I see and the kind that is ok for machine embroidery (i.e. washable)? I know marine vinyl works, but what about the glitter vinyl, et al that is available in the cutting machine products aisle? Thanks so much.