Machine Embroidery for Beginners: How Do I Get Started?

Did you recently get a brand new embroidery machine and have no idea how to use it?

Or maybe you want to try your hand at machine embroidery, but are clueless about the equipment you will need.

Whether you said yes to the first question or both, this comprehensive guide can help you figure out this complex, yet rewarding pastime. Or better yet, a new business you can start right at home!

Unlike traditional embroidery, the machine variety works on pre-designed patterns using different types of stitches that are punched into fabric or clothing via a special machine.

The craft is used to decorate garments and household items such as pillow cases, bedspreads, aprons, etc.

Equipment Essentials

Besides the actual machine and the hoops that come with it, here are some essentials that you will need when you are experimenting with different designs:


Machine embroidery software is software that can read designs that are digitized specially for this craft. Think sewing with graphic design.

Those designs are available online and come with hoop sizes, thread colors and recommended formats.

So how can you get them into the machine and stitch them out? By using software.

Those designs come in a CD or link that can be used to download them on a computer.

The software will enable you to see it complete with its name and number. It also allows users to make changes and add elements such as a monogram or names.


A stabilizer or ‘backing’ supports the fabric as you stitch and prevents it from puckering up or stretching.

These are strips are made from polyester fibers and cellulose, and they need to be placed beneath the fabric you are embroidering on. It has to be cut away when the design has been incorporated.

The 3 common ones are called:


Cut-Away – This can be used on any fabric type and is perfect for stabilizing stretchy garments.  It prevents the stitches on the design from popping as the fabric is stretched or manipulated.

The stabilizer that is under the embroidery remains and the excess is cut away, thus the name.


Tear-Away – Similar to the cutaway stabilizer, a tear-away stabilizer is used in projects where most of it has to be removed after embroidery such as in towels and linens.

As the name implies, the excess stabilizer can be torn out cleanly and evenly.


Wash-Away – This stabilizer should be used in embroidery projects in which all traces have to be removed from the back.

This is what makes it ideal for embroidery that is done on sheer fabric that has to be transparent from the front and side.

As a beginner, you should stick with cut-away stabilizers until you are proficient enough to use the other two.

That’s because cutaways can be used on any type of fabric and will prevent you from accidentally cutting the fabric as you practice.


Needles to say (pun intended), needles are essential for embroidery in general, and no, these do not come built into the machine. For one thing, you cannot use the ones you use for sewing.

The main difference between the two lies in the shape of the scarf (a smooth indentation at the back of the needle that is right behind the eye) and the eye (the hole where the thread passes).

Needles that are made specifically for machine embroidery have a longer eye and a specially designed scarf to accommodate complex designs.

However, before buying a couple for your machine, check out the manual that came with it. It should detail the type that can fit it and work best.

Common embroidery needles have a universal point i.e. a slightly rounded tip that lies between ones that have a sharp and ballpoint tip (blunt tip).

As you get better at using the machine and working on different fabrics, you will have to change needles accordingly.

Generally, the lower the needle number (7 to 11), the finer it is. You will also need to consider the weight and weave of the fabric, the stabilizer you are using, and the thread you are working with.

Embroidery Thread

Before determining the material of the thread you should use, consider its weight. The higher the thread-weight number, the finer and thinner the thread and vice versa.

To understand this, let’s compare the weight.

A typical sewing thread has 50 wt while standard embroidery ones are finer at 40 wt and even 30 wt. Unless specified in the user manual of the machine you have, nearly all digital embroidery designs are digitized at 40 wt.

When it comes to thread material, you have a variety to choose from depending on the project you are working on.

Rayon is considered to be the most popular machine embroidery thread for beginners since it is affordable, easy to find, simple to use and is available in a variety of bright colors.

You can also use rayon but that thread needs a delicate and practiced hand. It may boast high shine and sheen but it is not as durable.

Specialty Scissors

You cannot cut out fine thread using a large kitchen knife unless you want to ruin all of your hard work.

Make sure you have small scissors with you during a project so you can clip errant threads and thread tails as closely and precisely as possible.

Consider specialty scissors that have curved tips such as the Gingher Double Curved Embroidery Scissors. The double-curved handle can be used to cut away any excess fabric in corners and tight spots.

Types of Stitches


A straight stitch is a simple embroidery stitch that you can make by using a straight and long independent stitch or in groups for patterns.

In other words, it is produced by sewing a line and repeating over the same area to make it thicker.

This stitch can be worked on any fabric and can be used to make simple designs such as flowers and geometric shapes if it is used in groups.

Since the designs it creates are simple, this stitch type is often used for shading, outlining and detail work.


Also known as the column stitch the satin stitch is characterized by long, unbroken threads that are stitched to fill an area on a piece of fabric.

The stitch tracks back over a narrow area and switched between an angled stitch and a straight one to form a zigzag pattern.

When completed, this stitch has a shiny finish due to the unbroken threads, which is why it is often used to create borders.


Fill or tatami stitches are used to fill patterns thus the name. It looks like a weave which is why it is often used to create volume and texture.

It comprises of alternated lines of stitching that can be used to make small designs to cover the base material such as blue squares or red circles.

Even though fill stitches lack the sheen of satin stitches, it is quite effective in filling gaps or negative space in the design that can otherwise make it look too basic.

Once you choose a stitch, you should do a test run first by embroidering on a separate piece of fabric.

Every stitch will create a different effect and can cause the material to pull or pucker up depending on the weave of the fabric you use. Using some of your threads for a practice run will be worth it when you fire up that machine.

6 Easy Machine Embroidery Projects for Beginners

  • Aprons – Make simple embroidery designs on aprons for restaurant staff or even for home cooks. For example, you can stitch ‘Kiss the Cook’ on one or embroider a small T-bone steak on a barbecue apron.
  • Place Mats – You can embroider place mats with the names of hotels, restaurants, clubs, football themes, names of the kids in a Little League baseball team, etc.
  • Beachwear – Embroider sassy messages or a sunset on beach towels, wraps, and umbrellas.
  • Baseball caps – Embroidered caps have something that a heat press may not be able to emulate. Design team logos and the names of players on these to give them a personal touch. You will need a special machine for this such as the Brother SE1900.
  • Polo shirts – Embroider a logo, a simple design, or a special message on a polo shirt for a golf club or any other sports club.
  • Jackets – Embroidery motorcycle club logos on the backs of jackets that the members wear. This is a particularly lucrative venture since those designs are almost always quite large.

Wrapping It Up...

As a beginner, you really should get to know your equipment first before even thinking about using that embroidery machine.

The software may seem as if it is doing all the work, but a lot goes into even the simplest of designs.

In fact, before using it on the fabric you wish to embroider on, experiment and practice with it on a swatch of the same material.

That way you can test out different threads, get used to basic designs, get rid of beginner jitters and gain more confidence in your skills.

With enough practice, you can move onto more complex designs which can open up business opportunities for you as well.

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