Machine Embroidery Advice from a Pro

In every issue of Creative Machine Embroidery, expert Kate Zaynard answers reader questions. Here, she shares her advice on embroidering borders and corners, embroidering on lightweight and sheer fabrics, and incorporating embroidery into your quilting.

Machine Embroidering Borders and Corners

Borders and corners are a fun type of design that can add a really nice effect to projects of all types. Borders are designed to go along edges, and corners follow angles, usually 90°. Some corners are stand-alone, but some are designed to match borders, allowing an embroiderer to continue a border along the hem and center front of a garment, along the perimeter of a pillow, etc.

Using machine embroidery on borders and corners

There are basically two types of borders. Some are designed to be stitched so certain points match exactly, creating a continuous design (A & B). Others are designed to be fitted together or stitched in sequence but don’t have to be perfectly aligned. For the beginner, the latter is easier to use.

Start by printing several templates of the design and marking a placement line along the edge you’re going to an embroider. Place one template at an anchor point, such as the center front (if using a corner on, for example, a jacket, place the corner first), aligning it with the placement line. Then place another at another anchor point, such as the side seam. Evenly distribute the remaining design between the anchor points. If necessary, slightly shrink or enlarge the design to fit better, but don’t adjust more than 10 percent. Remember, with this type of design you don’t need to have the designs exactly continuous, but the space between them should be consistent. Continue doing this along the entire edge, then use the templates to align the embroidery machine when you’re ready.

Continuous borders are a bit more challenging, and you should use every tool available to you to ensure alignment. Templates are a good start, but if your machine has the ability to align the needle at places other than the center point, this feature can be extremely helpful. Many continuous border designs are digitized to stitch the final stitch at the same point in the design as the first stitch should be on the next stitchout, right on the edge of the design. In this case, being able to align along an edge can be a lifesaver. You can also mark the location of the final stitch and carefully adjust the needle to start there. If you have the ability to combine designs digitally, either through software or on your screen, use it. Properly aligning continuous borders will take some practice—test stitches to get used to the design are probably in order—but you’ll be delighted by the final result.

Embroidering on Lightweight or Sheer Fabrics

Embroidering on lightweight and sheer fabrics can be a bit challenging, but it’s completely doable. The first thing to know is that you should always choose a lightweight embroidery design. This is because dense designs can interfere with the drape of the fabric, creating stiffness that can hang strangely. Look for light stitching or open designs for the best results, or embroider heavier designs along areas where drape isn’t important, such as the neckline. Another element that can interfere with drape is the stabilizer. That’s why it’s best to use water-soluble stabilizer for these fabrics, especially the sheer ones. It can be fully removed after stitching, allowing the fabric to drape nicely and, on sheer fabrics, leaving no visible backing. Finally, choose a thin needle, such as a 70/10, to prevent large, obvious needle holes. For sheer fabric, if you think the final project will move enough so the back occasionally shows, wind your bobbin with thread that matches the needle thread.

Using machine embroidery with sheer or lightweight fabrics

If your fabric is particularly slippery or inclined to shift, you may want to secure it to the stabilizer, either by using self-adhesive stabilizer or with temporary spray adhesive. Another trick is to use starch or a product like Terial Magic liquid stabilizer to stiffen the fabric for the embroidery process. These products add stabilization to the fabric so it doesn’t shift during stitchout, then are washed out after the stitching is complete.

How to Incorporate Machine Embroidery into Your Quilting

Machine embroidery and quilting are a great combination, and there are a wide range of ways to put them together. I’ll share a few of the best ways to get started.

Perhaps the most basic way to add embroidery to a quilt is to add it to one or more blocks. This will look best if the block in question is a solid piece, such as a square, rectangle, or along a wide border or sashing, as embroidering over piecing can make the overall effect too busy. Choose solid or low-volume fabric for your embroidered blocks, as embroidery can get lost on intricate or busy prints. Use a mediumweight cut-away stabilizer that’s not too stiff. Depending on your preference, embroider the design onto the block or embroider the yardage and cut out the block afterwards. Cut away the excess stabilizer, then construct the quilt top as normal and continue with the quilting process.

Incorporating machine embroidery in quilts

Another great way to add embroidery to a quilt is to use the machine for the quilting itself. For people who struggle with free-motion stippling, this can be a lifesaver. Start by finding a design that’s specifically for quilting. Your favorite embroidery design websites should have a section for quilting designs, which are generally line work that stitch continuously. They come in all sorts of designs—geometric, sashiko, holiday themes, traditional stippling, and just about anything you can think of. You can also look for light stitching and red- or black-work designs, which will often work for quilting purposes. Also make sure to check the built-in designs on your machine, as they will often include some quilting designs. To reduce the number of hoopings, try to find a design that will fit your largest hoop.

Begin by creating the quilt top, then create the quilt sandwich as normal. This technique doesn’t require any stabilizer; simply hoop the quilt sandwich. The layers are enough to stabilize the fabric. Use a 90/14 needle to compensate for the thickness of the embroidery surface, and choose an appropriate color for the bobbin thread, as it will show on the wrong side. Embroider the sections one at a time, making sure that there are no pins in the embroidery area. If necessary to fill in edges, add smaller quilting designs or resize the design slightly to fit.

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