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The Beginner’s Guide to Machine Embroidery

The Beginner’s Guide to Machine Embroidery main article image
Posted on January 28, 2020 by Linnea Holgersson from Creative Fabrica

Embroidery has long been a unique and personal way of customizing all types of fabric, clothing, tote bags, sheets, towels, and much more. 


Learn more about Machine Embroidery

Are you new to machine embroidery, or simply curious about how it works? In this tutorial we will take you through the first steps from downloading a design, importing it into your machine, and then stitching it onto fabric.

We hope you find this guide helpful – happy crafting!

dark suede fabric with white flower thread pattern

Picture from Bonbon

Each machine embroidery design is unique

As an embroiderer, which designs you like ultimately comes down to personal preference. However, there are many techniques and approaches out there, some of which are unique to a particular machine, thread or type of fabric. The more you learn about your preferred embroidery style, your machine, materials, and thread you work with, the better the end results will be. So, make sure that you go in with an open mind, but stick to the style that you feel works best for you.

glossy thread embroidery on bags

Picture from KlaraFall Vernaeht

Finding a Machine Embroidery Design

The first step is to find an embroidery design that you want to stitch with your embroidery machine. If you don’t find the design you’re looking for on your machine you can easily download a design from the web, and then upload it to your machine.

Oriental style colorful machine embroidery

The Embroidery library is split into categories to suit any occasion and is also divided into Digitized Embroidery Files and Auto-Digitized Embroidery Files.

Digitized Embroidery Files: These are designs which have been optimized for digital embroidery ‘by hand’ by the designer. As a result, these designs have a carefully thought out stitching pattern, and are often higher quality files, so will tend to produce the best results..

Auto-Digitized Embroidery: These are designs which have been digitized using a computer program. These files are often not well optimized for machine embroidery, and the quality can vary. One tip is to first try out these machine embroidery files on a piece of test fabric before you use your actual fabric.

To access the embroidery file, all you need to do is to download it, then unpack it from the ZIP file.

Read more here how to download & unpack a ZIP file on Mac.

Read more here how to download & unpack a ZIP file on Windows.

Please note: We recommend that you use a computer (PC or Mac) to download, unpack and transfer embroidery files. Since embroidery files are quite large, phones or tablets might struggle with handling the files, which might result in errors. These devices might also not recognize the file formats associated with embroidery, which might prevent you from working with designs easily.

machine embroidered red rose with floral outline

Select a design that is the right size for your Embroidery Machine

On the product pages you will be able to find useful information about the file, which is crucial to selecting a suitable embroidery design. Each design displays its width and height, measured in inches, which indicates the size of the design. Make sure the size of the design is less than or equal to the size of your machine’s hoop.

For example, a design that is 5” x 4” will not fit into a hoop that is only 4”x4”, so you need to select a different design.

Transferring the Embroidery design from your computer to your Embroidery Machine

When you have selected a Machine Embroidery file that is suitable for your machine (please see our list of which Machine Embroidery formats work with which machine), downloaded and unpacked it on your computer, it’s time to hook it up with your Embroidery machine.

Each embroidery machine brand offers different ways for you to transfer a design to your embroidery machine. Below we’ll provide instructions on how to transfer a design using a USB stick – a method supported by most embroidery machines. If you normally use a different way to transfer the design onto your machine, you can of course also use your preferred method.


Transferring with a USB stick

  1. Open folder which contains the design . 
  2. Right-click on the design, choose ‘Send To’ and then select your USB stick. You can also drag and drop the design into a folder on your USB stick.
  3. Safely eject your USB stick, and pull it out of your computer.
  4. Make sure the USB stick is inserted into your embroidery machine.

Prepare your Embroidery Design for stitching

rack of multicolored embroidery threads

Select fabric and thread 

The first step is to select which type of fabric you want to stitch the design onto. For example, this could be a t-shirt, tote bag, or fabric napkin. Make sure that you check the instruction manual of your embroidery machine to see which types of fabric and thread are recommended for the needles that you have available. A needle or thread that is too fragile for a particular fabric can potentially result in broken needles and threads. To avoid this, and to make sure you have fun while crafting, make sure that you read your embroidery machine’s instructions before you start stitching.

Some embroidery files include thread color sequence charts. These charts show which threads are recommended for the design and often include the manufacturer and product number. This can help you when you are selecting which threads to use.


Hoops suitable for your design

As mentioned earlier in this article, it’s important to make sure that you use a hoop suitable for the design. Hoops come in different sizes, and your design needs to be smaller than the hoop in order to achieve a nice end result.

white plastic embroidery loop

Picture from Bonbon

Other materials needed:

  • Iron & Ironing Board
  • Fabric marker pen (make sure to use a pen that is made for use on fabrics. These marks will wash off and won’t ruin the fabric)
  • Small pair of scissors or snip scissors for the jump stitches
  • Rotary cutter or scissors
  • Ruler for measuring
  • Sewing fabric pins

If you want to embroider on a smaller piece of fabric, or if your piece of fabric doesn’t fill your hoop (which might happen if you are stitching in a corner) we recommend that you get these additional materials:

  • Machine Embroidery Stabilizer
  • Temporary Adhesive Spray

Measure the fabric

Use the ruler and fabric marker pen to mark out the area of your fabric where you want the embroidery design to be placed. After selecting an area, it can also be useful to mark the center point, this way you can easily visualize where the design will be embroidered onto your fabric.

pink pleather fabric with clear ruler

Picture from KlaraFall Vernaeht


Attach the fabric into the hoop

Different machines have different styles of hoops, but they all come with an inner and an outer hoop which can be separated from each other, allowing the fabric to be placed between the hoops.

embroidery loop with dark fabric

Picture from Bonbon

When placing the fabric into the hoop, take into account how your machine is built and how the hoop will be installed in the machine. 

The hoop has a small attachment on one side, which attaches onto the modular arm of the embroidery machine. It’s important to bear the relative positions of the arm and the hoop attachment in mind, because the attachments of the hoop needs to be in line with the fabric placement, otherwise your design might end up being upside down. 

embroidery loop measuring with dark fabric

Picture from Bonbon

When placing the fabric, make sure that only one layer of the fabric is attached into the hoop, otherwise the embroidery machine will stitch it together.

Place the fabric onto the outer hoop. It can be tricky to place it perfectly straight, but using a ruler and markings can really help. Many embroidery machine hoops also have marks that indicate where the center point of the hoop. This is particularly helpful when placement needs to be perfect.

Finally, place the inner hoop onto the outer hoop and the fabric, then push them together or attach the other hoop so the fabric is held tight. This will keep the fabric in place when you are stitching.

measuring dark fabric with embroidery hoop

Picture from Bonbon

Placing the fabric into your hoop with Machine Embroidery Stabilizer

If you are using the Machine Embroidery Stabilizer to stitch on a piece of fabric that is smaller than your hoop, first place the Machine Embroidery stabilizer over the outer hoop so that it fully covers the entire hoop. 

Place the inner hoop onto the stabilizer and push them together so that the stabilizer is held tightly. 


Place the fabric onto the stabilizer. It can be tricky to get it perfectly straight, but the ruler, the mark of the center of the hoop and the guidelines will help. 


Now, carefully lift the fabric and spray a little of the temporary adhesive spray onto the back of the fabric. Press the fabric and stabilizer together, this will secure the fabric onto the stabilizer whilst you are stitching.


Attach the redundant fabric on the hoop before stitching

Now that the fabric is secured in the hoop, you are almost ready to start stitching. One important last step is to make sure that all the redundant fabric is securely attached to your hoop. This is important because you don’t want it to get in your way when you are stitching.

To secure the redundant fabric, you can simply roll the fabric towards the hoop, and attach it with something (for example, fabric pins).

pink folded fabric in embroidery machine

Picture from KlaraFall Vernaeht

You are now ready to install the hoop onto your machine and start stitching!

Prepare your Embroidery Machine for stitching

Power your embroidery machine on, and wait for it to start-up fully.

Prepare the bobbin thread on the machine according to the instructions for your embroidery machine. It is important to place the bobbin in the machine now, since it will be covered once you have put the hoop onto the machine.

When the machine and thread are ready, install the hoop onto the modular arm of the machine according to your machine’s instructions.

white janome embroidery machine with embroidery hoop

Picture from Bonbon

Load the design onto the machine

Insert the USB stick into your embroidery machine, and follow the instructions on your machine to stitch out the design. Your machine will know how to stitch it out, so once you press start you do not need to do anything further.

One important tip is to make sure that your machine starts from the center point that you marked. You can double check this before you begin stitching by bringing the needle down onto the fabric to see if it lines up with the middle of your cross. If it doesn’t, you can simply lift the needle again and reposition the hoop. You can reposition the hoop with the help of the screen on your machine until the needle is centralized.

Thread and Color Changes

Many embroidery designs use more than one type of thread, which is what makes them so colorful! For each embroidery design on Creative Fabrica, the product information will include a PDF which  indicates how many color changes a design has (i.e. how many threads you need to make the design).

wilcom embroidery adjusting design of rhino

The machine will show you which color it will stitch out first, so simply thread this color onto your machine. Once the machine is finished with this color, it will pause and you will be able to switch the color of the thread.

Start Stitching!

Once the hoop is installed, the thread is in, the presser foot is down on the fabric, and the design is ready on the embroidery machine, you are all set to start stitching!

janome embroidery machine functioning

Picture from Bonbon

All machines work differently, and we strongly recommend that you read up on how your machine works before you start stitching. 

Keep a close eye on the stitching to avoid mistakes

Whilst the machine will do all the hard work, make sure you keep a close eye on it’s progress to check that everything goes smoothly. If you hear any unusual sounds, see the redundant fabric getting caught in the needle, or that the stitching looks weird, you can easily pause the machine to stop the stitching. Once you press start again the machine will continue stitching where it left off.

Jump Stitch

You may sometimes notice your embroidery machine make a ‘jump’, and then begin stitching on another area of the fabric. This is called a ‘jump stitch’. These jump stitches are sometimes necessary for the machine to start embroidering a new element of a design. They will leave a loose thread on your design, which you can easily remove using your snip scissors either during the stitching process (remember to pause the machine first!), or once the design is complete. Removing the thread from the jump stitch won’t ruin the design, as they are designed to be removed.

When the stitching is done

Your design is now stitched onto the fabric, and is ready for some final steps before you can admire it fully.First, make sure that the machine has completed the design, lift up the presser foot, and remove the hoop out from the machine.

Using the small scissors or snip scissors, remove any jump stitches or extra thread.

dark fabric with white gloss thread in flower design

Picture from Bonbon

Remove the sewing needles and take the fabric out of the hoop. If you used a stabilizer for the design, simply flip the fabric upside down and peel it off the stabilizer (if you used any).

black fabric with white embroidered daisy

Picture from Bonbon

Finally, you remove the guide marks that you made to ensure that the design was centered. The best method of removing these marks will differ from pen to pen, but most fabric marker pens will dissolve when you iron the design. Be gentle when ironing over the stitches, and make sure your iron is not too hot.

embroidered baby car chair

Picture from Bonbon

Congratulations, you have just stitched your first embroidery design! We hope that you’ve gotten some useful tips and tricks from our tutorial. 

You are very welcome to contact us if you need any further help at [email protected], we would love to hear your feedback.


Happy stitching!

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