If you’ve been thinking of stepping into the world of embroidery but don’t want to either spend a fortune on an embroidery machine, or have the patience to embroider for hand embroidery, then maybe you’re wondering how to embroider with a sewing machine.
In this article...
I think it’s some kind of sewing folk tale that you need a giant industrial machine to be able to use a machine to embroider, but you can just use your regular sewing machine to tackle embroidery.
Not everyone has the luxury of an embroidery machine or can afford one but embroidery with a sewing machine is definitely possible, so keep reading to find out how you can use your everyday machine to add a personal touch to everything you’ve ever wanted.
Can you embroider with a regular sewing machine?
Embroidery is an interesting needlework which gives personality beyond whatever has already been made. As long as your sewing machine has a straight stitch and a zig zag stitch you can do anything in the world! Ok, not literally, but yes, you can 100% embroider with a domestic sewing machine.
How exciting is that! You don’t need to buy a separate machine after all. Some sewing machines even come with embroidery stitches built in.
TIPMake use of all of the decorative stitches in your library. Most domestic sewing machines will be built with several different decorative stitches, waiting to get used!
Can all sewing machines do embroidery?
I’m going to confidently say yes! You don’t need an embroidery sewing machine for embroidery.
Are there any machine requirements?
Your regular sewing machine should at least have a zig zag stitch which is really useful and can serve as decoration when sewn well. A close zig zag stitch is a satin stitch which is perfect for making borders or applique.
As long as you can lower the feed dogs you can also free motion embroidery – (when you guide the fabric in any direction under the needle to make patterns or images) with a regular sewing machine and a free motion foot, which is a fun and creative method for embroidery.
This isn’t totally necessary though, as you can embroider with feed dogs, but it means you will only be able to embroider in straight lines. Most sewing machines have a straight stitch foot which is useful for outlining embroidery designs.
You may need to adjust the top thread and bobbin thread tension which can be done by loosening or tightening a screw on the bobbin case.
NOTEIn free motion embroidery the stitch length is determined by how fast you are sewing and how fast you are moving the embroidery hoop. Because there are no teeth clamping the fabric that’s allowing us to control the length of the stitch.
Is it hard to embroider with a sewing machine?
I don’t think embroidering with a sewing machine is hard, it’s a learned activity.
There are some techniques for different fabrics and some patterns are better suited to other designs and different threads and needles, but ultimately learning how to embroider on a sewing machine is no different to learning any other new skill.
Embroidery with a sewing machine can be as simple as tracing a design onto a stabilizer with a fabric marker pen, and then tracing along the lines with your embroidery needle as if it were a pencil.
Sure, it’s going to take more work than pressing a start button on an embroidery only machine, but it’s less challenging than the concentration and repetitive stitching to freehand embroidery.
How is an embroidery machine different from a sewing machine?
The overall appearance of these machines are not dissimilar, but the real differences lie in the functionality and features.
Let’s think about the names of these two machines: so embroidery is the term given to the needlecraft where ornamental designs and patterns are sewn onto a fabric for decoration or to show ownership, therefore embroidery machines execute embroidery stitching.
Sewing is the construction of materials, where they are sewn together to create clothing or other fabric items, consequently, a home sewing machine will offer for construction stitching.
NOTESome combination sewing and embroidery machines allow for both types of sewing.
Things you need
Before you start sewing embroidery on a home sewing machine there are a few tools you’ll need to pick up from a store.
You need an embroidery hoop which will help you massively when you use a home sewing machine for embroidery.
It keeps the fabric taut, preventing it from moving in all directions so the embroidery designs are sewn in the correct place. It also allows you to guide the embroidering by moving the hoop slowly in the direction needed.
NOTEThere are different sized embroidery hoops for machines, but the standard sizes are 4 x 4″ or 5 x 7″.
Stabilizer or backing
Stabilizer or backing has really helped me when embroidering to prevent the fabric and threads getting stuck in the feed dogs. Stabilizer hardens the fabric, as it’s better to embroider on stiff material.
I use a tear away stabilizer, but you can use a cutaway, water soluble stabilizer or heat soluble backing or even a piece of light muslin attached with a glue stick.
You will need a free motion foot or darning foot, which allows free movement of the material around underneath the needle as you like.
The main reason for using this foot is to keep your fingers away from the needle. The base of the foot will never touch the fabrics so it doesn’t hold or pull the fabric like other feet.
When you become more experienced you can play around with using a clear applique foot which gives a birds eye view when you start sewing.
Embroidery scissors are really useful! These are very small and sharp and sometimes have a slope in them so you can reach the threads easily even when using a hoop.
In an ideal world you would use embroidery thread instead of regular sewing thread when you embroider with a sewing machine. The difference lies in thickness in the thread type.
You will notice, when you use embroidery thread they are thinner and smoother because of the high heavy density sewing. The thread needs to be smoother so that it can pass through the eye of the needles more easily, with prevention of breaking.
Other threads that are suitable for sewing machine embroidery are polyester thread and rayon thread. When embroidering on a regular sewing machine, make sure the thread in the bobbin matches the color of the top embroidery thread.
Now let’s learn how to embroider with a sewing machine!
Step 1 – Prepare the fabric
First you will need to select your fabrics and attach a stabilizer to it as instructed on the packaging. I mostly use tear away stabilizers as I find them easy to use and cheap! The backing needs to cover the entire embroidery design.
If I am going to free motion embroidery I will then use a fabric marker pen or chalk to draw out a pattern on my base.
If you are using a template, you may want to use your chalk to mark the center of the fabric and transfer it onto the right side of the fabric.
Step 2 – Set up your hoop
Place the fabric inside of the hoop by placing it over the inner hoop with fabric wrong side up, then attaching the outer ring. The right side of the fabric should be inside the hoop, and you should have ample room for sewing.
If the design you are using is bigger than the hoop you can work in smaller sections. Once a section is done, remove the fabric and set the hoop in the different section of the design.
NOTESet aside the hoop while you set up your machine.
Step 3 – Prepare your sewing machine
While the machine is switched off, and then remove the presser foot by turning a handle or moving a screw.
Install a free motion foot or darning foot, making sure it is compatible with your regular sewing machine.
Step 4 – Lower the feed dog
Assess how you can lower the feed dogs, and then do so. My little Brother has a slider at the back of the arm which I can move to the left to lower the teeth.
Thread the machine with the embroidery threads of your choice. Make sure you have a full bobbin in the bobbin case too – usually in embroidery the same color top thread and bobbin thread would be used.
Step 5 – Plug in and practise
If you haven’t already, plug in and turn on your machine. Select the stitch length and width you desire and play around on a scrap piece of fabric that you have prepared as mentioned earlier.
I like to use a zigzag stitch for fill colors and straight stitches for shapes. Once you have the correct settings and you are happy, make a note of these somewhere safe for future reference.
When moving the hoop around try not to hold on to the hoop like you are driving a bus as you can accidentally end up pressing the hoop down onto the needle plate. It’s better to keep your hands on the fabric close to the for more control especially for delicate stitches such as on lingerie sewing patterns.
TIPTry to relax your shoulders, remember to breathe and remember you can stop at any time.
Step 6 – Start embroidering
Lift the presser foot handle as much as you possibly can and slide the embroidery hoop underneath the needle with the right side of the fabric facing towards you. The wrong side of the fabric needs to touch the needle plate of the sewing machine.
You can decide where you would like to begin your sewing project (how exciting!) Lower the foot and the needle with the wheel of the sewing machine until it catches the bobbin threads below. Move the hoop slowly underneath the needle, work gently here.
I usually sew with a straight stitch to outline my design first and then a zig zag to fill in color.
TIPWhen first using your sewing machine for embroidery, I would use the slowest speed setting possible, until you get comfortable with embroidering on a sewing machine, work carefully.
Once you have finished, raise the needle with the dial on the right hand side of the sewing machine. Then lift the presser foot and squeeze the embroidery hoop from underneath. Trim away the bobbin back threads, and you can remove the fabric from the hoop.
If you used a tear away stabilizer you can now tear it off, then remove any extra threads with your scissors. Press the fabric on the wrong side and your embroidery is done!
Do I need to use a special needle?
Like all sewing projects, you always need to adjust the needle to match the fabric and thread being used.
Lightweight fabrics require a smaller needle, while heavier fabrics require a larger one to pierce through.
There are specific embroidery needles that have larger eyes that can be used, which you could keep separate for each embroidery project.
How do I embroider letters with a sewing machine?
It is possible and easy to embroidery letters with your sewing machine if you can drop the feed dogs to free motion sew.
Prepare your fabric as mentioned in the step above, and then draw out letters onto the fabric. Begin with the needle in the fabric, then pull it up by controlling the wheel until it has caught onto the bobbin thread.
Instead of regular sewing where you are sewing towards yourself, in free motion embroidery you are sewing in all kinds of directions so you don’t really want to get thread tangled underneath!
Set a regular straight stitch and trace around your characters!
RECOMMENDATIONIn the beginning it is tempting to sew really really slowly to have more control, but actually you don’t want to go too slowly else you’ll end up with giant stitches. I think small stitches look better when embroidering letters.
Here’s a video to help you embroider letters on a sewing machine.
There are so many possibilities with sewing machine embroidery. I hope you now feel super confident in embroidering with a sewing machine, and if you’re not on your way to your sewing station, what are you waiting for?!
Don’t forget to follow the machine’s instructions, to learn slowly how you can make the most from your sewing embroidery machine!
Feel Free To Share
Do you prefer sewing machine or hand embroidery? I would be ecstatic to know of your experiences with sewing machine embroidery so please reach out! And share this informative article with anyone who has been thinking about the embroidery process!