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How to Hand Embroider on T-shirts

How to hand embroider on T-shirts - and any stretchy knit fabric - girl wearing a pink T-shirt embroidered with a cute dog face

Want to learn the basics of hand embroidery with an easy online workshop – totally free?

Sign up for Embroidery 101 here. You’ll learn how to get started, the tools and supplies you’ll need, the four most basic stitches, how to transfer your pattern and how to display your work.

If you already know the basics – sign up for Embroidery 201. It’s also free! You’ll learn how to stitch on specialty fabrics like felt and stretchy T-shirts. Plus you’ll learn lots and lots and LOTS more stitches – all my favorites!

Can you stitch on stretchy knit fabrics? I get this question a lot – and the answer is a resounding YES! Here’s how to hand embroider on t-shirts.

You can’t just pop any stretchy fabric into a hoop and start stitching away.

Well – you can – but the results will be terrible. The fabric will stretch but your stitches will not, so when you take it out of the hoop you’ll have big, loopy, awful stitches.

The trick is to make your stretchy knit fabric think it’s a nice, stable, woven fabric. How do you do that? With stabilizer!

There are a lot of different stabilizers you can use to hand embroider on T-shirts, but my absolute favorite (by a LOT) is Sulky Sticky Fabri-solvy. It’s so fabulous that I have a whole post about it here.

I sing its praises in this post and video – but I don’t even mention using it to embroider T-shirts, because when I made it I hasn’t tried that yet. I’ve tested it on T-shirts since then and it’s an absolute dream. No marking on the T-shirt, totally stable to stitch, and no stabilizer bits to pick out of the back – it just rinses away like magic.

I love magic.

Print the pattern onto the rough side of the stabilizer, peel off the paper back, then stick it to the front of your t-shirt. The stabilizer is not stretchy – so when it’s stuck to your fabric it also makes your fabric not stretchy.

Hoop it up – being sure to catch the edges of your stabilizer in the hoop, like this. That way the fabric around the spot you’re embroidering doesn’t stretch either.

This isn’t a t-shirt project, but you can see what I mean about including the stabilizer in the hoop.

How to Transfer and Stabilize an Embroidery Pattern - with my very favorite product, Sulky Sticky Fabri-solvy

The stabilizer has a papery feel and you stitch right through it and the t-shirt together. It does a great job of keeping everything neat (and non-stretchy) while you stitch.

When you’re done stitching, you just soak the whole shirt and all the stabilizer disappears.

Go grab a plain T-shirt and embroider something fun on it. 🙂

If you’re looking for that cute puppy – you can find the pattern here. And that sunshine pattern is here.)

Happy stitching!

14 COMMENTS

  1. yay wendy! thank you SO MUCH for posting this. i can’t count the number of times i have tried to figure out the secret of embroidering on knits. i’m beginning and self-taught, so interfacing isn’t something i know much about.

    thank you!
    thank you!

  2. You’re so very welcome! I remember the first time I successfully embroidered on a T-shirt. So satisfying! Now it’s probably the things I do most often.

    Happy stitching!

  3. Anonymous SAYS...

    Can I use freezer paper to have the same stabilizing effect? I bought a HUGE roll and want to use some of it up!

    • Anonymous SAYS...

      I have use parchment paper before and it worked (cotton fabric)

  4. Sorry – I don’t think freezer paper will work nearly as well. It’s far stiffer than the Sulky stabilizer and it will peel off WAY too easily.

  5. Embroidered polo shirts are popular because they are simple, convenient and comfortable. One of the reasons that these shirts are comfortable is because they are mostly made from material that is absorbent and kind to the skin.Tshirt Design

  6. Gwen SAYS...

    Thank you so very much for your helpful video…it has been fantastic

    • wendigratz SAYS...

      I’m glad it was helpful. 🙂

  7. Pam SAYS...

    Does it work on linen?