How to Embroider Clothes – Beautiful DIY Embellishments

Are you ready to learn how to embroider on your clothes? It’s actually pretty simple, and it’s a great way to customize your wardrobe and give an old shirt or a pair of pants a new life. In this post, I’ll go over some tips and tricks so you can stitch beautiful designs onto some of your favorite garments.

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links, which means I receive a small commission if you purchase a product through it. I only recommend products I would use/love!

Flat lay of a blue sleeveless shirt with colorful pink, orange, and yellow flowers embroidered on it. Surrounding it are various embroidery supplies.

How To Embroider On Your Clothes

Embroidering on clothes is a lot like any embroidery project, but there are a few additional considerations to take to make sure your embroidery turns out great and lasts a long time.

Types of Fabric To Use

The easiest fabrics to embroider on are medium weight materials made of natural fibers that don’t contain elastic. Compared to lightweight synthetic fabrics that a lot of cheaper quality clothing is made of, these fabrics won’t break down or lose their structure over time. And overall, they are much easier to stitch on which will make the process much easier for you.

100% cotton t-shirts, denim jackets and jeans, and linen button-ups are great to choose.

While it’s more challenging, it is possible to stitch on clothing made of other materials. If you’re set on using a piece of clothing that has elastic in it, take a look at this post for some ways to make it easier to embroider on stretchy fabric.

It’s also possible to embroider on knitting. Check out this post to learn more about that process.

Using The Right Embroidery Floss

It’s important to choose an embroidery floss that is made of high quality fibers and is colorfast, meaning the colors won’t bleed. This way, the colors will stay vibrant and the embroidery will be able withstand regular washing. I like to use cotton DMC floss but there are many other great brands to use.

While it is possible to stitch with synthetic fibers, a lot of the metallic threads are somewhat slippery and harder to secure. For clothing, stick with natural fibers like cotton or wool.

Additional Supplies You’ll Need

  • An embroidery hoop – keeps the fabric tight while you’re stitching
  • Embroidery needle
  • Scissors
  • A way to transfer your design – tracing paper, a water soluble marker, or stick and stitch are good options

Product Picks

sulky stick n stitch paper

Available on Walmart

dmc embroidery thread

Available at Michael’s

Preparing Your Clothes

If the clothing is brand new and never washed before, I recommend washing it first. This will rinse away any excess dye and break the fabric in, allowing it to soften.

Once you’ve laundered the article of clothing, make sure to iron out any wrinkles before you transfer the design.

a graphic of a shirt, pants, and a dress with embroidered embellishments on them

Choosing An Area To Stitch

The easiest places to stitch on clothes are in places you will be able to place a small embroidery hoop. It’s ideal to place the design in an area that doesn’t contain thick layers of fabric or seam lines which can make it really hard to pull the needle and thread through.

The front of a button-up shirt, along the neckline of a blouse, or above a pocket of a shirt are easy places to embroider.

From my experience, stitching along sleeves and pant legs can be a bit more challenging because of the amount of fabric you’ll have to arrange as well as the tight space you’ll be stitching in. It’s doable, but proceed with caution!

hand holding needle, embroidering strawberries on the back pocket of jean shorts
For this project, I stitched through the pocket. You can remove it before you get started if you want to keep the pocket functional. Learn how to do this here.

Patterns and Designs To Use

You can use practically any patterns or designs you want on clothing. Just make sure to measure the area you want to embroider to ensure the design will fit.

There are many mini embroidery designs to choose from here on the blog as well as designs specifically made for clothes.

Clothing Patterns

Stick N Stitch Packs

Stick and stitch packs are another convenient option for embroidering on clothes. The designs are printed and cut out, ready for you to use.

Transferring The Design

If you plan on freehand drawing a design onto your clothes, a water soluble marker will do. However, if you prefer to trace embroidery designs, it can be really hard to do on clothing.

This is why I highly recommend using Stick N Washaway Stabilizer. The sheets come in a standard printer paper size, so you can easily print off your pattern and stick it directly onto the fabric! Simply download the pattern you’d like to use, place the stabilizer face-down in the printer, and print it. And if you’ve never used stick and stitch before, check out my tips for using it before you get started.

Important Tip: Before you get started, test out a piece of the printed stabilizer on the clothing. Stick it somewhere discreet such as inside of the clothing, then soak and rinse it off to make sure that the ink on the stabilizer doesn’t bleed and stain the fabric.

Another budget friendly option is to use tracing paper. Secure it on top of the clothing with a basting stitch and tear away when you’re finished.

  1. Print the pattern onto the stabilizer sheet. Cut out the design, leaving about 1/2″ around it. Peel off the backing of the stabilizer and place it on the area you want to embroider.
  2. Place your embroidery hoop around the design and pull the fabric tight.
  3. Depending on the clothing, the stabilizer may move when you first start stitching. It helps to do a basting stitch (a loose running stitch you can take out after) to keep the stabilizer extra secure.
  4. Now, you’re ready to stitch!
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black sleeveless shirt with fruit embroidered on it

Stitching The Design

Most surface embroidery stitches work well for clothing.

Here are some of my favorites to use:

  • satin stitch and the long and short stitch for filling in areas
  • split stitch, stem stitch, back stitch, or chain stitch for outlining shapes and letters
  • french knots and lazy daisies to add decorative elements

The only kinds of stitches I would avoid are raised stitches. (for example, the raised stem stitch, raised buttonhole stitch, woven picot, etc.) The stitches will more easily get snagged or become loose with wash and wear.

To end stitches, I like to use finishing knots. Make sure they are extra tight to make sure none of your stitches fall out while you’re wearing your clothes.

Finishing Up

When you’re done stitching, soak the clothing in warm water for a few minutes, then under running water to remove any excess stabilizer.

Hang up the clothing and allow it to completely dry.

I don’t usually back my embroideries with anything. However, if you find that the embroidery is itchy against your skin, you can try sealing off the stitches with an iron-on backing such as Tender Touch

graphic of a person placing embroidered garment in the washing machine

Caring For Your Embroidered Clothing

After you’ve embroidered onto the clothes, the best way to clean them is by hand washing them or using the delicate/hand wash setting on your washing machine. Avoid using the dryer, hang drying is best.

As with anything that contains color, you should avoid bleach. And for more helpful tips, this post will share everything you need to know about washing and caring for embroidered clothes.

TLDR – Helpful Tips

  • Make sure you pre-wash the clothing you are going to stitch on just in case it shrinks!
  • Use thread that is colorfast so that it won’t fade or bleed when the clothes are washed.
  • Be mindful of how long you are making your stitches. Stitches such as the satin stitch can become loose once you take the embroidery out of the hoop. If you are covering a large area with long satin stitches, opt for another stitch, such as the long and short stitch to fill it in.
  • Always test out whatever marker or stabilizer you are using on a discreet area first! You always want to make sure whatever materials you are using won’t ruin or stain your clothes.
  • Use an embroidery hoop – the tension of an embroidery hoop on the fabric will make it much easier to keep your stitches looking neat and even and prevent the fabric from puckering.
  • Make sure to knot your stitches when you end them to ensure your embroidery doesn’t fall out.

I hope you enjoyed this little tutorial! Check out this tutorial on how to stitch words onto clothing to keep learning.

colorful flowers embroidered on dark blue denim dress

Frequently Asked Questions

Can you embroider directly onto clothes?

Yes, you can! If you are stitching on a piece of clothing that is somewhat fragile or stretchy, using a stabilizer on the back of the garment will help to preserve the fabric and make it easier to stitch on. The easiest materials to stitch on are articles of clothing that are made of cotton, linen, or denim.

What do you put behind embroidery on clothes?

You can use stitch in, iron on, or adhesive stabilizer on the back of clothing if you feel that the clothing needs a bit more stabilizing when you stitch on it. Check out this post all about the different stabilizers for hand embroidery to learn more about the different types.

Can you put embroidered clothes in the washing machine?

You can, but the washing machine can be rough on embroidery. To preserve your embroidery for as long as possible, it is recommended to hand wash and air dry. But if you absolutely have to, wash the piece of clothing on a gentle/hand wash cycle by itself and hang dry.

Should you wash a shirt before embroidering?

Yes! It never hurts to wash a shirt before stitching on it. This will allow the shirt to shrink if it contains a material that tends to shrink in the washer and dryer. If the embroidery is on the clothing before you put it in the wash and it shrinks, the embroidery will not look as nice and may pucker.

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