How to stitch on baby soft knit fabric

Eileen's Machine Embroidery Blog

Those stretchy, skinny t-shirts are so popular. Here are some tips on how to stitch them successfully. First, the right embroidery design for the right fabric is crucial. Don’t try to force a design on any fabric. Look at the limitations of this baby soft knit fabric (sheer, 4-way stretch and nubby). That’s an embroidery suicide if approached wrong! So let’s control what we can.


The stabilizer has to disappear after the embroidery process. Our choices pare down to water soluble or heat away stabilizer. The stabilizer also has to hold the fabric stretched beyond its relaxed position during the stitching process so an adhesive is best. Use a water soluble adhesive stabilizer.


It’s a knit fabric so a ball point needle (70/10) will do the job.


I’m going to use-Snap Hoop because it’s flat and lets me stretch the fabric without distorting the fibers.


A low stitch count design will allow the fabric to relax and stretch between the stitches – keeping the garment comfortable and wearable.

I love this design featured in the Crosses collection from Anita Goodesign but I know this dense fill will destroy the delicate fabric.

Eileen's Machine Embroidery Blog

Fortunately, the collection was designed with fashion in mind so the same design comes in a raw edge appliqué version. Perfect for this trendy fabric.

Eileen's Machine Embroidery Blog

What if you don’t have the luxury of different versions of a design? Dissect the design in question and scale it down to an outline or sketched embroidery design in machine embroidery editing software. Remove whole color segments and see what’s left. Often, you’ll find a sketched outline and details that will work. Take a few moments to play with the design in your software.

Now that the variables are under control, it’s time to focus on the planning and hooping.

Print a template of the design. Place the t-shirt on a dress form and audition the template(s).

Eileen's Machine Embroidery Blog

Verify placement and slide a target sticker under the template to mark the center of the design. Remove the template.

Eileen's Machine Embroidery Blog

Carefully turn the shirt INSIDE OUT and place it back on the dress form. Your design area will now be in mirror image on the form.

It might help you see the entire embroidery design again at this point so just tape the template back on the shirt. Flip the template over to view in mirror image and tape it to the shirt. Mark the outer edges of the design with removable chalk.

Select your hoop and place it over the design area to verify you have the right hoop. You might want to chalk the outer edges of the hoop. But this is just for reference, it’s not a crucial alignment mark.

Eileen's Machine Embroidery Blog

Remove the hoop and the template.

Cut a piece of water soluble adhesive stabilizer larger than the selected hoop. Remove the protective paper from the stabilizer. Adhere the sticky stabilizer to the design area using the chalked marks as a guide. Smooth the stabilizer to the fabric over the form. This can be a bit awkward but you’ll get another chance to smooth the layers after the garment is removed.

Eileen's Machine Embroidery Blog

Remove the shirt from the dress form (don’t dislodge the target sticker). Smooth the stabilizer.

Eileen's Machine Embroidery Blog

Place the shirt over the hoop’s outer ring or over the flat metal frame of Snap-Hoop or Quick-Snap.

Eileen's Machine Embroidery Blog

Place the inner ring inside of the hoop and capture the design area in the hoop.

Eileen's Machine Embroidery Blog

In Snap-Hoop or Quick-Snap, pull the fabric taut in the frame. Nest the rest of the shirt around the hoop.

Eileen's Machine Embroidery Blog

Attach the hoop to the machine, center the needle over the target sticker. Remove the target sticker and stitch the design. I often use painter’s tape to hold the fabric away from the design area.

Eileen's Machine Embroidery Blog

Remove the hoop from the machine. Gently peel the adhesive away from the shirt and trim all excess stabilizer. Rinse the stabilizer under running water to activate the dissolving process. Fill a container with this solution: ¾ water; ¼ fabric softener. Soak the t-shirt in the solution for about 30 minutes. Agitate the water occasionally. Rinse thoroughly. Wash right side out in the washing machine with like-colored garments. Air dry.

Once dry, you’ll notice a bit of puckering around the stitches.

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No worry – once the garment is on, the fabric and stitches will be stretched – and flat! Works every time (well, for me, hope it does for you too!)

Eileen's Machine Embroidery Blog

Here’s your assignment this week:

Tell me about your embroidery habits.  Are you stitching Valentine and Spring themed projects now?  Or maybe you are the type to get ahead of schedule and you’re stitching for the summer or fall?  Post your comment for a chance to win 30 Favorite Embroidery Tips & Techniques.

Eileen's Machine Embroidery Blog

There were TWO opportunities to win in last week’s assignment.

The winner of the Little Black Tee answered the following question:

Tell me what fabric you find to be the most challenging to embroider on? Post your comment on this blog and you’ll be entered for a chance to win The Little Black Tee!

Eileen's Machine Embroidery Blog

The lucky winner is: Judith Torphy!
“I find knits with lycra the most difficult.  I will truly put your great tips to work.” – Judith

The winner of the $100 Visa Gift Card will be randomly selected later this week.  Stay tuned!



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56 Comments on How to stitch on baby soft knit fabric

  1. Linda Sorensen
    February 1, 2012 at 12:28 pm (8 years ago)

    I am stitching now for Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day. I am also working on a machine embroidered crazy patch quilt for my neice who is getting married in August.
    I enjoy and appreciate your blogs.

  2. judit zombo
    February 1, 2012 at 12:47 pm (8 years ago)

    Just purchased suede cloth and want to make skirt: gored with bottom edge to be embroidered with tone on tone. Still researching the right backing and technique since this is totally new for me.
    Relatively new to embroidery.

    Knits have been a challange. I do a lot of testing. jz

    • eileenroche
      February 1, 2012 at 5:07 pm (8 years ago)

      Keep testing – it’s the only way to go!

  3. Jane Scott
    February 1, 2012 at 12:59 pm (8 years ago)

    I am working my way through Designer Handbags that I just purchased. So fun! I am fairly new to embroidery and have found this blog very informative. Thank you for all this information.

  4. Rachel
    February 1, 2012 at 1:17 pm (8 years ago)

    I am still trying to learn all the ins and outs of machine embroidery. Eileen, you have been a godsend!

  5. Carol Seavitt
    February 1, 2012 at 2:34 pm (8 years ago)

    Working on baby stuff for nieces and neighbor (baby embroidery is so fun) and finding the PAL laser a God send for alignment. Mom bought it for me as a gift (LOVE HER).

    • eileenroche
      February 1, 2012 at 5:06 pm (8 years ago)

      Hello Carol- Say hi to your mom!

  6. Jo of So TX
    February 1, 2012 at 5:00 pm (8 years ago)

    I am trying to make a memory quilt out of my granddaughter’s t-shirts. What a challenge! The 72 shirts range from first grade through senior in high school. Hard to get rows the same size back to back, up and down, and across. Gave up on keeping them in order by year and just mixed everything varing the colors as far as I could. Now I think I can finally get on with it. Looking at the Magna-hoop or snap hoop to quilt the squares. Need more help with that decision. Love your site and magazine.

  7. Kathy
    February 1, 2012 at 8:12 pm (8 years ago)

    I am still working on Winter projects and then hope to get some Valentine projects done.

  8. Gail Beam
    February 1, 2012 at 9:54 pm (8 years ago)

    I need to start working on some some name sweatshirts for my grandchildren.

  9. Vicki
    February 1, 2012 at 10:04 pm (8 years ago)

    I am making small Valentine stockings for my friends for Valentines Day. Then I will fill them with candy.

  10. Cheryl
    February 1, 2012 at 10:46 pm (8 years ago)

    I want to make embroidered buttonholes on a blouse.

  11. Donna G.
    February 1, 2012 at 10:47 pm (8 years ago)

    I like to do seasonal work, even if it’s out of season. I may work on Valentine’s projects in July and Christmas projects in March. I’m not sure if I’m working ahead or behind! Most of the time, though, I see a design I want to do or decide on a project needing embellishment and go to work!

  12. Mary Anne
    February 2, 2012 at 12:30 am (8 years ago)

    I’m with Donna G., am I working on a UFO or have I postponed my projects so long that they’re in the right season? Whatever I’m sewing or embroidering I have a habit of sinking into the project that I lose all sense of time. When I was younger it would sometimes surprise me when I would look up from the sewing machine to see the sun coming up.

    Thanks so much for the tips on the knits, a friend loaned me back issues of Designs and I got some tips about knits from those issues too.

  13. Shirley R
    February 2, 2012 at 3:13 am (8 years ago)

    Thanks for the earlier email directing our attention to the $1.14 sale at Urban Threads! I’m purchasing a design from them which spells out L-O-V-E in letters and also American Sign Language. It will go on a tee or sweatshirt for my Granddaughter who is attending college with the goal of becoming an interpreter for the deaf. She began this journey in high school as a volunteer for many activities for the deaf locally. She is a dedicated young lady and this design seemed so appropriate to use for a Valentine’s Day Gift for her.

  14. karin
    February 2, 2012 at 3:30 am (8 years ago)

    I’ve just finished up a King-sized memory quilt for my friend’s son & daughter-in-law. There were 42 embroidered squares, each one representing a marathon or triathlon event, hobby, interest,destination or their marriage. WHEW – got in done in only 2 weeks! Now I’ve turned my attention to some custom curtains….the lady has asked for a horizontal insert with embroidery and trimmed with jumbo ric-rac on both seams. For five large windows. Hope I can get it all matched up. Would love to do some fun Valentine towels, but it doesn’t look like I’ll have time. 🙁

    Thanks for the tips on sewing on knits – that’s one fabric I tend to avoid at all costs!

  15. Linda
    February 2, 2012 at 4:22 am (8 years ago)

    I made a set of kitchen towels with a heart embroidery and a matching set of heart shaped pot holders as Valentine’s gift for my daughters

  16. Laurie Muldawer
    February 2, 2012 at 4:37 am (8 years ago)

    I am very new to embroidery (about one month) and love it! Everything is new and I have used this blog to help me along the way. Someone in my office just became a new grandmother and I am going to try my hand at machine embroidering a Onesie for her new grandson. Thank you for this blog on embroidering baby clothes as it has already helped me in planning this project. I can’t wait for this weekend to fire up the Bernina!
    PS…I bought several Onesie’s just in case.

  17. JoAnn Shipp
    February 2, 2012 at 4:47 am (8 years ago)

    Just got finished embroidering the totetally totable winter tote from Anita Goodesign. Love the way it turned out.

  18. Terri
    February 2, 2012 at 5:54 am (8 years ago)

    I’m currently making a notebook cover and CD holder for some software classes I’m taking this spring. Found the perfect embroidery design from Urban Threads….it’s 3 of my favorites from the computer keyboard…CTRL ALT DLT

  19. Wanda
    February 2, 2012 at 6:01 am (8 years ago)

    I just finished a table topper for Mother’s day. I find it easier to finish early so there isn’t the stress with the last minute. I am now working on some quilts for my brothers and sisters for Christmas. Yes it seems early but I started them last year and didn’t finish so I want them done for this year.

  20. sue brockus
    February 2, 2012 at 6:34 am (8 years ago)

    I recently purchased Eileen & Nancy’s Designer Handbags collection and my made my new year’s resolution to make a tote bag a month – much more fun than the typical “lose weight” new year’s resolution. Since I plan to sell or donate the bags to charity, I am using the monthly holiday’s to pick the color scheme for the bags. This month I am starting bag #2 (green color scheme for use on St Patricks day). Last month was a red color scheme for use on Valentines day.

    • eileenroche
      February 4, 2012 at 6:38 am (8 years ago)

      I would love to see your bags, Sue! How about posting a photo on Facebook?

  21. Jean
    February 2, 2012 at 7:14 am (8 years ago)

    I am working on digitizing new flour sack towel designs and a modified sweatshirt for my Mom’s birthday this month.

  22. Pam J.
    February 2, 2012 at 8:59 am (8 years ago)

    I am working on sweatshirts. I’ve done several in a winter theme, now I am working on a quilting design one for my mom who loves to quilt. However with our mild winter and temps. so far this winter, I’m thinking about some T-shirt projects!

  23. Marilyn
    February 2, 2012 at 9:14 am (8 years ago)

    It is my habit to get way too over-enthused about designs and line up an amount impossible to get done in any time frame available. Now I have a Christmas–Work on All Year folder so I can choose Christmas designs throughout the year. But then Embroidery Library and Urban Threads (and many others) have such wonderful designs on sale and… And I really like Sue’s plan (above.)

  24. Betsy
    February 2, 2012 at 9:42 am (8 years ago)

    I’m about ready to begin a baby quilt with embroidered ABC blocks. I need it done by mid-March so I better get to work. The parents have chosen not to know the sex of the baby so I haven’t been able to make up my mind about the color scheme…there are so many beautiful fabrics to choose from!

  25. Colleen Bell
    February 2, 2012 at 10:11 am (8 years ago)

    I loved seeing the placement technique, especially the use of the painters tape. I just bought a roll fro my sewing room too. You are so good at sharing your skills with us. Thank you so much.

  26. Christina Lynch
    February 2, 2012 at 10:40 am (8 years ago)

    My news year resolution was to try to finish my projects that I already have started. I’m almost done with a halloween spider decoration and going to start to finish a nice easter basket for my son. Have several others to do, but I’m already off to a good start.

  27. Bonnie Gray
    February 2, 2012 at 11:50 am (8 years ago)

    I’m working on embossed towels for my sons- they saw a sample one I did for a wedding gift and decided they wanted a set of their own. Also doing some baby items for a shower in March. And my husband wants me to put his business logo on the cuff of 2 dress shirts. I always get lots of ideas from your blog and magazine. I want to attend your event in CT in the spring, know I can always learn more!

    • eileenroche
      February 4, 2012 at 6:37 am (8 years ago)

      I hope you’ll join us, Bonnie. It should be a great event!

  28. Lillian Moser
    February 2, 2012 at 12:16 pm (8 years ago)

    I’ve stitched my valentine projects and am looking forward to starting Easter designs. Already thinking ahead to summer (could it be the unseasonably warm weather that’s so inspiring?).

  29. Barb Miller
    February 2, 2012 at 1:34 pm (8 years ago)

    I really enjoy the ability to check your blog and website if I have a question or problem to solve. Thank you.

  30. Carol Howell
    February 2, 2012 at 2:33 pm (8 years ago)

    I’ve been busy finishing up a crazy Christmas wall hanging. See how behind I am!!

  31. Karen
    February 2, 2012 at 5:08 pm (8 years ago)

    Thanks for the great tips on knits. I have have been doing hooded baby towels and a bag.

  32. Julie
    February 2, 2012 at 5:35 pm (8 years ago)

    Thanks for the info on soft knits! Between two jobs, I am stitching on Mardi Gras & Valentine t-shirts and towels! A girl has to do what a girl has to do for her sanity!!!!!

  33. Judith Carlon
    February 3, 2012 at 3:33 pm (8 years ago)

    I’m making several grocery tote bags with an embroidered motif on the side pockets for family and friends.

  34. Berenice
    February 4, 2012 at 1:30 pm (8 years ago)

    I am panicing… by March 30th I have to have finished 2 dress bags with matching totes, 6 matching dresses, 2 more matching dresses in a diffrent pattern and 10 small totes and embroider 3 sweatshirts for my daughters’ service organization. Sleep is under rated!!

  35. Vicky
    February 4, 2012 at 9:48 pm (8 years ago)

    I recently finished a lunch bag for myself. I embroidered my name on one side and the quadratic formula on the other. No one will mistake my lunch for theirs!

  36. Dani Beth
    February 5, 2012 at 3:57 am (8 years ago)

    I am planning pillowcases for my grankids with their names on the edge, Heart ABC for Maddy J, Stars for the boys.
    Thanks for the idea to use my dress form for positioning designs, she stands there doing nothing a lot of the time.

  37. Dawn Hatch
    February 5, 2012 at 11:53 am (8 years ago)


    I had given up trying to do the thin knits! Thanks for the info!

  38. Paule-Marie
    February 5, 2012 at 12:24 pm (8 years ago)

    I tend to be a procratinator when it comes to making gifts. I start out with the best of intentions, but work and life gets in the way. I think a work better when the pressure of the deadline is right around the corner.

  39. Marge Jansonius
    February 5, 2012 at 12:24 pm (8 years ago)

    I have been making tissue holders for my friends. A fun project in the hoop.
    Love your blog!!!


  40. Whitney H
    February 5, 2012 at 4:07 pm (8 years ago)

    I just finished a minky robe for my son. That stuff is hard to sew with! Worth it though, as the robe is the softest thing ever! Can you embroider that stuff?

    I’ve also just made my way through a huge pile of ’round tuits’: various clothes that needed a small repair. I feel my wardrobe expanding already!

  41. Beth R
    February 5, 2012 at 9:24 pm (8 years ago)

    I’m working on some valentines projects, and some other ongoing things (there is always a UFO that needs to be finished LOL!).

  42. cathy
    February 7, 2012 at 7:35 pm (8 years ago)

    I am getting my ideas and designs together to begin Christmas and birthday gifts. I am determined not to be caught short like last year.

  43. Judi Jaksa
    February 10, 2012 at 6:50 pm (8 years ago)

    I just completed embroidered Valentine cards for 5 of my friends and embroidered a hankie with a small red floral design & their initials. After each project I like to hang the hoop back on the wall, clean off the cutting table of unused materials, put back the thread, and clean out the machine. I change the needle when I start the next project. The my sewing room is a small bedroom so this process helps me keep the clutter under control.

  44. James
    March 18, 2013 at 5:21 pm (7 years ago)

    I would have never even considered putting stitches in such a thin fabric, but your post has shown that it is in fact possible. Thanks for taking a shot at it and posting the results!

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  50. Melissa Thomas
    May 23, 2015 at 6:49 am (5 years ago)

    I am new to embroidery and had stitched on the bottom portion of a knit dress for my daughter. It looked great and was ok the first time it was washed but after the 2nd time I washed it, it has waded up to hardly nothing. What did I do wrong. Trying to figure this out before I start doing things for other people.


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