5 Tips for Smooth Sailing Embroidery

Sew Inspired by Bonnie tips for smooth sailing embroidery

Do you want to create your embroidery projects with as little fuss as possible and have everything turn out just the way you like it? Read on for 5 tips for smooth sailing embroidery.

1. Get your machine serviced.

If you haven't done so already, please go out and get your machines serviced. If you use them heavily, maybe service them once a year. At the very least, with average use, get machines serviced every two to three years.

When I worked in a shop, it seemed like the last quarter of the year was the busiest for machine repairs. That's because that's when we use them the most. Try to beat the rush, if we're not too late already.

If you have more than one machine, just service one at a time. That way, you still have a machine available for stitching your projects.

2. Always start with a new needle.

Remember to change your needle out every eight hours, whether it’s damaged or not. Some of us like to use those needles until they just won't work at all anymore. Please, change them every eight hours, at least, so that you have a nice sharp needle that's not going to ruin your fabric, skip stitches, or have other nasty problems.

If you're not sure about keeping track of your needle usage time, check out my in-the-hoop Needle Keeper.  (Note: It will help you keep track of hours used, which needle is currently in use in your machine, and easily shows what you have on hand all in a compact traveling booklet. It makes a great gift for your sewing buddies too!)

3. Build a test stash.

Purge your closet and pull out clothes that you no longer wear. Maybe they just don't look right, are worn out or have holes in them. Before you donate anything, look it over. Is this an item that you embroider? If so, keep it for test sews.

You can do an awful lot of test sews on one repurposed shirt. Cut up along each side seam up through the sleeves. It will still hang on a hanger if you like but, with the cuts, it lays out nice and flat for easy hooping.

Test sewing ensures you have the right stabilizer recipe and that the embroidery stitches out well on a similar item without risking an expensive garment. Polo shirts, T-shirts, and sweatshirts are good keepers.


I hate to show this hideous little shirt. This is one of my painting shirts, but it would be perfect for test sews on 100% rayon. It doesn't matter that it has a print on it. You just want to make sure that your outline matches up, that there's no puckers, that you've got things ironed out before you put it on the real deal.

You can test sew on the fronts, the backs, and even the sleeves. Since we opened up the side seams right through the sleeves, your garment will open up flat, and you'll have a really good area there to test embroidery. Don't waste anything, use every inch you can!

If you don’t have cotton shirts to stitch on, buy a little bit extra quilting cotton yardage (especially if it is on sale) and test sew on that.

Stretchy sweater knits are another sample that you might want to keep. Save any fabric blend that you think you might embroider on for your resource center, AKA the sewing room.

Once you have your test sew done and everything looks really good, make a notation of what you did. What stabilizer did you use? Stitch counts determine how many layers and what kind of stabilizers you will need. Attach notes to your test shirt with a safety pin. The next time you stitch on the same type of material, you already have a starting point. Compare the stitch counts and the stabilizers you used and you will learn and improve as you go.

This investment in time on the front end is really going to save you time in the long run. I heard not too long ago from someone wiser than me, "We sometimes have to slow down to speed up." I have to remind myself of that from time to time.

4. Shop sales for items you use most frequently.

Stabilizer, thread, needles. You don't want to run out of those basics when you're in the middle of a project. Stock up when you find them on sale. We are all busy and sometimes all we have are 10 or 15 minutes here and there. When you don't have what you need, you can't shop a sale, and you wind up paying more for it and losing precious sewing time as well.


My Planning for Holiday Sewing blog includes a free download link for you and even more tips on planning your holiday sewing. The holiday checklist and holiday sewing planner help keep you on track. Write in the project that you want to make, what you have on hand, and the items you still need to get. Put sheets in a little binder to take with you when you go shopping so you have a list of exactly what you need for upcoming projects.

5. Don’t be afraid to say, “No.”

I want to remind you to be kind to yourself and give yourself permission to say "no". Sewists, by nature, are givers. We like to make and create things to give to people. A lot of us very seldom keep anything for ourselves. So it's really easy to say "yes," and it's really hard sometimes to say "no". During this holiday season, give yourself permission to say, “No, I just don't have time," or "We might have to wait until after the holidays,” or whatever works best for you.

You can do anything, but that doesn't mean you can do everything. And I'm just as guilty as the next person of saying, “Yeah I can do that, that's okay,” and then all of a sudden I'm looking at this list that's way out of sight and longer than I dreamed possible. So, pace yourself and give yourself permission to say "no". It's okay!

Check out the video here.

Have a day blessed with perfect stitches…and GlitterFlex!!

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  • Bonnie Welsh - December 06, 2018

    Sheila—Thank you! I’m glad you found the tips helpful. =)

  • sheila edmondson - December 05, 2018

    great ideas and advice

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