Ironing Embroidery to Perfection

Periodically, I get asked how I get my embroideries to lay so nice and flat and how do I get the thread to stand up off of the fabric. It is all about your ironing surface.

I started out with a piece of wood that I covered with a few layers of batting that I had on hand. I covered the batting with some heat resistant silver ironing fabric, that you can get at Joanne's (I believe Hobby Lobby carries it as well). I have since graduated to a Steady Betty board. Either way, the ironing surface is easily portable. I just love it because it gives me the nice, crisp, dimensional results that I want for my embroidery projects.


Before embroidery, I always pretreat my fabrics with a spray starch. I spray the fabric with starch and iron it. That gives the fabric a little bit of stabilization. It is not a replacement for stabilizer, but it makes the fabric a little bit stiffer and you'll have less puckering. It works like a charm!


After I've stitched the embroidery, I'm ready to iron it again. One of the biggest tips I have is to use a towel on your ironing surface. The reason I do that is because I like my stitches to stand up. Towels have a nice fluffy nap that gives stitches a space to sink into so that they are not ironed flat. It keeps the embroidery a little bit puffier, more dimensional.  

Spray the embroidered piece with spray starch, on the backside and place the embroidery face down onto a towel. Put the iron at a setting that the fabric will handle, such as cotton for standard quilting fabric. Then I smooth the embroidery out as I press.

As I'm pressing into the towel my stitches actually have a place to go. Sometimes, when I lift off embroideries from the towel, I actually have an engraving of the design into my towel. Iron from the backside, never iron it from the front, and you will get a nice embroidery where the stitches actually pop off of the fabric.

See the full video here!


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  • Bonnie Welsh - May 15, 2020

    Paula—That really depends upon what I’m ironing as to whether I use steam or not. For example, if my embroidery has GlitterFlex or mylar in it, then no I don’t use steam.

  • Paula - May 15, 2020

    Do you both spray starch and steam together when you iron your fabric for embroidery?

  • Bonnie Welsh - April 20, 2020

    Shari—They can if not stabilized properly.

  • Shari - April 19, 2020

    Do embroidery designs get all wrinkled and picker with washing? Brand new to this 😊

  • Bonnie Welsh - November 06, 2019

    Paula—For most of my embroidery (including muslin), I use a 75/11 sized embroidery needle.

  • Paula Cox - November 06, 2019

    Thank you, what type and size needle should I be using on the muslin?

  • Bonnie Welsh - November 06, 2019

    Paula—Muslin is a very flimsy fabric. First of all, I’d make sure that the design I picked out for muslin was appropriate and not a dense design. Then I’d stiffen up the muslin with several coats of starch to make it stiffer. Then I’d use a medium tear away (or light if it’s a lighter design).

  • Paula Cox - November 06, 2019

    It is hard for me to machine embroidery muslin, do you have any suggestions?

  • Bonnie Welsh - November 05, 2019

    Kathryn—I think wool would work great as it would be very stable and still let the stitches have a place to sink into when getting pressed. Great tip! Thanks for sharing! =)

  • Kathryn Longfellow - November 05, 2019

    Thanks for the help; I use this method and like. I also use many layers of wool that I felted and sewed together into a pad about 12″×12″ and I love that sew very much as whether I use steam or not my designs always look great. I have used the towel method for many years too…Just love the wool too

  • Bonnie Welsh - January 08, 2019

    Mary—I’m so glad you found the tip helpful and it saved your pillowcase. It’s amazing how it works isn’t it? The embroidery just pops when it’s ironed from the back into a towel. I know I was surprised at the difference when I first found out about this little trick. =)

  • Mary - January 08, 2019

    This tip just saved my brain! I just finished a heavy design on a pillowcase and it puckered. This tip about ironing design down on a towel really works and I’m so glad because this is not my pillowcase! Thank you so much!! You are awesome!

  • Bonnie Welsh - October 01, 2018

    Sarah—For the embroidery to become “fuzzy” sounds like something rough rubbed it. I’ve not run into this issue before and not sure how to handle it. You could try ironing it face down into a towel to see if that would help—I can’t see where it would hurt. Maybe someone else on the board has an idea too. I’m so sorry that this happened to you. Maybe the cleaners would be willing to replace it if it cannot be repaired?

  • Sarra - September 28, 2018

    Hi! I recently took a beloved hand-embroidered silk garment to the cleaners – and to my dismay the garment (a beautiful silk shell) came back to me with the embroidery all fuzzy :(. Is there any way ironing could bring the stunning embroidery on garment back to life? Thanks so much in advance for any pointers.

  • Bonnie Welsh - May 29, 2018

    Gail—I prefer to use steam with the cotton setting but that will also depend upon the fabric you’re using. If you’re fusing GlitterFlex no steam.

  • Gail Miller - May 28, 2018

    steam or no steam with the cotton setting???

  • Bonnie Welsh - May 28, 2018

    Heather—Yes a Steady Betty is a hard portable ironing surface. It was originally created for quilters for pressing bias cuts as the fabric will not slip or distort when using it. They come in several sizes. Amazon has them for sale on line as do many quilt shops. =)

  • heather Stewart - May 28, 2018

    what is a steady Betty. Is it like a small ironing board. I don’t think Ive seen them in Australia

  • Bonnie Welsh - May 24, 2018

    You’re most welcome! Spray starch works wonders with embroidery. I think you’ll love it!

  • Pam - May 24, 2018

    Thank you so much for this. I was afraid to use starch. I LOVE starch. That is so totally clever with the towel. I would never have thought of it.

  • Bonnie Welsh - May 24, 2018

    Anne—For t-shirts, I’d turn it inside out, place the towel inside the t-shirt, and iron from the back side. =)

  • Bonnie Welsh - May 24, 2018

    Thank you ladies! So glad you’ve found the tips helpful. =)

  • Noreen Curry - May 24, 2018

    What wonderful simple tips for the project to look like a million.

  • Anne - May 24, 2018

    Great tips! How do you iron a tshirt that you have appliqued? Thanks!!

  • Susan - May 24, 2018

    Thanks so much for the tip. I always iron my embroidery with a pressing cloth, but have never thought about ironing on the back of the design and using a towel on the embroidered surface. Thanks, again

  • Nicole Ferrari - May 24, 2018

    Thank you, Bonnie, for this information. I have that video bookmarked. I love your new store and blog. I plan to get started this week or next on trying all the Glitter Flex a bought a few months back. Life has kind of taken over my crafting time and it is now time to get back to crafting.
    Have a great day.

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