How to Machine Embroider a T-Shirt

How to Machine Embroider a T-shirt

T-shirts are one of the most popular outerwear items.  Take a plain t-shirt and make it something special by machine embroidering a design on it.  Kids love to have special t-shirts with their favorite characters, trains, cars embroidered on them.

Today, with modern sewing and embroidery machines, you can personalize, monogram and add designs to t-shirts in the comfort of your own home.

Watch this video to learn how to machine embroider a design on a t-shirt and get great results!

Watch our Video Below or Click the link to watch How to Machine Embroider a T-Shirt in Youtube.

What embroidery machine do I use in the video?

I have a Brother Innovis 4000D embroidery and sewing machine.  This machine is no longer manufactured, but there are many options of machines you can choose from.  My machine has a 7" x 12" maximum embroidery area.  With this size hoop, I have been able to machine embroider most any pattern I find as they come in different sizes.  

How much does the machine cost?

Since my embroidery machine is no longer made, I cannot give you a price for it.  Embroidery machines range in prices from a few hundred dollars to a whopping 18 thousand or more!  The machine you purchase would depend on your budget and the type of embroidering you want to do.

What types of embroidery machines are there?

There are 3 basic types of embroidery machines:

  • Embroidery only - these are specialized machines which can only do machine embroidery and cannot sew straight lines or other sewing.
  • Embroidery and Sewing Combo - This is what I have and it can switch between embroidery and sewing.
  • Multi-needle Embroidery - These have more than one needle so when embroidering a pattern, you load up multiple thread colors and thread them into the multiple needles.  The machine can then stitch with all of those colors without stopping for color changes.

Can you recommend an embroidery machine to purchase?

I do not recommend specific machines to purchase because this is a more personal question which depends on many factors including budget and features.  I recommend that you research online and visit one or more of your local sewing machine dealers to find out the options and features of different machines.  Ask your dealer if they give lessons.  Lessons can be important so you will know how to use your machine and get the most out of it.

There are many different manufacturers of embroidery machines including Brother, Viking, Bernina, Baby Lock.  Each manufacturer has a range of different machines and each has different features.  

We do have a link to embroidery machines available on Amazon below, but these are low end machines and may not be suitable for everyone.  But these could give you some ideas of features and pricing.  The high end machines are only sold through dealers. 

What is important to consider when purchasing an embroidery machine?

One important item to consider is the hoop size.  Each machine has specific hoops it can handle and you cannot upgrade to larger hoops in the future.  So, if you purchase a machine which has a largest hoop of 5" x 7", you will not be able to purchase a larger hoop later. 

Most people recommend to purchase a machine with the largest hoop you can afford. So, if there is an option between two machines and the one has a larger hoop, you may want the larger hoop because people tend to outgrow their machines which only have smaller hoop sizes quickly.

Machine Embroidered T-Shirt Kitten Pin

What type of stabilizer should I use when embroidering on a t-shirt?

I recommend that you use a sticky back stabilizer like Sulky Sticky Tear Away stabilizer (look for a link below).  I find this stabilizer works best for t-shirts because they are so stretchy and this stabilizer will keep the t-shirt from stretching or shifting during the stitching.

If you have a very dense design which needs more stabilization, take a piece of cut away or another piece of tear away stabilizer and slide it under your hoop before starting to stitch.  

How do you change the colors?

With a single needle machine, like mine, the machine stops between each color so that you can change the thread.  There are multi-needle machines which you can load multiple colors at once and then it can automatically switch for you.  


  • Pick out thread colors and organize them in order of use so they are ready and handy to use as you stitch the design.
  • Self-adhesive tear-away stabilizer is recommended because it will prevent the t-shirt fabric from stretching out of shape during embroidering.
  • Add additional piece of cut away or tear away stabilizer under the hoop before stitching if you have a very dense pattern which needs more stabilizer.
  • Wash and dry your t-shirt before embroidering on it.  This will pre-shrink the shirt to make sure it won't shrink and then distort the design after it's sewn.


  1. Load design in your embroidery machine.
  2. Determine direction of the design and proper placement when hooping.
  3. Cut stabilizer a little larger than the hoop.  The stabilizer should be caught in the hoop when hooping to make sure the t-shirt does not shift or stretch while embroidering.
  4. Turn t-shirt inside out and put self-adhesive tear-away stabilizer on the area that will be embroidered.
  5. Turn t-shirt right side out and hand press a vertical crease down center of shirt.
  6. Slide the outer hoop inside the shirt.
  7. Decide on the placement of the design using the vertical crease as a guide and press the top hoop in place.
  8. Roll the back of shirt and excess fabric up and around the hoop so it is away from embroidery area.
  9. Attach embroidery hoop to the machine.
  10. Check the design placement.
  11. Stitch the embroidery design.
  12. Carefully tear away the stabilizer from around the outside of the design.
  13. Add fusible interfacing to the inside of the shirt over the stitching to avoid roughness against the skin.

Machine Embroidered T-Shirt Cupcake Pin

What you need:

  • Embroidery Machine
  • Embroidery design file for your type of machine.
  • T-shirt (pre-shrink by washing/drying)
  • Sticky back stabilizer (see below for links)
  • Tear away or cut away stabilizer (optional - depends on pattern)
  • Fusible interfacing or soft fusible
  • Thread


Be sure to watch our video tutorial for even more tips and follow along with these written instructions.

STEP 1: Select and Load design 

Select the design to be stitched on the t-shirt.  Most any design can be stitched and it can be a filled embroidery design or an applique embroidery design.  Most embroidery machines come with patterns installed on them.  Another option is to purchase or find a free pattern on the internet.  Be sure that the pattern you get is the correct file format and size for your embroidery machine.

If you purchase a design, download the design to your computer.   Most embroidery machines use a USB stick so copy the pattern to USB and load the pattern into the embroidery machine.

Step 2: Organize Thread

Machine Embroider T-Shirt Tutorial - Organize ThreadPick out the thread colors needed to complete the design.  Designs usually come with suggested color numbers, but I like to just pick colors from the threads I have.  Organize your threads in the order of stitching so they are ready.  A handy egg carton can be re-purposed into a thread holder.

STEP 3: Design Direction

Look at the direction the design is when loaded into the embroidery machine.  The hoop must be placed in the proper direction on the t-shirt or the design will be stitched in the wrong orientation.  

Machine Embroider T-Shirt Tutorial - Hoop Placement HorizontalThe design used in this demonstration was turned to the side, so the hoop had to be placed in a horizontal direction.

If your design is facing upright, then place your hoop vertically.

Step 4: ADD Sticky Backed stabilizer

Machine Embroider T-Shirt Tutorial - Add StabilizerCut the sticky backed stabilizer a little larger than the hoop.  The stabilizer should be caught in the hoop when hooping to make sure the t-shirt does not shift or stretch while embroidering.

Turn t-shirt inside out and put self-adhesive tear-away stabilizer on the area that will be embroidered and hooped.  Turn the shirt back to the right side out once the stabilizer is in place.

Step 5: Crease Shirt

Machine Embroider T-Shirt Tutorial - Crease Shirt along center lineTo find the center line of the t-shirt, fold the shirt in half lining up the sides and arms of the shirt. Press a crease into the shirt along the center line.  This crease will be used when hooping the shirt.

STEP 6: Hoop Shirt

Machine Embroider T-Shirt Tutorial - Hoop ShirtLay the shirt flat on the table.  The crease should be visible in the center front of the shirt. Slide the outer hoop inside the shirt below the area to be hooped. Using the marks on the center of your hoop and the guide lines on the template, align the hoop straight along the crease.  Use your measure tape to be sure it's aligned correctly.

Once you have the hoop aligned, press the top hoop into the bottom hoop.  Designs on t-shirts are normally place in the top half of the shirt.  

STEP 7: Get Shirt Back Out of the Way

Machine Embroider T-Shirt Tutorial - Move Back of Shirt out of the wayBefore you can embroider on the shirt, the back needs to be moved out of the way.  Otherwise, the front and back of the shirt will be sewn together.  Roll the back of shirt and excess fabric up and around the hoop so it is away from embroidery area.  

Tuck in the arms of the shirt so they will not get caught in the stitching.  Make sure the back of the hoop is completely clear of fabric and on the front there is a clear opening where the shirt will be embroidered.

STEP 8: CHECK Design Placement

Machine Embroider T-Shirt Tutorial - Check Design PlacementAttach embroidery hoop to the machine.  One last time, check the orientation of your design and the direction the t-shirt was hooped to make sure the design will be right side up when stitched. 

Check where the design will stitch on the t-shirt to make sure you will be happy with the results.  Depending on the design size to your hoop, you may be able to make small adjustments on the placement of the design now before stitching.

If you have a dense design which needs extra stabilization, slide the extra tear away or cut away stabilizer under the hoop now.  Cut the stabilizer large enough so you can slide it under and it will be caught by the stitching.


Machine Embroider T-Shirt Tutorial - Stitch the Design StepsStitch the embroidery design steps changing thread colors after each step as the design instructs.  The machine will stop for each color change.


Machine Embroider T-Shirt Tutorial - Remove StabilizerOnce the design is complete, remove the hoop from your machine.  Take the t-shirt out of the hoop.  Carefully tear away the stabilizer from around the outside of the design.  If you used extra cut away stabilizer, trim this around the design.


Machine Embroider T-Shirt Tutorial - StabilizerTo make the inside of the t-shirt softer where the design is located, cut a piece of fusible interfacing or Sulky Tender Touch the shape of the design or a little larger than the design and fuse it to the inside of the t-shirt. This is especially important for children so stitching will not be rough against their skin. 


Machine Embroider T-Shirt Tutorial - Design completeThe t-shirt is now finished and ready to wear. Have fun creating machine embroidered t-shirts for family and friends. Give them as gifts!

Some other shirts I've machine embroidered designs onto are shown below.

Machine Embroidered T-Shirt - 3D CupcakeThis is a 3D Ribbon Cupcake design stitched on a t-shirt.  This design came from a web site Applique Corner (link below).  This was an interesting pattern as it's a combination of applique embroidery and then the ribbon is sewn down as one of the steps.

Machine Embroidered T-Shirt - Kitten with NameThis cute kitten came from a design pack by Amazing Designs (link below).  I added the name underneath using a font from my machine.  This is stitched on a long sleeved t-shirt.

Machine Embroidered T-Shirt - Letter K with PenguinThis is a t-shirt with a design from Planet Applique (link below).  The design pack comes with the Penguin next to each letter of the alphabet.  You customize it with your choice of fabrics for the letter and for the penguin.

Find many other Machine Embroidery projects and tutorials through the link.  Machine embroidered aprons are another fun project to make with your embroidery machine.

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Embroidery Machines

Amazon has a huge selection of embroidery machine. To see the selection, click the link. Affiliate Link to Amazon

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Fruit of the Loom Boys' Cotton White T Shirt

Affiliate Link to Amazon

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Gildan Men's Crew T-Shirt Multipack

Affiliate Link to Amazon

Kitten Capers

Nancy's Notions


Machine Embroidery Thread

A huge selection of machine embroidery thread is sold at Affiliate Link to

Penguin Alphabet

Planet Applique

Ribbon Cupcake Design

Applique Corner


Rotary Cutters

Purchase rotary cutters at Check out their selection. Affiliate Link to


Scissors and Rotary Cutters

Scissors, rotary cutters and sharpeners. Affiliate Link to Sold at Annie's Catalog


Sewing Scissors

A huge selection of sewing scissors are available at Affiliate Link to


Sulky Cut Away Midweight Stabilizer

Provides great permanent stability to stitch computerized embroidery designs, appliques, and monograms on outerwear like jackets, sweaters and sweatshirts 7 2/3" x 8 yds. White Affiliate Link to Amazon

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Sulky Of America Cut Away Tender Touch Iron-On Backing White, 20" by 36"

This is a soft backing to iron on over your stitching to protect sensitive skin. Affiliate Link to


Sulky Sticky Plus Self-Adhesive Tear-Away Stabilizer Roll

Sulky Sticky Plus is a self-adhesive tear-away stabilizer on a paper backed release sheet that is ideal stabilizer for hooped, computerized machine embroidery Affiliate Link to

How to Machine Embroider a T-shirt

How to Machine Embroider a T-shirt

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