Tips and Tricks for Newbies and Seasoned Embroiderers

As embroiderers, we have a lot to consider when deciding on a project.  This is how I try to view/review my projects:

  • Start with the end in mind - that sounds strange, but if you don't know your goal, how are you going to get there?? and how will you know you have arrived at your goal??
  • Who is this project for? The difference between a teenager and an octogenarian is night and day. What are their likes and what will gather a sincere yawn from your recipient?
  • What do I want to bring to the project? Do I want it to be a WOW, flashy and outstanding or more demure and soft? How does that relate to what the original designer created? I may not have it appear much like the original at all.
  • What is the fabric I will be using? I will need to do more preparation if I am using batiste than if I am using heavy denim.
  • How does my discovery sew (aka sew out) look? Do I need to adjust the stabilizer or other part of my recipe? Did the thread create good coverage and nice lines where needed? Perhaps my thread needs to be changed to a different weight.  I have made hundred's of bridal hankies but EVERY ONE is still checked with a discovery sew before sewing the final project.

Just like any project that is created by hand or machine, an artist has a lot to consider before a project becomes a work of art.   

Here are a few tips that I find helpful:

  • Your project is truly a recipe, and sometimes referred to as such in digitizing software. The ingredients will depend on what you want to have at the end. While two dishes may have eggs in them, an omelet is a lot different from a pound cake. Or, change one ingredient and for two different dishes.
  • The weight of the thread is very important. The higher the number, the lighter the weight of the thread. I don't know how it started but this is a cliff note for you. The weight stated indicates the length of thread in a single kilogram (2.2 pounds) The thread weight of 50 requires about 50 kilometers (31 miles) to weigh the kilogram. A 30 weight only requires about 30 kilometers (18.6 miles) to be that weight. Therefore, the lower amount indicates thicker/heavier thread. Most embroidery thread is a 40 weight but when doing detailing such as small lettering or intricate details, using a 60 weight works better.
  • Rayon is the current 'king' of the threads but polyester is getting a place of its own in the embroidery field. Rayon does generally have a better sheen. Take a look at your stash of threads and find the different types you have gotten along the way. Using the tension test here, and using similar colors of the different thread brands (if possible) use the tension test to see your threads. You may just find that you have a preference for rayon or polyester and for a particular brand when you see your stitching in this manner. And, incidentally, you should be testing your tension from time to time anyway.
  • I went into detail about needles in the same blog as the tension test resides. Depending on your fabric and thread, a switch to a smaller or larger needle can be advised. Here is a guideline table - nothing is chiseled in granite -  that may be more simple to follow -

#65/9 BP

#70/10 BP

#75/11 BP

#80/12 BP

#90/14 BP

#100/16 BP

Thin knits


Polo shirts

Med. Blanket

Heavy Blanket



Light Tees

Medium Tees

Heavy Tees

Heavy Fleece

Fake Fur

Small Letters


Med. Fleece

Med. Fleece

Large Letters


Detailed designs



Heavy Jersey


Multiple layers of fabric

#60 Threads

microfiber or microdenier


Most embroidery projects



Light Fabric that might snag


Med. Fabric that might snag








Synthetic Suede








#65/9 SP

#70/10 SP

#75/11 SP

#80/12 SP

#90/14 SP

#100/16 SP

Light weight non-woven



Heavy Towels


Heavy threads




Med. canvas

Heavy canvas






Twist threads




Light canvas

 Metallic Thread*



 Legend:  BP - Ball Point        SP - Sharp Point     *Metallic thread needles are often of the #80/12 size but some have a larger eye.

Many of the above cross over to different sizes because it really depends on your fabric, thread and stabilizer to mention just a few things. 

Here are a few tips to thread those pesky needles -

  • Try using a piece of white paper behind the needle, it will help to see the eye.
  • Make sure you have good lighting to do the process.
  • Cut the thread with a sharp scissors, when was the last time they were sharpened or replaced?
  • Cut at an angle, the small difference can and will help the threading.
  • Use bees wax to make the thread stiff. Plain candle wax is just as good. I have also used my hair oil! Yes, my hair oil. I run my thumb and index finger on my scalp and run the end of the thread with those same fingers. The small amount of oil works! If all else is not available, you can use hair spray on your fingers and thread, just be sure to catch the outgoing thread with your other hand. (I am just not a fan of saliva.)
  • Check your local store for the latest in needle threaders. Everyone is trying to build that better mouse trap, new types are out there!
  • Use a pair of tweezers. I could not believe the difference when I started using tweezers! I never accidentally pull the thread back (as I did when I used my fingers) dislodging the thread from the eye.
  • Fold the thread in half and place that loop behind the needle and slide it creating a sharp edge, that edge is a clean piece of thread that usually does not have lint to stop the threading.
  • Try a piece of scotch tape for when only a small amount of thread goes through the eye. Press the adhesive to the side to grab and pull the thread through.
  • Make sure you are using the right size needle for the thread. Some threads are thicker and won't go through the eye at all.
  • OK, this is really the last resort - find someone with better eyes. . . . .

 Don't forget to change your needle often, they are not expensive in large packages.


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