What's in your toolbox?


Machine Embroidery, what is in your toolbox?

Are you new to Machine Embroidery or just getting started? Diving into Machine Embroidery for the first time can be intimidating. One can be easily overwhelmed purchasing a machine and supplies.  With that in mind, how can you go about ensuring that you've got the right “tools” in your embroidery toolbox.

I chatted with two of my amazing co-workers at Lone Star Quiltworks, Maegan, who's new to machine embroidery, and Lori, who's a seasoned machine embroiderer, to try to glean some insights. 


The Tools of the (Embroidery) Trade

From thread and stabilizer to notions, there's a wide array of tools that can be helpful for all machine embroiderers, of all experience levels.

  • Hoop Mat, non-slip. These mats help to hold your hoop while hooping! It is a silicone mat with a printed grid that provides a non-skid hooping surface. It allows you to easily find the center point of any size or brand of hoop. The printed grid allows you to instantly measure by simply placing the hoop down on the mat. 
  • Stitch Ripper. This tool is used to remove embroidery stitches from fabrics. It simply releases stitches from the reverse side of the stabilizer and then you simply lift the thread away from above. It quickly and efficiently removes the stitching without tearing the fabric.
  • Bird’s Nest.  This device helps you to cut away the thread tangle between the throat plate of the machine and the hoop. Thus, releasing the hoop.
  • Martelli Pin Point Tweezers. These special purpose tweezers have a contoured design that allows access to small or hard to reach places. 
  • Double Curved Scissors.  These scissors allow you to cut threads close to the hoop without cutting the fabric or stabilizer.
  • Wave or Duckbill Scissors.  These specialized scissors are used to cut away excess fabric within the hoop for applique designs. The duckbill blade prevents you from cutting the stitches or the fabric and the angled handle allows you to hold the scissors well while the blade is flat on the material thus allowing you to cut fabric close to the stitches.
  • Multi-position screwdriver.  This screwdriver has three distinct positions, making it extremely useful for the various machine preparations such as changing the needle, removing the presser foot holder, removing the needle plate, or even tightening hoops for embroidery.
  • Kimberbell Paper Tape. This tape is designed for use with your In-The-Hoop embroidery projects to temporarily secure fabrics while piecing your projects together. The tape is easy to tear, holds securely and it will not gum up your needle or leave residue. This tape also helps prevent ""rolling"" of fabric underneath the hoop.
  • Sew Tites. Are used to hold fabric in place while basting when you cannot pin the fabric. They are magnetic pins for sewing super thick materials, like leather or cork, or pieces that are not near an edge. You just need to make sure these are out of the stitch zone!
  • Bobbin Boat. A bobbin boat holds your prewound bobbins for your project or class keeping them neat and tidy!
  • Prewound Bobbins or Bobbin Thread. Machine embroidery bobbin thread is different from regular thread. Bobbin thread is thinner. Typically, bobbin thread is either 60 or 90 weight, whereas standard embroidery thread is typically 40 weight. **Remember that with thread the higher weight number means a thinner thread. Machine embroidery bobbin thread is typically made of a polyester monofilament. This means that it is one long strand rather than the multiple strands twisted together like regular thread. It typically has fewer twists per inch, therefore making it smooth and easy to stitch with.The thinness of the bobbin thread allows you to stitch out a design without  having it bulk up on the bottom. Therefore, the top stitches lie smoother and dense designs do not become too stiff or puckered. Bobbin thread is so thin it lasts a long time, and you can wind a lot of bobbin thread on one bobbin. Also, since bobbin thread is only visible from the backside of projects, it is not critical for the bobbin color to match with the top thread. What is the benefit of using prewound bobbins? One benefit of using a prewound bobbin is that prewound bobbins hold more thread than one that you wind yourself. This extra thread leads to fewer bobbin changes. Also, because the thread is wound on the bobbin at a factory there is more consistency in the amount of thread wound on each bobbin. Factory wound bobbins create better stitches because the wind is more consistent than on self-wound bobbins. Thus, making the tension of the thread more consistent as it comes off the bobbin, which improves the stitch appearance and the bobbin tension.
  • Thread Nets. Thread nets are loose-fitting nets which fit over cones of thread to keep the thread from sliding down and getting tangled. Thread nets will help keep your thread from unwinding too quickly or snagging on themselves. You can also leave the net in place when storing thread to prevent unwinding. Thread nets also help to keep consistent tension.
  • Sewline Styla Pen. These pens are great to mark centers or alignment marks on fabric. They are roller ball pens which do not snag or fray fabrics like other felt tip pens. These pens draw a fine, smooth even line which can be erased with water.
  • Extra Needles. Always keep extra needles on hand, especially when attending a class since you never know when one will break.
  • R&K Turning Tool.  This turning tool has a “round ball tip” that helps poke out those annoying corners. Simply, run the tool along the seam while giving it a good press and you will not have to pull the seam out with a pin! It has a hexagon handle which prohibits it from rolling off the table and the “round ball tip” does not poke through fabric. 
  • Flat thumb tacks. Yes, the old-fashioned office supply type. When doing applique in the hoop, there are three different steps:  the placement stitch, the tack-down stitch and then the finishing stitch. Once you have stitched out your placement stitch and you lay over it and tape down the applique pieces you can use a flat thumb tack to poke a hole in the hard-to-reach places.   Remove the tacks BEFORE stitching the tack-down, the thumb tacks are only used for starting the hole. Then once you stitch, using small scissors you can make a small snip to help trim all the excess fabric away before you stitch your finishing stitch. Great for tiny areas and heavy “fabrics” like cork or leather.
  • Snag Repair Needles.   These needles have a fine ball point which is designed for the manipulation of fabric without having to worry about splitting fibers. It is especially useful in machine embroidery for hiding loose thread ends, loops or knots to the back of the fabric or stabilizer. 
  • T-Pins. These pins are used in machine embroidery to help secure your fabric and/or stabilizer in a hoop. For this technique, you will hoop your fabric as you normally would, then use the T-pins to secure the stabilizer or fabric in place and stop any potential movement. The T-pins should be inserted where the stabilizer or fabric sticks out between the two hoop frames after being hooped. They should be inserted flush with the frame. This way, when the stabilizer or fabric begins to pull in around the loose areas of the frame, the T-pins will be there to catch against the frame and stop any movement.

 Whew! This list of “tools” should get every machine embroiderer on the path to amazing embroidery projects! 

 My final thoughts…

  1. Always buy high quality supplies from a trustworthy supplier. Buying cheap thread, scissors, etc. can cause you more headaches and cost you more dollars down the road.
  2. When possible, buy local. That way,  if you have any questions, assistance and support is available to you. 
  3. Attend machine embroidery classes at your local quilt shop. This is the best place to learn all the tips, tricks, and “hacks” of machine embroidery.