Machine Embroidery on Knits

Happy Embroidery GuyWhile many of you have been avid and accomplished machine embroiderers with years of experience, sometimes I forget that the “newbie,” (novice) embroiderer needs to be exposed to the various stabilizers, threads and needles, to enable her/him to succeed with machine embroidery.

Earlier this week, a very sweet lady was in the store, seemingly plagued by an embroidery machine she thought might be in need of major service.  She had actually called the week before and wanted to bring her machine in for service.  Understanding that she has been exposed to machine embroidery for only a few months, I asked her to bring a sample of her work with her to show me what was happening as she attempted to embroider.

She did exactly as I asked and brought several pieces.  Each sample was ok in some respects, but there was a common issue with every sample…except one.  All of the samples with “issues” were machine embroidered t-shirts.  The exception was the same design as that on the t-shirts, but the embroidery had been stitched on a woven fabric.

When I began asking questions of this sweet lady, I felt like I had entered a debate much like the Abbott and Costello, “Who’s on First” routine.  I asked if she was using ballpoint needles and she responded that, yes, she was using the needles I had recommended.  I asked if they were titanium coated and she confirmed they were.  I asked her if she minded if I use her machine and embroider something.  When she gave the “ok,” I hooped only stabilizer and completed the lettering she had tried on her t-shirt.  My results were perfect.

Again I asked if the needle in her machine was a titanium coated, ballpoint needle, and she insisted it was.  After a number of rounds of these same questions, and with Who still on First, I asked her if she minded if I remove the needle from her machine.  She did not mind, she only wanted better looking embroidery.  When I removed the needle, I had Brian examine it with a magnifying glass.  The needle was, indeed, titanium coated, and it was a size 80/12.  It WAS NOT a ballpoint needle.

Because knits behave differently than woven fabrics, it is essential, to the success of your project, to use ballpoint needles.  Because ballpoint needles have a rounded tip, as the point of this special needle moves up and down through the fabric, it deflects off the fibers, finds the hole between the fibers and enters without ever splitting the threads of the fabric.  When a regular needle is used with knits, the needle will attempt to penetrate the fibers of the fabric.  Because the knit fibers are stronger than their woven counterparts, often the needle, instead of creating that deflecting action, will force the fabric down into the bobbin area of the sewing machine and create myriad problems, even making it necessary to cut your project from the machine.

When you are embroidering on knit fabric, you shouldn’t need to adjust your tensions or reduce the speed of your machine.  A titanium coated Ballpoint needle should be the only modification you would need to make.  Usually a size 80/12 titanium coated ballpoint needle is perfect for t-shirts and other knit fabrics as well.

If you have experienced sewing or embroidery problems when working knit fabrics, make sure you have the correct needle inserted and, in the case of machine embroidery, the correct cut-away stabilizer hooped.

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Reader Comments (1)

Leonie on 2/3/13 @ 12:37am

Hi. I stay in South Africa. Do you perhaps know where I can get Titnium coated ballpoint needles?

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