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Top 10 most essential tools for machine embroidery (that don’t come with your embroidery machine)

Going to the fabric store can be a bit overwhelming.  Even if you aren’t tempted to buy fabric you probably don’t need, you can still get seduced by all the cool gadgets promising to make your sewing and embroidering easier.  But what’s worth buying and what warrants a pass?  Here’s what I think are the 10 essentials.

If you are new to machine embroidery – spring for them all.  None of the items are expensive.  Or perhaps a friend/spouse/parent/sibling etc… just got an embroidery machine and you want to give her a gift that well help her pursue her new hobby.  Here’s a great place to begin…

My 10 essential tools that every machine embroidery enthusiast needs (in no particular order).

1) Appliqué Scissors

These funny looking scissors are absolutely necessary if you want to stitch out appliqué designs on an embroidery machine.  Appliqué scissors allow you to trim your fabric very close to the stitch line after the appliqué fabric shape has been tacked down by your embroidery machine WITHOUT cutting your base fabric.  Getting a close trim is essential because the final satin stitching needs to cover the raw edge.  If you don’t get a close trim, you see exposed raw edges of the fabric and it looks super sloppy.

What kind of appliqué scissors should you buy?  To be honest with you – I don’t think it matters.  I have two pairs – one from Walmart and the other pair a more expensive Gingher brand appliqué scissors and I really don’t have a preference.  The Gingher ones seem sharper which in some cases can be difficult to use because they can more easily cut your base fabric.

2) Nippers

Nippers are tiny little springy scissors with a puny blade that allows you to trim connector strings very close to your fabric. No other scissors can do as good of job trimming these little annoying strings. Being able to trim connector strings close to the design make your piece much more polished.

3) Stitch Eraser

The stitch eraser is amazing for removing stitches when you make an embroidery mistake or you want to redo a monogram… but only in certain circumstances. Basically the stitch eraser shaves off stitches which makes them fall out. It’s not as perfect and easy as it sounds though. If your fabric is thin and delicate, the stitch eraser will destroy your fabric. But if you are trying to remove stitches from an embroidery design that is stitched on durable fabric, then you may have a decent shot of removing the stitches. And – in my opinion – the only way you have a fighting chance of removing stitches is with the stitch eraser.  It’s well worth the small investment.

4) Makeup Brush

I have a confession.  I actually don’t even use a make up brush in real life. The one I bought for my sewing and embroidery machine was the first one I actually bought and I think I paid $1 for it.  A makeup brush is a great tool to remove fuzz and strings from you bobbin cage and other hard-to-access parts of your sewing and embroidery machine.   Keep your machines clean with a makeup brush and all your stitching will turn out SO. MUCH. BETTER.

5) Thread Stand

I learned about a thread stand the hard way.  I had bought some large spools of embroidery thread and tried to put them on the thread holder directly on my embroidery machine.  The problem in doing that is that they require significantly more tension to get them to unwind than standard sized embroidery thread.   As a result the machine did not stitch correctly with these larger spools of embroidery thread.

Enter the thread stand.  When you put your spool of embroidery thread on the thread stand and place it near your machine it diminishes the amount of tension required to pull the thread off the spool, and it stitches much, much better.  I now use the thread stand with any sized embroidery thread and I no longer have any tension issues.

6) Disappearing Ink Pen

If you have done any type of sewing you have probably used a disappearing ink pen.  But for machine embroidery it’s even more essential.  I use mine to mark the center of my hoop on my hooped stabilizer.  And I also use it to mark the position of my embroidery design on the garment.  Actually I use my disappearing ink pen so much I need to get another.  Hot tip:  keep the caps on and your disappearing ink pen will last a lot longer.

7) Ruler

Okay – maybe you think this is an obvious one.  But I find that I use a ruler for almost every project I do.  I use a ruler to mark the center of my hooped stabilizer (with my disappearing ink pen). (Here you can see how I center a garment in the hoop using adhesive backed stabilizer).

I also use a ruler just to visualize dimensions.  For example, I hold the ruler up to my garment and note the measurement I think will look most appropriate.  Then I size my design accordingly.

8) Quilting pins

Why I use any other pin besides quilting pins is beyond me.  Quilting pins are slightly longer than regular pins and that extra bit of length makes all the difference in the world.  I just think they feel more luxurious.  In the context of machine embroidery, quilting pins are useful when pinning down a garment to hooped adhesive backed stabilizer.  That extra bit of length makes it easier to get the pin through all the layers.

9) Binder Clips

Binder clips are awesome for holding back fabric when embroidering.  I clip the excess fabric of what I’m embroidering to the hoop to prevent it from getting the excess material sucked back under the needle.  Just be careful when using binder clips that when the hoop moves around the binder clips won’t interfere.

10) Seam Ripper

If you sew – you likely already own a seam ripper.  But if you are doing machine appliqué – a seam ripper is essential.    I use mine to remove the fabric in an enclosed shape.  I have a couple of different types of seam rippers, but I think the simple classic $1.99 seam ripper (the red one in the picture) is really all you need and is most useful for machine appliqué.


Well there you go.  I hope this helps you newbies or you generous gift givers.  Are you a more experienced machine embroidery enthusiast?  Then please share your thoughts!

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Identical thread but the shades don’t match…what’s up with that, Mettler?

Last week some ladies at work asked if I would be willing to monogram a set of towels for another coworker (Linda) who is getting married in the next few weeks. I was more than happy to contribute to this gift because I’m very happy for her.  You see – a few years ago Linda lost her first husband to cancer, so it is wonderful to see her in love again.

Barbara, another coworker, picked up a set of towels and gave them to me at work. We then conferred on thread color for the monogram, clarified the lettering and finally I took them home with me. Naturally, I left the project until the last minute so I had to get up super early the morning I needed to have them at the office.  It was all going well – I cranked out three out of the four towels. But when the fourth towel was being stitched, I heard by embroidery machine stop. It took a second for me to notice what the problem was: I ran out of embroidery thread.

OMG. How many times am I going to make a stupid mistake? I had a full spool of thread when I started the project, so I thought I would have enough to do all four towels.  Clearly I was wrong. I had to give Linda the gift with only three of the towels complete with a promise to deliver the fourth one once I was able to buy some thread that matched.

On Saturday I headed over to Make it Sew in St. Louis with the empty school of Mettler cotton embroidery thread with the mission to match to buy another spool of the exact same thread. The good news was that they had the same color thread, but the bad news was that the thread looked very different from what I recalled stitching. When I got it home my suspicions proved correct. This thread, although it was the same brand and number, it was a totally different shade. What’s up with that???? Thread companies just arbitrarily change the color of a thread even while keeping the number the same?  Has this happened to anyone else?

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Exact same thread – totally different shade.

I ended up bringing my hooped towel back to the fabric store to match the thread with a different brand.  I was concerned about mismatch within the monogram so I ended up ripping out the incomplete monogram on the fourth towel and restitching it with the new thread, and you really couldn’t notice a difference with thread color among all four towels.

Linda loved the towels and was touched that we had all gone through all the effort.  And she certainly didn’t notice the difference in thread.  But after this ordeal – I have a new policy.  No monogramming a set of towels unless I have two spools of the same color thread on hand.

Completed monogrammed towel
Completed monogrammed towel
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Embroidery machine dilemma. Need your advice.

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The “my sister is feeling guilty” gift of applique fabrics

Dear embroidery friends: I have a major dilemma for which I need your advice. Maybe you remember a few weeks ago when I posted about my sister’s broken embroidery machine. Her power board blew up which required a $700 repair. So right now her machine is at the shop awaiting parts to come in, and then be repaired.

It is an incredibly inopportune time for an embroidery machine to break down. Christmas is only a couple weeks away and, like me, she has grand visions of embroidered Christmas gifts she would like to make. So she has asked if she can come over and embroider some items on my machine.  Actually what she really wants to do is to take my machine over to her house and use it while I am out of town this week.

So let me just paint a clearer picture for you. She broke her embroidery machine. She needs to pay $700 to fix it. Now she wants to use my embroidery machine too make many projects that were my ideas (personalized dress, fishbone t-shirt) with my embroidery files. Really??

So needless to say I’m a bit torn. I don’t want to have to pack up my embroidery machine and have it be schlepped over to her house, and then pick it up when I come back into town. I also don’t want her to screw it up and end up having to pay $700 myself to get it fixed.

I think she’s feeling a little bit bad about the request because the other night when she stopped by to quickly stitch out name out on a birthday gift, she brought over a sampling of great applique fabric for me to use.  Still – this is not worth potentially having my machine screwed up… ugh!!! what to do??? thoughts?

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When you need $700 worth of repairs on your Bernina embroidery machine, is it time to get a new machine?

In the middle of my sister’s Halloween costume making frenzy, her beloved Bernina Artista 630 sewing and embroidery machine crapped out on her.  Every time she would turn on her machine, the screen just started flashing like crazy and she couldn’t do anything.

The first time it happened, her 9-year-old son was able to do something and the machine went back to operating normally. (He did some move like the Fonz on Happy Days). But once it happened for the second time and her son was not able to repeat his “fix”, she decided to seek a professional opinion.  So she took it to her local Bernina dealer who reported that the machine’s mother board was dead and the repair cost would be $700!!!  Hearing this news prompted her to ask the question – is the 10-year-old machine really worth fixing?

To help her make a decision on this matter – I posed the question to my embroidery Facebook friends who pretty much unanimously answered, “yes.”  And now i understand why.  First of all – a quick Google search revealed that a new Bernina 630 embroidery machine would cost about $2200 dollars.  Also my embroidery peeps pointed out – by fixing your existing machine – you don’t have to spend the time learning another machine. Once the machine is back from the shop – you can get right back to work.  Also – consider the investments you have made in accessories that work on your specific machine.  Are you willing to part with those too if you get a new different kind of machine? And furthermore – isn’t fixing what you have the greener choice?

Very good points, indeed.  I passed along these bits of advice to my sister, and she listened to all the advice and sent her machine to the shop. Hopefully she will be back in business soon –  I might be more ready than she is to get her machine back.  I’m getting tired of sharing my embroidery machine.

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Removing the adhesive sticky back stabilizer with a spray bottle of water

A spray bottle with water is great for removing sticky-back stabilizer
A spray bottle with water is great for removing sticky-back stabilizer

The other day I visited Make it Sew in St. Louis.  I had run out of green embroidery thread and needed a specific shape and brand to complete my embroidery project.  My plan was to be in and out of the store quickly but when Beverly (a lady who works there) started doling out advice I slowed down and started listening. Bev lives embroidery and appliqué all day, every day, so she has a lot of experience to share. After she taught me about patching stabilizer in the hoop, talking me out of purchasing smaller embroidery hoop, I started asking questions.

I’ve gotten down my appliqué technique and most of my projects turn out great – but one step I find a bit annoying is getting the adhesive sticky back stabilizer off the back of the design.  The stabilizer I bought is fantastic because it is really really sticky.  Unfortunately the stickiness makes it hard to remove.  My solution has been to toss anything I appliqué into the wash.  Once it comes out of the wash – the stabilizer peels off easily.   The problem is that this takes time for the item to get through the wash and the dryer.  So it’s not an ideal solution when I am in a hurry.  Also – some items I embroider are too delicate to go through the wash.

Bev’s solution: a water spray bottle.  She said that all you have to do is to spray the adhesive back stabilizer with some water.  Once the backing is grey-ish because it is saturated with water, let it sit for a few minutes, then it will peel away easily. The benefit is that only part of the item gets wet (primarily the stabilizer) so there is not a long drying time.  Genius.

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Hot tips from an expert machine embroidery digitizer

I recently joined a couple of machine embroidery related interest groups on Facebook, which has been the most fun and addictive thing…. ever! Through my participation I have gotten to chat with some people with a lot of experience digitizing.

One of these experts, Sue Lough, whose business is to train aspiring machine embroidery digitizers agreed to answer a few of my questions for me to post here on my blog! (Thank you, Sue!!!)

ME: What are the most common mistakes beginning digitizers make?

SUE: autodigitizing – thinking they will get a very good design and then wondering why they don’t.

ME: Is there a demand for a certain type of embroidery designs?

SUE: I don’t think there are any one type of design that is more popular than another, it depends on the individual and what they are making.

ME: Since you first got in this field do you think machine embroidery has become more popular?

SUE: Machine embroidery is much more popular since I started in the mid 1990s. At that time there was very little information available, one or two yahoo groups to join and not many places to purchase designs from, mostly the big digitizing houses, like Amazing designs, Brother, Husqvarna etc.not many ‘home’ embroiderers. Designs were very expensive too. There was none or very little help for digitizers apart from the manual that came with your software.

ME: What is the best way to learn how to digitize?

SUE: If you mean what type of digitizng – then the best way is to learn how to use the manual tools and not auto digitizing. Online lessons, CDs etc. where you can actually see what is being done, including mistakes and how to correct them. This way you will also have something you can refer back to.

ME: Do you recommend embroiderers learn how to digitize?

SUE: It depends on what sort of designs they are looking for, and what time they can spend learning. Digitizing software is not cheap to purchase and it does take a while to get to know your way around. It isn’t for everyone, and sometimes it is better to purchase the designs you are wanting to use, as they are ready made and available. If it is a special design just for you, then you can have it digitized by someone else. If you are planning on making embroidery your business and are going to be doing logos and other personalised items, then yes, you will need to learn how to digitize, but if it is just for hobby purposes – probably not necessary. If you do decide to learn to digitize, then take the time to learn your programme inside and out, I have seen a lot of people move from one make of software to another thinking that the next one will be easier to learn, but basically they aren’t giving themselves the time to learn one properly.

ME: Thank you so much, Sue, for your interesting insight!

Learn more about Sue. Visit her web site: Memories in Thread –