How to embroider on towels

By on September 5th, 2020
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how to embroider on towels
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If you were a fly on the wall in my house, you may be under the impression that my children were living in a homeless shelter based on the way they complain about their towels. The problem is that they are used to seeing a lot of monogrammed towels coming out of my sewing room and then getting gifted to other people.  So, naturally, they have a bit of towel envy, and are requesting to get in on the action. Ok – I figured – this is not a problem.  I’ll use this opportunity to kick off my holiday stitching and show you all how to embroider on towels.

Why embroider on towels?

If you are new to machine embroidery, towels are a great beginner project. Towels are flat which makes them easy to float on a piece of hooped stabilizer.  You don’t have to deal with the struggle of keeping excess material out of the way while you are embroidering.

Towels are cheap

Towels are also pretty cheap, too, especially if you start with dollar store kitchen towels.  If you mess up – it’s no big deal.  You can even get bath towels pretty inexpensively as well.  Walmart and Marshalls sell bath towels for about $7 or $8 each.

Embroidered towels make a great gift

Towels also are a great go-to gift.  The are especially suitable for wedding and engagement gifts. A newly married or engaged couple will like to see their initials together on just about anything, so you really can’t go wrong by gifting a set of monogrammed towels.

Kitchen towels with a funny or seasonal embroidery design can also be a great gift for a host or hostess.  I mean – who doesn’t need new kitchen towels from time to time? I like to stitch out a seasonal embroidery design on some kitchen towels and then add my recipient’s last name underneath for a totally custom and personalized touch.

Embroidered towels can class up your home decor

Monogrammed towels are also a great way to class up your own home decor using your embroidery machine.  A bathroom will look a lot more elegant with a set of monogrammed towels hanging from your towel racks. Just be mindful of the embroidery font you choose, because it can really help set the tone for your bathroom decor.

Pitfalls to avoid when embroidering on towels

Hooping your towels

The biggest mistake you can make when embroidering on towels is to try to hoop them (which I have done – so dumb).  Towels are thick and are therefore very difficult to get into an embroidery hoop – especially straight.  But – there is no need to hoop a towel when you can float it so easily. Floating means that you hoop a piece of tearaway stabilizer and stick the towel to the stabilizer. I’ll show you exactly how below.

Choosing too thin of an embroidery font

Another common mistake is to choose too thin of an embroidery font for the name or monogram you are embroidering on a towel.  Towels have quite a bit of nap, so a thin letter will get lost in the texture of a towel.  Pick a font with some thickness when you embroider on a towel.

Not using water soluble topper

Always use a water soluble topper when embroidering on a towel.  This material will hold down the towel fibers so that you can achieve adequate coverage with your embroidery.  When you don’t use a water soluble topper when embroidering on towels, the towel fibers will pop through your letters and the embroidery looks a bit sloppy.

Not using a knockdown stitch area

Sometimes even a water soluble topper is not enough to tamp down the nap of the towel fabric. For example, if you are trying to stitch out a design with a lot of details, you may want to consider adding a knockdown stitch behind your design to really tame those fibers from popping through your design.

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What to embroider on towels?

If you are embroidering some towels for your kids, then stitching out their name in a decorative typeface usually fits the bill.  I usually choose a whimsical script for my girls, but just making sure the typeface is thick enough to hold up over the towels.

Unconventional monograms

When it comes to embroidering on towels for a couple, then I either stitch out a single initial monogram or a complete monogram. I grew up in a house full of preppy monogrammed towels so it took awhile for me to come around to the notion of having monogrammed towels in my own house.   But, once I discovered so many cool and unique monogram fonts I’ve realized that monogrammed towels don’t have to look like they came right out of The Preppy Handbook.

Traditional monograms

If you are stitching out a traditional monogram on some towels, you may be curious how to sequence the initials.  After monogramming hundreds of towels for friends and family, I learned that the appropriate monogram for a couple is the lady’s first initial first, then the initial of the last name (larger), and finally the man’s first initial.  I monogrammed all my towels incorrectly initially until I read up on monogram etiquette.  Oopsie.

Learn how to set up a monogram embroidery file. 

Fun and seasonal embroidery designs

There’s no rule that says you have to stitch out a name or a monogram on a towel.  There are loads of fun designs for kitchen towels.  And while bath towels tend to be a bit more formal, you can still have a bit of fun with them.  For example, I stitched out my friend’s old football number (77) on a set of towels as a housewarming gift for my bachelor friend.

What are the best towels for machine embroidery?

Well – it depends on the situation.  If I am making a set of monogrammed towels as a gift, I will likely pick up the towels at a Marshalls or a TJ Maxx.  This is because I’m not too concerned about whether I can acquire more down the road. But, if I’m embroidering some personalized towels for one of our rental properties, I will buy a specific brand of towels that I know I can get again and again.

How large to embroider a name or a monogram on a towel?

I think it’s important to get the proportion of the letters correct when stitching out a name or a monogram on a towel. On a bath towel, I usually make my monograms about 4″ and about 2.5″  on a hand towel.  If I’m stitching out a name on a bath or a beach towel, I usually make the name about 2″ tall.

Where to position an embroidered name or monogram on a towel?

Of course, you can embroider a name or a monogram wherever the heck you want on a towel.  On beach towels, for example, I often like to stitch out a name along the bottom right corner of a towel parallel to the long side.

But, if you are embroidering a name or a monogram on a bath or a hand towel that is intended to be hung from a towel rod in the bathroom, then you probably want the monogram to be prominently positioned when folded over the rod.  You will find that a lot of towels have border elements, so you will have to position the monogram above them. But, if my towel has no borders, I will position the name or monogram about 7″ up from the bottom edge of the towel.  On a hand towel, I will position the monogram about 4″ up from the bottom edge.

What is the best stabilizer to use for machine embroidery on towels?

When it comes to machine embroidery on towels, I follow the stabilizer rule of “if you wear it – don’t tear it.” And, since I definitely don’t wear towels – I feel like it’s appropriate to use tear away stabilizer.

I simply hoop a piece of tear away stabilizer and stick my towel on top.  Full details to follow.

What does the back of an embroidered towel look like?

Having grown up with monogrammed towels that were made by professional embroiderers, I know that the back of the embroidery on a towel may not look super pretty. And you know what – that’s ok.  You may opt to change your embroidery bobbin thread to match your top thread for a more uniform look.  But, if you fold your towels properly, you will never see the back of the embroidery.

How to embroider on a towel

Getting started

Ready to get to it?  The first step  you should take is to securely hoop a piece of adhesive backed stabilizer with the shiny side up.   Then, score around the inside edge of the hoop with a pin to create a tear in that top paper layer of the stabilizer.  Gently peel back the paper to expose the sticky surface. Finally, draw the horizontal and vertical center lines on the hooped stabilizer using a ruler and a disappearing ink pen.

hooped stabilizer with sticky surface exposed and center lines drawn on stabilizer

Locating the center of the embroidery design on the back of the towel

Fold the towel in half along its vertical center with the right sides together. Mark the center a spot 7″ up from the bottom edge with a pin.  Then remove the ruler and mark the spot with a disappearing ink pen.

marking the center of the design on the wrong side of the towel

Positioning the towel on the hooped sticky stabilizer

Keeping the towel folded in half, align the fold line with the center line of the hooped stabilizer.  Align the pin (and/or the mark you made with the disappearing ink pen) with the intersection of the vertical and horizontal lines.  Unfold the towel and smooth it out.

positioning towel on hooped stabilizer

Cover the desired embroidery area on the towel with a water soluble topper

The water soluble topper prevents towel fibers from popping through your stitches.  Make sure that the bottom of your presser foot is clean before you do this, though.  Back when I was using a lot of temporary adhesive, my presser foot would get quite sticky.  Once I started stitching, it would stick to my water soluble topper and drag it around.  I solved this problem by rubbing the bottom of my presser foot with some rubbing alcohol.

a water soluble topper over towel prior to embroidering

Start stitching!

And don’t stray too far from your machine. While towels don’t tend to get sucked back onto the hoop, the water soluble topper can bunch up and cause problems. Just keep an eye on the embroidery machine.

stitching out a letter over the topper

Finishing touches

Once the stitching is done, you can either pick away the water soluble topper or spritz it with a bit of water to make it dissolve.  Trim your strings with a nipper and you are done!
finished embroidered towels

Ready to embroider some towels?

Go for it!  Start with some simple designs / names on cheap towels and work your way up.  I promise, you will get the hang of it in no time!

Happy stitching!



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