Make It Pink! How to Embroider Your T-shirt

comments (16) October 15th, 2009     

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erika_kern Erika Kern, contributor
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Make It Pink with this super-cute bird and ribbon T-shirt!
Ready to go out! Pretty in pink and cute for the cure!
Download the free pattern below.
Make It Pink with this super-cute bird and ribbon T-shirt!

Make It Pink with this super-cute bird and ribbon T-shirt!

Photo: Erika Kern

I started stitching when I was a little girl, but when I hit my teens, I set aside my needle in exchange for flashier, less traditional crafts. I was in my late 20s when I started stitching again, and the first thing I wanted to do was embellish my clothes. I first stitched on skirts and then made my way to all of the plain T-shirts I had in my dresser. My first attempts were less than stellar, wrinkly and puckery and distorted. Then I learned the secret to stitching on stretch . . . and now I'm here to share it with you! And, on top of all these secrets I'm about to share, I've also made a new pattern for you in honor of CraftStylish's Make It Pink Challange!

You can download the pattern here.

Here's what you'll need to get started stitching your way through your T-shirt drawer:

  • T-shirt (obviously!)
  • Pattern (if you're making your own pattern or using the one I've provided, you'll need to make a transfer. As I've said many times, I'm a fan of the Sulky Iron-On Transfer Pen in Black)
  • Embroidery hoop
  • Stabilizer or interfacing (I like using water-soluble but you can use a tear-away or cut-away stabilizer if you prefer)
  • Embroidery floss (I used DMC 3846 [light bright turquoise], 3843 [electric blue], 747 [very light sky blue], and 310 [black] for the bird and 892 [medium carnation] and 894 [very light carnation] for the ribbon)
  • Needle
  • Scissors

First, pick a shirt to embelish. A 100% cotton shirt works best. If you pick a shirt with Lycra or extra stretch to it, just be aware that you're going to have to be even more careful about overstretching it as you work to avoid puckering. Transfer your pattern onto your shirt. If you are ironing your pattern onto your shirt, use a piece of cardboard between the front and back of your shirt to avoid the possibility of the ink bleeding through.

Now you're ready to stitch. The key to getting a smooth stitch on stretch fabric is stabilizer. You can use cut-away or tear-away stabilizer, but I find that my stitches tend to loosen up while I try to remove the stabilizer. I've had the best luck with water-soluble stabilizer. It supports your work and stiffens the fabric as you work and then, once you've finished, you can wash it away. All that's left behind are your stitches instead of bits of scratchy stabilizer. This is especially handy when you're stitching on clothes for babies and children. Through trial and error, I've found that two layers of stabilizer cut larger than your pattern and your hoop work best.

Here's how the back should look as you work:

Secure stabilizer to the fabric using your hoop. If you find the stabilizer too floppy, you can tack it to the shirt at its corners using a bit of thread.

And the front:

Use small stitches when working on stretch fabric so that there's less puckering of the fabric around the stitches.

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posted in: pink, embroidery, scissors, tshirt, make it pink, bird, stabilizer, embroidery hoop, embroidery floss

Comments (16)

TheThreadLady writes: I've just started doing hand embroidery after years of using my sewing machine to do thread painting on my Art Quilts and mixed media pieces. I've always avoided doing any hand sewing because I'm terrible at it. I even sew buttons on using my sewing machine! Much to my surprise I've finally discovered that I am in love with hand embroidery and I'm actually very good at it. I've used Sulky water soluble stabilizer when doing my machine thread painting and it is the best. It comes in different thicknesses so perhaps that's why it seemed heavier than what you show. Don't forget to save any pieces of the stabilizer you have cut away. The label tells you how to dissolve those pieces to get a brush on stabilizer. One of my newest and favorite embroidery books says it's almost impossible to hand embroider on T shirts and to avoid trying it. I'm positive that your method is the best way to embroider on T shirts or any other piece of clothing because I've been using this way of hooping my machine thread painting for years with award-winning results. I've already got one of my T shirts hooped and I'm so excited to start working on my own original design. I'm so thankful that you shared this because I was inclined to follow the advice in my book and avoid embellishing my T shirts by hand. I should have realized that if it works using my sewing machine then it will work using hand stitching.
Posted: 2:58 am on January 6th
ChristinaWalker writes: Wow. Didn't realize hand embroidery could be used to brighten up almost anything! It makes the more simple pink t-shirt to the most beautiful and a pleasant one. Also I found more embroidery collections at
Posted: 7:40 am on May 22nd
Deniel writes: Wow this is really awesome had made embroidery..
Posted: 5:47 am on April 22nd
Mugwaii writes: Beautiful t-shirt and great idea.
Posted: 9:10 pm on March 29th
Criativa writes: Hello.
It was a very good lesson.
Posted: 3:55 pm on September 8th
imagination writes: it look's good i like it

Posted: 7:44 am on December 24th
dottcomm1 writes: love it!! i can't wait to make one!!

i never heard of the stabilizer you used. i can't wait to try it. no extra bulk! thanks so much!!
Posted: 9:09 am on October 16th
lynne153 writes: simply lovely! i'm going to try it. thanks for sharing!!
Posted: 12:40 pm on October 20th
AlwaysJer writes: Absolutely beautiful!
Posted: 11:42 am on October 18th
fatewineroses writes: Erika, I love the design but definitely appreciate the tips on embroidering on stretchy fabric. The fabric I found at home to use is one of my old camisoles.

Thanks so much!
Posted: 2:54 pm on October 17th
erika_kern writes: Hi Luluvision! The stabilizer I use is Sulky's Solvy. It's the bomb! I swear they should sponsor me I use so many of their products!
And thanks bunches Cathy and Michaela! I feel the love!!!
Posted: 7:59 pm on October 15th
MichaelaMurphy writes: Oh Erika! I love your design--beautiful work!
Posted: 7:40 pm on October 15th
cathyofcalifornia writes: adorable!
Posted: 7:12 pm on October 15th
luluvision writes: this looks great! I'm slowly getting into embroidery after successfully doing a shirt for my daughter. I have the water soluble stabilizer (haven't used it yet) but it looks a lot thicker than the one pictured here. Do you have a link to the one you used? Or an exact name? Thanks!
Posted: 4:56 pm on October 15th
erika_kern writes: Thanks! Yeah, it was hard coming up with something since there are SO many awareness motifs out there.
Posted: 4:36 pm on October 15th
LindaPermann writes: Erika, this is gorgeous!! I love the way the pink ribbon is incorporated in a not-so-blatant fashion. Very cute!
Posted: 3:05 pm on October 15th
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