A Useful Tip for Puffy Foam

After you have removed the excess puffy foam after sewing a design, you may notice little bit and pieces still poking out between the threads, as shown below.

A quick and easy way to get rid of this excess puffy foam is to use heat gun to melt the offending foam away.

If you don’t have a “heat gun”, you can always use a hair dryer, iron or other heat generating implement to melt the excess away. The key is not to get too close and scorch the embroidery. Start with your implement at a reasonable distance from the design and gradually move in closer until the puffy foam hairs start disappearing. The result will be crisp, clean embroidery using foam as seen in the after pic below.

Embroidering Letters with Puffy Foam

Embroidery that has a 3 dimensional look to it is accomplished by using what we call “puffy foam”. The foam is placed down before sewing and then design is sewn on top. Not any designs can be sewn on puffy foam and have it turn out correctly. Designs must be digitized specifically to work with puffy foam. Needleheads has released 6 alphabets designed to work with puffy foam and more are on the way.

The specific differences in the designs is that the alphabets designed to work with puffy foam 1) have very little underlay to prevent tamping down the foam 2) have very high densities to ensure coverage and clean cutting of the foam, and 3) have the ends of the letters closed off for a clean look and to prevent the foam from spurting out the ends. Alphabets designed to work with puffy foam are good for just that, embroidering on puffy foam and aren’t appropriate for other applications, just like using puffy foam on designs not intended for puffy foam use will produce less than desirable results.

Puffy foam can be used on a wide variety of fabrics, but the results will vary based on the type of fabric. The puffy effect will be less pronounced on more plush fabrics, but will give the thread something solid to grab onto still resulting in superior embroidery.


The first steps to make embroideries using puffy foam look good occur at your machine. You will want to use 90/12 sharp needles to make sure the foam gets cut properly while the design is sewing. Secondly, you will want your tensions to be slightly unbalanced, leaning toward the top thread tension being a little on the tight side. If you were to look on the back of a design with properly set tensions, the satin stitches would have about 1/3 top thread, then 1/3 bobbin thread, then 1/3 top thread. Be increasing the top tensions, you would actually see more bobbin thread on the back. This is to prevent any looping from occurring under the design which would lead to bird nesting.

You will want to use foam which is very close to the color thread you will be using to sew your design. Also, polyester thread works better than rayon because of it’s durability.


Cut a piece of foam big enough for your design and place it on top of the hooped item you wish to embroider. You do not need to use adhesive or anything because after a few stitches sew, the foam will be kept in place.

After the design sews, the first thing you will want to do is trim the threads between the letters (if your machine doesn’t automatically trim). This is important because trying to remove the foam without trimming the excess threads first can damage the design.

After trimming any connecting threads, gently remove the excess foam from the design. This process is called “weeding” and should be fairly easy since the needle will have cut the foam away as it was sewing. Use tweezers to remove foam from holes in letters, clean away any excess foam and you are finished.

L to R: trimming threads between letters, weeding, removing holes using tweezers (click to enlarge)

Sewing with puffy foam opens up new avenues for the embroiderer’s creativity. Different thicknesses of foam will give different looks. You can stack pieces of foam to give an exaggerated protruding effect, or you can use thinner pieces of foam which are not too noticeable to beef up your embroidery on normally troublesome fabrics.




Embroidering Towels, Part II

After making sure your design is good to sew on towels, actually embroidering on towels takes some care to make it look good. If possible, we suggest hooping the towel along with the backing. However there are situations where this isn’t possible (smaller, thin hoops that just can’t hoop towels, really thick, plush towels that no hoop can handle, etc) in which case use the method outlined below.

First, determine the location where you want design to be on the towel, then pin some water soluble topping (wst) over the area the design is going to sew. Make sure to use a big enough piece of wst to fit your design. Next, hoop 2 pieces of medium weight cutaway, then use a small amount of temporary spray adhesive to affix the towel to the backing. Don’t use a ton because this is only temporary until we begin sewing.

Applying water soluble topping on left and temporary spray adhesive on the right.

After you insert the hoop into your machine, the first thing you will want to do is sew a basting stitch with widely spaced rows of long stitches for easy removal later. It is highly recommended that you DO NOT use the spray adhesive as the only method of attaching your towel to the backing. It is NOT recommended that you use adhesive backing at all. The reason being that neither of these methods will secure the towel enough to embroidered upon properly and have it look good. Using either of these methods just sticks the “hairs” of the towels to the backing, while the part of the towel you are embroidering on is still free to move. See the picture below.

Typical results from using only spray adhesive or sticky backing. Notice the gaps and different parts not lining up.

You can create your own basting stitch file if you have a digitizing system. If you own the Monogram Wizard Plus you can now get an assortment of basting stitch files from the needleheads online store. These basting stitch files show up in your program as motifs which you can add directly to the design you are creating. You can also use the basting stitch motifs just to make a set of generic basting stitch files to use with your embroidery machine.

Sewing the basting stitch on the left and sewing the design on top of the basting stitch on the right.

After the design has completed sewing, remove from the machine and unhoop. Turn to back of the towel and cut the bobbin thread of the basting stitches. Turn the towel back over to the front and the basting stitches should be very loose. Trim the basting stitches close to the design to make them easier for removal. Sometimes you will be unable to pull the basting stitch out completely, just trim as close to the design as you can. Remove the water soluble topping and clean up any loose ends.

Trimming basting stitch bobbin thread on left and removing basting stitches on right.

Note in the picture above we used black backing just for photo purposes so the bobbin thread was easily visible. Trim away any excess backing and you are good to go!

Finished design.

Embroidering Towels, Part I

One of the top 3 most embroidered items has to be the towel, yet, they are also one of the hardest items to embroider and have it look good. The secret to creating good looking embroideries on towels is twofold: 1) starting off with the right design and 2) specific steps when embroidering. If the design to be sewn is not up to par, there is not a lot you can do at the machine to make it look good, and vice versa.

First we will talk about setting up the design in the beginning using the Monogram Wizard Plus to give yourself the best chance of having a good looking towel embroidery. After setting up your design, before you save it to send to your embroidery machine, there are 3 things you should do to have the highest chance of success.


The first thing you want to do is increase the Boldness of the design to 120. This will make the strokes of the letter wider and act as pull compensation for the letter. Towels are generally made of a loose weave and tends to compress during the embroidery process causing the stitches to become thinner than expected. Increasing the boldness will act to compensate for this natural occurrence when sewing on towels.


The second thing you will to do is increase the Density. On regular towels increase the density to 110, on super plush towels, increase the density to 120. This will help insure proper thread coverage on the towel, and you don’t have the concerns about too many needle punctures affecting the integrity of the towel.


Always click the underlay button. If there is no underlay, clicking the button will add underlay. If there is underlay only in parts of the design, it will add underlay to entire design. Making sure there in underlay in the entire design makes sure that the “hairs” of the towel are held down both during the sewing process, and through the life of the towel, even after washing.


Thread Dynamics

One of the most overlooked aspects of machine embroidery, which can lead to mounds of frustration and horrendous results, is the way the thread comes off the spool or cone. Thread is straight wound on a spool and cross wound on a cone. That means that thread on a spool is meant to come straight off the spool and the thread on a cone is meant to come off the end of the cone. See the picture below.

The proper way for thread to come off a cone or spool based on wind.

If the thread comes off the spool or cone opposite of the way it was wound, then severe twisting of the thread will occur as demonstrated in the video below.

The incorrect way for thread to come off a spool or cone based on wind.

The twisted thread coming off an incorrectly positioned spool or cone can cause several different problems. The most likely problem is chronic thread breaks. As the thread passes through the eye of the needle, it will straighten out, but the twists do not go away, they bunch up behind the needle which will eventually cause the thread to break.

A second common occurrence is what many people describe as “bird nesting”, a big, knotted mess of bobbin and top thread on the bottom of the fabric. This occurs when the eye of the needle is larger and allows all the twists to pass through, which then interact with the bobbin thread forming the birds nest.

Take care when setting up your machine to embroider, and  whether you are using a spool or cone of thread, make sure the thread is coming off correctly.

Applique Basics

Sewing designs using appliques is a fun way to spice up everyday embroideries. While not all that difficult to do, there are a few tips to help insure that your applique designs look their best and to minimize frustration in the process.

Set Up

First off, the usual caveats to proper machine set up apply. These include having the tensions set properly on your embroidery machine and making sure your thread is coming off the spool correctly as to avoid twisting and looping.

Second, when sewing appliques it is important to hoop the fabric or garment you are sewing on.  Avoid using sticky spray or tape because too many errors in registration can occur lending itself to less than stellar results and adding to frustration.  Another tip is to use a hoop that is significantly bigger than the design you are sewing.  This will give you plenty of room to trim away the applique fabric crisply without the hoop getting in the way.

When choosing a fabric to use for your applique, be sure to choose one where fraying will be at a minimum after trimming.  The thinner the satin stitch border, the more important this will be. Using a fabric such as terry for appliques is generally a poor choice unless the border stitching is very wide.

Secure the applique fabric using spray adhesive . . .

After hooping the fabric or garment you are sewing the design on, secure the applique fabric using either light spray adhesive or pins. Under no circumstances do you want to hoop both the garment and the applique fabric together. This will make trimming away the applique fabric much more difficult.

. . . or pins.

When securing the applique fabric to the garment, try to get the applique fabric as flat as possible to insure the best look. If using a patterned applique fabric with straight lines (plaids, checkers), it will be very difficult to get the pattern to line up parallel or perpendicular to the border stitching, so it may be best to purposely skew the applique fabric so it looks like it was done on purpose.

Sewing and Trimming

If using a single needle machine the design should stop sewing after the outline stitch because there is a color change. If using a multi-needle machine, be sure that color change is set to stop, or else the machine will just change needles and keep sewing.

After the outline stitch sews, remove the hoop from the embroidery machine for trimming.  Remove the pins or gently life the fabric if stuck down to be trimmed. It is important to distress the fabric in the hoop as little as possible to maintain registration.

When trimming the fabric away, it is best to use applique scissors or small, curved scissors. Optimally you would have both as part of your embroidery gear as applique scissors are best to use on longer, straight/slightly curved edges and the smaller curved scissors are best for getting into nooks and crannies and navigating around trickier parts.

A pair of applique scissors flanked by two pair of curve tip scissors.

Regardless of the scissors you are using, make sure they are sharp for the best results. When trimming, use the very tips of the scissors and make small cuts. This will insure accurate results and little mistakes will not be devastating. In fact, it is acceptable to nip some of the outline stitches when getting a close cut, versus erring on the side of not being close enough and trying to trim away extraneous fabric after the border has sewn.

Trimming excess fabric using applique scissors.

Using small, curve tip scissors for tight places.

Another tip when cutting away the excess applique fabric is to rotate the hoop while trimming to give you the easiest angle to work with. A useful bit of advice here is to place the hoop on a sewing mat or piece of cardboard or other such material. Then, while trimming, pick up the cardboard with the hoop on it to rotate that to minimize distress to the hooped material and to make sure registration stays in place.

After trimming away the excess applique material, re-insert the hoop in the embroidery machine and finish sewing the design. Using the steps and tips listed above, the end result should be crisp, good looking appliques.

Finished applique using the Sunshine alphabet from the Monogram Wizard Plus software.

The Importance of Sewing Samples

“There are two types of people; those who sew samples, and those who wish they had . . .” – Embroidery Professor

One of the earliest lessons one can learn on their way to be a proficient machine embroiderer is how important it is to sew a sample of the design before committing it to the garment or item. Naturally we learned this lesson the hard way when 12 letter-type jackets (wool jackets with leather sleeves) had to be eaten because the design on the back was sewn the wrong size. Had a sample been sewn and checked, this situation could have been avoided.

The best material to use when sewing samples is 2 pieces of cutaway. Cutaway provides the perfect “baseline” for sewing samples because it removes all other factors unique to different fabrics and will not interfere with sewing. Furthermore, the design will look its best sewn on cutaway if all other things are in order, i.e. its a good design, the tensions on your machine are set properly, etc.

After you sew out your sample on cutaway and it looks good, then you can double check things such as size, spelling, letter placement and so on. If it doesn’t look good then you can start troubleshooting, i.e. looping on top could be tension issues with your machine, narrow, disappearing satin stitches on cutaway will definitely disappear on fabric, etc.

Get in the habit of sewing samples on cutaway before you sew the design on your garment. It will save you time and money in long run from ruining a garment and it will get you in the habit in making sure your embroidery is the best it can be, which will lead  to more confidence and less stress.