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.