Embroider-along Part 1: The Four Basics of Machine Embroidery

Congratulations on your new embroidery machine! Hi, I’m Sue O’Very, BERNINA Ambassador and machine embroidery expert. Becoming an expert didn’t happen overnight. Just like you I once was new and ready to get stitching but was a bit overwhelmed. I’m here to help make machine embroidery a fun and successful experience. Before we begin stitching I’m going to cover four basics of machine embroidery in part 1 of my Embroider-Along.


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You might be wondering just what is an Embroider-Along? I’m excited to say it will be a series of helpful blog posts for the beginner as well as the seasoned machine embroiderer. This Embroider-Along will be a place of education and guidance for the beginner. For my seasoned machine embroidery enthusiast it will be a place of reassurance and perhaps learning a few new tricks. Let’s face it, some of us have been machine embroidering for 20+ years and over time, things have changed.

Four basics for machine embroidery

There are four basics of machine embroidery to cover in the Embroider-Along series so you get the best results when machine embroidering.

  • Stabilizers/Materials
  • Needles
  • Threads
  • Hooping

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Stabilizers and Materials

Choosing the correct stabilizer can make or break your project. There are hundreds of different stabilizers on the market however, when broken down, there are just a few types.

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The best way to choose stabilizer will depend on the type of material you are embroidering on. Will you be stitching on knit, woven, sheer fabric or a napped fabric? During my Embroider-Along I will cover which stabilizers are best based on the type of material you are using in your project.

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Needles play a huge part in stitch quality on basic sewing so you can imagine when your needle is going up and down 600-1000 stitches per minute it’s even more important to get it right.

Just like stabilizers, needle selection can seem daunting but there are just a couple of basics. Needle selection depends on the material and thread type. Will you be using metallic, polyester or rayon thread? Will you be stitching on a baby Onesie or thick towel? These will be part of the topics of conversation in the Needles portion of my Embroider-Along series.

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Using good thread in your machine is like filling your car up with the right gas. If you don’t, it just won’t work. There are many brands of thread, various weights and different fiber contents. When choosing a thread we need to ask these questions:

  • What effect are you going for: matte, shiny or metallic?
  • How will this item be laundered?
  • Does the embroidery need to be durable?

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An on-going conversation among machine embroidery folks is hooping. One of your stitching friends might say, “I never hoop anything”; another friend might claim they hoop even the thickest of towels. Who is right, which is easiest and what will provide the best results? In the Hooping blog post portion of my Embroider-Along I will answer those questions and discuss these additional topics:

  • Hoop size
  • Marking materials
  • Getting perfect placement

My goal will be to show you the fastest and easiest techniques to provide you with results which will impress your friends.

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What is next?

Start following along! Check back here each week to see the next lesson and prepare to learn something new. As a part of the Embroider-Along there will be 12 weeks of lessons and (of course) some adorable final projects. Each blog post will bring you closer to mastering the basics of machine embroidery.

Here is the blog schedule:

I’d love to hear what you think of this and also additional topics you would like me to cover. What do you want to learn more about machine embroidery?

Until next time, I hope you have a creative day, bye-bye.


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140 comments on “Embroider-along Part 1: The Four Basics of Machine Embroidery”

  • I’ll be following along! I’ve been machine embroidering for over 5 years, but am always interested in the latest developments and how others follow the process.

  • Looking forward to learning as much as I can about machine embroidery. I have a new machine and want to try everything – towels, sweatshirts, etc! Thanks for creating this for us newbies!

  • I really enjoyed the write up. Please , are free softwares to download for embroidery? Am using PE800 brother and the software is extremely expensive for me.

    • I totally understand. Buying a machine is a big investment, not only the machine but all the things to go along with it. There will be some free designs as the Embroider-Along goes – stay with us and you will see them! Enjoy the Embroider-Along ~Sue

  • This is a good spot to learning what all the Bernina can do and how as well. Thank you, Sue!

    I do have a question…how do I download an image? I have tried a couple times, but it seems as if the machine is not reading my USB, because the files don’t show up on the screen. I’m using the .exp file extension. Do you think you could tell what all m doing wrong?

    • I have the same question about downloading and using an image. I’ve tried downloading, but I must be saving it in the wrong format. It would be helpful to better understand this process.

    • It is my pleasure. I am happy to have partnered with BERNINA to bring you some good info. Excellent question on the downloading, I think you mean embroidery design (vs Image). In which case you will want to make sure the design is saved from the computer to your desktop. It will come as a zip file. You will need to unzip it and then only save the .exp file to your usb. You might already be doing that, in which case, let me know a few more details. If I am unable to help, we will be sure to get the answers for you.

      Oh and please try downloading one of my preview projects here on We All Sew
      Enjoy the Embroider-Along ~Sue

  • Looking forward to an Embroider-Along. New hints and techniques are a great idea. I hope we have a chart for some of this info: 4 basic types of fabric, most common stablilizer type, needle, thread, type of embroidery pattern best used for each – especially if you are last minute gifting and hope for no “issues”. Sort of a general idea table. Each manufacturer has one for their specific brand and updates are numerous.

    I hope we see some embroider ideas each blog. Thanks!

  • I’m really looking forward to learning more through your embroider-along. I’ve been using single-needle “home” embroidery machines since the original 4″ hoop machines of the 80s but I’m sure you will have hints and tips to make my embroidery projects even easier.
    Hooping and design placement always seem a challenge.
    I can’t wait to get started!

  • In this series will you be teaching how to actually use the embroidery machine and how to bring in designs from the software so you can arrange them in the hoop and stitch them out? I really need some help with these. I have been trying for a very long time to figure it out and can’t. Or if you aren’t teaching this, is there somewhere I can learn this? I would be so grateful for help.Thank you.

    • Great question. We will touch on it but as every machine and especially every brand varies we won’t be able to address each scenario. Tell me which make and model you do have and I will see if we can get you the help needed or at least find you a spot to get the answers for you. We are all in this fun crafty world together and here to help one another 🙂 Enjoy the Embroider-Along ~Sue

    • There will be one a week, day might vary. If you are on the mailing list then you will at least get a notification of new blog post. You are welcome to follow the BERNINAs Facebook page and Instagram page as it will be posted there too. Enjoy the Embroider-Along ~Sue

    • First of all Congratulations!! I got a chance to play on the 5 series and they were just wonderful!! Yes, this will definitely help you because knowledge is power. Especially when it comes to our hobby. For me, it is all about learning different ways of getting to the same results and then making it your own! I am here to help you through your new journey!!

  • Thank you! I’m back to embroidering after about a decade lapse and am surprised at how many more stabilizers and such there are now. It’s been a bit overwhelming. Very timely.

    • I am there with you. This series is really designed to showcase the Basics and walk everyone through one step at a time. Welcome back and thank you so much for joining me on this blog. Enjoy the Embroider-Along ~Sue

    • Just keep checking back each week. Definitely by Friday of every week there will be a new post. Oh and if youfollow BERNINA on Instagram and Facebook is a good way to follow. You can also bookmark THIS first post and scroll to the bottom and we will always include the latest link.

      Enjoy the Embroider-Along ~ Sue

  • Is embroidery on towels covered in the napped fabric lesson? If not then maybe you could all that to one of your sessions. I have been embroidering for a very long time. One problem I have is knowing when a design will be too dense. Can you help?

    • Excellent question. Yes, napped fabric will cover the details of embroidering on a towel but keep following along because I will reference various materials throughout

      Enjoy the Embroider-Along ~ Sue

  • This is very exciting – I have a Bernina 880 Plus and have done some embroidery; however I want to learn more. All of the items you will be covering will be extremely helpful – thank you !!

  • I’m really looking forward to this. I’ve had my embroidery machine for some time now and have been struggling to learn the ins and outs. I have a Bernina 580 and have not found the instruction manual easy. There seems to be a steep learning curve. My local Bernina dealer closed and the company that took over seem to be more interested in selling me a Brother or Babylock than helping me learn my machine.

    • First off I’m so pleased you are following along. Here we will be covering lots of basics and I’m here to answer questions. There are lots of resources for your machine here on We All Sew, do a quick search for specific topics. Keep at it, with these amazing machines there is a learning curve for everyone, you are not alone. Feel free to join BERNINA on Instagram and Facebook too.

      Enjoy the Embroider-Along ~ Sue

  • I too am excited about learning more about machine embroidery. Have done a few things but still feel a bit overwhelmed when I think about stabilizers. Looking forward to each lesson. Thanx for doing this.

  • This blog is exactly what I need. Even though I took the Bernina class for my new embroidery machine, I still feel overwhelmed. Learning the software if one thing; learning all the bits connected with embroidery is another thing. I have so much to learn. The blog will allow me to slow down and re-read until I get it. Can’t wait to begin! Thank you.

    • You hit the nail right on the head…slow down. No one learns everything over night and technology keeps us learning new things all the time. It’s nice to have a one stop resource for the topic. Here to help if you have specific questions

      Enjoy the Embroider-Along ~ Sue

  • Thank goodness you started this class. I am a very new beginner, like it’s still in the box! Now I can take it out and hopefully learn how to use it. Thank you so much!

    • Glad you’re here too. Taking it out of the box can be intimidating- I’ve been there. But what’s the worst that can happen?? Focus one thing at a time and follow along. Ask your local shop for a bit of help. They will be glad to get that machine out! Enjoy the Embroider-Along ~ Sue

  • I am sooooooo glad you are doing this. I purchase the embroidery part to go along with my sewing machine and have not used it since my lessons (over 2 years). I didn’t learn too much during the lessons and need something like this to help me learn more about it. I have felt like I wasted money purchasing it. Thanks so much

    • I’m so glad you got the embroidery unit. It’s tricky teaching so much and especially learning so much in just one lesson. Ask your local shop if there are hands on project classes. The best way to learn how to use the machine is to just go for it and make a project. I will include several designs and step-by-step projects. Bookmark this page and follow along. Week 5 I show how to embroider a baby onesie and include a design. Please feel free to ask questions as we go along. Here to help. Enjoy the Embroider-Along ~ Sue

    • Thanks for the encouraging words!!! It will always be by the end of the week. Bookmark this page and scroll to the bottom where I list the weeks. There are links to the future post Enjoy the Embroider-Along ~ Sue

  • i would like to know how to make corrections, i.e. like when the thread breaks.
    Also, how to “get out of a design” if you need to stop and re-hoop, take out a mistake, etc. I always just wind up turning the machine off, then back on again and starting all over. It seems like i get stuck in the design.

    • Wow. Excellent questions. Since this is the basics I’m not sure all of that will be covered however I’m making a note of this for future post. Keep following along and I will try and get some of your questions answered. Enjoy the Embroider-Along ~ Sue

  • I am so excited to learn all this information. I bought the 880 anniversary edition and one of the exciting things i want to learn is all the things you have listed. There is so much to learn and thanks for sharing this information. When will each one start?

  • Oh and one more thing – do I need embroidery software? I want to do monograms and such and just do not understand if it is necessary. The Bernina software is SO expensive and not sure I need to spend that much money for my needs. Thanks for your assistance.

    • Software will enhance your experience. In later post I’ll be referring to Toolbox. It’s my new favorite software and is a software you can add to as you go along. Ask your local BERNINA shop more about it. Enjoy the Embroider-Along ~ Sue

  • I started embroidering ages ago on myArtista 165, stopped for a while, and now am embroidering on my 830. I am confused about the difference between .art and .exp and what I should be using.

    • It’s a great question. Basically the ART is the raw editable format (when in software) and the EXP is the final format to stitch. My BERNINA 790 plus seems to enjoy the EXP best.

      Enjoy the Embroider-Along ~ Sue

  • Sue,
    I started with a B580 several years ago and that was the beginning of my foray into machine embroidery! I just bought the Anniversary Edition 880 Plus and am very excited to learn how to use the newest features like pin point placement, continuous embroidery and especially how to place my designs properly so they aren’t crooked. I’ve done a lot of labels for quilts and things on shirts and jackets, but I am still quite the beginner so I’m very excited! I’ll be especially interested in how to do a pillowcase! Also, can other embroidery threads be used other than Isacord? Thanks for sharing your expertise with us!

    • Oh how exciting!!! Yes you have a beautiful amazing machine and we are covering all sorts of excellent beginner topics, even a pillow case 🙂

      Keep following along all of the parts and you’ll see I cover the exact question about threads!!

      Enjoy the Embroider-Along ~ Sue

  • I have the 770QE with embroidery module. I have used it several times. Each time I get it out and get started I wish for the same thing, a quick concise start up guide. The Bernina book just has a lot in it and can be complicated. I just want a short step by step to follow, “turn this on, push this button, etc.”.

    • Thanks for writing in. Have you talked with your local dealer about this? My advise would be – don’t be afraid to get in there and play around. There are also some excellent videos on the BERNINA YouTube channel.

  • So much to learn! Cant wait. I’m such a newbie and I want to be an expert. I love my new B770QE and have completed several projects but I am clueless about the embroidery functions

  • I am a real beginner so it’s exciting to me to see this blog, there’s so many things I’m learning from it. I’m really looking forward to making embroidery designs on things like onesies. I am planning to do placemats too. So many ideas to try. Like I said I have so much to learn so I’m really grateful; even the threads and storage the tearaways I can’t begin to say how many things I need to know. I don’t even know what I don’t know,

  • Need to know how to evaluate design properties, density etc for appropriateness to end use. Embroidered a towel with dense design and it is just too heavy for the towel. Looks terrible. How do I decide when to use a design? Also, it was impossible to hoop the towel. Just too heavy for my hoop. What to do? Look forward to learning more about embroidery. Thanks for the blog sew along series!!

    • This is a good question. I’d say that much of this is by trial and error and learning by experimentation. Though I do reference density and what the ideal design would be for particular materials throughout the series, every design would need to be evaluated. In general though, if you start off with using the designs I provide here with the materials, needles, threads, stabilizer, etc, you will learn a great deal.

      Each part will cover in detail all these things. Here is the part on towels, however, I would really encourage you to go through all the parts in numeric order.


  • I have a 630 and know so very little about embroidering with my machine. I’m really excited about following the WeAll Sew with you. I’m hoping to learn how to do something besides monograms.

  • i see the blog post is a little over a year old, although I am quite new to embroidery with a machine. Hoping this step by step along through your posts will help familiarize me with the machine. Thanks for sharing.

  • Excited to follow along even though I’m no longer quite a beginner. You just never know what you might learn until you follow along. So excited to see what all neat things I can learn. Thanks.

  • Hi. I’m so happy you have brought this back. I have just traded my 830LE in for 790+. I did not do much embroidery w the 830 so I am Very excited to Learn all there is to know with my new790. Waiting for her to come home so I can start this program.

  • I am a beginner and am having some trouble understanding how this works. The date on this is Dec. 4, 2018.
    Is there going to be a class on this that we sign up for? If so, when, and how do we do it.

    • Start at the beginning of the lessons, #1, there are a total of 12. I’ve designed this to be a progression so you will learn something to build upon the last lesson. I’ve recently gotten married and rebranded but feel free to follow me at @SookieSews on Instagram and Facebook or check out my website for more embroidery lessons. SookieSews.com

  • I’ve owned my Bernina 880 for 4 years and have never used the embroidery module. I’m terrified of it. However, your lesson looks so welcoming I’m willing to give it a go. Thank you so much.

  • So excited to see you are doing this! I have a Bernina 750QE with embroidery unit. I’ve used it many times but still have lots to learn and look forward to being able to embroider on a wider range of fabrics! There is one important issue I hope you can help me with. We have changed from pc to Mac computer and now I have problems downloading designs and getting them to my sewing machine. Any suggestions?

  • HOORAY, this will be wonderful and thank you for doing it!!! I do embroidery on many towels and my go to stabilizer was Floriani Perfect Stick until they changed the stabilizer. I used to lightly spritz it and the stabilizer would easily lift off cleanly. The new Perfect Stick turns into a gooey mess when I do that and I haven’t been able to find a sticky back that tears cleanly and lifts well off of a towel. So any hints on that would be great! Also, please help me understand when to adjust the bobbin tension again on the towels. I am increasing the top tension to 3 and the bottom button is just left of center and I’m not seeing the 1/3 bobbin thread on the bottom but mostly top thread. Lastly, can you explain the density adjustment on the 880 plus. If I increase the density for a particular color on my machine, am I adjusting the density for just that color or is the machine adjusting the density for the rest of the design? And if I do that same design again is the density adjustment permanent or does it have to be done again? Again my thanks, Kathy

    • So glad this post excites you!! There is an entire 12 part series so definitely check it out.
      Ok, so tension, I personally don’t mess with my tension unless I am getting a lot of white bobbin thread pulling up. In that case I would INCREASE the top tension. I don’t personally have the 880 so hopefully one of the BERNINA blog employees can get you an answer. I will forward your message to my contacts at BERNINA so it gets some attention.

  • I’m interested in learning the in’s and out’s of free standing lace and badge making. I hope you will consider covering something in those areas. I can’t wait to learn more.

  • Thank you soooooo much for doing this. I have had my embroidery machine for about 5 years and have only used it twice (2 different classes). The last class I took (2 months ago) and still have not completed the project (it is still in the hoop and I don’t know how to get back in to complete it). I almost wish I hadn’t purchased it.

    • I can totally relate to that feeling of “wish I hadn’t purchased it”, I think we all can for various hobbies. However, get in there and do something small and complete it. There are many In the Hoop projects here on We All Sew and if you go to my website or YouTube channel you will find even more http://www.SookieSews.com or http://www.SookieSewsTV.com

      Now as far as your project still in the hoop…contact the shop and ask if you can get some help in finishing it or remove it and move on to the next project. But don’t let that stop you from learning the next thing! You can do it!!

  • Thank you so much for having this series. I started machine embroidery nearly twenty years ago but quickly got frustrated. My projects never seem to turn out, especially if it was a gift or something someone requested. I’ve just bought the embroidery module for my 570 and am really excited. I want to get started off on the right foot and avoid some of the frustration, and this series feels like the best place to start.

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