How-To: Embroider on Dark Fabrics Part 2



How do you get a design onto dark fabric like jeans or a black sweater? And how do you stitch on a t-shirt? This is Part Two of how to get a design onto dark fabric, and is also the same tutorial for using T-Shirt stabilizer when working on a t-shirt or onesie. If you are working on a plain-weave cotton (like a button-up shirt or a tea-towel) then you want to follow the instructions in Part 1.

Level of Difficulty: Mediumish-ly difficult

Supplies Needed:



The usual tools for embroidery:

Let's get started!


Here we have a spongy, knit top. A lightweight sweater. Fabric that is knitted like this (a t-shirt is also a knit fabric) is not the same as woven fabric. You know how when you stretch something that is knitted, the rows become tighter (like those finger-handcuffs that tighten when you try to pull your fingers out)? This type of fabric wants to do the same thing when passing your needle and floss through it. It's stretchy, which makes it incredibly difficult to embroider on. So, how do we stitch the seemingly impossible?

First, let me show you first how not to do it... 




Our good (but delicate) friend, carbon transfer paper, which works great for plain cottons, just won't work for getting a white pattern on bulky, bumpy or soft fabrics (it doesn't work so great on denim either). Why not? Look:



Because the fabric underneath the carbon paper is soft, the pen will just tear through the poor carbon paper.

In order for the carbon to leave a clear imprint on your fabric, you need to be able to apply sufficient pressure. This is why a hard, smooth surface is necessary to have underneath when tracing a design with carbon transfer paper.

So, whaddawe do now?  



There are many, many different types of stabilizers. Some stabilizers are lightweight, some are heavier. Some you tear away, some you leave on. Some stick on like a sticker, some you have to iron on. Some don't adhere to your surface at all and need to be sewn on. Some have to soak in water so they dissolve to be removed. Want me to go on? Hoo boy. Find what works best for you! This (above) is what I use: a medium-weight stabilizer that you iron on and then tear off. No muss, no fuss.

BEFORE WE START: This tutorial is really how to do several things at once. How to stitch on stretchy fabrics, and how to use t-shirt stabilizer as a work-around for getting designs onto dark fabrics. So, this tutorial will work for stitching on white t-shirts and dark jeans.

Ready to tackle this? You can do it.


Step 1: Cut out a piece of stabilizer that fits beyond the size of your hoop.

Even though you're going to iron the stabilizer onto your fabric, a hoop will help limit separation of the stabilizer from your fabric as you stitch, and also limit the amount of stretch to your fabric. Trying to stitch on stretchy fabric without a hoop kinda defeats the purpose of using the stabilizer. They work together as stitching support team, so be sure it's large enough to fit beyond the edges of the hoop. 



Step 2: Iron the stabilizer onto your fabric, and then apply your transfer onto the stabilizer. (Sugar skull patterns are on my Dia de los Muertos sheet.)
I like to iron my stabilizer onto the fabric first. (Read the instructions with the stabilizer for how to do it.) Then, I apply the pattern in the same way as if I were transferring it directly to fabric. Yes, you can also use a pattern you've traced with transfer pens.
Let's say we were stitching instead on a white t-shirt. Generally the stabilizer is then applied to the wrong-side of your fabric, while your transfer pattern can go on the front as usual (it will show up, because the fabric is white). But since our fabric is stretchy and dark, by putting the stabilizer on the topside of the fabric, it provides a light ground for applying your pattern.  
It took me forever to think of doing it this way.

EXTRA TIP: If you don't like where the stabilizer is, you can peel it up and iron-it back on again. Not, you know, again and again and again, but it can be repositioned once or twice. 

WARNING OF WEIRDNESS: if you used an iron-on transfer and then re-iron over it (for re-placement of the stabilizer) the pattern ink will actually fade dramatically when the hot iron goes over it. Remember, you're not re-applying the pattern in this step- just the patterned stabilizer. If this happens, have a pencil handy to trace over some lines that become faint after re-ironing. 



Step 3: Enough of that. Put the stabilized fabric on your hoop! 



Step 4: Stitch it.

When you stitch, you'll be passing through both layers at the same time: the fabric and the stabilizer. Your fabric shouldn't go up and down like a trampoline. It should remain taut. Keep your hoop tight (but remember to loosen it when not working). 

I'll be right back after I stitch this thing...



 Step 5: Stitching done! Remove your hoop.

That was sooo much easier to stitch with stabilizer. So, how do I get this stuff off? Just begin tearing it away?

Not so fast. We don't want to mess up our stitches, mkay? Get ready to de-stabilize. First, peel up all the excess (non-stitched) stabilizer around the design so it's no longer stuck to the fabric before tearing.



Step 6: After all the excess is peeled up and separated from the fabric, make one, straight tear inward to the edge of your design. 


Step 7: From the initial tear, continue tearing away the excess stabilizer around the design.

As you were stitching, you were perforating the stabilizer so it should come away pretty easily. 


Now we just have the stitched part remaining. How the heck do we remove the rest of this stuff? 




Step 8: Stretch out the stitched area to break up the stabilizer.

This is my secret tip for making this part go faster and easier. Gently pull and stretch the fabric and the stabilizer in different directions. See how it breaks itself up into smaller areas inside each section you stitched? Mmmhm. This will make removing it go much faster, and it's less strain on your stitches than just trying to pull it all up at once.



Whoops! Be careful with loose stitches.


You can pull longer stitches out of shape when removing the stabilizer, so just go easy on those. But if this happens, no big deal: just pull the floss back through from the opposite side of the fabric to tighten the stitch.  



Step 9: Pick those bit and ends away.


You'll have teeny tiny stubborn bits here and there (like that one in the dark pink part). This is when tweezers or the tip of your embroidery scissors come in handy. 

IF USING SCISSORS: Be extra careful when using scissors to remove the stabilizer. It's verrry easy for the point of your pointy scissors to catch and snag your fabric. Tweezers are easierz. Done pickin'?  


Voilà. You have just stitched a design onto dark, stretchy fabric.
Never again will dark fabrics vex and prevent you from gracing them with your stitches! 

Got it? So you don't have to go searching for the links again, here they are:


Enjoy! And, here is Part 1 of White Patterns on Dark Fabrics

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Text, photos and instructions by Jenny Hart ♥ © 2011 - 2012 Sublime Stitching®. No part of this tutorial may be reproduced in whole or in part without written permission from its author. Man, I hate having to say that. Published on 03/13/11