Tips for Embroidery on Knit Sweaters

Sweaters are everywhere. Men, women, children and teenagers are donning these popular garments year-round. While a sweater is fashionable in itself, the addition of a rich-looking, embroidered design adds to the garment’s appeal and increases its value. Of course, getting that design on the sweater can sometimes be a bit tricky.

Because of its nature, sweater knits often create headaches for the embroiderer. Threads are “eaten.” Entire designs disappear. The fabric itself puckers and waves. Sometimes the design is even cut right out of the garment by the needle penetrations. Fortunately, you can avoid these potential problems and achieve high quality results.

These adjustments need to be made right from the beginning of any job. Having a well d design is essential in embroidering on sweater knits. You need to let your digitizer know beforehand that the design will be used on a sweater. Better yet, give the digitizer an actual sample of the fabric for testing purposes. Simply communicating with the digitizer can save you a great deal of trouble down the road.

There are a few tricks in digitizing for designs that will be stitched on knits. To stabilize the fabric and create a foundation for the design, try increasing the amount of underlay stitches put into a design. Also try to keep the design elements large and advises against attempting small, delicate details or fine lines. Instead of the usual logo composed of a symbol and lettering, why not advise your customer to try only a symbol? It is more understated, has more graphic punch-and is easier to produce. Once your design is digitized, it’s time to start stitching. By following a few guidelines, you should be able to produce top quality work.


Taking the time and effort to prepare a knit garment for embroidery can mean the difference between a great looking design and just plain shoddy work. At this stage, your primary goal is to stabilize the fabric. This can be accomplished with the combination of backing, dissipating spray adhesive and topping. When working with knits, you should always use a cut-away backing as opposed to tear-away. It’s a good idea to spray the backing with an adhesive before placing it on your garment. Gently press the backing to the garment. Make sure not to press too hard, as this could distort the ribs. If your design lacks a substantial amount of underlay, compensate by using some type of plastic or water soluble topping. For best results, lightly coat your topping with spray adhesive and then press it to the garment with the palm of your hand. By sandwiching the knit between the backing and topping, you’ve increased its stability. The adhesive spray helps prevent the garment from slipping while the machine is running.

Hooping tips

Because knit fabric is so stretchable, extra care should be taken when hooping for embroidery. Knits stretch in all directions. To avoid distorting the fabric, gently pull the knit in a vertical direction only.

Make certain the rib of the fabric is straight. If it’s placed in the hoop at an angle, it will cause your design to distort and pucker. Place the garment into your hooping board and carefully smoothing out the wrinkles. Then, gently press the top frame into the bottom. Again, make sure all the ribs are parallel to each other. The knit should be taut, but not so tight that the fabric is stretched out of shape.

Besides stretching the garment out of shape, hooping too tightly can cause other problems, especially with the finer knits. One embroiderer relates a hooping horror story. A customer had given him an expensive cashmere sweater to embroider. He quickly hooped the item, put it on his machine and stitched a handsome design. However, when the hoop was pulled apart, the entire area that had been framed fell from the sweater. He definitely learned a lesson about hooping that day! While this is an extreme example, a too tight hoop can cut the fibers of the knit and leave unsightly rings around the design that won’t disappear. Another factor to consider is the size of the hoop.

It’s best to match the hoop size as closely as possible to the design size. Some people like use an eight-inch hoop for a two-inch design. That’s not a good idea because a hoop that’s too large tends to cause knit fabric to pull and pucker.

Techniques for sewing

Once the garment is hooped properly, you’re ready to begin stitching your design. If you have a large order, it’s a good idea to get a sample of the fabric or garment you’ll be using and do a little testing. In this way, you can determine the best possible machine settings for the particular product. Always use a ball point needle on the knit garment. A regular needle cuts the threads of knit fabric and can even cut the stitched design away from the garment itself.

The size of the needle is dependent on the type of sweater knit. Fine knits require a size 9 or 10 ball point needle. Needle sizes 10 to 11 work best on medium knits. And, heavier knits make it necessary to work with 12 or 14 size needles. It’s also smart to slow down the speed of your machine a bit to get better results.

Hopefully, by following these suggestions, you will be able to produce handsome embroidery on today’s popular sweaters.