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Tutorial: How to Embroider Your Shirt with Thread Doodles

When I was a high school student, I doodled on everything! My homework, my shoes, my hands. It was a way to be create and keep my hands busy, especially during some of the more boring classes. Inspired by doodles of the past, I recently added a few new class options to my workshop offerings: Beginner Thread Doodles and Advanced Thread Doodles.

These two classes explore free form embroidery and a variety of different stitches. In the beginner workshop we cover the satin stitch, back stitch, reverse chain stitch, whipped back stitch, running stitch, and French knot. The advanced class is a little bit longer and covers couching, split back stitch, fly stitch, button hole stitch, leaf stitch, woven wagon wheel, detached chain stitch/lazy daisy, bullion knot, and the danish knot.

Pulling inspiration from my new workshops and my high school love of doodling, I decided to translate the thread doodle concept onto a t-shirt. While I wouldn't recommend all of the stitches covered in the Thread Doodles workshops for clothing embroidery (I'll share more on that later on), some of these stitches are a playful way to embellish, upcycle, and renew your clothes.

Enjoy this step-by-step tutorial on how to hand embroider your shirt with thread doodles.

Materials needed for this project:

Let's get stitching!

1. Start by deciding what part of your garment you want to embroider. Do you want to add doodles around the collar, on a sleeve, near the hem line, all over? For certain areas like the neckline or hem lines, think about how the design will lay on the garment. Do you want a big block of doodles? Do you want the design to follow the curve of the garment? If you want the design to follow a specific shape, mark this on the transfer paper. I like to use a Pilot Frixion Erasable Pen to draw directly onto Sulky Stick and Stitch. You can use any marker, pen, or pencil you would like. The important thing to ensure is that the marking tool won't bleed when it gets wet.

2. Once you've decided on where the design will be place on your garment, continue drawing doodles onto the transfer paper. Explore different shapes, lines, and patterns. This is a doodle, so there's no right or wrong.

3. When you're happy with the design, use a sharp pair of scissors to trim the design to about 1/4-1/2 and inch away from the design edge.

4. Lay the garment that will be stitched onto a flat surface. Then peel off the transfer paper backing and place the design sticky side down onto the garment.

5. Before going any further, I always like to hold the garment up to myself in a mirror. This helps me know if the design is where I want it and that design flows on the garment how I envisioned. If the design is placed in a spot you aren't loving, just peel off the transfer design and move the pattern. Be careful not to move the design too many times, as it will become less sticky with each new placement.

6. With the design positioned, it's time to place the garment into an embroidery hoop. This will help add structure to the garment as it's stitched. Gently unscrew the embroidery hoop so that the inner ring pops out. Slide the inner ring inside the garment so that the design is centered inside the hoop. If the design is bigger than the hoop, focus on one portion of the design at a time. Then press the outer ring on top of the inner ring and garment, sandwiching the pieces together. Gently tighten the top screw and tug the fabric in the hoop. The fabric inside the hoop will be looser than an embroidery left in the hoop, because you don't want to warp the fabric. If you see any bending, rippling, or warping of the fabric grain, the fabric inside the hoop is too tight.

7. With the design is placed, pick out colors. For my doodle shirt I chose a limited color palette of 5 colors and use a specific color for each type of stitch. You can use as many or as few colors as you'd like!

8. Now it's time to stitch! For my doodle shirt, I used the French knot, whipped back stitch, split back stitch, danish knot, and fly stitch. When choosing stitched for your design, it's important to use stitches that are short and lay close to the fabric. Longer stitches pop away from the fabric and can get caught, ruining the embroidery.

For example, if I wanted a shape to have a solid fill, I would avoid the satin stitch because it has long flat stitches. Instead, I would use the long and short satin stitch. This would give me a solid fill with a similar flat stitch. If I wanted to fill the shape with added texture, I could use the back stitch, split back stitch, or French knot.

9. With clothing embroidery, it is important to keep the back of the embroidery as clean as possible. That means no long jumps in between stitches. In order to avoid this, I knot my thread off after each section or weave my thread in between stitches on the back to get from section to section. This second option is much easier to use after some sections have already been stitched.

10. Because my design didn't fit entirely into my hoop, I stitched one section then repositioned my hoop and continued stitching.

11. When the stitching is complete, remove the garment from the embroidery hoop.

12. Run hot water over the garment to remove the transfer paper. Do not scrunch, twist or wrinkle the garment, as it may distort the embroidery.

13. Lay the garment flat or hang to dry.

14. Once dry, turn the garment inside out. Lay an iron on stabilizer on the back of the fabric and trim the stabilizer so that it's about 1/2 an inch larger than the pattern. Then iron the stabilizer in place using an iron on medium heat. This helps protect the back of the embroidery from coming undone and your skin from irritation. I like to use Sulky Tender Touch iron-on stabilizer because it's soft on the skin and easy to use.

15. Wear and enjoy your new doodle shirt!

Love embroidery and want to explore more stitches and patterns? Check out my book How to Embroider Texture and Pattern! Featuring 20 step-by-step embroidery projects of beautiful landscapes, desert canyons, unique flora, and more, How to Embroider Texture and Pattern is filled with vibrant embroidery patterns inspired by wanderlust that will challenge and grow your skills as you bring these beautiful outdoor scenes to life.

***Thank you for reviewing my recommendations. This post contains affiliate links. If you purchase something mentioned, I may receive a small portion of the sale.***


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