How to Embroidery Heavy Designs on T-Shirts and Stretch Fabrics


I am a T-shirt person. I am a “knit” person. If it doesn’t stretch, I won’t wear it. I have successfully embroidered designs up to about 15,000 stitches on knits, with relatively good luck, and if there was a flaw, those tulip dye pencils and some “freehand embroidery” can quickly cover the flaw. However, on heavy designs, such as some patriotic designs, iron on stabilizer barely held through hooping, let alone during embroidery and when it started to lift, it would cause the knit to bubble up and then leave gaps in the design as well as the registration/outline being off on one side. Therefore, some “experts” assert that you cannot put a heavy design on a knit.

I believe that “if there’s a will, there’s a way” and I rarely give up without finding some solution to achieve what I want to achieve.

Well, I believe that I can proudly say with some confidence, that I have found a way to embroider heavy designs on t-shirts. Of course, the problem to be solved was to make the knit firm so it could not stretch and move. That took some trolling and sampling at the fabric store and then some experiments in the proverbial “sweat shop”!

The solution I have found that worked nearly perfectly for me and is now my “heavy knit stabilizer” is  Pellon Easy-Knit 130, Fusible Knit Interfacing & Underlining. It looks like a tricot and was manufactured to be used as an interfacing for soft draping collars and necklines or an underlining to prevent show through on semi-transparent fabrics.

Tricot is what they use to make ladies underslips….but this is fusible. It adheres perfectly to the knit T-Top and does not lift at all during hooping and embroidery and remains quite permanent, thereby holding the T-top fabric in place to permit a nice sewout. It also supports the design nicely.


Buy a medium weight T-Top and that doesn’t mean it has to be expensive. The muscle shirts at the discount stores, such as Walmart are a nice medium to heavy weight knit for a very reasonable price.

Buy Pellon Easy-Knit 130, Fusible Knit Interfacing & Underlining (EK-130) sold by the yard at your fabric store.

PRE-WASH the t-shirt to pre-shrink.

Cut the Pellon Easy-Knit 130 about 1 inch larger than your hoop, all the way around. Turn your T-top inside out so the front is facing you and place the Pellon EK 130 where you want the design. For instance, I wanted the Eagle in the center.

Wet a pressing cloth and wring out. Cover the EK-130 with the pressing cloth. With the iron at the wool/steam setting, press FIRMLY for a full 10 seconds. The instructions state clearly ALWAYS USE A DAMP PRESS CLOTH AND PRESS DOWN FIRMLY. Repeat, lifting and slightly overlapping until the entire piece of inter interfacing is fused.

I then hooped the design, and in an “overabundance of caution”, I also put a piece of “wash away stabilizer” on the hoop before hooping the shirt (already adhered with EK130)

To my delight, the design sewed out nearly perfectly. There was no lifting, there was no bubbling, it sewed as though it was a piece of cotton. Thrilled! You Bet!

When I washed the shirt, it did not curl or pucker as the EK-130 gave it adequate stabilization to hold it straight and it did not even require pressing. I am more than delighted to have come up with this solution because embroidery iron-on stabilizers, regardless of the brand, have NOT provided the proper adhesion to hold the knit and usually begin to lift from the fabric during hooping, let alone while the design is being embroidered.

Now,, just to be double sure, I also re-digitized the Patriotic Eagles for  “knit fabric” and added a very large crisscrossed basting stich to hold the fabric “just in case” . This was probably unnecessary, but “better be safe than waste a t-shirt”.   I have a nearly perfectly sewed heavy designs on many  T-Shirts.  Experiment and find what works!