I don’t know about you, but when I’m embroidering I will just about give my right arm to avoid puckering on my project.  Ok, that’s a bit dramatic, but simply put puckering looks terrible, and I do just about anything to avoid it. When I first started embroidering, puckering was a huge issue for me. But, after half a lifetime of mistakes, I’ve learned a few tips and tricks to keep my fabric from puckering when I’m stitching out a design.

What is embroidery puckering?

OK, so maybe you are new to embroidery and you’re thinking “what is this puckering she speaks of?”  Puckering is a bunching of the fabric around the stitched area of your embroidery design.  When you have puckering, the material no longer lies flat; you see folds in the fabric.

A great example of puckering is this windbreaker with my daughter’s monogram on it. (Fortunately, I don’t have to take credit for this terrible monogramming job.)  But, I shouldn’t be too critical here because windbreakers are notoriously pucker-prone.

Do you see how the fabric is not laying flat around the stitched letters? This, my friends, is classic puckering and exactly what we want to avoid.

Why does embroidery puckering occur?

The first step in preventing puckering is to understand why it occurs in the first place. Puckering happens when your fabric moves around during the embroidery process. Think about it. As your machine is stitching, if the fabric is not lying consistently flat, and instead, moves slightly when that needle comes down, the fabric will bunch up. Therefore, the secret to avoiding puckering is to keep your fabric in place while you’re stitching out an embroidery design. But for some fabrics, this is easier said than done…

What fabrics are most likely to pucker?

Puckering can occur on different types of fabrics for different reasons.  Slippery fabrics like nylon and satin are prone to puckering because they can slide around on the stabilizer. The monogrammed windbreaker is a great example of a slippery fabric that is challenging to embroider without any puckering.

Knit fabrics like t-shirts and polos can also be problematic because they stretch. If they stretch while they are being embroidered or are stretched too much on the hoop, once they are taken off the hoop, there will be puckering.

And finally, another tricky category of fabrics that can easily pucker is very lightweight textile-like broadcloth or linen. Because they are so flimsy and thin, they can bunch up while being embroidered which results in puckering.

The solutions for avoiding puckering with these three types of fabrics are very different because the fabrics themselves are so different.

Preventing puckering on slippery fabrics

Your strategy in preventing puckering with satins and nylons is to stop the slipping. While it may be tempting to run a basting stitch over the design area to keep it from moving, it’s probably not a good idea. After you remove the basting stitching, you would likely still see holes. Pinning the nylon windbreaker on floated stabilizer in the hoop is also probably not a good idea for the same reason.

One of the best ways to prevent slippage is to actually hoop (and not float) the fabric, especially if you are embroidering through two layers, like a lining and a top layer in a windbreaker, where the top layer can move around over the bottom layer. By hooping both layers with a layer of cutaway stabilizer on the back, you stand a better chance of keeping them all together.

Stitching with a new, sharp needle can also improve your pucker-free odds.  An old, dull needle can snag and bunch up the fabric making it pucker.  In addition, using a water-soluble topper can also help.

You will face additional puckering challenges if you try embroidering on a slippery, satin ribbon. Because ribbon is so thin, it can’t be hooped. What you can do, though, is adhere it to some hooped stabilizer and tape it down around the sides to secure it in place.

Puckering prevention on knit fabrics

While hooping is often a good strategy to prevent puckering on slippery fabrics like nylon and satin, it isn’t always the best option for embroidering on knits. If you hoop a knit fabric too tightly, you can stretch it while you’re stitching on it. Then, when you take it off the hoop, the fabric relaxes and bunches up around the stitching.

Instead, you should secure a piece of fusible poly mesh on the wrong side of the fabric underneath the design, then hoop some tear-away stabilizer and float the knit fabric on top of it, adhering the knit to the tear-away using a spray adhesive (or by using self-adhesive tear-away stabilizer). Then, you can secure the knit to the stabilizer even more by pinning around the design area, as knits tend to be more forgiving in not showing pin holes.  Finally, float a piece of water-soluble topper over the design area.

A couple additional precautions will improve your overall results. Fusible poly mesh can shrink, so it’s a good idea to wash and dry it before use. Knits should also be embroidered using a stretch needle.  Regular needles break the fabric fibers and needles designed for stretch fabrics, push them out of the way.

Puckering prevention on light natural fabrics

Hankies and other light materials can be tricky to embroider on because they are so light and flimsy that the stitching can pull it together causing bunches and puckering. So, the secret to preventing puckering with the lightweight fabric is to temporarily give it some heft. You can do this in a couple of different ways. Spraying it with heavy starch is a good way to start. Then use at least one layer of tear-away stabilizer, although most people recommend two. Adhere the layers of stabilizer to the cloth using temporary adhesive and hoop it all together.

Light cotton broadcloths behave a bit like knits in that they can stretch a bit. Avoid overstretching them in the hoop. Unlike knits though, they are best embroidered with a smaller and very sharp embroidery needle and not a stretch needle.

What embroidery designs are most likely to pucker?

While puckering can occur when stitching out any type of embroidery design, very dense designs and small lettering can be the worst offenders. Slowing down your embroidery machine can help keep it all together.

A note from John:

“From my experience, poorly digitized embroidery designs are one of the top reasons why puckering occurs.

After all, the quality of any embroidery design depends on how well it was digitized or created. If the digitizer didn’t know what they were doing, or if a design was simply auto-digitized using embroidery software, chances are you might run into some issues (puckering of course being one of them).

If the correct type of underlay wasn’t used by the digitizer when creating the design, no solid foundation is stitched into the area in which the design will be sewn. This can cause registration issues and make the design pucker.

To help avoid this issue, be sure to purchase your designs from reputable companies who know what they’re doing and have a proven track record. Oftentimes, “free” designs online may not be the most machine friendly options or produce the best embroidered results.

If you’re looking for a suggestion, I do recommend trying our designs to see and sew the difference quality digitizing makes. Click here to download 4 Embroidery Legacy designs free now.”

Can I stop the puckering while it’s happening?

Fortunately, there are a couple of ways to rescue a project if you notice puckering is starting to occur. You can stop the machine and stick a layer of tear-away stabilizer underneath your hooped fabric then resume stitching. This extra layer of stabilizer may be the solution to fixing the puckering while it’s happening. After a project is complete, puckering can sometimes be minimized with a good ironing.

Puckering is definitely a real pain and something we all struggle with. But by taking a few precautions and using quality embroidery designs you can certainly minimize the effect.

I hope these suggestions have been helpful.

Happy stitching,

Julie

P.S. For more machine embroidery tips, resources, inspiration and fun designs, check out my website: http://www.machineembroiderygeek.com

P.P.S. To avoid puckering, misregistration and other common embroidery related problems that happen because of poorly digitized designs, try using some of Embroidery Legacy’s designs. Click here to give them a try and download 4 designs free now.