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How to mark the position of your embroidery design on fabric before hooping

Original text by: Marina Belova

Suddenly it struck me that marking the position of an embroidery design on fabric before hooping is a major stumbling block to me. Is is so because I often get fabrics and garments that cannot be marked with a leftover sliver of soap or even with a disappearing marker. Another reason for the issue being of such a great importance to me, because I don't have any magic device for positioning of the hoops and most probably won't have one in the nearest future. I mean one of those.

In the course of my embroidery career I've learned several ways of marking various types of garments manually. Some of them were successful, others turned out to be a disaster; there were ones requiring a great deal of sweat and those that didn't require much time. 

Let's begin with the least successful ones.

Marking with a pencil. When I was just a beginner (and I started working with fabrics rather suddenly) I made this mistake. I marked the fabric with an ordinary pencil. And of course, I had to do it all over again, the cutting and the embroidery, because it turned out that the marks made with ordinary pencil do not wash off. 

Marking with a tailor's chalk. I can tell from experience that marking your fabric with a chalk is not really a good idea, because it leaves traces on some types of fabrics. 

Eventually I gained sufficient experience having changed several jobs that involved dealing with unique designs on very expensive fabrics, which were extremely tricky to mark. It took a long time, too, not just because marking itself is quite a task, but because the size of the fabric was usually 3X3.5 m. So we used the following ways instead:

Marking a position with pins: first the center of the embroidery and then a couple of dots on X and Y axes. This is one of my favorites, because it is the quickest and never leaves any traces. But it's not always good. It is very handy when using a single needle Classic embroidery machine, which has a correction angle allowing for the machine to adjust to the fabric hooped rather haphazardly.

Creasing all the necessary lines. A highly questionable operation, because it leaves crease marks on many types of fabric which could not be corrected with the help of a steam iron. Nevertheless, it can be used in some cases.

Using special markers which disappear when exposed to light. I should point out that in my opinion the best disappearing markers are the cheap ones made in China. They make a thinner line that disappear more quickly then branded markers such as Madeira. But! They left an unwashable trace on several types of fabrics such as 100% cotton, which left me with a thought that one should test everything before using it. 

Using markers easily erased by water. Well, they should be erased by water. It is not a problem in case you are going to wash your handiwork in future, but what if you don't? We used to carefully wash off the marks with a tampon, trying not to leave splotches. The thing is that some manufacturers use such a strong pigment (Hemline for example) that we had to do it 3 or 5 times, because after the fabric had dried off the marks appeared again.

There are, of course, special erasers used with these two types of markers. But to buy both the marker and the eraser is not really cost-effective.

Soap. A sliver of soap is very good: the outline can easily be washed off with water and removed with steam, too. But there is a fly in the ointment: first you should find the brand that does not leave greasy splotches (and even soap without additives can do that), and when you find one, it may not be possible to use it on the specific type of fabric. I found this out when working with natural silk. 


And now, encore: basting

Basting is the best way to mark your embroidery. Yes, I mean the one done with a plain needle and thread along the lines on the back of the fabric (if you have such a possibility, you'd better use your embroidery machine instead). Sometimes you cannot avoid a laborious job of drawing lines and basting. There were times when such an elaborate grid was needed for multiple hooping and lining up the elements of a design on the garment that it took me 4 or 5 hours to do the marking. But this method can be used wit practically every type of fabric including silk and silk velvet, which can damaged just by looking at it. And what won't one do to achieve a good result.

Luckily, I haven't been working with a piece of a fabric about the size of a football field for some time now. But the question of placement and marking an embroidery remains one of the most important to me. I mostly work with similar garments nowadays, but the place for a design changes all the time. Up to a certain point in time towels and bathrobes made from terry cloth were my biggest problem. As they were mostly white, soap was out of question, because it would not be visible. Besides, the texture did not help much. That's why I made an outline with a disappearing marker and washed it off with water afterwords to make it disappear more quickly. But the terry cloth is a fabric of volume and bulk, so I had plenty to wash off, because the traces appeared again once the fabric was dry. 

Once I was surfing the internet and stumbled across this photo where all the marks were made with writing pencil over the removable adhesive tape. This is how it works: first you place your garment onto the hooping device and do the hooping, then remove an adhesive tape and embroider.

So I tried applying this to a terry cloth. It proved to be very handy, especially when embroidering a design in the corner of a towel, which is not very easy to place into round or square hoops. To embroider a corner in such a way is not the easiest task, but even to place it into the hoops is a problem. That's why I use frames when embroidering towels. Placing an unmarked fabric into the hoops is a skill I am yet to master. Though I'm not very eager to do so, because I have embroidered an incorrectly hooped garment in the past (I didn't know the proper way then).

So, I need to embroider quite a big design in the corner of a towel.


1. I stick a piece of adhesive tape in the area where my marking is going to be.


2. Then I measure out all the distances and draw the lines.


3. Frame the fabric or the garment.


4. Trace it onto the fabric, then remove the adhesive tape.


5. Embroider a design.


6. Then I mark the back of a bathrobe before hooping. 


You can use it for a big embroidery in the middle of a towel, too.


That's all that is to it. You don't have to wash the marks off. Of course, you have to deal with adhesive, but it is only a trifling matter in comparison.

One more way to mark your fabric is to use a tool called an alignment laser. It projects a perfect crosshair onto any surface you like. 

To find the perfect center you should cut out your design pattern and place it onto your garment sprayed with a removable adhesive.

Even if you misplace it slightly, you may always adjust the hoops. 

And what do you do use to place a design onto the fabric? Share your placement tips and tricks, please. Did something escape my attention?

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