Puckered Embroidery is Not Cool

After spending hours stitching out a beautiful embroidery there is nothing more frustrating than un-hooping and discovering that the fabric around the embroidery has puckered.

  Why does this happen?

There are three causes for this problem, the fabric, the thread, or the stabiliser.  Let’s look at all three.

When you sew, your machine pushes a needle into the space formed by the weave or knit of the fabric.  This is why we use different needles for different types of fabric.  The ideal is a needle that slips through the weave without snagging the threads that form the cloth.  The action of moving in and out of the fabric put a train on the fabric, pulling the threads of the cloth in all different directions, so the embroidery process is actually straining the fabric, causing it to distort.  It is also trying to force more threads into that space, filling the space and forcing the weave apart.


There will be times that you can’t reach a satisfactory solution simply because the embroidery isn’t a suitable match to the fabric.  However, in many cases, a solution can be found in stabilising the fabric both during and after the embroidery process. This means using sufficient layers of stabiliser and using an interfacing or a cut-away stabiliser that will remain in the project when you have finished.  The cheapest way to do this is to invest in 505 Basting Spray and using it.

Another reason for the fabric to pucker is that the fabric needs to be hooped correctly.  All fabric (apart from Lycra) will need to be relaxed, that is not stretched.  Many of us first learn to hoop by stretching the sides and ends of the fabric, but all this does is increase the risk of puckering.  The best thing to do is to allow the fabric to be placed in the hoop while it is in normal “relaxed” state.  Think of Goldilocks, not too tight, not too loose, just right!

Your thread will cause puckering if it is too stretchy.  Believe it or not, all thread stretches to a certain extent.  Cotton stretches less than Rayon, Rayon less than Polyester and so on.  The trick is to control that stretch, which is what your machine does through the tension system. You need to learn how to adjust the tension on your machine, and the speed of the machine to minimise and control the amount of stretch in your thread while you are working.  Naturally, some thread types will give you more problems than. This is why Rayon is favoured over the cheaper alternatives.  A good quality Polyester is perfectly acceptable because manufacturers have invested in improving this thread.

Check your sewing machine manual for the range of tensions that may be appropriate and work within that range to achieve the best result.  Remember that you are not aiming for a perfectly balanced stitch, but rather a stitch which lies flat and forms well.  The top thread should wrap to the back of the work.  As a guide when looking at the back of your work you should see around 2/3 top thread and a column of bobbin thread through the middle of the design. Always slow down your machine when stitching embroideries because the thread will stretch more the faster you sew.

New sewing machine technology called Thread Portioning is a wonderful advancement because it fully compensates for the stretch of the thread in a way that traditional tension can never do.  This technology can be found on various machines including brands Husquvarna Viking and Pfaff.

Finally, take the time to rad the manufacturers advice about the stabiliser you have selected.  Good brands will tell you how many stitches the stabiliser supports and will recommend which stabiliser works with which fabrics.  As a general guide, I work on the assumption that one layer of stabiliser will support around 8,000 stitches. This means an embroidery of say 24,000 stitches will need to have three layers of that stabiliser to stitch correctly.  I then adjust according to how dense I observe the design to be, often adding another layer.  Generally, a good result will also be achieved by using a stabiliser that will remain in the embroidery. However this isn’t always going to be possible because of the purpose of the embroidery.