Photo ©Sloan Howard from Threads Magazine #98. Reprinted with permission.
The most important accessory to the success of your monogramming – or any type of embroidery, is stabilizer. Stabilizer is hooped with your fabric to provide extra stability and stiffness to the fabric as it is being embroidered. There are quite a few types available, and each serves a specific type of fabric or project.
Cut Away Stabilizer
Cut Away Stabilizer is the densest type of stabilizer, and will provide the most stability to your fabric – both during the monogramming process and during use of the finished project. You can remove some of the stabilizer from the fabric by cutting off the unused portion. One drawback to this type of stabilizer is it can never be completely removed from the design. So, you have to think about the project's final use. This stabilizer would work great for a pillow, because the back of the fabric is not visible inside the pillow cover, but it wouldn't be suitable for a table napkin where the back of the material will show during use. To remove the stabilizer, use very sharp scissors and cut as close to the stitching as possible. Specialty scissors are available that are bent to allow you to get especially close to the stitching.
Tear Away Stabilizer
Tear Away Stabilizer provides a good amount of stability while monogramming, and then is torn away from the design. This product is a good choice for any project where the back of the design will show with use, because the stabilizer can be cleanly removed. If your material requires extra support during the actual monogramming, you can use mulitple layers of tear away. You can also find adhesive tear away stabilizers, which are a good choice for especially stretchy fabrics. You apply the adhesive stabilizer prior to hooping, so the fabric won't stretch or distort in the hooping process.
Water Soluble or Rinse Away Stabilizer
Water soluble stabilizer will disappear from fabric when rinsed with water. These stabilizers come in two forms: one resembles a plastic film and the other is more like paper. They don't offer as much stability as cut away or tear away – and they obviously will not support the stitches through washing or general use. However, these stabilizers are a great choice if you're trying to monogram on a very delicate or loosely woven fabric. The stabilizer will wash away, leaving the weave clean. Another common use for a rinse away stabilizer is as a topping when stitching a design on fabric that has a nap or high loft, like a plush towel. It is placed on top of the fabric when stitching so the stitches don't get lost in the loft of the fabric.
Heat Soluble Stabilizer
Heat soluble stabilizers disappear from fabric when heated with an iron. These are very similar to water soluble stabilizers, and are a great choice for fabrics that cannot be washed with water. You'll find this stabilizer in two varieties, as a plastic film or as a woven material. This stabilizer will turn a brown color when heated with an iron. It will then flake away from the surface of the fabric.
Embroidery threads are available in a wide variety of colors, and in a few different materials. When choosing a thread weight, remember: the lower the number, the thicker the thread. Generally, 30 and 40 weight the most common for embroidery, with 40 the most popular weight for normal embroidery. Some especially fine embroidery designs require 100 weight thread, but this is rare. Threads are available in both solid and variegated colors. Specialty threads can have a metallic sheen, or twist different colors in the same strand to add depth and dimension to designs. For more general notes about thread, read our tutorial: Selecting the Right Thread for the Job.
Rayon is the most popular type of machine embroidery thread available. It has a high sheen and is available in a very wide array of colors. Rayon is also known to be very trouble-free when on the machine, and is able withstand very high speeds without twisting or fraying.
Polyester thread is also a common choice for machine embroidery because it is durable and economical. It is a great choice because it is color fast, so you don't have to worry about designs bleeding or fading.
Cotton isn't a widely used thread in embroidery machines, but it creates a beautiful and soft sheen and is very durable. This is a good choice for monogramming on cotton, as the thread will shrink or adjust with the fabric. You'll want to choose a high quality cotton thread; those that are inexpensive can be linty.
Silk is a good choice for embroidery on fine fabrics. Choose a 30 to 50 weight thread for best results.
Metallic thread is formed by metal strands twisted around a polyester core to make it shine and reflect light. This thread can be harder to work with, and the speed on your embroidery machine should be slowed for best results. However, the overall effect is worth the effort.
You need a very sharp needle for machine monogramming and embroidery, because the process requires a lot of needle penetration in a small area. Embroidery needles contain a special elongated eye to allow the thread to flow through easily at high speed, and they have that super sharp point you need to help pierce the fabric as the machine sews.
As with thread, the width of the needle is defined by a number, with the lower number designating a finer point. Most projects will use a 14 or 16 needle, but if you are working with fine or lightweight fabrics you may choose an 8 or 9. We recommend changing the needle often for best results, after about 8 hours of machine usage or whenever you begin a new project. If you find your thread is breaking repeatedly as you monogram, a good first choice for diagnosing the problem is to change the needle. For more information about needle basics, read our tutorial: Machine Sewing: Selecting the Right Needle for the Job.
Trimming threads is a big part of the monogramming process. Each time the machine moves to a new portion of the design it leaves a thread trail, which is called a 'jump thread' in embroidery lingo. For this you'll need very sharp scissors with a fine point so you can trim accurately. Special embroidery scissors are perfect for this. These scissors are usually very small, and have curved blades to get as close to the design as possible. Some scissors resemble tweezers, while others have traditional finger holes. There is also a type available which bend at a right angle at the start of the scissor blade. These are a good choice if you are embroidering with a small hoop, and it's hard to fit your hand into the space to trim threads.
You can buy special bobbins for monogramming embroidery that are pre-wound. These are a great option, because they contain more thread and so reduce the time you spend re-winding your bobbin. There's more thread because the manufacturer can wind the bobbin far tighter than the bobbin winder on your sewing machine. Pre-wound bobbins are generally available in white, gray or black so you can purchase the shade that best matches your fabric. Remember, unlike traditional sewing, it's not necessary to have the same color thread in your bobbin as your top thread when monogramming or embroidering. If your machine's tension is properly set, there will be little to no bobbin thread visible in your monogram work. And, the bobbin thread is stronger than traditional decorative threads (like rayons), so it gives your overall design better stability.