Wool is a fantastic natural fiber for your projects, but when it comes to machine embroidery, it does present some unique challenges. In this article, we’ll be talking about wool and how it responds to machine embroidery differently than other fabric types.

In addition, we’ll cover best practices for embroidering on wool, and I’ll give you some advice on choosing the right tools and materials for success. But, first, let’s talk about why wool is so difficult to work with for machine embroidery.

The Challenges of Wool for Embroidery

Wool is a naturally elastic and textured fabric. This means that high tension or dense stitching can lead to puckering or distortion of your design or even the fabric itself.

While adjusting the tension settings on your machine and choosing the correct stabilizer can help combat this, design selection, which we’ll talk about later, also plays a large part in your success. Using the wrong design can lead to a sunken look that appears amateur.

In addition, wool can be very abrasive, which can lead to frustrating thread breaks. You should use a strong, high-quality 40 weight thread and a needle specifically designed for thicker fabrics, such as a 90/14 size, or even a larger 100/16 size if using a 30 weight thread.

Rainbow of Embroidery Threads
Rainbow of Embroidery Threads

Design Selection and Digitization for Wool Fabrics

When embroidering on wool, you may need to make some adjustments to your design during the digitization process. That’s because the unique texture of this fabric may require alterations in stitch length and density to avoid puckering or distortion of the finished decoration.

Designs which are too dense can sink into the fabric, disappearing into the nap, and designs which are not dense enough look unimpressive when stitched out. Some of this can be remedied with using the right stabilizer, but you’ll get the best results from a design which was digitized specifically for use on wool fabrics.

If you’re using a design you’ve found in a free embroidery design library, opt for one with a moderate to low stitch density, especially for delicate or lightweight wools. For heavier wools, large, bold designs are typically more suitable, though.

If you happen to have the master embroidery file (such as an EMB file), then you can adjust the design yourself to compensate for the fabric’s makeup and get a higher-quality sew out. Though, unless you paid someone to digitize a design for you it’s unlikely you’d have this, unfortunately.

As a side note, if you do get a design professionally digitized, it’s important to ask your digitizer for the master file! They should not have a problem providing this to you, and it’s invaluable if you want to edit a design for any reason later on.

How to stitch faux chenille alphabets using yarn on your embroidery machine

Stabilizer Selection is Very Important for Wool Embroidery

Using the right stabilizer is always important, but for wool this is even more true! Without enough support on the bottom, your fabric turns into a mess. Thread becomes tangled, it breaks, and it will bring your embroidery machine to a screeching halt.

However, for wool, one stabilizer is not enough! Without the addition of a topper, your design likely will not sit on top of the fabric properly and it will sink down into the wool’s nap.

I’d recommend trying a wash-away or a heat-away stabilizer on the top of the fabric, paired with a medium-weight tear away stabilizer for the bottom. You may also want to employ the use of a temporary spray adhesive to make sure both stabilizers stay put during the embroidery process.

Choosing the exact type of stabilizer though will depend on what type of wool you’ll be using and the use case of the finished design. For example, boiled-wool is very compact and dense, and in this case, a tear-away sticky stabilizer is a fantastic choice.

However, for a light-weight twill, which is a much looser weave, a product like Sulky’s Soft n Sheer, which is stretch resistant is likely a better choice, as it will provide permanent stability and will keep your design from pulling on the looser weave of the fabric, preventing distortion and misalignment of your design during stitching.

Colorful Dresses with Embroidery
Colorful Dresses with Embroidery

Tips for Working With Wool for Embroidery

While it’s tempting to go for a larger hoop in order to give your machine more space to work with, this can end badly. Using a hoop that’s too large can lead to lots of issues with thread breaks and bird nesting.

Instead, opt for the smallest hoop you can get away with, and slow your machine way down to about half speed. When working with less forgiving fabrics, like wool, working at faster speeds puts too much stress on the thread and fabric. Slowing down stitching avoids a lot of frustrating thread breaks and bird nesting that can tear up your machine.

In closing, wool is a lovely material to work with, and you can stitch out beautiful designs on it with your embroidery machine. While it is a bit intimidating to work with at first, armed with these tips, you can make your embroidery project a success.

Just keep in mind that there are many different kinds of wool fabrics and you may need to tailor your approach a bit to succeed here. However, the above guidelines should help you get started.

Categories: Handicraft

Kayla Kinsella

Kayla Kinsella is a freelance writer with a penchant for trying new things. She has a passion for words, which is reflected in her ability to transform even the most mundane of topics into a literary work of art. When she’s not working, you can find her traveling, listening to music, or checking out the latest sustainable fashion trends! Her preferred fabrics are merino wool and mohair from South Africa.

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