Machine Embroidery Basics and Supplies

Machine Embroidery Basics and Supplies

Posted by Jaszmine Howard on 18th Nov 2022

I have been embroidering by machine for just a short time and I am LOVING it. However, there is a slight learning curve for those of us that have never done it before. This can be somewhat overwhelming as there are a bunch of new terms, old terms with new meanings, and much more to figure out. Good news- It isn't nearly as hard as it seems and it doesn't have to be as costly as you may assume. When I worked at my local quilt shop, I was seeing big machines doing big work and thought that the supplies seemed super expensive considering how much it seemed to take up. And I thought that it would take forever before I could also own one of these machines. I was WRONG. There is an embroidery machine for anyone with almost any budget and there's more than enough fun to go around. Here is what you are going to need to get your machine embroidery party started!


There are two main types of machines: Single needle and Multi-Needle.

A single needle embroidery machine has one needle that does all of the work and will require you to change out threads to move on to the next color.

Multi-Needle machines have multiple needles where you can thread multiple colors at once and you don't have to worry about constantly changing the threads. You will typically see these machines in embroidery shops or even in malls where they make custom hats and things like that.

There are even combination machines that have the capacities of both a sewing machine and an embroidery machine. This machine is a good option for those that enjoy sewing but also want to dabble in embroidery to enhance their experience. All are great options and it is up to you to decide what is best for you.

STABILIZERS: Cut- away, Tear- Away, and Water Soluble Stabilizer

These are the three MUST HAVE stabilizers when starting out. It is so easy to say to ourselves "Oh, I am only going to embroider____" then something else in another material comes up and we want to do that. Let us not set ourselves up for disappointment. Stabilizer rules the world of embroidery and is critical to how your embroidery looks and wears over time. Here's what these are for.

Cut-Away Stabilizer: Use this for things you are going to wear. Shirts, hoodies, jeans, etc. You will cut the stabilizer away from the project once your embroidery is complete.

Tear-Away Stabilizer: This stabilizer is used for items that will not be worn. Once your embroidery is complete, you should be able to easily remove the stabilizer by tugging firmly. This would be used for bags, quilts, and a variety of other projects.

Water Soluble Stabilizer: This is often used as a "topper."  A topper is used in a way so that longer fibers are not flattened and ruin the embroidery as intended. You would use a topper for things like hand towels, beach towels and materials like sherpa, minky, and the like.

There are mesh stabilizers, films and other forms as well however, these are the basics and will get you very far as a beginner.

THREADS: Top and Bobbin

Top: There are various types of threads for machine embroidery. Many are polyester or polyester blends. Typically you will be looking for 40 weight. There are many colors to choose from and brands that range in quality and price. I have decided to start with a fairly generic brand and as I run out of those spools, I will replace them with other brands/higher quality brands as well. This way, I have lots of color options and can test out other brands without spending a ton.

Bobbin: Bobbin threads are a bit simpler. There is no need to have lots of colors as you won't see them. Having black for dark colors and white for lighter colors will do you well. I am currently using the brand Sulky and have been enjoying them. You can also buy them pre-wound. If you take the pre-wound route, please make sure you have the accurate size for your machine. Also, most pre-wound bobbins are not reusable. I prefer winding a few bobbins myself and have those separate from my regular bobbins for sustainability purposes. And so I know which are for machine embroidery and which ones are for my regular sewing.


You will need to ensure that you have machine embroidery needles. An 11/75 is a great size to get started with and is standard. Your size may vary depending on thread used. I don't have to change this one as often as I would a standard needle. I honestly keep the same one until I notice an issue with my stitching...or feel guilty about how long it has been since I've changed it.

FILES ( and where to get them) : 

Each brand has their own special way that their machines can read the embroidery files. List from

.jef - The stitch-based file that is read by the MemoryCraft 10000.

.sew - The stitch-based file format used by MemoryCraft 5700, 8000, and 9000 machines.

.pes - A stitch-based file format used by Brother and Babylock embroidery home sewing machines.

.pec - A stitch-based file format used by Brother and Babylock embroidery home sewing machines.

.hus - The stitch-based file format used by Husqvarna/Viking embroidery home sewing machines.

.pcs - The stitch-based file format used by Pfaff embroidery home sewing machines.

.csd - The stitch-based file format used by Poem, Huskygram, and Singer EU embroidery home sewing machines.

.xxx - The stitch-based file format used by Singer embroidery home sewing machines.

.dst - The stitch-based file format used by Tajima commercial embroidery sewing machines.

.exp - The stitch-based file format used by Melco commercial embroidery sewing machines

Where to Buy: You can buy files from many places like Etsy to support the smaller artists and other embroidery sites. I like as they have a subscription where I can download thousands of files while supporting artists for a flat fee per month. This is great because once you start, you may never want to stop. You can also get custom ones done by digitizers if you want something extra special and personal to you.

Digitizing Software: There are lots of software programs where you can digitize things yourself because of course, We LOVE custom things and want them at our fingertips and realized as quickly as possible. Here is a resource that goes into detail about some that machine embroiderers have been enjoying.


  • Applique Scissors: small Duckbill and curved styles will help with cutting stabilizer up close and get those tiny threads clipped with ease.
  • Tweezers: Tweezers are great for getting those bits of tear away out and for other small things.
  • Basting Spray- This is good for a technique called "floating" where you hoop the stabilizer and temporarily hold the fabric to be embroidered in place while it embroiders. This makes things faster and can be used to keep smaller scraps in place.
  • Applique Scissors
  • Tweezers