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First Aid for Embroidery Mistakes

From stitch removal to covering holes in garments, follow these tips to perform easy fixes on embroidered items.

February 18, 2014

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By Steven Batts, Contributing Writer

Mistakes happen to the best of us — and they happen to some of us more than others. We often get so upset when they occur, however, that we don’t immediately think about the best way to recover from them. But just like in first aid, if you follow basic procedures upon the problem’s discovery, the likelihood for a full recovery is increased.

When you notice an embroidery mistake, remember the following basic advice to help speed recovery. We’ll also look at some common remedies for embroidery mistakes you may encounter.

'Slow Down, Go Faster'
Much like first aid, keeping a cool head is paramount to recovery. It seems like screw-ups never happen under normal conditions. Rather, the embroidery machine only seems to malfunction when an expensive item and a deadline are involved.

I have noticed that when I usually encounter a problem, it’s because I was rushing. This is compounded even more once I realize the nature of the problem. However, rushing a repair only makes things worse. If you sew something incorrectly and hastily attempt to remove stitches, you are more likely to cut a hole in the fabric.

A former employer once told me the key to avoiding more mistakes during embroidery repair is to “slow down and go faster.” He meant that if you remain calm and patient during the repair, the process will proceed much quicker and have a better chance of success. On the other hand, if you are in too much of a hurry, you are likely to make another mistake. And I ought to know — I’ve done it.

Keep Options Open
The first thing to do when discovering an embroidery mistake is to leave the garment in the hoop. This sounds simple enough, but the initial reaction usually is to pull it out of the hoop and toss the garment or item away. By leaving it in the hoop, your repair options remain open.

If you remove an item that needs repair, trying to reframe it exactly the way it was is nearly impossible. By keeping the garment in the hoop, the probability that it can be realigned after the repair is much higher. You usually can correct the problem and snap the hoop back into the machine, find the right stitch and restart the machine without realignment. If you do have to nudge the frame, it should be minor. At least you will have a frame of reference (no pun intended) for lining it up.

Once you discover a problem that requires repairs, note where the problem occurred within the design. When making repairs, I always write down the stitch count at which the machine was stopped. Sometimes, I even write it on the stabilizer that is used on the back of the garment. The problem usually will have occurred prior to that, but at least I have a point of reference within the design. Therefore, I can go back to that point — or slightly before — once I repair the piece.

You may now be asking, “Why does this matter? You can just leave the machine sitting at the same point until you fix the problem and then put it back onto the machine and restart it.” While this is true, it is not very productive — especially if you have a multihead machine. Even with a singlehead, I re-set the design and start sewing the next piece unless the repair is simple. If you spend 20 to 30 minutes pulling out stitches, you could lose three or four runs by just removing stitches.

I like to have an extra hoop or two of each size in my shop. This way I can pull a hoop out of service for repairs and still maintain production.

Now, let’s look at some specifics of stitch removal and replacement, covering up mistakes and repairing holes.

Stitch Removal & Replacement
Most embroidery repairs usually involve removing stitches. The part that is sewn incorrectly must be removed and replaced with the correct design. I like to remove as few stitches as possible, so rather than removing an entire design — such as a name — I often will remove only the part that requires replacement.

The trick to lining up any embroidery with something that already is there is to reference an earlier part of the design. I use my origin point (the beginning point of the design) as a tool to do this. Rather than starting the design in the center, I start on a point in the previously sewn portion of the design. Once the edited design is loaded, I can find that point and line it up with the machine.

Try to remove an entire section of an incorrect design rather than just the portion that requires replacement. For example, if a name is spelled incorrectly by one letter, it sometimes is easier to align it if you pull out all the letters either before or after the error, rather than pulling out the one incorrect letter and attempt to replace it and align it correctly.

The Cover Up

Sometimes, removing all of the stitching necessary to repair an item is not feasible — and it often is not even necessary — because you may be able to cover up an error with the correct stitching. These cases usually involve sewing the wrong color in a design. Once you realize the problem, simply back the design up before the point where the incorrect color was sewn and sew the correct color.

The only problem is that the wrong color sometimes can bleed through the stitching. To prevent this, lay down a piece of topping before sewing the new color. The topping will act as a barrier, keeping the other threads from popping up and bleeding through the new color. I have even used a piece of tearaway stabilizer on the top to prevent bleeding. When using this method, stop the machine after the correct color has been sewn and tear away the topping before continuing the design.

Covering up errors with stitches is an old trick many embroiderers use. I often create a fill pattern to hide something that was not supposed to be there. You can either use a matching thread color, or a color that matches the garment for a more inconspicuous cover up.

Repairing Holes

Repairing holes can be tricky, but it also can be very easy. If the hole occurs in the path of the embroidery, the stitching often will cover the hole. In these cases, simply back the design up to a point before the hole occurred, slide a scrap piece of cutaway stabilizer underneath the garment and sew that section again. The embroidery stitches will mend the hole and it is not likely to tear again, thanks to the cutaway stabilizer.

This operation gets tricky when the embroidery won’t cover the hole. If that is the case, a literal mend is necessary. Maybe a fill area can be created to cover the hole and the embroidery can be placed on top of that. Of course, it all depends on how badly you need to recover the piece. If I notice a hole in a $2 T-shirt and cannot mend it easily, it goes into the “sample” bin.

Minimize Time Lost
The ideal scenario in making a repair is to maintain production. If you can keep the machine running while making the repair — then finish the repaired piece at the end of the job — the time lost is very minimal. It may mean you have to remove stitches during the run and work a little faster when framing and trimming, but it usually is feasible.

I like repairing damaged pieces at the end of jobs for a couple of reasons. Not only does it help keep production moving, but it also gives me more time to make the required repairs. Sometimes I will use that time to modify the design so that the repair is even easier.

By following these basic procedures, you can help ensure successful recovery for your embroidered items.

Steven Batts, a consultant with more than 20 years experience in the embroidery industry, owns Righteous Threads, Greensboro, N.C., which offers digitizing, embroidery and machine maintenance services. Steven regularly leads seminars at ISS shows and is an industry speaker and consultant. For more information or to comment on this article, e-mail Steven at

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