How to Use Foam in Machine Embroidery

Written by karen waggoner
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How to Use Foam in Machine Embroidery
The illusion of dimension can be enhanced with the use of puffy foam in machine embroidery. (flower design on an old cover image by timur1970 from

Machine embroidery has revolutionised home sewing by allowing sewers to embellish nearly anything with perfect embroidery in a fraction of the time required for hand embroidery. In order to add even more dimension to machine embroidery, stitchers may use puffy foam sheets under the embroidery to enhance designs. Important areas such as the wings of butterflies or the petals of flowers can appear slightly raised above the surface of the fabric, thus adding the illusion of depth to any design.

Skill level:

Things you need

  • Embroidery designs
  • Embroidery machine
  • Instruction booklet for the machine
  • Thread
  • Foam sheets
  • Machine needles
  • Backing, stabiliser or interfacing

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  1. 1

    Select an embroidery design that includes prominent areas of satin stitch. The satin stitch areas are the only portions of the design that will be padded with foam.

  2. 2

    Digitise the embroidery machine manually to establish the special requirements for embroidering over foam. For the satin stitch portions, the maximum density of stitches, usually about 7 or 8 threads per millimetre, is required to cover the foam adequately.

  3. 3

    Set the machine for a tiny running stitch to be used just at the edge of the satin stitch portion. This stitch should be as small as possible and placed very close to the ends of the satin stitches. It is the running stitch which will allow the foam to be pulled away from the fabric underneath.

  4. 4

    Preview the stitching on the screen of the machine. Check the exact parallel of the satin stitches, the density of the stitches and the exact spacing of the stitches. Adjust the satin stitch by adding a very small amount of ease to the stitches, if possible, so they will extend fractionally beyond the running stitch.

  5. 5

    Hoop the fabric and lock the hoop in place, including backing or stabiliser according to the machine's instructions. Trim the foam sheet to size if necessary. Place the sheet of foam on the fabric, inside the hoop, and stitch the running stitch all the way around the design to be padded. Do not hoop the foam.

  6. 6

    Anchor the foam piece against the background fabric with one hand while pulling the excess foam away from the running stitch with the other. Leave as clean an edge as possible. If ragged pieces of foam remain, trim them neatly before continuing with the satin stitch.

  7. 7

    Stitch the satin stitch portion of the design over the remainder of the foam. If the stitching does not completely cover the foam, repeat the stitching. At the beginning or end of the stitching, make sure to encase the foam with close stitches.

Tips and warnings

  • Always sew at least one trial sample before attempting to use foam in embroidery. The sample should be made using exactly the same materials, threads and fabrics as the intended project.
  • Use new needles and select backing and stabiliser according to the machine's instructions. Results may be improved by changing the needle, backing and stabiliser. Results will also be affected by adjustments to the stitches and tension.
  • Some experts recommend ballpoint needles; others suggest sharps. Include different needles in your experimentation.
  • Nonpadded portions of the design may be stitched before the foam sheet is added.
  • Always match the foam sheet to the thread colour to be used.
  • Foam sheets may be purchased in 2mm, 3mm and 6mm widths. The thinner sheets are most recommended. Foam sheets may be purchased with adhesive backing.

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