Modern sewing machines at the more expensive end of the market often come with some decorative embroidery stitches built-in, and specialist embroidery and sewing machines will enable you to render even the most complicated embroidery designs at the touch of a button. If your budget does not stretch to one of these pricey machines, however, try embroidering with your regular sewing machine. Even the most basic machines, including those that will only sew straight and zigzag stitches, can be used for embroidery.
Sketch your embroidery design directly onto fabric with chalk or a fabric marker. Keep it simple if you are new to machine embroidery. Straight, thin lines are easier to render in stitches than thicker, curved ones. Consider the range of stitches your machine is capable of, and which stitches you could use to fill in the various parts of your design.
Take apart the two sections of your embroidery hoop. Lay your fabric piece over the top of the outer hoop, then press the inner hoop down onto it so that the fabric is flat and taut. The marked design should be in the centre of the hoop.
Thread your sewing machine and lower the feed dogs (the metal teeth underneath the needle that usually move the fabric along as you sew). If you are unsure how to do this, consult your manual. Set the machine to a straight stitch with a stitch length of zero.
Position your embroidery hoop underneath the sewing machine needle so that the marked design is facing up and the needle is over the point where you want to begin stitching. The fabric should lie flat on the machine. Lower the presser foot.
Rotate the hand wheel to sew three or four stitches at the starting point of your design. Because the stitch length is set to zero, these stitches serve to anchor the thread in place.
Change the stitch length to an appropriate length for your design and begin sewing along the marked lines. Move the hoop as you sew, but only in a right-to-left or up-and-down motion. Do not pivot the hoop as this may break the needle.
Sew all the thin lines on your design and outline any shapes with straight stitches. End each stitched line by setting the stitch length back to zero and sewing three or four stitches by turning the hand wheel.
Fill in any solid shapes of your design using a zigzag stitch with a short stitch length and an appropriate width. Again, begin and end each section with a few anchoring stitches (with a length of zero), and only move the hoop right-to-left or up-and-down.
The first time you try embroidery with your sewing machine, use a piece of scrap fabric and take the time to practice all the techniques involved before moving on to your actual project. Test and adjust the stitch tension on a piece of scrap fabric before beginning any machine embroidery project. The required tension will differ depending on the fabric and thread you are using, so you should do a test every time.