Tips for pucker free embroidery

Pucker free embroidery is very possible – and it’s easy to achieve. The key is to make the background that you are stitching on as stiff as possible – without making it as stiff as a board in your finished project.

Pucker Free Embroidery

There are 4 things to consider that can be used in various combinations to improve your results.


If I’m doing embroidered appliqué on a quilt top then I use a tearaway stabilizer, usually OESD Ultra Clean and Tear. I use two layers, one piece basted to the back of the background fabric and one piece in the hoop. The appliqué shape also acts as stabilizer, so any stitching on the appliqué shape will be very pucker free. When the embroidery is finished, I remove all layers of stabilizer from around the outside of the appliqué shapes.

If I’m doing embroidery onto clothing I typically use a sticky water soluble stabilizer on the back of the item. OESD Aquamesh Plus is my favorite. Then I use OESD Ultra Clean and Tear in the hoop. The Ultra Clean and Tear will disintegrate after a couple of washes. An alternative is to use a cutaway stabilizer on the back of the item and leave it in place when the embroidery is finished. OESD Polymesh would be my choice here. For a quilt label, I would probably use a cutaway stabilizer.


A fusible interfacing on the background fabric will always reduce the risk of puckers. My favorite interfacing to use is Pellon Shape Flex. It’s a woven, fusible interfacing that doesn’t significantly change the hand of the fabric, but it does make it more stable and will help to achieve pucker free embroidery.


Spray starch can be used to stiffen the background fabric and you can use as much or as little as you need, depending on the weight of the fabric. My favorite is Mary Ellen’s Best Press – spritz it onto your fabric in an even mist and then give the fabric a really good press.

For a super fine fabric (e.g. Michael Miller’s Cotton Couture) you’ll need a lot more Best Press than for a batik, which usually starts out fairly crisp.

Basting Line

A basting line around the outside of the embroidery while stitching is a great way to achieve pucker free embroidery. The majority of my designs have a basting line included in the design. It usually stitches in color #2. Color #1 is typically a placement line that allows you to get your background fabric perfectly aligned on the stabilizer that is already in the hoop. Color #2 is typically the placement line to show you exactly where to place the appliqué shapes. A basting line is included to make sure that the background fabric stays where it needs to be – and also to make sure that the background fabric doesn’t shrink up and cause puckers during embroidery.

For designs that don’t include a basting line around the outside of the design, some embroidery machines have an option to add this to the beginning of a design.

My usual prescription for pucker free embroidery is to use the correct stabilizer for your project with a basting line around the embroidery while it’s in the hoop. I will add a spritz of Mary Ellen’s Best Press or a fusible interfacing as necessary, based on the fabric that I am using.

Let me know in the comments below how these tips are helping you to achieve pucker free embroidery!


  1. Beautiful embroidery. I’m thinking it’s probably a christmas tree or maybe a wreath.

  2. I missed this the first time, so thank you for running it again. And I think you are making feathers.

  3. Hi Sarah, I’m guessing it might be a Christmas wreath. The feathered tree is gorgeous. I’m hoping to get it soon. My PC stopped working about 2 months ago and I decided to go with an IMAC and just partitioned my drive in bootcamp and loaded the Bernina Embroidery Software and Design Works this past weekend. Your new sewing studio looks great. One day I want to remodel mine. I recently had by kitchen and bathrooms remodeled as well hard wood floors in my bedrooms. My upstairs now has either hard wood floors or tile. When will we see the new project?

  4. I really appreciate all of these ideas. I have a hard time with puckering and have also stopped tugging on my material so I don’t stretch it. Thanks for your ideas. I am going to try them all.

  5. Hi Sarah, I’m guessing the new project is a wreath. I’m hoping to get the Feathered Christmas Tree soon. Your new sewing studio is great. One day I want to get mine remodeled but it will have to wait for a while since I recently had my kitchen, bathrooms and floors remodeled. My PC stopped working with the Windows 10 Anniversary Update and I decided to go with an IMAC. I just partitioned my drive and loaded the Bernina Embroidery and Design Works software.

  6. Thanks I needed this,Going to try it.Had some trouble on pucket.

  7. Hi, Sarah.

    This is great info. Thanks! I noted you don’t mention temporary spray adhesive. Is this something that you don’t recommend? (Or is that what you mean by “basted to the back of the fabric)?

    • Hi Cathy,

      I don’t believe in adding unnecessary “goo” to any project, so spray adhesive is out. I’m also in favor of eliminating as much mess as possible so that’s another reason to eliminate spray adhesive. Then there’s the fumes too!

      When I talk about basting, I mean a 4mm-5mm long stitch on your sewing machine. Instructions are included in all of my design collections 🙂

      • I’m so happy to hear that! I’m just in process of cleaning my hoops (yuck!). Planning to get rid of my spray adhesive.

  8. Thank you so much for these helpful tips for stabilizing fabric for embroidery. I feel that I can use different methods for different types of projects. So thank you again for posting this post.

  9. It looks like you are working on a Christmas tree with non connected branches.

  10. Thanks for reposting this tip. Sometimes I forget to save the emails. I believe this pix is of your new project of embroidered Christmas trees. Eh??

  11. Thanks for the tips, Looks like Feathered Christmas Trees to me 🙂

  12. Looks like a Christmas tree to me!?

  13. Looks like the Feathered Christmas Tree Wall hanging design.

  14. Looks like your new Christmas tree pattern. Thanks for posting this to your blog.

  15. Every since you mentioned the Pellon Shape Flex, I use it on everything I embroider or machine applique….really makes a big difference in the outcome.
    I’m guessing your design has something to do with Heather Feather and Christmas…those shades of green are not your usual vibrant colors.

  16. I have used Terial Magic (which is like a heavy spray starch). For kitchen towels you would’t need any other stabilizer. It will wash out like Best Press. Support your local quilt/sewing machine shop and buy it there.

  17. I am thinking a large Christmas wreath with other accompanying blocks to make a quilt? Am I right?

  18. Thanks heaps Sarah for the info. My guess is a Christmas wreath. I. Have all most finished a wine bottle tote. Once finished I will post a picture in face book for you to see. Cheers for all you inspiring designs and tips on how to do great machine appliqué. I am loving it.

  19. I agree with many of the others that you’re working with the Feathered Christmas Tree design set — different applique fabric, of course. I wish you’d made this set about 3 yrs ago, when I promised to make an “all-seasons” tree (topped by a blue bird) for my husband’s oncology surgeon (the nurses all saw I was making one by hand). I had the pattern for the Christmas tree, the Accuquilt dies & both “Jazzilicious” & “Heather Feather” designs. I printed templates (on transparencies) of all designs in both set, made samples to follow the stitching order & isolated the components I needed to fit each die. LOTS of work! If you’d like to see photos of the finished tree, I will gladly send it to you.

  20. Thank you! I love embroidery in the hoop and yours is always beautiful! Your helpful tips are always welcomed!

  21. I agree with others that this is going to be either a Christmas tree or wreath.

  22. Frieda Grischkowsky

    Pretty sure it’s the “Feathered Christmas” collection, but maybe instead of the Christmas Tree, you turned this into a wreath?

  23. Ask a busy lady when you need to know something, and Sarah is a very busy lady — thank you so much for taking your time to think of helping us–Very helpful! I, too, would take a guess a Christmas tree or wreath. A big surprise?

  24. Hi i embroider in dupioni silk a lot and dont like to use tear away or iron on stabliser as you can see it on back of the chirstening dresses, and its mostly names i do so .. Pucker always a problem and have played around with a few things..wash away also no good as leaves water marks on silk..
    Any advice or tips would be apreciated

  25. I am brand new at embroidery, my Bernina 770QE is on back order so dont even have it yet. I am trying to gather as much info before it arrives so i am ready to stitch. I will print this and file it away with my Embroidery Tips and Tricks. Am excited to see what is in store for me. Where do you purchase your stabilizers?

  26. Looks like the beginning of next spring! Thanks for the tips. I’ve used the iron on pellon for just over a year now but will dump the goo and baste. I look forward to your entries. Thanks again.

  27. Sarah,
    It is the Feathered Christmas Tree.

  28. Sarah: What is Pellon Shape Flex for use with our embroideries? I just saw mention of it in a comment. I know you mentioned it before it an email or podcast, but I don’t recall what this product is? Can you give me a little reminder? Thanks so much.

  29. OK, I just saw it mentioned in the above article. So sorry.

  30. Thank you for the tips.

  31. Definitely looks like a piece of a Christmas tree.

  32. Should fabrics be prewashed prior to embroidering anything, especially if there is density in the design?

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