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.
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.
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!