If you’ve done some hand embroidery on hoops, you may be looking for a way to expand your new hobby. Or perhaps you’re into upcycling your clothing and are looking for fresh inspiration. 

Either way, there’s nothing quite like wearing your own art and showing it off to the world. So, why not learn how to embroider a sweatshirt? You’ll breathe new life into an old garment while practicing your stitching skills. Read on for step-by-step instructions and inspiration for your own designs. 

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How to Embroider a Sweatshirt

Whether you have zero experience or know your way around floss and a hoop, you can absolutely embroider a sweatshirt. That said, it’s always a good idea to practice some beginner and intermediate embroidery skills first before you put them to work on a wearable item.

One thing to keep in mind when embroidering a sweatshirt is that sweatshirts are usually made from stretch jersey knit fabric. Traditional embroidery, on the other hand, is done on non-stretch woven fabric, which is clamped in place with an embroidery hoop before stitching. While you can use an embroidery hoop for embroidering a sweatshirt, it’s important not to over-stretch it. The fabric may not bounce back to its original, pre-stretched condition, plus your embroidery won’t sit well on the fabric. If you do use a hoop, don’t pull the fabric too taut, and remove it as soon as you’ve finished stitching.

Step 1: Gather Your Supplies

embrodiery materials
Some supplies you’ll need to hand embroider a sweatshirt.

To hand embroider a sweatshirt, you’ll need:

  • A sweatshirt
  • A design to follow (or inspiration in your mind!)
  • Embroidery floss
  • Embroidery needles
  • Scissors
  • A fabric pencil or air-erasing pen
  • Tracing paper and regular pencil (optional)
  • An embroidery hoop 
  • Beads/sequins (optional)

Step 2: Sketch the Design onto the Sweatshirt

sketching on sweatshirt
Sketching the design onto the sweatshirt.

Unless you’re going completely freestyle, it’s a good idea to sketch your design onto the sweatshirt first. Freehand drawing with a fabric pencil or air-erasing pen will be suitable for many designs, but if you’re aiming for something particularly complex, you might want to use the tracing paper method. 

To do this, trace the design onto tracing paper with a regular pencil. Turn the tracing paper upside down onto the sweatshirt, with the pencil marks facing the fabric. Rub over the top of the traced lines with pencil so that the traced design transfers lightly onto the fabric. This should give you enough of a guide to go over again directly onto the fabric with a fabric pencil or air-erasing pen.

Step 3: Anchor the Sweatshirt Inside an Embroidery Hoop

put embroidery hoop around design
Line the design up inside a hoop.

Next, attach the fabric inside the two layers of an embroidery hoop, being careful not to over-stretch it. The fabric should be able to stretch within the hoop still. Line up the design so you can stitch it easily. If the design is too big to fit inside the hoop, that’s OK—just move the hoop along when you’ve finished an area. 

Step 4: Begin Stitching

embrodering
Embroider your sweatshirt. 

It’s time to start stitching! Pick your colors, thread floss in one color onto your needle, and get going. There really are no rules here. Your embroidery can be as simple or as elaborate as you’d like to suit your design and your embroidery skill set. If you want to experiment beyond the basic stitches, check out this guide to 19 indispensable embroidery stitches

Step 5: Hand Wash Before Wearing

Your sweatshirt might have a few pencil marks on it from when you sketched the design onto the fabric. After you’ve finished stitching, hand wash it gently to remove any marks as well as any fluff or stray pieces of floss. Once it’s dry, it’s ready to wear!

Sweatshirt Embroidery Ideas

Need a bit of inspiration before you get stitching? Take a look at these cool embroidered sweatshirt ideas to get your creative juices flowing. You can take ideas from other embroidery projects and apply them to a sweatshirt, as long as you remember that sweatshirts are usually stretchy and accommodate for that.

Small Animal Detail

embroidered deer
A woodland deer by Skillshare student Daisy Leigh-Phippard.

Imagine how cute this little fawn would look embroidered on the front of a sweatshirt! You can learn to embroider even more animals in Skillshare instructor Floor Giebels’ class Stitching Woodland Creatures 101.

Knotty Blossoms

flower tree embroidery
A tree of blossoms by Skillshare student Mónica Pérez.

French knots are an important skill for intermediate embroiderers to master, and they look great when used for flowers and blossoms. Try embroidering a delicate branch of blossoms to your sweatshirt, perhaps up one sleeve.

The Moon

starry night moon embroidery
An abstract moon by Skillshare student Michelle Donaldson.

Whether you like the idea of a simple silver crescent or a more colorful, creative moon, this design would look great on the front on the back of a sweatshirt. You could even pair it with some stars or the sun.

Inspirational Quote

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A hand-lettered quote by Skillshare student Aréte Myburgh.

Finding a quote that’s meaningful to you and embroidering it onto your sweatshirt is so much more personal than simply buying an item with some random words printed on it.

Edgy Skull

skull embroidery
Paint with thread, like Skillshare student Aurora Pedro did with this skull.

If your style is more edgy than cute, consider embroidering a skull onto your sweatshirt. You could go monochrome or more colorful, like in this example.

Outlines

embrodiery
An abstract woman by Skillshare student Marija Srebro.

Not all embroidered sweatshirt ideas have to be time-consuming. Stitching only the outlines of a subject is quick—and surprisingly striking.

Abstract Patterns

pattern embroidery
This colorful, abstract design was done freehand by Skillshare student Maggie Naughton.

Prefer abstract patterns and shapes? Learn a variety of different techniques you can use in freestyle embroidery in Emiko May’s Skillshare class, Freehand Embroidery Hoop Art—and then let your creativity fly. 

Sweatshirt Embroidery Designs

While any of the above ideas would work on a sweatshirt, here are some finished embroidered sweatshirt designs so you can see how everything comes together in a finished project.

Flowers

flower embrodiery
Flowers are a perfect choice for embroidery on stretchy sweatshirt fabric.

Customize a simple flower design by changing the colors to suit your preferences.

Personalized Sweater

name embroidery
Source: instagram
Personalized sweaters, like this one from @aydaoliviahandmade, make great gifts.

Personalize a simple sweater with a name or other message for the wearer.

Outline Only

lady embroidery
Source: instagram
A striking outline image, via @delicateminature.

You can go big or small with a simple outline design.

Just the Cuff

cuff detail embroidery
Source: instagram
Small, simple embroidery on the cuff, via @bethcole.embroidery.

If you don’t want to go big with your embroidered sweatshirt, a small, simple logo or monogram by the cuff, collar, or hem works just as well.

Cute Characters

dino skateboarding embroidery
Source: instagram
Think cute and quirky, like this dinosaur by @rikamostore.

Opt for a cute and quirky dinosaur or other character or animal that reflects your personality and style.

Band of Trees

palm tree embroidery
Source: instagram
Simple trees across the chest via @dios_mediante.

Taking a simple motif (like the black tree outlines above) and repeating them across the chest of the sweatshirt makes things easy—and attractive.

Go Big

tiger design embroidery
Source: instagram
Create a design covering the whole front of a sweatshirt, like this tiger by @hyoo_man_projects.

Be ambitious and plan a large design that covers the whole front of your sweatshirt.

Wear Your Art

embroidery materials
Put your creativity on display.

Embroidering a sweatshirt is a fantastic way to upcycle your clothing and express yourself through what you wear. You can keep your embroidered sweatshirt designs simple, or you can combine this art form with other upcycling and fabric crafting methods. Applique, patchwork, fabric painting, tie-dye, and weaving can be combined with embroidery to create truly unique, head-turning custom clothing. Experiment and have fun!

Take Your Embroidery to New Heights

Intermediate Embroidery: Explore Collage, Portraits & Embellishments

Written by:

Elen Turner