How to Prevent Puckering on Machine Embroidery

Puckering is something you definitely want to avoid in machine embroidery – and it’s very easy to do when you know how! So how do you prevent puckering on machine embroidery?

I got to thinking about this after reading the following question posted in a Machine Embroidery group on Facebook:

“Help! Why did this pucker so badly? ITH bag. Polymesh stabilizer. Light weight batting”

Pucker questionLet’s break this down:

  • She’s making an in-the-hoop bag.
  • She has polymesh stabilizer in the hoop.
  • She has a layer of light weight batting under the fabric.
  • She has a TON of puckering going on.

Some of the comments include:

  • Was it hooped tight enough?
  • Probably need heavy starch or Terial Magic.
  • Did you pre-shrink the polymesh?
  • Try it again with a heavier stabilizer – maybe a medium weight tearaway.

Making sure that your stabilizer is taut – but not stretched – in the hoop will help.

Using “heavy starch” or Terial Magic is a bit of overkill for this kind of project, although a gentle spritz of Best Press would help, especially if the fabric is very light weight.

As for pre-shrinking the polymesh – I don’t use a lot of polymesh, but a quick Google search reveals that it can shrink if you press it with a hot iron. That said, putting it in the hoop and stitching on it shouldn’t make it shrink!

Using a heavier stabilizer in the hoop will help – but for the amount of stitching in this design, with the polymesh and batting, she has plenty of stabilizer.

A simple trick to prevent puckering on machine embroidery

There is a simple trick to prevent puckering on machine embroidery: make sure the background fabric is basted to the stabilizer in the hoop – especially if you are floating the background fabric.

If you’re familiar with my designs (whether Sarah Vedeler Designs or Meaning of Life Designs), you’ll know that I only hoop stabilizer, and I “float” the background fabric on the stabilizer. I also include a basting line to firmly attach the background fabric to the stabilizer, so there should be no chance for those ugly puckers to appear.

But what if the design you’re stitching doesn’t include a basting line?

How to create a basting line design so that you can prevent puckers on machine embroidery

If you own embroidery digitizing software

  1. Create a new design.
  2. Create an outline square, 4″ x 4″ or 100mm x 100mm.
  3. Set the stitch length to 5mm.
  4. Save the design in the format used by your embroidery machine.

If you don’t own embroidery digitizing software

I have you covered!

Enter your name and email address below and I’ll send you a design that you can use. My gift to you so that you can always stitch out beautiful machine embroidery designs.

How to use the basting line design

Any time you want to stitch an embroidery design that doesn’t have a built in basting line:

  1. Load the basting line design into your machine. You want it to stitch AFTER you have put your background fabric in place, so you may need to skip over it when you start to stitch a design and go back to it when you’re ready.
  2. Load the embroidery design you want to stitch.
  3. Resize the basting line design so that it is slightly bigger than the embroidery design you want to stitch.
  4. Load some stabilizer into your hoop so that it is taut – but not stretched.
  5. When the design requires it, place the background fabric onto the stabilizer. You can hold it in place with some pins or some Scotch® Magic™ Tape – but this isn’t enough to hold it securely when you’re stitching.
  6. Stitch the basting line. This IS enough to hold your background fabric securely in place and will prevent all those nasty puckers that can appear when doing machine embroidery.

The basting line in action

To show you how powerful a basting line is to prevent puckering on machine embroidery, the photo below has “with basting line” on the right and “without basting line” on the left.

Puckering and no puckering

This is a new design I’m working on, so sorry about the big white space! You don’t get to see the whole thing right now 🙂

The photo on the left shows the first time I stitched the design – and I had forgotten to include a basting line in the design. I had used Scotch® Magic™ Tape to hold the background fabric onto the stabilizer in the hoop. Candlewicking is especially prone to puckering. Not only did the background fabric get all puckered, the candlewicking stitches were distorted too.

The photo on the right shows the exact same design stitched again – this time using a basting line around the design. As you can see, not a single pucker in sight and the candlewicking stitches are perfectly formed.

So… if you don’t have any embroidery software to create a basting line, enter your name and email address above and I’ll send you a “basting box” design.


  1. Christine Chamberlain

    You’re the best!

  2. Thank you for the basting line. That is very kind of you.

  3. Not only is Sarah a fabulous digitizer, she is a wonderful teacher. If you have not signed up for her ‘Let There Be Love’ class, you are missing out! She does not hold back information and does not edit any issue she has when teaching. Those issues and the fixes, are a great benefit! Her method start to finish can be use in or for any design.
    I luv her designs and teaching.

  4. Thanks for the great tip, I think most machines also have shapes that can be used to do this in a pinch, the stitching is usually tighter. Also there is no reason you can’t sew down your fabric while it is in the hoop before you start.

  5. Thank you so much Sarah for posting this information – it saddens me that this information is not given to embroiderers when they purchase these very expensive machines. You are always so generous and helpful with your tips. Thank you.

  6. Thanks Sarah for sending the basting line design. A lot of my embroidery designs have the basting line. Never knew that was the reason for it. Glad you shared this information. Ethel

  7. Thank you now if I only knew the conversions for the 5×7 hoop and 6×10 hoops to mm

  8. Thanks, Sarah for a very useful tutorial.

  9. I have a 16 yr old Baby Lock sewing/embroidery machine (top-of-the-line at the time). When I got it, a built-in basting box was not one of the features available. I quickly learned to use one of the built-in frames (straight stitch) as a basting box. I could size it up or down to fit the design. While I had software, it was easier and faster to do it this way. My newer Baby Lock has a button that will put a basting stitch around the design. Thanks for the info.

  10. Thank you, Sarah!

  11. Thank you! Thank you!

  12. Sarah, thanks so much for being willing to help us out with this puckering issue. I do have several of your designs but never understood why the basting box was so important. Thanks again. MARY BOSWORTH

  13. My Baby Lock Destiny has a built-in basting stitch that fits any size design I use. But, having said that, thank you Sarah for sharing your program for those whose machines don’t have that capability. The basting stitch truly does prevent puckers.


    Thank you!

  15. Thank you so much!

  16. Very helpful. Thank you!

  17. My machine has a “Fix” button, which puts a basting stitch aound my embroidery design. I always use it when the design doesn’t have basting. Never have ro worry about that with Sarah’s designs!

  18. Thanks Sarah. This will be a big help.

  19. Thanks for the info. I am not a beginner but do learn something new all the time.

  20. Sarah, thanks so much for the article & basting design! You are so generous! I’m sure it’ll be invaluable to machine embroidered, whether new or experienced.

  21. I have a 6 needle Brother, and a single needle Brother and both machines have some kind of a basting stitch to use. The single needle has frames that can be use to baste. I just lessen the tension and baste fabric to stabilizer. Thanks anyway for your kind offer of a basting box.

  22. And I know, for instance, on my Pfaff that there is a basting button that I hit that is independent of ANY design.

  23. Sarah, I think this is really fantastic that you are offering this to people to help them with this problem. I, too, saw that same post on FaceBook and it is not uncommon to see this type of picture and post. No one seems to be giving out the correct info as to how to stop this problem. Thank you again for helping the embroidery community!!

  24. Thank you. Great information especially fo new embroiderers

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