Placement for Machine Embroidery

Spending time testing embroidery designs and selecting the appropriate threads and stabilizer is all for naught if the embroidery is positioned incorrectly. Keep in mind that embroidery should be stitched in a flattering location on a garment and each unit of a home décor set should match the other units. This sounds easier than it is! But don’t fret—there are industry standards and handy tools to help you achieve professional placement.

Design Templates

Templates tell you many things: the actual size of the embroidery, the center of the design, and the orientation of the design. A template provides a visual image of the finished design before you take a stitch.

Seeing the actual size of the embroidery design is helpful when planning embroidery. Often you’ll need to know where one design ends and the other begins when connecting two or more embroidery designs.

A design template that can be used for placement.

The center of the design is where the needle will be positioned when the design is selected on the embroidery machine. If your template is not centered on the hooped fabric, you can move the hoop to position the needle over the center of the template. A template is a helpful tool for navigating in the hoop.

Knowing the orientation of the design is crucial when planning and stitching embroidery. The orientation of the design is the part of the design that will stitch at the top of the hoop. We often take this for granted, especially in lettering. For instance, we can be confident that the letter M will stitch in a portrait orientation and always be the proper finished monogram for Mary and not Wilma. In many other designs, though, the orientation is not what’s normally expected. In order to fit a large design in a 5" x 7" hoop, the design may be rotated and saved in a landscape orientation. If you didn’t use a template to plan the embroidery layout, there’s a good chance the design would stitch in an unintended direction.

Print Your Templates

You can print a template in any embroidery editing software. Using an adhesive backed template is an easy way to audition your embroidery before ever making a stitch. Print & Stick Target Paper is perfect for this job. Just place the adhesive backed paper into your printer and print. You can peel and stick it where ever you like.

A printed design template that can be used for placement.


Now that you have the printed template, it’s time to plan the embroidery project. Use the template to audition the design on the item before taking a stitch. This ensures professional results on every embroidery project. When stitching on garments, you want the embroidery to be visible, not obstruct movement, and to flatter the person wearing it.

The standard industry guideline for embroidery placement on left chest embroidery on a polo, T-shirt, or sweatshirt is approximately 6" from the shoulder and 4" from the center front. Common center chest embroidery placement is approximately 3" down from the neckline. Of course you don’t have to limit yourself to those areas; consider hemlines, plackets, collar points, pockets, yokes, and jacket backs, too.

Stick the Print & Stick Template to mark your desired placement.

Place the template on the item or garment and if it is a garment, try it on. Stand in front of a mirror to critique the placement. Make adjustments now, Print & Stick Target Paper templates are repositionable and remain tacky for multiple uses. 

Hoop your item with the template in place. Keep it in position until the item is hooped and attached to the machine. Once your needle is centered in the template simply remove it. 

Home décor items, or blanks, are usually stitched in duplicate–think towels, napkins, pillowcases, and the like. Your goal on these projects is to get each member of the set to match. This is a bit more complicated than it sounds, but I’ll share some tricks to success.

The industry standard for single design placement (3½" tall) on bath towels is centered 3¼" above the border; on hand towels, the design placement (design should be 2" tall) is centered 3" above the border. A design in a napkin corner should be placed 3" from the corner.

The above industry standards are general guidelines and should be used as starting points for placing embroidery. Always take the size of the embroidery design into consideration for every project. In addition to embroidery design templates, there are several other helpful positioning aids available to embroiderers. They make duplicating items in a ready-made set a breeze.

Positioning Aids

Often, embroidery placement needs to be done without the presence of the person who will be wearing it. In this case, use a positioning aid such as Embroiderer’s Helper. Fold the shirt, for example a polo shirt, in half and place it on a flat surface. Place the straight edge of the Embroiderer’s Helper on the fold and the notch at the button. Slide a target sticker under the Embroiderer’s Helper at the appropriate size notch. Repeat for the bottom notch. Remove the Embroiderer’s Helper. The top target sticker is the location of the embroidery design and the bottom target sticker will be helpful for squaring the shirt in the hoop.

A centering ruler is very helpful for placement of an embroidery design on a napkin corner. Use it to mark the spot for a whole set of napkins. Make sure the ruler is placed on the napkin in an identical fashion for the entire set. Place the 3" mark on the napkin corner and the 3" mark on each arm at the side edge or top-stitched hem. Place a target sticker in the hole with the arrow pointing into the body of the napkin. Repeat for all of the napkins in the set.

Use the Embroiderer’s Helper as a positioning aid for embroidering on shirts.

A speedier positioning aid for napkins can be found in the Perfect Placement Kit. The Perfect Placement Kit includes 15 templates with industry standard placement guides. The Napkin-on-Point template eliminates all measuring. See the steps below for how it works.

Towels are the number one blank embroiderers like to decorate. Towels make perfect gifts–for kids, newlyweds, cooks, golfers, athletes, homebodies–you name it, everyone uses towels. The problem with towels is getting the whole set to match. It’s challenging to get each design in the same location on six or eight different towels, but it is doable. Here’s the industry’s secret to success: Mark all the towels at the same time, in the same spot. You can measure with a ruler or use a positioning aid such as the Perfect Placement Kit.

A centering ruler may be used to position the design on a napkin.

Using the Napkin-on-Point Template

1. Position the corner mark of the Napkin-on-Point template on the hem of the napkin.

2. Place a target sticker in the hole with the arrow facing toward the body of the napkin. Remove the template and repeat for the entire set of napkins. Now you’re ready to stitch.

Using Hand Towel with Border Template

1. Fold the towel in half and place a pin in the border to mark the center.

2. Open the towel on a flat surface. Place the Hand Towel with Border template on the towel, matching the horizontal line with the top of the border and the vertical line with the marked center.

3. Position a target sticker in the hole with the arrow pointing into the body of the towel.

Remove the template. Repeat for all of the hand towels. Use the Bath Towel with Border template for the bath towels. Now that the placement is marked, you are ready to stitch each towel whenever you get a chance.

Stitched Placement Guides

Some embroidery designs include a placement guide as the first color in a design. The guide is a running stitch outline of an item, such as a collar point, corner of a rectangle or square, pocket top, or pant leg hem. The placement guide is normally stitched on tear-away stabilizer first, and the item is aligned with the placement guide. Temporary spray adhesive or sticky stabilizer holds the item in place during the embroidery process. The placement guide is torn away after the item is removed from the stabilizer. Nancy Zieman and I used this technique in Designer Handbags and Designer Necklines.

Placement guides are helpful for placing embroidery close to a fabric edge. They are not appropriate for embroidery that is centered in large expanses of fabric, such as the center of a pillow sham, towel, or jacket back.

If an embroidery design does not include a placement guide, you can add your own with most of the embroidery software available today.

Stitched placement guides are available with some designs, or you can make your own guide.


Now that you’ve planned your embroidery project for one design, let’s take a look at multi-hooping, which is adding more designs to the overall layout.

First, print the templates of the designs. You must see the designs in actual size on the fabric before you stitch the designs to make continuous embroidery seamless! Place vellum in your printer and print templates of each design you intend to use.

Audition the templates on the fabric, connecting the designs as desired. Don’t focus on the center of the designs; look at where one design ends and the other begins. When creating continuous lines of text, connect the text on a continuous baseline. In Season’s Greetings, you have two ascenders (S and G) and one descender (the lower case g). This is why you can’t use the center of the designs as an alignment guide.

Once you have the designs connected with tape or linked, slide target stickers under each template.

Write the design name on the target stickers (and write MI if mirror imaging of any design is required). Keep the templates handy, as you’ll need them again to confirm placement.

With text, ascenders and descenders prevent the embroiderer from using the center of the design as an alignment guide.

Connect the templates to create a continuous line of text.

Target stickers mark the center of each of the three designs.