Everything You Need to Know About 3-D Embroidery

Santa's Workshop by Shelly Smola

What fun it is to be able to make a sturdy (yes, really!), three-dimensional cottages, castles, bridges, privies – well, the list goes on – with your embroidery machine! You’ll be surprised at how easy it is to make these treasures. Keep reading to find tips, tricks, and everything else you need to know to use your embroidery machine to build 3D castles, fairy cottages, outhouses, and more!

You Will Need…

FABRIC – You will need 2 pieces of fabric for each section—one for the front, and one for the back.  The fabric for the back will show inside your project – like in the photo of the Thyme to Sprout garden caddy above.  In the castles and cottages, this fabric will be the “wallpaper.” By the way – you don’t need to use the highest quality fabric for the dollhouses, castles, or cottages.   Sometimes it’s nice to just find an inexpensive solid for your projects, and let the embroidery shine. 

BATTING – For each section, you will need a piece of Quilter’s Batting (batting that comes in a sheet) that you can cut to size.  I like to use inexpensive batting like this kind. The batting will give the pieces texture and trap the dissolved stabilizer to make them nice and stiff.

PELLON – You also need one piece of Craft Fuse 808 Pellon for each section, which will help make each section rigid.  Fuse the Pellon to the fabric that will go on the back of your hoop (or inside your project). I like to buy it by the bolt here.

Princess Privy by Shelly Smola

THE PERFECT SNIPS – I strongly recommend these snips!  They have a serrated edge, they cut fabric all the way to the tip, they’re easy to pick up and use, and they’re nice on hands with join pain because they’re easy to squeeze – no little holes to have to stick your fingers through! 😜

EMPTY BOBBINS – The backs of your panels should look as pretty as possible.  For each thread color, you will need to use matching embroidery thread in the bobbin, so have lots of empty bobbins on had.  If you use metallic thread, you can use embroidery thread that closely matches in the bobbin. 

SEAM RIPPER or X-ACTO BLADE and TWEEZERS – You’ll need a sharp tool to open all of the tab slots, and a pair of tweezers will come in handy when trimming thread tails.  Even if your machine cuts threads for you, you’ll still have thread tails on the back that you’ll need to trim away.

EMBROIDERY DESIGNS – Click here to find loads of 3D goodies to make!

Santa's Sleigh by Shelly Smola

In the Beginning…

Use the SMALLEST HOOP – Always try to use the smallest hoop that will fit the embroidery design.  You can combine designs and place them in a larger hoop, but this can lead to loose stabilizer, outlines that don’t match up, etc.

USE WASH AWAY MESH STABILIZER -If it looks like saran wrap, it’s the wrong kind!  If you’ve ever bought stabilizer for freestanding lace or for an heirloom project that didn’t wash away as well as you’d like, pull it out and use it for any of my 3-D buildings! You can find my favorite wash away stabilizer for 3D projects here.

PREPARE YOUR FABRIC – Make sure to pre-shrink and iron your fabric before you begin.  This is a must before starting any project. 

USE THE RIGHT NEEDLE – Use a size 80 or 90 SHARP embroidery needle.  Size 70 needles will break, and anything larger than a 90 will perforate the stabilizer. I almost always use a size 80 needle for all of my embroidery, unless I’m working on special fabric.  If you use Organ needles, you can find them here.

Hoop Etiquette…

Hoop your stabilizer so that it is taut—no need to stretch it, but it shouldn’t have any wrinkles or saggy spots (can I rehoop my own skin so I can get rid of wrinkles and saggy spots?!)

Tighten your hoop screw!  We don’t want any loose screws!  🙂  The inner ring can come loose if you forget to tighten your screw, and there’s nothing more frustrating than accidentally unhooping your design before it’s finished.

Hold the hoop by the hoop!  When you hold the hoop so that your fingers are touching the stabilizer, it will loosen the stabilizer and make it impossible to get a nice, clean stitchout.

Take your hoop out of your machine and place it on a hard, flat surface whenever you need to add or trim fabric. 

Ready – Set – Go!

Once your stabilizer is hooped perfectly, embroider the placement line.  I call it a placement line, as it shows you where you need to place the fabric! Make sure you’ve already loaded matching bobbin thread – I can’t tell you how many times I’ve just used whatever is in my bobbin to stitch the placement line, then forgot to switch it out for the finish stitch. Check the front and back of the hoop, and make sure the stitching is nice and clean. Loose stitches will result in a sloppy design, so adjust your tension if necessary to make sure you have nice, tight stitches before embroidering the next step.

Place the fabric fused with Pellon on the back of the hoop.  Make sure the Pellon is against the stabilizer so that you will see the pretty fabric when the panel is finished.

Place the batting over the line on the front of the hoop, then place the fabric over the batting.  Make sure that all of the pieces cover that placement line completely! I usually don’t take the hoop all the way out of the machine to do this.  I like to just slide the fabric for the back under the hoop, the put the hoop back in the machine. Before you embroider the next color, check one more time to make sure the outline is covered.

GENTLY hold the fabric and batting in place as you embroider the cutting line (this line shows you where to cut the fabric later).  You don’t want tucks or wrinkles in your fabric.  Please do this SO GENTLY – you don’t want to bump your hoop or impede it’s movement in any way.  And you DON’T want to sew your finger, which I’ve done when I’m not paying attention.  If you need to, slow your motor speed down for this step.  If you have a machine that lets you use the foot control with your embroidery module, use it!  My old Bernina will let me do this.

Next you’ll grab your snips and trim the fabric and batting around the embroidered line on the front of the hoop as close as you can without cutting the stitches.  These snips have no problem cutting through the batting and fabric, but try to get all the layers of batting “fluff”.  It’s hard to see those white fibers against the stabilizer, especially as I get older, and my eyes get worse!  If you do end up with batting fibers sticking out of your final design, trim what you can, then grab a sharpie that matches your fabric, and color in the rest! 

Now you’ll embroider the stippling or finish or whatever step is next in the design – follow the color chart included in your download.


If your needle breaks, it could be that you are using an old needle, the needle could have been bad to start with, or your thread might have been caught up on something.  Just insert a new needle and re-thread.  Check the bobbin case to make sure there’s no broken needle bits in there, and reset the bobbin.  Restart your machine.  Go back about 10-20 stitches, and continue embroidering.

If your thread frays, shears, or breaks, you might be using old thread or a dull needle.   Insert a new needle and re-thread.  Reset the bobbin, and restart your machine.  Go back about 10-20 stitches, and continue embroidering.

If your needle is stitching where it shouldn’t be, you’ve most likely bumped your hoop (it’s so easy to do this without even knowing it).  Just restart your machine and let it recalibrate!

Clean the lint out from under your bobbin plate often!  I sometimes forget, then wonder why my machine isn’t snitching as pretty, or why isn’t it cutting threads properly, or why isn’t the bobbin thread feeding correctly… That pesky lint can cause all sorts of problems like misalignment, frayed threads, bobbin thread showing on the top of your hoop, etc.


The windows really make the make the buildings shine, and they are very simple!

After you’ve embroidered the cutting line for the window, you’ll need to take your hoop out and place it on a flat surface (your lap is not a flat surface😛) Use the nifty nips to poke a little hole in the top fabric to get started. Once you get the cut started, and as you make a little more room, you can lift the batting to see where the stabilizer is.  Cut all the fabric and batting as close as you can to the stitching.  You do not want to cut the stabilizer!

Turn the hoop over and trim the fabric and Pellon out of the window.  I use the tip of my sips to make a little hole, then I check to make sure I haven’t cut the stabilizer, too. If you accidentally cut the stabilizer (which happens to me more times than I’d like to admit), just take a scrap of wash away and place it over the cut.  I just trim off a corner of the hooped stabilizer, or pull some out of the garbage can! Place the scrap over the cut on the back of the hoop, and continue embroidering the window. If the cut is really big, use a piece of stabilizer large enough to cover the whole window, embroider the outline again to hold the stabilizer in place, and continue.

After all the embroidery done, turn your hoop over, and trim all those thread tails!  Your tweezers will come in handy here.  I like to do this while the design is still hooped – it’s just easier for me. Trim most of the stabilizer away.  You do not need to trim close!!  I’ve accidentally run my rotary blade over a design and ruined it – eeps! Use a seam ripper or X-Acto blade to open any tab slots.  It’s much easier to do this while the fabric is still soft and pliable.  Rinse the panel under warm water just long enough for the stabilizer to dissolve.  You don’t want to get rid of all of the stabilizer.  You want the stabilizer in the batting so the piece will dry rigid.

The Icing on the Castle – er Cake

And my favorite – the icing!  This is all the little trim like the icicles, shutters, railings, etc.  This is so easy to make – you’ll love it!

Just hoop two layers of wash away stabilizer. Make sure you have a plenty of thread and a full bobbin of matching thread. For a clean stitchout, pull the bobbin thread up at the beginning of the design.  Do this by holding the top thread, lower the needle for one stitch, use the top thread to pull the bobbin thread to the top, and stitch the first 10 or so stitches.  Trim the top and bobbin threads, and continue sewing. If your thread breaks, go back about 10 – 20 stitches, pull the bobbin thread to the top, and continue stitching. Trim all of the thread tails on the back of the hoop. Rinse out the stabilizer (make sure none of the little pieces go down the drain), and lay them flat to dry. Quick tip – after you rinse these sections in your sink, let the hot water run for a minute to clear the plumbing of all that sticky stabilizer.


Finally! It’s time to assemble all those pieces! Take a look!


  1. Shelly Smola Avatar
    Shelly Smola

    Looks so fun

  2. hawkins.rachelle Avatar

    Woohoo! 😀

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