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Troubleshooting how to embroider shoes was an interesting experience. It took some ingenuity to figure out how to lay the tongue flat and a few mistakes that ended up with a broken needle and error code on my embroidery machine. But, the end result was so worth it!
Because, well, I really wanted eyeglasses on the tongues of a blue pair of shoes in my closet. Even though I’m a very infrequent eye doctor now, I still love all things eyeglasses, and I was in an experimenting mood.
Let me show you how to embroider shoes if you’re looking to add a little personality to your wardrobe!
What kinds of shoes can you embroider? What locations?
If you’re hand embroidering, you have more choice in the type of shoes you can embroider as well as the part of the shoe that can be embroidered. Even with multi-needle embroidery machines, you’ll have more options than you will with a single-needle embroidery machine.
With a single-needle home embroidery machine, you have to remember that anything you embroider has to be hooped flat on the base of your machine, and you need to keep any bulky parts of the shoe away from the machine head and needle clamp. Thus, you’ll only be able to embroider the tongue of the shoe.
Converse shoes usually have a longer tongue and thus will be easier to embroider. (Especially the Converse high tops!) However, the shoes in my closet that I wanted to embroider were Vans, so that’s what I used! It just took a little bit more fancy maneuvering to accommodate the shorter tongue.
There are a few other limitations also. The shoes need to be lace-up to allow you to pull the tongue out far. I also tried to fit several of my daughters’ shoes into my hoop under my machine, and I had no luck. So, you might have difficulty embroidering on kids’ shoes or small adult shoes. My husband’s big, practically monster-sized shoes were no problem, though!
Shoe Embroidery Supplies
Here’s what I used to embroider on my shoes. There’s some flexibility here, of course, but this combination of supplies worked well for me!
- Embroidery machine (I used my Brother SE1900) and hoop
- Sticky, self-adhesive tear-away stabilizer
- Thread: 100% polyester embroidery machine thread
- Needle: I had no issues using a 75/11 embroidery needle, but you may need to size up if your shoes are very thick.
- Marking supplies: I used a chalk wheel.
- Small scissors
- Painter’s tape
- Embroidery design (see my list of free embroidery designs if you need inspiration!)
A Note About Stabilizer for Shoes
Because shoes are difficult to hoop and may slip around while embroidering, the shoes must be floated in a very secure, stable manner. To do this, I used a self-adhesive stabilizer and also secured the tongue with painter’s tape. I tried with temporary fabric adhesive spray on regular stabilizer, but this did not give enough stability.
If you’re going to embroider a very dense design on a thin, unstable shoe tongue, you may need to switch to a sticky cut-away stabilizer for best results.
How to Machine Embroider a Shoe: Step-By-Step
1. Preparing the Shoe for Embroidery
It’s impossible to embroider on a shoe with the laces still in. So, you’ll need to remove the laces and pull the tongue of the shoe out as far as you can get it. Before you waste time setting up the next steps, do a practice run to see if the tongue is long enough to get underneath the presser foot but still clear the head of the machine and needle clamp screw.
Then, mark where on the shoe you want the center of your design. You can print out a template from embroidery software to help guide location, or you can eyeball it! I used a chalk wheel to mark the center of my design, but you could also use a water-soluble fabric pen instead. The chalk was faint but wiped away easily after the embroidery process.
2. How to Hoop a Shoe for Embroidery
First, hoop a piece of sticky, self-adhesive tear-away stabilizer. Make sure the shiny, sticker side of the stabilizer is facing up and the paper side is facing down.
Run the tip of a sharp pin around the edge of the stabilizer to score the adhesive backing. Then, peel away the backing. Mark the center of the stabilizer with a pencil. This will help with floating the shoe.
Next, float the shoe over the stabilizer. Place the center of the marked shoe on the center of the marked stabilizer. The inside of the shoe will be adhered to the stabilizer, while the outer part of the shoe will be facing up. Since I wanted no chance of movement with my shoe, I also added painter’s tape around the sides of the shoe tongue to make sure it would stay still during the embroidery process.
3. Setting Up the Machine
First, place the hoop in the machine, making sure you don’t hit the base of your shoe with the machine. Here’s me trying to maneuver things correctly. I also had to tape the lace part of the shoe away from the embroidery area so it didn’t cause any mayhem.
Next, load your design, and center it. This means the needle will be centered on the top of the center marking on the shoe.
Because I wanted to avoid all possible issues, I also set the embroidery stitching speed to a minimum so I could babysit my shoes. Then, I previewed the design. This moves the hoop around to show me the borders where the design will be stitched. This is important to check to make sure the base of the shoe will not run into the needle clamp or machine head! I had to readjust a bit to get a fully-cleared embroidery area.
Then, press start, and watch your machine go! Keep an eye on it the whole time, making sure the base of the shoe NEVER gets underneath the needle clamp or close enough to hit the head of the machine. This leads to bad news bears!
4. Finishing Up
Remove the hooped shoe from the embroidery machine. Release the stabilizer from the hoop, and gently tear it off from the back of the shoe. Trim any jump stitches with small embroidery scissors. Also, brush or wash away any markings.
Lastly, replace the ties in the shoes. Then, model your beautiful shoes!
And that’s it! This was one of the riskier things I’ve embroidered with my machine, but the results were so cute.