What is a Knockdown Stitch or Nap-Tack Stitch in Machine Embroidery?

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One problem with embroidering on fabric with lots of fluff (more technically known as nap, pile, or loft) is the stitching can sink into the fluff of the fabric. While changing the stitch density or size of the design can help with visibility, one of the best solutions is to use a knockdown stitch or nap-tack stitch first.

To help expand the possibilities of what you can make with your embroidery machine, let’s talk about knockdown embroidery designs and nap-tack stitches.

I’ll teach you what a knockdown stitch or nap-tack stitch is, how to use one, and finally, how to create your own stitches in two popular embroidery software.

So, what is a knockdown stitch™ or nap-tack stitch?

This is a layer of stitching added underneath an embroidery design to hold down fabric fluff, thus making the design more visible.

The specific term knockdown is trademarked by Embrilliance software. However, other software manufacturers refer to this process as a pile-down stitch, tack-down stitch, nap-tack stitch, or even Hatch smash. 

This lightweight layer is stitched before your embroidery design and works great with fabrics that have a high pile, meaning there is significant volume on the top of the fabric. Examples include extra lush towels, sherpa fleece, and fluffy robes or blankets.

Here’s an example below of just the stitch on a robe I recently embroidered. There’s also water-soluble topping and a basting box around the design, so don’t worry too much about that.

knockdown stitch without overlying design

As you can see, this stitch is a very loosely stitched design that squishes the robe fibers down. If the design were very dense, it would be too difficult to stitch a design on top of it. A thicker stitch would feel hard and dramatically change the feel of the fabric as well.

Indications for Using a Knockdown or Nap-Tack Embroidery Design

why you need to choose a dense design to keep designs showing

This embroidered sherpa blanket above was one of my most comical embroidery fails as a beginner. Do you see the “Daddy” text hiding in there? Not only was the text too thin, but the fluff of the sherpa covered everything even though I used water-soluble topping. Turns out, using a base layer stitch on sherpa is a GREAT idea as is using a more appropriate text.

While I have no problems embroidering on towels and embroidering on fluffy blankets most times without a pile-down stitch, if you are choosing a design that can easily get lost in the fluff of the fabric, it’s a good idea to consider one.

For instance, if you’re embroidering a name on a towel with a high pile, the nap of the towel can obstruct some of the letters with small open spaces, which makes your text partially invisible. Putting a layer of nap-tack stitching first evens the playing field so all layers get a chance to be seen.

Choosing a Thread Color

If you’re looking to make your stitch as minimally invasive as possible, choose a thread color that closely matches your fabric color.

However, I’ve seen fun projects stitched with variegated thread or contrasting thread colors to make a statement with the knockdown stitch. Experiment with options and see what you like best!

Perimeter vs Shape Stitching

knockdown perimeter design vs surrounding shape

There are two main types of embroidery base shapes you can create. The design on the top left is an example of a shape that can accommodate many different interior embroidery designs. The design on the right, however, is a custom stitch made with an embroidery program and is shaped to the embroidery design. Depending on your project, desired effect, and available software, you can choose to use either type!

Do you still need water-soluble topping? What about stabilizer?

Even if I’m using a pile-down stitch on my embroidery design, I always still use a layer of water-soluble topping.

I’ve done side-by-side comparisons and found that perimeter stitches are much cleaner and more visible with topping first. Shaped stitches that take up a larger area are less visibly improved with the addition of the layer of water-soluble topping, but there is still a difference.

Also, pick your stabilizer based on the density of your design plus pile-down stitch density and then the characteristics of your fabric. Read my guide to stabilizer selection if you need help!

Free Designs

While I create Hatch smash stitches in my embroidery software, there was a time I didn’t have embroidery software and relied on freebies and purchasing designs from others. Here are two free shapes for machine embroidery that you can use if you’re not quite ready to design or purchase your own.

  1. Embossed circle shape from Creative Appliques
  2. Simple rectangle shape from Creative Appliques

If you want more specific  shapes or sizes, you can purchase from Etsy or your favorite designers’ website.

How to Make a Knockdown Stitch and Nap-Tack Stitch

I’ll now show you how to make these stitches in two of the most popular beginner-friendly embroidery editing software. I prefer to always make my own rather than purchase or download embroidery files because I can get the exact size match to my design.

These are the most basic stitches that I’ll be showing you how to create. If you have digitizing software, you can create them with different textures and even add satin stitch edges. There are SO many options once you start experimenting.

How to Do a Knockdown Stitch™ in Embrilliance Enthusiast

Embrilliance Essentials does not have the ability to create a knockdown stitch, but Embrilliance Enthusiast does. To create a knockdown stitch that extends a few millimeters around your chosen design, hover over Utility and click on “Add Knockdown Stitching.”

That one simple click will add a perimeter knockdown stitch automatically.

You can make knockdown shapes in Embrilliance as well, but that requires a lot more effort than a single click. 

How to Add a Nap-Tack Stitch in SewWhat-Pro

In SewWhat-Pro, adding this base layer is called adding a nap-tack stitch

Sew What Pro gives you the option to create two types of nap-tack stitches. To access either these nap-tack stitches, after you’ve imported your design, click on Tools and then Add Nap-Tack stitches as you’ll see below.

how to add a knockdown stitch in sew what pro

A window will pop up allowing you to choose the type of stitch you want and the stitch properties.

adjusting nap-tack stitch properties

Here, you can choose from the two types of designs.

First, you can have the nap-tack stitch outline your design a set margin from the edges. The default is a 4mm border, but you can change this to a larger or smaller number.

You also have the option of adjusting the nap height. For super fluffy, thick towels or robes, a denser stitch will be needed. Thus, adjust the nap (pile) height to Med-Hi. If you have a low-medium nap, keep this setting as it is at Lo-Med.

You can also change the nap angle if needed. Keep Select Border Shape unchecked, and then click OK. You will then get a perimeter stitch as you see below.

change the color of the knockdown stitch

You can change the thread color by clicking on the oval with the 1 inside it (showing that it will stitch first) and then selecting a color in the bottom right window that will pop up.

adding a knockdown stitch around the perimeter

Now, if you’d rather create a design that is a shape, you will go back to Tools and Add Nap-Tack stitch. Then, click the box that says Select Border Shape instead this time.

select border sahape to create a knockdown border

A box filled with all the shape options will pop up! You have your choice of shapes, so click on the one you’d like to use.

adding a knockdown border stitch in sew what pro

You will then be returned to the Nap-Tack properties window where you can change the properties to fit your taste. Click OK, change your stitch color, and view your created design!

naptack stitch in sew what pro

I’ve found that sometimes with the border function of SewWhat-Pro that I’ll have to play with the nap-tack stitch border properties to center it well. This is a small price to pay, though, for so many fun border shapes.


I hope this tutorial has now explained to you what knockdown and nap-tack embroidery stitches are and you’ve learned when to use one and how to make it. 


  1. Hi,
    Thanks for writing about it. Please note, however, that Knockdown(TM) is a trademark of Embrilliance, who also invented and patented the automation of Global Underlay, another term we coined. We’re happy that the embroidery industry follows our examples, and imitation is a form of flattery. But if we don’t follow up on our trademarks, they can be lost, as a tissue is a kleenex and a copy is a xerox.

    1. Hi Brian, sorry about the confusion! I saw the term knockdown even in several videos directly from Wilcom so was not aware this was specific to Embrilliance. However, I’ll change my article to make it very clear that you all own the trademark for that specific term!

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