How to Prepare a Polo to be Machine Embroidered

This fashion statement is about 30 years old.  I remember in the mid 90’s businesses and civic clubs began transitioning from t-shirts and jackets to polo shirts with embroidered logos.  Back in the early ’80’s my very first embroidered polo was for a trip to the Junior National Swim Championships in Milwaukee Wisconsin.

That year, an a side embroidery comment that I just thought of,  we also had Arena warm-up suits and the jacket had to be embroidered on the back with our team name.  On a weekend my Dad drove us to some far off remote location to drop them off at house where the woman there had a little side embroidery business.  She needed a couple of weeks and then we drove again to pick them up.  I have no idea what system she was using but I do remember it was this huge piece of equipment/machine with one of those pre-IBM looking computers and a monitor as big as a television set.

Back then embroidery was pretty expensive.  The polo and the jacket turned out great.  It was worth it.  My sister and I were then officially part of our team!

Well, back to today and as you all know, word spreads quickly to friends and family when they find out you have an embroidery machine.  When I first purchased my machine it was about two months before I found myself embroidering about 30 polos.  I made so many mistakes, from hooping to digitizing.  They came out okay but I ruined no less than 2 or 3.  This was back in 2000.  (Yes…my machine is now getting dated!  I can’t believe that since it seems it cost so much money.  It still works great, so not looking to trade it in just yet.)  Today, I’m a little bit better at this than I was then!

I also realized that this embroidery was fairly time consuming.  No wonder the pros purchase the multi-head units and the professional machines.  It is well worth the investment if this is something you’ll do for a business.  But for small quantity groups of polos, sweatshirts, t-shirts, bags, etcetera it is a fun way to volunteer some time and talent.  Everyone will appreciate your work and love it!

As the years have gone by I realized that I could purchase polos at wholesale prices.  Duh.  This was a great find and has saved me lots and lots of money and time.  You can try www.blankshirts.com and browse the clearance and discounts section.  Just be careful though.  You really get what you pay for, cheap isn’t always the best.  Look for heavier weight fabrics and 100% cotton.

Step 1: Determine the placement of your design.  Using your hoop template line up the correct position.  I try to align the vertical center over a bust point and the horizontal center over the midway point of the armscye.  Pretty lo-tech science but it seems to work no matter what the size is.  Mark the location using an erasable marking pencil or marker.  I’m using Mark B Gone brand.

Determine the embroider placement and mark the location.

Determine the embroidery placement and mark the location with an erasable pencil/chalk/marker.

Step 2: Prepare your backing material. I am using a stiff cut-away backing.  This is just very stiff sew-in interfacing I find next to the cutting counter at various fabric stores.  For me, the thicker/stiffer the better when using this with polos.  Polos are generally lighter weight fabrics so there needs to be some good support behind them in order to achieve a smooth embroidered design.

Cut a piece of backing material about 1-2 inches larger than the hoop.

Here, I am finding the center of the backing.  I fold in half, then fold in half again.  Crease the edges and mark the center.

Step3: Hoop your polo.

Place your Polo shirt over the front end of your ironing board.  Insert the backing and insert a pin into the center marker on the polo and line it up with the center marker on the backing.

Adjust vertical and horizontal and use the pin to hold the backing in place while you insert the outer hoop.

Insert the larger outer hoop under the polo.  On the outside of the polo I hold in place the embroidery placement guide along the markings and wiggle the hoop until it falls into position.

Then I take the inside hoop and insert it into the outer hoop.  Remove the embroidery placement guide and check that the markings match up.  The center can be off, so don’t panic too much if it is.  Once hooped onto the machine, the center can be adjusted using the machine software before starting the embroidery.  Mostly you are checking the vertical and horizontal.  If these line up then you are good to go.

I like to remove a little excess to tighten up the fabric and create a smooth surface.  Don’t stretch it!  Just smooth it.  Check the backing to make sure it is smooth as well.  Finally, check the hoop to make sure it is seated all away around.

Step 4: Attach the hoop to the machine.

Gently insert the hooped garment underneath the pressure foot.  I bring the needle up to the highest point to avoid snagging the material.

Be sure to check around and under the hoop that there is no extra garment fabric underneath.  Nothing like double sewing a perfectly good polo to ruin your afternoon!

Attach the hoop and click it into place along the embroidery machine arm.

Step 5: Align the hoop to center

Select your design and choose layout.


Align the center.  On my machine I press center and the needle advances to the center.


I bring the needle down to verify.  I can move the needle by pressing the position arrows.  Once I am centered then I select OK and the machine advances to the first color.  I am ready to go!


Voila!  The completed design…a little dark (It’s early morning and the sun isn’t up!  I’m working on this project before I go to work!).

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3 responses to “How to Prepare a Polo to be Machine Embroidered

  1. life saver thanks a lot

  2. Thank you SO much. I was having a horrible time trying to hoop polo shirts. Your method took all of the pain out of it. Best results I ever had.

  3. Very nicely written and easily explainable blog.Very much informative.

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