Introduction: Don't Panic: Embroider a Towel With a Standard Sewing Machine, Just Like a Hoopy Frood

About: I'm a Renaissance woman. I love to create things with a fantasy, medieval, or geeky edge. I'm also a math/science nerd. I have a passion for all things Halloween. I like to build props, create costume elements…

Embroider your own DON'T PANIC towel to celebrate Towel Day, an annual tribute to the late author Douglas Adams which takes place each May 25th. These towels can hang quietly in your bathroom or go on adventures with you. Even if you don't intend to bound across the cold moons of Jaglan Beta or visit the brilliant marble-sanded beaches of Santraginus V, a towel bearing the words DON'T PANIC will see you through almost anything.

Don't panic if you don't have a sewing machine with an automatic embroidery function. You've got this,

Step 1: Stuff You Need

  • Hand towel
  • DON'T PANIC template*
  • Sewing Machine
  • Thread
  • Scissors
  • Sewing needle
  • Tweezers (optional)

*You'll need a template with the words DON'T PANIC written on it in simple, block lettering. You can either use a printed block style font or draw it yourself. Eliminate as many angled lines on the letters as possible (though this in unavoidable for the letters "N" and "D" which will be dealt with in a subsequent step).

Don't necessarily use the template I sewed with as an example of the right letter shape. The black lettering included in this step, which I designed after I made the towel shown here, is a good example of the kind of template you'll want. Either make your own or use mine.

Scale the letters to fit the area you want to embroider. If possible, use ink in a color similar to that of your thread.

Step 2: Applying the Template

Stitching over paper templates is easy. The needle will penetrate both the paper and the towel without a problem. When you are done, the poke holes made with the needle through the paper create a sort of fine dotted line that is easy to tear away.

To prepare, simply cut out your template, giving at least half an inch distance around the edges of the paper. Then pin the paper down, centering it in the area where the embroidery will be added. You only need a few pins because, once you start stitching, the paper will be held in place through the process of sewing.

Step 3: Basic Straight Line Embroidery With a Paper Template on a Standard Sewing Machine

Select a zigzag stitch and make the stitch distance as small as possible to create a more solid looking line. So, instead of a wide zigzag, the stitch will be a zigzag so tight that it just looks like a solid thick line of thread.

Calibrate the width of the stitches you'll need to coordinate with the lettering you have selected. To do this, grab some scrap cloth or paper and practice stitching thick lines, adjusting the stitch width until you have the proper size for your letters.

Place your paper-covered fabric into the machine. Carefully lower the needle until it almost pierces the paper on the left side of the line. Adjust the placement of the paper and fabric until the needle is in very corner of a letter line.

Stitch down the length of the line without pulling the fabric. You are simply guiding it. If you pull, your lines will be unevenly filled. When you reach the end of the line, raise your needle and pull the threading out a bit. Cut off the thread, leaving at least a few inches of tail. I talk about with securing and hiding these tails in the next step. Be sure not to wait until you are done to deal with them. Finish them as you go as much as possible.

You can lay down lines, then turn corners and reposition your needle to create continuous stitches on letters like the "O."

Step 4: Hiding Thread Ends

Now that you have laid down a stitch (or more), you need to deal with all of those thread ends. I elected to do it in this particular way because backstitching (which is how many stitches are finished) adds extra thickness which may impact the lines of the letters. Here's how I did it:

For each thread tail on the top of the embroidery, I load it into a regular sewing needle and pull the thread to the back of the towel. There is a second thread on the back that corresponds with each of these.

Once the top thread is pulled back, tie it in a double knot with its companion thread tail. Then thread the pair through the eye of the needle and pull them through a section of the letter stitching on the back. This holds down those ends, preventing the knot from unraveling.

Snip off the ends. You'll need to do this quite a few times but the results give a neat finish.

Step 5: Special Cases: Embroidering Letters With Angles

The "N" and the "D" (which I elected, after I started, to use angled corners on to prevent it from looking like an "O") have some angled lines. The "A" does as well but it is possible to use a block "A" that does not.

The key here is to extend the lines of those angled parts. The lines will show you where to start and begin the angled sections so that, when the other stitches are added, the letters are completely filled in. Draw on the extended lines, as shown. Then stitch those angled sections FIRST. Finish the letters as usual.

Step 6: Finishing

Tear away your paper. The dotted lines make it easy to do. However, the ends of each letter may be harder. You can simplify this by either pulling away at the paper with tweezers or dotting the lines using your needle before tearing it away.

If you have trouble removing all of the paper, DON'T PANIC. It will all wash away during the towel's first few wash and dry cycles.

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