Of all the different wearable items that can be embroidered, design your own varsity jackets would appear to be the easiest. When most of think of jackets in terms of embroidery, large areas for full back and left chest designs come to mind. What many of us often forget are the little curveballs apparel manufacturers are adding into their designs such as box pleats and seams down the back. Fashion forward styles may have things like raglan sleeves which can throw off design placement since they lack the guideline of a shoulder seam.
One sure way to begin with a jacket that is fit for embroidery is to focus on working with styles that give the fewest headaches. Therefore, do some research on the newest trends. In addition, start with a machine that is in top notch condition, with fresh needles and bobbins. Below are the other basic elements to consider in your quest for trouble-free jacket embroidery.
Choosing a hoop
The best choice in hoops for jackets is the double-high hoop. This hoop is taller than the average hoop so offers more holding power. You can wrap your hoop with white floral tape, medical gauze, twill tape or bias tape to prevent hoop marks and help give a snug fit. Tissue paper, backing or waxed paper can also be used. Hoop these materials on top of the jacket, then cut a window for the embroidery. A thin layer of foam under the tape can also help. But avoid masking tape as it tends to be sticky and leaves a residue on jacket and hoop. When choosing your hoops, remember that oval hoops hold better all the way around than do square hoops with oval corners. The “square oval” holds better in the corners than on the sides, top and bottom.
The size and type of needle will depend on the fabric of the jacket. Leather jackets call for an 80/12 sharp. (Wedge shaped “leather” needles tend to do more harm than good.) Use this same sharp needle on poplin and other cotton-type jackets. Use a 70/10 or 80/12 light ballpoint on nylon windbreakers and a 75/11 fine ballpoint on satins and oxford nylons to avoid runs in the fabric. Heavy wool jackets, canvas and denim jackets require a stronger sharp needle. Corduroy stitches well with either ballpoint or sharp. Remember that ballpoint needles nudge the fabric out of the way in order to place the stitch, while sharps cut through the fabric. A good rule of thumb is to use the same size needle to embroider as you would to sew the seams of the jacket in assembly.
As for thread, polyester is a good choice for embroidery on jackets that will be exposed to the weather and coastal climates. Be sure to include washing and dry cleaning instructions with your finished product. Consider choosing a large-eye needle when working with metallic and other heavy specialty threads
Placing the design
Hold a straight-edge across the jacket back from side seam to side seam at the bottom of the sleeves. Mark a horizontal straight line, then double check this with a measurement from the bottom of the jacket to the same line. Jackets are not always sewn together straight. Measure the straight line and divide in half to find the center of the jacket. Place a vertical line through the horizontal line at this point. The intersection of the two lines will be the center. If you are rotating the design to sew upside-down or sideways, take this into consideration when measuring and later when hooping. Use tailor’s chalk, disappearing ink pens or soap to mark your garments. Avoid using pins. Masking tape is available in thin strips at graphic and art stores. It is easy to remove and leaves no marks. Wider masking tape, though, can leave residue.
Centering the design eight inches down from the back of the collar is a good place to start, and should work with most jackets. Small sizes may do better at six inches; very large ones may end up at 10 inches. The top of the design should fall about 2 ½ inches down from the collar of the jacket. But remember that this will change if the jacket has a hood. Then it will be necessary to place the design below the hood.
The best way to determine the center point of the design is to have someone try the jacket on, or invest in a mannequin. Pin an outline of the design or a sew-out to the back, making sure to include lettering and graphics to determine size and placement. Left or right chest designs should be centered three to four inches from the edge of the jacket and six to eight down from where the collar and the jacket body intersect. When embroidering on jackets with snaps or buttons, use the second snap or button as a guide.
Be careful not to place the design too close to the sleeve side of the jacket. Designs are not to be centered on the left chest. The correct placement is closer to the placket than to the sleeve. The center of a sleeve design should fall three to four inches below the shoulder seam of the sleeve. When placing a design on the sleeve of a raglan style jacket, mark the placement using a live model or a mannequin.
The complexity of a design will often be the major factor when choosing a backing for embroidery. Stitch intensive designs may need the extra stability backing provides. Even jackets made of fabrics such as poplin and satin (that might not otherwise cry out for a backing) can benefit from its use, especially if the design is complex. Consider attaching the backing to the jacket with spray adhesive before hooping to increase stability. Attaching a piece of light cut-away backing-or even rear-away-to a satin jacket can hold the jacket better while stitching, allowing for good registration in your design. And, if you should need to remove stitching, the presence of a backing can make your job easier and safer. Backing can also prevent residue from coated canvas fabrics from raining down into the bobbin housing.
Most jacket materials do not require topping. The exception to this might be the corduroy or fleece jacket where the use of a topping can tame the fluff of the fleece and prevent stitches from falling into the valleys of the corduroy. The use of underlay does a better job than topping for challenging fabrics-and as an added benefit, it does not wash away.
When hooping, especially large or bulky items, start from the “fixed” side of the thumbscrew and travel around the hoop to the “free end.” Use the heels of your hands to alleviate stress on your fingers and wrists. When hooping flat on a table, make sure that there is nothing between the hoop and the table. If any adjustment is needed, hold as much of the upper hoop in place as you can while adjusting. This prevents the garment from popping out of the hoop.
Always make sure the jacket lining is smooth, and double check to determine that the outer shell and the lining are even. Turning the sleeves inside out can help with hooping a lined jacket.
Hooping too loosely can cause puckering, too tightly can cause fabric burn. It can also stretch the fabric causing it to “spring back” when unhooped, meaning more puckering. Tips to prevent puckering include lightening the tension upper and lower, using tear-away if lettering is fill, using mid-weight cutaway if lettering or design is satin stitch. Adjust the hoops before hooping the garment and do not pull or stretch the fabric after it is hooped. Puckering is a risk when stitching on satin, and the lighter the weight of the satin, the more the danger of puckers. You will have the best results when the hold is firm. If you can move the satin around in the hoop, it will move while stitching.