Tips for Easy Jacket Back Embroidery

Master two important variables — hooping and alignment — for easier, profitable sewouts.

By Steven Batts, Contributing Writer

March 5, 2015

It’s that time of year again. The weather is getting cooler, the leaves are changing colors and people are pulling jackets out of closets. As an embroiderer, why not cash in on the opportunity to sell more decorated items in this apparel category?

Coats and jackets can be good moneymakers. They are more expensive and lend themselves to higher margins. Also, if a customer wants a big design on the back, you can get maximum production from your machine, which means maximum profit.

I used to hate doing large designs on jackets. They are harder to hoop and the large designs take a long time to run; I used to think such designs were eating up my machine time. I eventually realized my thinking was incorrect. Yes, the jacket was on the machine for a long time, but the design still was producing money for me — and at a higher rate than many of my left-chest logo sewouts.

Let’s say I’m running a 5,000-stitch logo on polo shirts. I could get maybe eight runs an hour. If I’m charging $1 per thousand stitches, that’s $40 an hour (per head). On the other hand, if I have a 60,000-stitch design, it is going to take an hour and 20 minutes to sew. However, I’m getting $60 for the jacket back design. That works out to $45 per hour and I didn’t have to work as hard. I could sit back and relax and the let the machine do the work for an hour or so. This is in addition to the fact that there typically is more profit margin in the markup of jackets because of their high price point.

Now that it’s evident that jackets can be as profitable — if not more so — than the “normal” stuff most embroiderers sew, let’s look at the challenges of working with jackets. First of all, there are many different jacket varieties. From wind breakers and warm-ups to Varsity jackets and workwear, they come in all materials and thicknesses. Some are slick, coarse, thick and thin — and then, of course, there’s leather. Learning to deal with all the variations takes some time and practice, but there are some principles you can follow — regardless of the type of jacket you are handling — that will help ensure success.

Before starting any job, it is important to pick the correct stabilizer. Fortunately, the choices are simple when it comes to jackets. For lightweight jackets, like wind breakers and other nylon jackets, a sheet of tearaway stabilizer should be sufficient. For thicker jackets, little or no stabilizer at all is needed.

When making your choice, remember that the key is how much an item stretches. Thick jackets have little stretch and so much lining that adding another layer of something is not really helping anything. If you worry about distortion, throw a piece of tearaway stabilizer behind it and that will be more than sufficient. The only time a cutaway stabilizer is needed is when you’re embroidering stretchy knit jackets.

Hooping jackets, particularly thick ones, always is a challenge. They are bigger than a normal-size garment. Often, embroiderers don’t have a template for the framing board to fit the back hoop size and there are not many references for you to know whether the jacket is hooped straight.

If you embroider a lot of jackets, it pays to purchase or make a framing template for your framing board, or have a table that is suitable for hooping these larger items. It doesn’t have to be fancy; I use an old school desk. I find it is the perfect size for the jacket and it also allows me to apply more downward pressure as I try to squeeze thick jackets into a hoop.

The point of using a hooping device is to assist in getting things aligned consistently from piece to piece. Jackets can be a little tricky when it comes to alignment, especially when they don’t have many marks or seams. Center seams make for easy alignment, and many jackets have a seam up around the shoulders, which makes a nice, straight line to reference. Just make sure the design stays below that shoulder seam for proper alignment.

If there are no seams or other reference marks, start by marking where you want the center of the design to be. Placement guides say to put the design 7-10 inches down from the neck. This depends on the size of the design and the style of the jacket.

You always can reference the sleeves and the bottom of the jacket, too. Line up the clips on the hoop with the sleeves to help straighten the design. Then, to ensure straightness, measure from each side of the hoop to the bottom of the jacket to make sure it is even. I use the tab on the hoop where the metal clips are screwed on for the reference point on each side of the hoop.

Hooping a thin jacket isn’t really a big deal. Thick jackets, however, are another story. Depending on its thickness, there are different techniques you can use to get the jacket onto the embroidery machine, and there are some conventional and not-so-conventional techniques for accomplishing this.

Most jackets you embroider will fit in a hoop; they just require a lot of effort and strength to do so. In these cases, you can try to loosen the adjusting screw more than what should be necessary to hold the jacket before hooping. Once the item is hooped, simply tighten the screw.

Normally, it is not recommended to use tools to assist in tightening the screw — but I make an exception in the case of thick, durable items like heavy jackets. It sometimes requires more leverage than can simply be produced by even the strongest of fingers. A pair of pliers (or screwdriver, depending on your adjusting screw) may be in order.

Most of the time, jackets should be hooped upside down because the waist has a bigger opening than the neck. That means less material will be piled up in the back, and it makes the jacket easier to get on and off the machine. It also is less likely to catch on something or push the hoop off the machine.

There are many hoops on the market with various features to help with these issues. Allied’s Grid-Lock series includes a really long adjusting screw that allows the hoop to open wider. These hoops also include grid lines to assist with alignment.

When pressing the inner ring into the hoop, start with one side and then the other rather than trying to push the entire hoop in altogether. This “heel-to-toe” technique helps for leverage and to line things up. Let’s say I’m using the top-shoulder seam as a mark. I can align and set that side of the hoop first, then press in the bottom side.

Another option is to use a larger-than-necessary hoop. I know this goes against the conventional wisdom that says to use the smallest-possible hoop, but sometimes it is nearly impossible to get a thick jacket into hoop of a smaller size. The extra room in a larger hoop makes this possible. This occasionally is the case, especially with smaller placements.

The hoop popping apart is one of the most frustrating things that can happen when working with thick jackets. This usually happens right after you get it hooped and are moving it to the machine. Even worse is when it happens while sewing. To alleviate this problem, I use plastic spring clamps around the outside of the hoop. You have to be be careful to ensure they don’t hit anything, but that they help keep the hoop together while sewing.

No matter what you do, some jackets simply will not fit in a hoop. Don’t worry. There are ways to get things onto the embroidery machine that aren’t in a hoop. For starters, when using a regular hoop and adhesive stabilizer, you can stick the item into the hoop. To do this, hoop the stabilizer with the peel-away paper still on it. Once it is hooped, score the paper to and peel it away. Put the hoop onto the machine and then align the jacket over it. It is a good idea to use basting stitches at the beginning of the design to better secure it to the stabilizer. Basting stitches are really long (9mm-10mm) running stitches around the outside of the design that can be used to tack it down before the embroidery begins. The length makes them easy to remove once the design is finished.

This is the same concept as the Fast Frames and the EMS HoopTech Quick Change frames use. These provide an easier way to get the jacket onto the machine as opposed to hooping really thick items.

However, there are a few drawbacks to using this technique. First is the alignment. Because the hoop is on the inside, there is no visual reference that will indicate whether it is straight. Second, the jacket’s lining will stick, leaving the outer layer to shift. To overcome this, I attach the plastic spring clamps around the outside of the hoop to hold things together.

You can now actually look forward to the colder weather and the subsequent jacket orders you will receive this season. They may require a little more work, but the payoff is definitely worth it. You can sit back and enjoy the beautiful fall leaves while your machine finishes those long, profitable jacket back runs.

Steven Batts, a consultant with more than 20 years experience in the embroidery industry, owns Righteous Threads, Greensboro, N.C., which offers digitizing, embroidery and machine maintenance services. He regularly leads seminars at ISS shows and is an industry speaker and consultant. For more information or to comment on this article, email Steven at righteousthreads@gmail.com.

Hooping Options for Smaller Placements

Fast Frames and EMS HoopTech Quick Change frames are options for hooping jackets when embroidering for smaller placements. Another option that works well for left-chest placements is EMS Hoop Tech’s clamping systems. Simply rotate the design 90 degrees and slide the jacket under the clamp. It really beats fighting the hoop for that particular placement. — S.B.

Suggested Reading

Like this article? Read these and other embroidery articles at impressionsmag.com:
• “How to Embroider on Denim
• “Needle Knowledge Enables Easier Embroidery
• “Tips for Easy Embroidery on Thick Items