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How to Embroider Thick Jackets

January 04, 2010

By Steven Batts, Contributing Writer

This time of year brings out some of the most difficult items that customers want embroidered: thick, heavy coats. I embroider lots of jackets of all types this time of year and they can be very challenging. Their thickness makes them very difficult to get framed, not to mention the normal challenges of lining them up. I have even injured myself pressing hard trying to get really thick jackets hooped.

Let’s look at a few tricks that can be used to help handle thick items. After all, jackets aren't the only thick items you'll encounter; horse blankets, quilts and other items can be just as thick and bulky, but if you learn how to handle thick jackets, you should be able to handle the others.

Going Big
When hooping thick items, it is sometimes better to go against the traditional embroidery rule of using the smallest hoop possible to hold the work. Trying to compress this thick fabric into a small area is nearly impossible. In these cases, it is better to use a hoop that is a little bit larger than necessary to make it easier to hoop, especially on left- or right-chest placements.

When framing thick items, try loosening the adjustment screw more than what it needs to be, then frame the item and tighten it up enough to hold the work. This can take a lot of strain off of your hands, and is preferable to using all your strength in an attempt to press the work into the hoop.

Have You Had Your Fill?
Some of the tougher items to get into a hoop are goose down jackets and vests, such as those worn during skiing. They look big and bulky, but actually can be pressed down to fit in the hoop. The problem isn’t necessarily the thickness of these jackets, but rather the material with which they are filled.

Either the down feathers or the polyester inside the jacket tend to move around. This makes the hoop continually want to pop apart, which can be very frustrating. Right when you think you have it hooped and ready to put on the machine, the hoop pops apart. It is even worse when it falls apart in the middle of sewing. What's worse is that tightening the adjustment screw sometimes only makes it worse.

I've found that the best thing to do in instances like these is to help the hoop stay together by using plastic spring-loaded clamps. Various sizes can be purchased at a hardware store, and I use some of the smaller ones to clamp around the edge or the sides of the hoop — particularly away from where the machine will be sewing. This keeps the hoop together better than simply trying to tighten the adjustment screw.

The Frameless Option
Some jackets or vests will not fit into a hoop — no matter how hard you may try. This is when you use the frameless option.

Many people nowadays do this already with smaller, thinner goods. They will use adhesive backing and simply stick the item down instead of framing it. This process alone will not work when embroidering jackets. For one thing, jackets typically are lined, so sticking the lining down will not hold jackets in place to be embroidered. Also, they are so heavy that the adhesive may not hold them. What you have to do is use the same concept, but give it a little help.

First of all, factor in the design that will be sewn. Basting stitches are stitches underneath the body of the design that can serve to nail the work down at the very beginning. These stitches can be big and hidden under parts of the design. This quick pass of running stitches will secure the garment to the backing.

Secondly, help the jacket stay on the hoop. When I do frameless embroidery, it is usually for big items like jackets or vests. I frame a piece of tearaway backing, spray it with adhesive and put it on the machine. I then lay the jacket over the hoop, line it up and press it down against the backing. To help hold it in place, I will clip some of the aforementioned plastic clamps around the edge of the hoop. Many times, I will simply hold the jacket in place as the design gets started. Once the basting stitches have secured the jacket to the backing, everything usually works normally.

Hopefully these tips will help you get through some of the tough jobs of winter. They may be tough, but they are not as impossible as they may seem.

Steven Batts, a consultant with 17 years experience in the embroidery industry, owns Righteous Threads, Greensboro, N.C., which offers digitizing, embroidery and machine maintenance services. Steven regularly leads seminars at ISS shows and is an industry speaker and consultant. For more information or to comment on this article, e-mail Steven at

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