Imprinted Sportswear Shows
Attend in Long Beach, Atlantic City, Nashville, Orlando, Fort Worth


Making It Your Own

Simple modifications to a stock design can be a quick and easy way to customize apparel and generate new business.

August 30, 2011

By Melanie Coakley, Contributing Writer

content 1
Hoop marks come from the friction created by putting the inner hoop with the outer hoop — it dries out the fibers in that area. To re-moisturize the fabric and remove the hoop marks, use a quick spray of Magic Sizing Light Starch.

Do you want quick results that produce accolades from your customers? If your embroidery shop offers eye-catching designs and prompt service, clients will continue doing business with you for years to come.

Often, customers present an idea of what they want, but with no artwork to convey their desires. In these cases, using a stock design catalog will put you and your customer on the same page. A picture truly is worth a thousand words when it comes to trying to decipher exactly what the potential order entails. We have had customers bring in their idea scribbled on a napkin, which can get confusing for everyone.

Two people can talk about the same idea and think they understand each other, but come up with two different versions of how to portray it. But if you both look at a picture in a stock design catalog, you can make changes, add lettering and refine a design — all while knowing you are now sharing the same vision. Having clean art for customers to review with you can save a lot of time getting their orders properly executed.

This article details an example of taking a stock design and customizing it for embroidery on a fleece hoodie. I needed something quickly for an upcoming boating weekend and knew it could get chilly on the lake in the evenings. My husband and I had recently named our boat and wanted an emblem to coincide with the name, so we went for the nautical section of a stock design catalog. In just a few minutes, we had a design we could customize for our needs.  We ordered from the catalog by e-mail and had the design within minutes. We immediately stitched a test sample so we could see the basic design.

Now, we could work our magic without starting from scratch. We wanted to keep the colors to a minimum, but we also desired vibrant hues to “pop” against the hoodie’s dark fabric. So we chose a rich, gold tone for the majority of the design to coordinate with the red and gray accent colors. We also agreed the laurel leafs were too much for our needs, so with a click of a button in the software program, we deleted them.

We also thought the design’s size needed to be enlarged, so we manipulated it to be taller without becoming wider. We now had our desired elements: the anchor, chain, regal crown and a space to do a name drop. We spent very little time slightly reworking the design and the results were perfect for the upcoming boating weekend’s hoodies. We stitched our new stock design for final approval and were ready to sew it on test fabric before embroidering it on the actual apparel.

Know Your Software
When I first saw someone digitizing at a trade show, I immediately knew I wanted to be able to also do it. I didn’t know enough about the process to even know the right questions to ask about software capabilities; I just knew I wanted to be a digitizer. Most people that I speak with today are in the same position: They want to digitize their own logos, but they don’t know where to start.

To be successful, it’s crucial to know your software’s capabilities. For instance, here is a question to ask your software seller, “Can the program resize stitch files such as .dst, .exp, etc., without distorting the way the design sews, or am I limited to 10% resizing of stitch files?” Years ago, stitch files such as these could only be resized up or down 10% without distorting. However, with the software advancements, stitch files can be resized considerably — as long as you stay within the rules of digitizing.

On this particular design, I went up about 40%, which had me checking satin stitches to make sure they were still .28mm or narrower. If these stitches went wider, then they would have to be changed to a fill pattern. There were very few places on this stock design that needed attention, and the minimal time spent was much better than starting from scratch. Thankfully, the software regenerated the number of stitches I needed for coverage. After confirming this, I did a sewout to ensure the coverage was what I needed on black fabric.

Before You Stitch
In my embroidery training facility, we do test sewing so the students can see for themselves the difference in quality. The lesson here is to always question what you do and test what others tell you to do. This way, your results will indicate your level of expertise and guarantee you maximum results for your embroidery work.

So once you have an approved sewout, always check the fabric characteristics before you stitch to ensure you’re following the appropriate fabric rules. For example, if you are working with a knit or stretch fabric, such as the fleece hoodie in this project, make sure you use a cutaway stabilizer. You can use a tearaway stabilizer for cottons and stable fabrics, but stick to the rule of using cutaway for knits.

Next, think of the hoop as your second set of hands. Your stabilizer is key here, too. If you have issues with fabric slippage when embroidering on knit fabrics, use a fusible cutaway stabilizer. I recommend two types: either a no-show nylon mesh or a medium-weight cutaway. These both come in fusible versions and are ideal for those difficult dry-wicking fabrics, as well as fabrics that have a tendency to move or shift during embroidery.

Here’s a hooping hint: If the hoop is too tight, it will cause hoop marks, which come from the friction created by putting the inner hoop with the outer hoop. The friction between the inner and outer hoops dries out the fibers in that area, which needs to have the moisture applied. I have found that a quick spray of Magic Sizing Light Starch works better than anything else to re-moisturize the fabric and remove the hoop marks.

You also may want to cut a template of stabilizer for the top to avoid hoop marks. With the stabilizer secured between the hoop and the fabric you are embroidering, it serves as a barrier to absorb some of the friction so your garment’s fibers do not dry out. Just leave enough open room in the middle of the hooping area (with no stabilizer) to sew directly onto the garment’s surface.

For this particular fleece hoodie, I needed to have a fusible stabilizer to avoid any shifting. So I used a no-show fusible nylon mesh, which was black to match the garment. Using a white stabilizer on a black garment gives the garment an unprofessional finish, especially if the embroidery is in a place where the back side may be seen.

Once you have chosen the right stabilizer, adhere it using a heat source, such as a small iron or heat press, and use “pressing pads,” which fit inside the hoop. These allow the stabilizer to only have the adhesive pressed on the inside of the hoop. If it is pressed on the outside the hoop, it is difficult to cut away. These pads are new to the market and are available for different brands of hoops. Finally, due to the smooth surface of the fabric, I determined a topping was not necessary for this design, and I was now ready to stitch.

Finishing Touches
Handing a finished garment back to the customer is very rewarding, especially if you have given it your best. This means making sure any loose threads or lint have been removed from the embroidery area. Often, when you clip a loose thread, lint appears on the embroidered area, particularly if it is a dark garment. To remedy this, take a piece of clear packing tape and wrap it around your fingers (with the adhesive part facing outward) to make a lint brush. Gently lift anything that looks messy from the garment, make sure all of the hoop marks are gone, neatly fold the garment and put it in a clear plastic bag for a nice presentation.

Be as creative as you can when it comes to helping your customers think of how to portray what they do. This design conveyed our vision and shows what can be said with needle and thread. Combining symbols — like the anchor and chain in this case — portrays how embroidery can be used to create meaningful memories. Before I owned a boat, I did not even think about the possibilities of selling to the boating market. Now, everyone who comes to our boat for an outing has something with which they can commemorate the event.

This project shows that the products you create with embroidery have a larger impact than you realize. By word of mouth from my own boating-enhanced apparel, I now have done work for people who give away robes, towels, etc., with their boat logos on them to guests who spend the weekend or take a ride with them. What a fun way to remember a boat trip — and it all starts with a unique piece of embroidery. By successfully tailoring stock designs to your clients’ needs, you can grow your business in new and fun ways, and keep orders moving out the door quickly.

Melanie Coakley is a long-time embroidery industry expert. Owner of EmbroideryFX ( in Chattanooga, Tenn., she also presents seminars, contributes to industry publications and works as a consultant.

Services and Resources