Topping Off Your Sales

Topping Off Your Sales

Byline: Gary Snyder

Acasual look around will tell you that embellished hats may be second only to screenprinted T-shirts as a visual forum for spreading one’s chosen message. Both mediums are overt displays of an individual’s affiliation with a particular group or idea. Whether the assertion promotes a cause or identifies a company, an embroidered cap is a very direct expression of what goes on underneath. And, like imprinted T-shirts, most everyone owns multiple hats to suit their given moods.

Either as autonomous apparel or as part of an entire ensemble for your corporate customers, a hat is an appealing commodity, but it can present its own particular set of sewing problems.

Holding Up Your End

The best type of cap to decorate depends on your machine’s capabilities. The general consensus is, unless an embroiderer is adequately equipped with the proper accessories, unstructured caps put up the least resistance. The sewing surface is softer and lies flatter than its reinforced counterpart.

“Some home embroiderers have a little more trouble with a structured hat,” acknowledges Phil Christiansen, national sales manager for Daystone International Corp. in Roselle, Ill. “It is a little stiffer in the front, and you have that seam to sew.”

A structured hat incorporates a liner material like buckram, a coarse woven fabric of cotton or linen that is infused with glue, to support the front panel and stabilize it during the sewing process. But the buttressing interlining should not be too stiff or it could create difficulties.

“It’s always easier when you aren’t dealing with the buckram. You have a little have more leeway,” says Chris Giaquinta, owner of Embroidery Express. “You don’t have issues with breaking needles and that sort of thing.”

The La Mesa, Calif., company offers a large assortment of caps to its custom clientele and, over the years, has resolved the embroidery process to a science, regardless of whether the topper is structured or unstructured. “We have dialed it in to where we can take on any kind of hat,” states Giaquinta.

Unstructured caps do necessitate some form of stabilization, typically a cutaway or tearaway backing. Judicious use of spray adhesive can aid in securing the entire setup, although excessive use can gum up your needle. The intent is to provide sufficient support and to minimize the distortion resulting from the interaction between the needle, the thread and the fabric. The incessant pushing and pulling action ultimately deforms the original image.

A perfect circle, for instance, becomes an ideal oval because the sides are pushed out during the sewing process. The effect is even more evident where the design elements require an outline to achieve accurate registration. Sometimes you can get lucky transposing a left-chest logo to the front of a cap, but more often than not the result clearly will be distorted.

The Seamy Side

The best way to compensate for the push-pull reaction is to make the necessary adjustments in the digitizing stage where standard modifications include extending the horizontal elements and reducing the vertical elements of the design. The amount of adjustment must take into account such physical properties as the fabric, the thread and the stitch density.

“The design should be digitized for headwear; that is a critical part of the embroidery process,” says Giaquinta, a long-time puncher himself. “You can have the best hat in the world, but if the design isn’t digitized properly, you’re going to have problems.”

Seams are obvious obstructions to clean embroidery on most types of hats. The tighter the seams, the more seamless the embroidery.

“Caps that have flat seams in the front are always easier to embroider,” says Teka Long, director of purchasing for Alternative Apparel in Atlanta. “Then you don’t have as much puckering when you are doing the embroidery.”

Puckering is a consequence of the fabric being gathered by the stitches, an effect that is quite conspicuous on caps due to the usually high stitch density on a relatively small sewing field. Possible causes of puckering include inadequate backing, incorrect thread tension or a dull needle.

Finished caps tend to limit the dimensions of the design and make the sewing process inherently unstable because it is conducted on a cylindrical frame to retain the shape. Cap frames are standard equipment with many embroidery machines although an optional assortment of specialty holders that accommodate unusual design placements can also be purchased. Even eyelets can get in the way of smooth stitching when embellishing the sides or back of the hat.

If the prospect of dealing with the complications of a finished cap is too daunting, however, you may want to consider the comparative simplicity of a panel program.

Doffing To Experience

When entering a panel program, you have to take the additional lead time into account, a potential showstopper in a society where delivery on-demand reigns. The delay can be significant because you have to obtain the blank panels from the manufacturer, embroider them, return them to your supplier for final assembly, then receive the finished goods before you can deliver them and receive payment.

Another consideration is that, generally speaking, your customer must commit to a larger order to make it worth everyone’s trouble. Daystone International, according to Christiansen, offers a panel program for any of their domestically manufactured hats in minimum orders of 72.

Pacesetter Cap Inc. in Waycross, Ga., is one supplier that recently has implemented a crown program allowing smaller embroiderers to sew flat caps in quantities as small as two dozen. You can select from an inventory of assembled cap crowns to which they attach the brim, sweatband and rear closure. The crowns don’t even have to be hooped according to their instructions, merely aligned within a hoop you have established as a template. This method effectively reduces the time spent setting up each crown for embroidery. More ambitious entrepreneurs can embroider the brim, if desired.

The company also offers a starter kit for those contemplating caps. The E-Zee Cap Kit explains how to embroider hats and facilitates experimentation by furnishing five crowns plus a system for viewing what the various combinations of crowns and brims look like assembled. Once you own the kit, Pacesetter will supply crowns in quantities as low as just one.

Obviously, a panel program is a trade-off solution, but it does afford an opportunity to furnish more elaborate embellishment with less potential headaches. Regardless of your approach, be sure to sew out a sample before you commit to a production run.

“The critical point to remember,” says Giaquinta, “is to use the proper backing and have a good surface to embroider on, especially on a finished hat. The tighter the hat, the flatter it is going to lay and the less push and pull you will have to deal with.”

Gary Snyder is a Denver-based freelancer who writes regularly for Stitches Magazine.


(Sources listed are those included in this story. For a complete listing, see the Stitches Magazine 2004 Sourcing Guide.)

Alternative Apparel Atlanta, (888) 481-4287

Daystone International Corp. Roselle, Ill., (800) 323-2360

Pacesetter Cap Inc. Waycross, Ga., (800) 272-7223

WICKid Raleigh, N.C., (866) 856-WICK

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