T-shirts might be a staple of the garment decoration world, but that doesn’t mean they are easy to embroider. Erich Campbell offers some sure-fire tips that will see you stitching them with ease
The T-shirt is the quintessential decorated garment, and yet it presents a host of problems for embroiderers. Its instability, fragility and texture interact poorly with embroidery, frequently making this popular garment for the print world into a burden for those who stitch. Luckily, with a holistic approach to our substrate, design and stitching process, we can prepare for those times when customers demand a combination of the classic look of a tee with the timeless charm of embroidery.
There’s a yawning gulf between the experience of embroidering a burnout ‘tissue’ tee and a 205gsm heavyweight shirt. When customers demand tees, be prepared with a curated selection that will hold up to the stresses of stitching. Caution your customer: the lighter the garment they select, the less stitching it can safely withstand.
Dive into designs
Taking into account some basic truths about tees – ie that they are incredibly stretchy, particularly in the horizontal aspect of the garment, that the jersey knit structure that defines them has a vertical rib that lends a grain to the fabric, and that the material in most tees is light and pliable – it’s easy to see that certain designs are more likely to cause trouble than others.
Fully filled, multi-layered designs and those with fine vertical lines or vertical fills will overly distort the fabric and interact with the grain, losing details or showing too much of the ground through the fills.
Whenever possible, use light, airy designs, reduce densities by using structural underlay to lift up top stitching, and avoid vertical fills and lines that can ‘fall’ into the grain. The lighter the tee selected, the lighter the design should be, resulting in a garment with less distortion and a good hand.
Stabilise and conquer
The soft, light tee with its defining stretch requires a dimensionally stable backing for any moderately dense stitching. Sadly, even a medium cutaway stabiliser can often show through a thinner tee, or the cut edge of the stabiliser will be revealed through the pliable material. Using a no-show poly mesh stabiliser can greatly reduce this show-through while maintaining the necessary resistance to stretching.
Tear-aways can be tempting, but the thin material of most tees is prone to tearing itself and can rarely take the stress of tearing away excess stabiliser unless one uses extreme care; moreover most designs benefit from the continued reinforcement of permanent stabiliser that won’t degrade with wash and wear.
Hoop with care
Tees are prone to pucker and ripple: though this would seem to be from loose hooping, it can also occur when a tee hooped with its material overstretched rebounds after being released from the hoop. When hooping a tee, take care not to stretch it more than you’d reasonably expect it to stretch when worn.
If your material is overly shifting, even with the addition of underlay that marries it to the stabiliser, consider using an adhesive backing or an embroidery specific spray to adhere it to the stabiliser. Avoid cutting or ‘burning’ the material by hooping too tight, and employ a ‘window’ of stabiliser atop the garment for more fragile tees.
In short, by selecting the most stitch-friendly garment, sticking to designs that complement the substrate, and hooping carefully with the correct stabiliser, you may find the humble T-shirt taking a more prominent (and profitable) role in your product line.
Erich Campbell is an award-winning digitiser, embroidery columnist and educator, with 18 years’ experience both in production and the management of e-commerce properties. He is the partner relationship manager for DecoNetwork in the USA.