Erich Campbell reveals his top tips for decorating waterproof outerwear

As the weather turns wetter and colder, branded apparel buyers turn their attention to water-resistant garments that offer effective insulation. Unfortunately, embroidery is the enemy of water resistance, for obvious reasons: punching thousands of tiny holes through a fabric and populating them with threads that act like a wick, drawing water through the design, can compromise even the most advanced fabric waterproofing and insulation technology. Fortunately, however, there are ways to stitch waterproof outerwear and still keep your customers warm and dry…

Sealing film

As explained, if you repeatedly penetrate a fabric with needles you create holes, so to maintain a fabric’s waterproof properties you need to then seal those holes. The simplest sealing method is to apply a thermal adhesive sealing film to the back of the embroidery.

On a water-resistant softshell, using a sealing film may be difficult. Some materials with bonded fleece or other textured inner surfaces may not have great adhesion with the film. Always test before offering this option to a client

For this job, the water-resistant and insulated jackets were manufactured specifically for use with patches. They each had a patch of loop fastener material stitched in the left-chest area before being made up and lined; this allowed for the creation of custom patches backed with hook material which allowed for the use of interchangeable logos that didn’t compromise the protective properties of the jacket. This particular patch was sublimated, but it could have easily been replaced with a fully embroidered version

Start by cutting a patch of the film that is larger than the embroidery at least 1/2 inch. For thin garments, round any corners on the film to reduce visible outlines once you’ve applied the film. Then remove any protective covering, exposing the shiny, adhesive side of the film and placing it against the back of the embroidery from which you’ve removed excess stabiliser. Cover the film with a protective sheet and press, using the temperature and pressure settings specified by your film’s manufacturer. Once applied, this film will be bonded to garment permanently, but you should allow the film up to 48 hours to set before washing. Note that not all films adhere to all material types; test on your specific garment type before offering to clients.

Magnetic hoops

Quilted, ‘puffy’ waistcoats and jackets can be difficult to embroider due to the thickness of the garment causing stitch quality concerns and difficulty in hooping, particularly with slippery shell materials. Even so, we can kit up for easier execution on these garments.

Stock blank patches, pre-edged with a classic overlock stitch, can be ordered with or without adhesive to be embroidered on-site with your customer‘s logo. They are a great companion to more labour-intensive and thus more costly options, including creating your own custom-cut patches, or the less timely option of ordering from a larger emblem supplier. Pre-edged patch blanks come in sizes and colours to match almost any project. Having a stock collection of simple shapes in a couple of colours can keep you ready to deliver on any item you’d rather not embroider directly

Conventional hoops are difficult to close on quilted pieces and can cause problems keeping the layers of the garment aligned. Yes, you could use pinning to maintain alignment when pressing in the top hoop, however magnetic hoops do away with these difficulties. The force of their strong magnets holds the garment in place and, since they do not rely on a friction fit, they are easier to apply to the shifting ‘sandwich’ of a quilted garment’s layers. Secure the bottom hoop into a fixture, place your stabiliser and garment in alignment over it, and lower the top hoop. The strong magnets snap in place, pushing directly down without shifting.


Quilted materials benefit from a complete underlay before your design runs to permanently affix the garment to the stabiliser and stitch the layers together. If your design allows this, it lends stability to the piece, and using separate underlays on each element can help to tamp down the insulating material, creating a flatter, prepared design area. Be aware that the first few stitches may not form correctly on thicker quilted pieces, so you may want to set several slow stitches before your design begins to ensure stitch formation.

The versatility of the heat press for embroiderers can’t be overstated. Whether you want to seal direct embroidery, apply heat-adhesive patches or print your own sublimated patches for a customer, the heat press makes your shop adaptable

These ‘perfect edge’ embroidered patches ordered from a specialist emblem supplier come ready to adhere with thermal adhesive, offering a look comparable to direct embroidery, but without penetrating the garment. Provided your garment has no coatings that prevent the adhesive from working, these may be the simplest way to decorate without compromising your garment

Patching it together

Applying patches avoids any of the drawbacks associated with embroidering directly onto waterproof garments, as patches can be applied with heat-seal adhesives for a nopuncture finish. However, you should always test to ensure your heat-seal adhesive won’t be thwarted by water-resistant coatings, before entering into production. If heat sealing isn’t an option, then using a stitched patch will still drastically reduce the number of needle penetrations in comparison with a directly embroidered logo.

Finishing the job

Whether you choose to stitch through and seal or use patch blanks and a heat press to emblazon your weather-resistant garments with customer emblems, there’s no reason why you can’t create desirable looks without compromising their high perceived value.

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.