Embroidering on performance wear can often be more challenging than working with traditional fabrics. However, if you start off with cautious, practical techniques, you can achieve quality results. Here are a few basic tips to keep in mind when decorating on performance wear:
Hoop it right. Primarily, hoop with proper tension and don't overstretch. With stretchy materials, over-stretching in the hoop, though it may make the garment seem stable, leads to terrible puckering and distortion once the garment is unhooped. Once unhooped it also rebounds to its original shape. Hoop firmly but without putting undue tension on the material.
Use the “window” method of hooping. If you have a garment that is easily damaged by the hoop and steaming won't remove the marks, use a piece of stabilizer above and below the garment, cutting a “window” from the top layer that is larger than your embroidered design. This provides body to the overall hooped material and keeps the hoop from abrading the garment.
Use a performance wear-specific stabilizer. In recent years, suppliers have developed stabilizers that drape well and show less after being cut away, but are dimensionally stable in the hoop. They help immensely.
Use underlay and pathing to smooth the fabric. Puckering is the biggest headache with performance wear. One way to alleviate that is by using underlay to essentially baste the loose fabric of the garment to the stabilizer. Marrying the garment to the stabilizer, particularly if you can hide stitching under the entire area before you run the top stitching, can help to keep the fabric stable. Also, you can sequence and path your design to run from the center out, much like a cap design. Loose material is pushed ahead of the presser foot as you stitch. If you stitch toward an area that is already filled, you will pinch the loose fabric against the stitched area and create a ripple. If you can push away from the existing stitching, you have a tendency to smooth the loose material out as if you were spreading a tablecloth.
Use embroidery-specific adhesives. In the case of the most unstable materials, you may elect to use an embroidery-specific spray adhesive to marry the garment to the backing before stitching. While this isn't the most cost-effective way to stitch the designs, it may allow you to stitch garments you might otherwise turn away.
Preemptively offer the most “stitch-friendly” alternatives. Some performance garments stitch more easily than others. If you are providing the garments, steer your customer to your trusted sources and favorite garments first. Only stitch the worst of the worst behaving materials when you absolutely must.
When all else fails, print! More and more, professional sports teams who use performance materials are turning to heat printing for their logos. If you have a heat press, it just may save you a great deal of time and effort to create or order transfers for your next performance wear job.