Strategic Placement

With over 35 years in the embroidery industry with particular emphasis on writing, education, and digitizing, Helen Hart Momsen is widely published in the trade press. Momsen founded and moderates the Embroidery Line (, the longest continuously running internet forum for apparel decorators. A sought-after speaker for many years for THE NBM SHOW, Momsen has authored two ground-breaking books on professional embroidery, available at

We all have that moment when we look at an item waiting for embroidery and scratch our head thinking what would be the best way to tackle this job? I’ve heard so many funny stories about difficult hooping; descriptions of embroiderers trying to frame horse blankets on hands and knees to gain that “third hand” are often shared in my Printwear Show seminars and at the Embroidery Line (Embroidery and more often than not the mental pictures the stories bring forth reduce the classes to gales of laughter.

What is wonderful about the world of embroidery is that it is young and open to any interpretation on how to get the job done. You haven’t done it “wrong” if the result is right. It’s a heady feeling to be able to write the rules—or disregard any that have already been written. I included a column for notes in both my books for just that reason—if you find a different or a better way write it down, right in the book.

You can stitch an item standing on your head—or standing on its head. Examples of this are turning a sweatshirt (and the design) upside down in order to have a wider opening for the collarette (no stretching) and to keep the sleeves out of the way. You can turn a jacket sideways for a left-chest logo, keeping all the body and the sleeves out of harm’s way, rotating the design to compensate for the orientation on your machine’s control panel.

Clamping devices, hoopless hooping frames, bulldog and quilt clips, double-sided carpet tape, adhesive spray, basting stitches—all of these things and more can be found in the average embroiderer’s arsenal of tools. Our workspaces include items from the stationary store, the hardware store as well as the sewing store. We use what gets the job done and makes our work a little easier.

So, with all these innovative tricks in mind, I thought I’d toss out a few of my own and, if they tickle your fancy, give them a try. If you have a better idea, let me know. I am always open to new and creative ideas that keep it easy to love what I do.

Cap backs

One of the best ways to get more mileage out of advertising on a cap is to put the phone number, slogan or web address on the back of the cap. This is not only non-confrontational for you and the person wanting to make a quick note of your contact information, but also leaves more room for “other stuff” on the front of the cap.

But how to match the lettering to the curve on the back of the cap? Called the keyhole, the semi-circular opening above the buckle or Velcro closure and the arch created are not consistent from one brand to the next. (Isn’t that true of almost everything in this industry?)

I like to scan the back of the cap and save it with the name and number of the brand so I have a perfect template of the area where the lettering goes. You could also trace the opening and scan that into your digitizing software. Better than a guess, this gives you a perfect match and a set starting point for your embroidery. Just measure up on your template to where you want the embroidery to be, prepare the design, hoop the back of the cap (your regular hoops will work just fine for back-of-cap embroidery) and set your starting point according to your design. The end result should be a perfect match of  the arc of the letters to the curve of the keyhole every time.

Cap sides

You can do the same thing with the side of a cap. We can all tell by looking that most caps don’t have straight sides. There is a definite slant upwards from the bill to the back panel.

Draw and scan or just scan the side of the cap (make sure you scan the slope—don’t straighten it on the scanner), then prepare your graphic or lettering to stitch straight.

Those of you who are comfortable with the kinds of angle tools used to measure corners for cutting wood molding can figure the angle of the slant and compensate for it handily in your digitizing software.

Staying in the hoop

Use your favorite drawing program to design templates of your different hoop sizes and import those parameters into your digitizing software for a head-start on coloring inside the lines. This is especially helpful when the widest part of the design is in the smallest area of your circular hoop. How many have every looked at a design that was 10mm at the widest point and thought a 12mm hoop will work just fine—then realized, hopefully when you traced before stitching, that the 10mm part of the design is at the bottom—the narrowest part of the hoop! Remember to always use the trace function on your machine as a safety precaution!

Create a template for each hoop to use at your ordering desk to instantly determine if a design will fit in a hoop—and automatically add the art charges for changing the size if it doesn’t.

Collars and straps and cuffs, oh my!

For those once-in-a-while jobs, you can trace the shape (with a marker that will not rub off on the fabric) on a piece of hooped backing. If it is the type of backing that you can spritz with water for a tacky bond, you can then adhere the item to the backing for stitching.

If you are using regular backing, a spray adhesive meant for fabrics will do the trick. Make sure you spray away from the machine. I prefer to carefully spray the backing inside the drawn shape, rather than the fabric (you can mask the hoop and the rest of the backing with waxed paper, bond paper or even backing scraps).

Take a stitched or printed template of the embroidery design in the correct size and use it to mark the start point. You are then ready to stitch and the design will fit nicely. Sometimes items might not be big enough to hoop all the way around, but I try to hoop what I can and use the tack-down method to secure the rest of the item. I find with straps that hooping the ends of the strap (if not too thick) and adhering the rest between guidelines, keeps the goods straight throughout the stitching process.

If you have certain stock items that you embroider over and over—the collar or cuff on a blouse or shirt you offer in your shop, or dog collars and leashes—you can create permanent templates in your digitizing software. Simply scan in the items (be sure to check if you need different size scans for the various shirt sizes) and create templates, just like you did for the arch on the back of those caps.

Another way to approach this is similar to appliqué. You can create a stitch file with the template and sew it right on the water-activated backing (like the placement guide in the appliqué process), place the item when the backing is tacky, then stitch.

If you are using regular backing or just want to be sure your garment or goods won’t move, you can add a basting stitch (similar to the tack-down stitch in appliqué) right around the edge of the item to secure it in place—long stitches that can be removed easily after the embroidery is complete. 

Ye olde ruler

Some people consider even left-chest logo placement on shirts and jackets to be a challenge. Over the years I have found that an L-shaped square is a valuable tool in the embroidery work room. This is a rectangular two-sided ruler, in the shape of the letter “L.” I find it more useful than a T-square as the head of the T-square can’t catch on a shirt or other garment as it can on a drafting table. I place the long side of the L-square against the sweet spot on the shirt (where the collar meets the shoulder seam) and it is then an easy task to slide the short side down to the optimum spot on the shirt for the logo, and mark the center—where the two legs meet.

L-squares are also helpful in determining if the construction of a jacket is true (measure from the bottom of the armhole to the waistband on each side).

Measuring twice

The old saw exhorts us to measure twice and cut once. This is especially true with embroidery although we are not cutting but stitching. Use a mannequin or a real model to determine placement on garments so your stitching doesn’t end up under the arm and is in a suitable place for either gender.

Use any stripes or construction points on the goods to determine placement (as well as to determine if the garment is even, true and symmetrically assembled). Higher-end shirt manufacturers pay attention to where the stripes fall on sleeves and collars.

And, when you are confronted with challenging shapes like collars and cap backs, or items that must be stitched straight with even borders, such as belts, dog collars and leashes, put your thinking cap on and prepare a jig—which can be as simple as preparing a template with your drawing program or stitching. You’ll find yourself doing a jig when your embroidery is as excellent and true as you know it should be.

Doing it right keeps it easier to love what you do. Remember the saying “The person who does what he loves will never have to work a day in his life.” Hug your math teacher this month—he may not have taught you about T-squares and L-squares but he certainly taught you enough about math to do what you do—and it is amazing how much math there is in embroidery.