Cap embroidery for beginners
Caps don't need to live up to their difficult reputation
For many home embroiderers or folks just entering the professional industry, mentioning caps can bring upon a little bit of uneasiness. I like to think of caps as just being a little misunderstood. Sometimes its not the cap that's the problem but the design itself. Their curved shape can make it trickier to work with than flat items, but with practice and patience you can make them look great!
If you are unsure about if a piece of artwork will work on a cap, print out a copy in the size you want to sew, that way you can visualize if it can be digitized and sews successfully. If it is a design for a customer, be sure to show him or her right away so you can mention what you think needs to be changed to make the design sew better. Give him or her a choice about any changes and then let him decide what to do from there. Don't feel pressured into working on something you feel will not look good or that may take too much time to do.
Cap frames can vary in size by different manufacturers, but a good rule of thumb is to keep designs under 2.25" tall and 4.5" wide so that they fit best on modern style low-crown caps
Part of making caps less painful is to prepare well for cap embroidery. There are three basic steps to follow, including control, framing and digitizing. You need all three of these to do the best possible job and have a sellable item when you're done.
You have to have control of the cap to embroider it successfully. Thus, you need to know how flexible the cap will be. Take the cap in your hand, and make it go exactly where you want it to go. Make it bend and form to fit the frame. It's just a piece of fabric with some stitching to hold it together, so don't make it more difficult than it is. Mold the bill with your hands. Place a hand on each side of the cap with your thumbs on top of the bill and the rest of your hand under it, almost in a fist. Move the bill back and forth, and soften it a little. At the same time, pull the sweatband out. Get a feel for the cap. You will get faster in time and be able to do all of these things in one movement.
Now it is time to frame the cap. When you realize there is only one way to do this, it becomes a lot easier. The type of embroidery equipment you have usually determines the type of frame you use. The most difficult part of framing is the top of the cap and what to do with it. Today, both high- and low-profile caps are being embroidered, but it may be more difficult to do low profile caps if you have older frames. Some frames are adjustable, but who wants to readjust frames with each order? In this case two sets of frames are better. A pain, but better.
The thing to remember is to get the cap as tight and as smooth as possible. Pull the cap, and make it go where you want it. Use your third hand if you have to. OK, I know you don't have a third hand, so make good use of the two you have. The cap will move, but only if you make it move.
When you are finished framing, the top of the cap should be smooth and have no pleats or bumps inside the sewing area. If you have any, you need to pull the top of the cap away from the sewing area until you have a flat surface on which to sew. The same applies to the sides of the cap. Most machines have wrap-around frames, so be sure to pull the sides tight and wrinkle-free.
If you still have trouble with the crown folding and you can't pull the cap tight enough, you can spray the very top center of the cap with Magic Sizing, which is available in the laundry section of the grocery store. This will soften the section enough so you can work with it. Be sure to let it dry before you start to sew. What I do is spray four caps at once, and when I start to frame the last one, I spray four more, and so on. By the time you get them on the machine, they are dry. Since this is a very time-consuming process, use it only as a last resort.
If you don't do your own digitizing, be sure you have a good working relationship with the one you use. Some of the details he needs to know include whether it is a five or six panel cap, what fabric the cap is made of and if you plan to use a backing. Good artwork is a must if you want a good design; blurry pictures from a cell phone camera just won't cut it.. Make sure color changes are defined. Give your digitizer the exact height and width you want the finished design to be. Your digitizer will also appreciate knowing what thread you plan to use, especially if you are going to use metallic thread. If you plan on doing your own digitizing, be sure to program the elements so that they sew from the center of the cap towards the outside edges. This will reduce bunching and keep better alignment.
We have talked about things to do before sewing, now let's get to the fun part, sewing the cap. You may need to change needles for different kinds of caps. On caps that have a hard backing, I like to use a sharp needle. Most of the time an 11/75 will do the trick. If you are working with small letters with a fine outline, you may need to change the size. I know this sounds like a lot of work, but the finished product will justify all the extra time. If you have a seven- or nine-needle machine, you may want to keep your cap's needle in one spot. This way you won’t have to change it each time you sew caps.
Backing is something you should use on all caps. Even if you don't feel you need it to stabilize the stitching, you need it to help keep cap fibers from falling into the rotary hook. This makes a mess and makes it necessary to clean the machine more often. I use a lightweight tearaway. A regular square cut for sewing shirts is fine for this purpose.
When sewing on a soft cap, such as wool, you need to make sure the entire sewing area of the frame is covered. The backing really needs to be larger than the opening, so that when you start, the stitching doesn't pull to the center and cause the design to be out of registration. It would be the same as making sure the entire area of a shirt frame is covered and the backing is tight in the frame. Wool is soft and needs the backing to be tight so the stitches have something to hold onto. I use a medium to heavyweight cutaway for this kind of cap. You may even need to use a topping to get the design to stand up.
Always remember to use topping on corduroy. I like to use double-sided tape to hold the backing in place while I frame the cap. I find two places easy to get to on the framing device and then place the tape there. You will be surprised at how well this works. Not having to worry about the backing moving about is a big help.
Don't let bad experiences in the past keep you from sewing caps in the future. Every year new technology is making them easier to sew. There is definitely a need. So give it a try.