Master the Tough Stuff and Stand Out

Stitch It International
Tuesday, February 09, 2021

This article was originally published in Graphics Pro Magazine, July 2020 Edition, pg 82-83. Graphics Pro owns the rights to the content and images, with permission to republish on The original article can be accessed here: Master the Tough Stuff and Stand Out.

By Jennifer Cox, NNEP President

How to Handle the Challenge of Specialty Embroidery Projects

Most embroidery professionals are more than proficient at producing quality traditional embroidery, such as left chest designs, full front and full back designs, monograms, and even ballcaps and headwear. In fact, it is likely that the majority of your business falls into these mainstay categories, as they are what most of our customers want and need.

What do you do when an order comes your way that requires a special touch? Maybe it is a custom tote bag with an unusual design; or a shaded design that blends from one color into another in ink beautifully, but is challenging to create in thread. You can turn away the job because you are unsure of how to accomplish the desired outcome, or you can tackle something new and add one more unique layer to your business to help you stand out from the other people that offer embroidery in your area.

Specialty embroidery includes any kind of order that pushes you beyond using your normal hoops and hooping methods, tools, stabilizers, products, materials, digitizing methods, or threads. If it causes you to pause and think, “I’m going to have to try and figure something out to get this to work,” it is specialty embroidery.

The good news is that, A) there is solution, usually; and B) you can charge more for this order because it’s more challenging. Here are some examples of embroidered goods where the embroidery professionals went past the typical right into the land of crafting special and unique solutions to create orders that pleased their customers.

It does not easily fit on the embroidery machine.
Kevin and Tamara Boyer, owners of Threadart and Everything Promotional, had a client that wanted their logo on large, insulated catering bags. The only location they could get the embroidery to work was on a pocket on the side.

In order to get these bags on the machine, they had to remove the tables and hold the bags up with totes. This kept the weight of the bags from dragging down and impacting the quality of the embroidery and the design registration. Once they came up with their solutions to support the bags, they were able to crank out the order without risking ruining any of the bags.

specialty embroidery

The client wanted a logo on large, insulated catering bags. The only location to embroider was a pocket on the side. In order to get it on the machine, the folks at Threadart had to remove the tables and hold the bags up with totes. (Image courtesy Threadart)

We ran into a similar issue when we hooped heavy winter jackets. The weight of the jackets pulled on the hoops, even popping the hoop off while it was sewing, which becomes an expensive mistake in just a second or two. We rigged a support system using adjustable sawhorse stands and a wide board in front of the sewing heads to keep the jackets on the same level as the sewing area, with the ability to move easily and smoothly, but remain clear of the sewing field.

Slippery or Delicate Fabrics
Bridal, robes, silk scarves and handkerchiefs, and satin pillows and other products that are made of thin, delicate, or slippery materials present unique hooping and sewing challenges. If you are using plastic hoops, the fabric may not hold tightly enough when hooped, making it difficult to get consistent tension in the sewing field.

Here is a solution that may help you do these jobs with a minimum amount of risk and frustration. Construct and use hooping donuts to create a soft surface that will hold the fabric in the hoop tightly yet not damage the fabric.

Cut a circle of thick cutaway stabilizer backing about 2 inches larger than the hoop size you need. Then fold it in half, and in half again, so that you have something that looks like a quarter of a pie. Trim away the middle two thirds of the pie slice. When you unfold the pie piece, you now have what looks like a donut made out of backing.

Place this on top of the fabric to be embroidered before you seat the upper hoop. This piece of backing holds the fabric in place and does not allow it to slide against the plastic hoop. The open area gives you plenty of room to sew your design without catching any of this donut. This approach also works well on textured fabrics such as piqué to prevent hoop burn.

Shaded Designs
Many embroidery professionals say, “It can’t be done,” when a customer shows them a logo that is full-color and has shading, parts that blend from one color into another within that design element. This is rather straightforward to create with ink, but not so easy to create with threads since they do not blend together to create a range of colors.

When you mix red and yellow inks in a well-executed screen-printed image, you can create a range of colors that end up looking like awesome flames. Yet when you attempt to create that same image with red and yellow thread, for example, you end up with red and yellow thread. Or do you?

See the image below for an example of a specialty embroidery job on a heavy canvas coat that took over four hours to stitch. Adriane Cropley of Rocking My SewJo LLC had the design digitized using a blending technique with different colored threads to replicate the look of the shaded ink in the logo. It was digitized by Luiz Vitor Mendes Neto, the owner of Vitor Digitizing.

specialty embroidery

This design was digitized using a blending technique with different colored threads to replicate the look of the shaded ink in the logo. (Image courtesy Rocking My SewJo LLC)

Unusual and Unique Products
What do you do when customers want something that does not exist? If your name is Debbie Van Atta, you start making and customizing the products yourself and fill the need. She has had an Etsy shop for six years now, selling her handmade and monogrammed gun cases and shotgun cases under her brand Southern Lady Gun Cases.

specialty embroidery

Debbie Van Atta sells her handmade and monogrammed gun cases and shotgun cases on Etsy under her brand Southern Lady Gun Cases. (Image courtesy Southern Lady Gun Cases)

If your name is Kathy Krisher of DreamWeaver Fiber, and you have a great design from Helen Beere of Crafty Hound Designs, you create an awesome burlap tote that really speaks to who you are.

specialty embroidery

These unique totes really speak to who the user is. (Image courtesy DreamWeaver Fiber)

Teresa Giltner of MT Needleworks creates unique products from photographs. She turns an ultrasound image into an adorable custom door hanger and creates pillows using images of family pets.

specialty embroidery

Teresa Giltner turned an ultrasound image into an adorable custom door hanger. (Image courtesy MT Needleworks)

Go Beyond Ordinary
Nearly every embroidery professional can and does create and sell left chest logos and designs all day long. Many usually also create full front and jacket backs as well as headwear. If you can make something that others don’t, you have an advantage.

By offering something unique, special, or different, you are able to serve customers that are looking for that something extra. If you are willing to say, “Yes, I can do that,” even when you have no idea how to do it, and then you go figure it out, you have what it takes to be successful in the embroidery business. You never know where that one experiment will lead—it could turn into a full-blown product line or business in its own right if there is enough demand for it.

Jennifer Cox is one of the founders and serves as president of the National Network of Embroidery Professionals (NNEP), an organization that supports embroidery and apparel decoration professionals with programs and services designed to increase profitability and production. You can contact her at

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