High-Flying Outerwear Embroidery

Go behind the scenes to learn the full process involved in stitching an old-style garment with a modern twist.

By Alice Wolf, Contributing Writer

October 3, 2017

When a vintage style meets an innovative performance fabric, the possibilities for the garment can soar. When tasked with embroidering a design on such a garment, imaginations can be difficult to contain.

Such was the case when a team consisting of an accomplished digitizer, a graphic designer and an embroiderer stitched a design on the back of the Port Authority soft-shell bomber jacket (style J337) from SanMar. Methods were shared openly, suggestions were offered freely and time — our most precious commodity — was invested for everyone’s benefit. The following is an account of the process, followed by a step-by-step summary of the embroidery production process.

The 1940s-era aviation theme for this project featured a modern twist and vintage airplane. The design team included graphic designer Morgan Diltz, Madeira USA; master digitizer Rich Medcraft, StitchWise Embroidery Design, Eagle Point, Oregon; and embroiderer Nancy Mini, Madeira USA.

The Graphic Approach
“I loved this project!,” Diltz says. “I researched flight schools, sky-diving companies and old-fashioned planes. The diamond and triangle shapes are common themes, along with chevrons for the military connection. I knew that I was going to be working with a dark background [on the garment], so I was thinking along the lines of bright colors. It turns out that orange is a common color used in vintage airplane logos. Also, the more subtle sepia tones were used a lot, so I incorporated the tan into our design.”

After adding the name of a flight school, “Sky’s The Limit Aviation Academy,” the design was turned into vector art for digitizing.

Digitizing The Design
Medcraft explains his digitizing thought process thusly: “What is the size of the design, what are the sizes of jackets it will be going on, are there any weird seams or pleats and what color is the jacket?” he asks. “With Sky’s The Limit, my first key element was the wording across the top. I think the satin stitch is the prettiest stitch for lettering, but it should never go wider than 8mm. The overall design of Sky’s the Limit is 10 inches wide, so I knew I’d be able to use a satin stitch for those large letters and not have them go wider than the 8mm.”

Medcraft adds that the jacket’s dark color meant he could use lighter densities. “For covering issues, the darker threads could take a lighter density,” he says. “Only the tan color needed a little more. I chose to use Madeira’s Classic Rayon #40 thread because of the color selection, its sheen and how well it sews. I tend to be conservative in the artistic choices I make, sometimes using specialty thread to solve problems, but this design was very straightforward.”

A 40-weight metallic thread was used for the propeller as a highlight and in order to give the effect of movement. “I lightened the density in the blurred area and deliberately let the color of the plane show through, again, to imply movement,” Medcraft says. “I chose matte-finish Frosted Matt #40 [thread] for the tires and the ‘EST. 2017’ text in order to bring those elements forward and add to the design’s [3-D look].”

Medcraft says most jackets are embroidery friendly, especially soft-shell jackets, which produce crisp
embroidery. In this case, the Port Authority jacket, which is called a “bomber jacket re-imagined,” was ideal because of its 100% polyester woven shell bonded to a water-resistant film insert and 100% polyester microfleece interior. The rib-knit cuffs and hem keep it fitted like a bomber jacket, while the fabric’s wicking and water-resistant properties add a modern, performancewear spin.

“I’ll digitize jackets just like I would caps: Do the element that is farthest behind first, then work my way forward,” Medcraft says. “In this case, the tires and the propeller were the last elements to stitch. I’ll also arrange it so the design is sewn from the center out and from the bottom up. Otherwise, your stitches could end up pushing one fill into another. This method also ensures good registration and that the jacket will end up laying flat.

“I was really attracted to the color blending that was going on with the green background of the design, and it was the most challenging element,” he continues. “With blending, you are layering different shades of colors with varying densities and you should use at least three colors to blend properly. In this case, I used four, starting with the darkest color first, then the lighter shades. I used an accordion stitch density that is in my Wilcom software to layer the colors in the blend, and also changed the stitch length slightly. The blend area uses no underlay because you are using less density in order to layer the colors.”

For proper placement on the jacket, Medcraft considered how the design fit from shoulder to shoulder. “Sometimes I will stitch out the design and cut it out so I can place it on the jacket back manually to see how it looks,” he says.

Embroidery Steps
Madeira’s Mini executed the design’s embroidery. See the gallery above for the step-by-step process of how she hooped, stabilized and embroidered the 53,809-stitch Sky’s The Limit jacket-back design.

Alice Wolf is the manager of education and publications for Madeira USA. She began doing marketing and public relations for the art industry in New York, and then migrated north to Madeira’s New Hampshire headquarters. For more information or to comment on this article, email Alice at awolf@madeirausa.com.