Tips for Stitching Perfect Caps

Tips and Tricks for Better Caps

 If the brim goes all the way around, it is a hat.

If the brim is only on one side, it is a cap.

Either way, hooping caps can be terrifying and frustrating all at the same time. Here are ten answers to real questions that might help make you love caps…maybe

 I am having a lot of thread and needle breaks when I stitch caps. Any tips?

 A good tip o’ the cap/hat is to soften the area to be embroidered with a heat press. This removes any sizing that has been used in the construction process, flattens any center seam, and softens the fabric and any backing so the needle and its stitches can penetrate more easily.

Proper hooping is another staple answer to cap embroidery problems. The easiest caps to hoop are the ones that fit your cap frame the best. If the cap is flagging (bouncing up and down) you are inviting breaks—of thread and needles. A snug fit and proper hooping prevents flagging. So order some samples and try them out on your machine. It’s a good idea to detach the visor from the cap and fit the curve of the visor to the curve of your cap gauge. If they are a match, it’s a good cap to keep in any inventory or show your customers. It is a good idea to offer only what work the best on your machine.

 Do I have to digitize differently when the design is going on a cap?

 In spite of some argument to the contrary, I still find that digitizing inside out and bottom up for a cap will avoid a lot of possible pitfalls. This rolls the cap out from the center and up from the bottom avoiding a roll between the brim and the crown as well as any bubbling under the design. A design that is stitched this way will work on a cap or a shirt. A design that is slated for a shirt and not digitized this way, may or may not work well on a cap.

Be sure to digitize any lettering outlined in a different color, one letter at a time to ensure the best registration. If you try to stitch all the letters first, followed by the outlines, the curved and not-so-tight nature of the hooped cap can cause shifting which leads to poor alignment. Better to stitch the extra minutes that more color changes will demand than to have an under-par cap on your hands.

If your cap has a center seam, digitize some stitches that run up and then down the ditch of the seam and then across from side to side with a zigzag stitch to fill that ditch so it won’t show under the center segments of your design. If you have a large logo, fill the ditch on a center-seam cap and then place a walking stitch around the inside of where the design will be, finishing with a cross-hatch underlay in the color of the cap. If the cap has no center seam, you can place underlay under the area of the design to stabilize for stitching. (See the Hart of Embroidery column this month for more digitizing tips that can work very well with caps.) 

 What kind of needle should I use for caps?

 A #12 sharp needle should work well on caps. You can use a smaller needle on the softer low-profile caps but if you add backing you might still want to use the #12.

Try a coated needle like Teflon, which can help reduce the build-up of residue and won’t get as hot during stitching. Always use a sharp, newneedle on your cap order.

Slide a piece of waxed paper under the hooped cap to help lubricate the needle and the thread. It can help shim any gaps as well as stave off skipped stitches.

 How about thread? Any dos and don’ts?

Polyester thread is more sweat- and laundry-proof than rayon. Consider using a heavier weight thread for better coverage rather than increasing density.

Use gold rayon or polyester thread for a foundation under any metallic thread segment. Using the metallic thread for just the top-most layer saves money and reduces the stress that sometimes accompanies stitching with metallic thread. Place the cone of metallic thread as far away from the machine as possible to give the kinks and curls time to straighten out before they reach the needle.

 Any advice when I switch from flat-mode to cap-mode?

Make sure all the screws are tightened when you put on your cap frame. Be sure your tech has taught you well as some screws that need to be tightened are hard to find.

Remember that cap frames are adjustable. (See #10 for a case in point.) The cap is curved and the throat plate if flat. Dealing with a curved surface means that we have to stay ahead of that cap so really think about every step you take so you can “level” that stitching field.

Some of my customers ask for a website or name on the back of the cap. There has to be an easy way to make that happen!

There is: Scan the back of any cap you are going to stitch on and name it—the maker and style identification of the cap will work best. Save it in a folder (how about calling that Cap Back Templates?) and then import the one you need into your digitizing program. Shape the lettering to the curve of the opening (called the keyhole) and you’re good to go. Center the name (keep in mind that when the first letter is upper case, the name might center differently.)

Another alternative is to trace the curve of the keyhole and digitize from that…but if the cap will fit on the scanner, why bother with the paper and pencil?

What can I offer my cap customers that will set me apart from the other stitchers?

 How about some bling? Adding sequins (stitched into the design if you have a machine that does that) or rhinestones can add real punch to those caps. You can replace the button on top with something whimsical. A nickname on the back that reads “Ladybug” is just begging for a matching button on top. Check out the button section at your local fabric store and let your imagination soar. Ready-made caps with these special flourishes should fly off your shelf, even in these cash-challenged times.

I have a hard time hooping caps. What can make it easier?

You may encounter the customer who wants a cap you don’t carry or brings a cap in that is just their fave. That is when you will be well-served by the practicing you have done on your cap-hooping techniques as well as studying the designs that work best on caps. You can use masking tape, felt, or pieces of backing to shim to fill in where the cap and the frame aren’t snug. Check that the visor is tight against the throat plate everywhere. That, combined with a design that is cap-ready will give you the best shot at a not-so-friendly cap job.

Some embroiderers find that just two clips on the back of the cap frame hold perfectly. Others use a clip in the body of the cap to take up the slack on each side and flatten the front so it is more embroidery-friendly.

Your cap frames are adjustable…so think about it and use whatever works. Any answer that works is a good one.

I use topping on some caps and just can’t clean it all out. What can I do to have a nicer “presentation” of my finished caps?

 Place a damp cloth over the front of the cap and give it a warm moment or two on your cap press. The leftover topping should be gone. Add the finishing touch with a spritz of Magic Sizing. This will also restore some of the stiffness that you may have removed when softening the cap with the press for embroidery.

 How do I hoop a bucket hat?

Just when we think we have it down pat (the hooping of a cap) we encounter the hat which has a brim all around that has to be tamed. Carolyn Klages of Klages Kreations in Oviedo, Florida shared her answer to the hat dilemma with members of my Embroidery Line forum (

She wrote: “There are three things that are key to hooping the bucket hat. The first is to loosen the screws on the metal straps of the cap frame and make the frame big enough to get the brim folded under (remember to tighten them after you get them to the right spot).  The second is to put both straps above the brim rather than straddling the brim as you do with a cap.  The third is making sure that the teeth of frame straps are gripping behind the teeth of the cap frame to ensure that there is no shifting during the embroidery process.  I put my stabilizer all the way around and I do use my clamps on the back of the hat if the hat construction allows it.  The seam where the brim meets the crown should be right up to the back of the cap gauge—where the edge of the sweat band would normally be.” 

Final Thoughts

Once you have reached a real comfort level with caps and hats (and it can be done) you will be ready to add bling, buttons, and more. When you offer your customer something they can’t get anywhere else, they’ll share their “find” with the world and you’ll be doing more caps then ever….That’s good for the bottom line…and will give you lots of practice.