The denim jacket has been very boring in fashion for over a decade now. This item is for some epitome of frumpy. Or so very casual it becomes unmodern in style.  it is for this reason up until recently I have not worn one for three years.

The Influence Of Denim Jackets

While denim jackets have been a staple of American workwear since 1880. Being Australian I was often influenced by the Coke commercials and of course movies. Australia is so much more laid back when it comes to fashion. Hence the denim jacket is a safe place to be when venturing out and about in oz on a beach.

Denim jackets upcycling

Michael J. Fox, Back to The Future

Marty McFly’s denim jacket is as iconic as the time-travelling DeLorean he took back in 1955. Although the character is best remembered (and made fun of) for his puffer vest. McFly’s wasn’t the classic Levi Trucker jacket that denizens of 1955 (think Martin Sheen in Badlands) would be accustomed to wearing.

Manufactured by Guess with specifications from Back To The Future costume designers.


McFly’s jacket is a little more 80s stylish, with a two-tone design and sharp lining visible with his stylishly rolled-up sleeves. I can’t believe the exact jacket designed for the film was never made commercially available.

Denim Jacket Embroidery Design

David and I often brainstorm ideas in the world of embroidery. Let’s face it my nonna’s table cloth in Puglia, Italy comes to mind.  The taboo of embroidery for old ladies does not exist in Italy. I am always surrounded by embroidery art as it’s part of the Made In Italy lifestyle. Whether it be on my pillows, on my dress or on the wall embroidery is very inspiring to copy.

Why don’t you upcycle a denim jacket with embroidery on the back? 

David and I often chat about how can we come up with embroidery trends that capture the market of fast fashion?

The beauty of digital embroidery is that it can be replicated to your exact personality, lifestyle and on any denim jacket that you may love to upcycle but are exhausted with its current look.

Denim Jacket With Embroidery Art

So I went on my way and left David as the artisan to play around! A few messages during the night, he shows me his work!

Little did David know it was going to capture the attention of an Australian singer, from the early 1990s. I always loved what she wore regarding clothing effortlessly with a twist when performing. This is why the denim jacket has withstood the test of time.

Natalie Imbruglia Firebird Embroidery Art

Why is Natalie Imbruglia wearing a denim jacket with embroidery on her latest video, called On My Way?

To see it worn on Natalie’s latest video. Is music to my artisan’s ears.

Firebird represents strength and fragility and the balance between those things

 “Firebird represents strength and fragility and the balance between those things”, a concept reflecting Natalie’s often life and career. In a way, Natalie is a “firebird”.

Creative director David Morrish talks us through the approach to getting Natalie’s embroidery design done.

“For this piece I  approached the design element in a traditional way using paper and a pencil, sketching the bird to scale, tracing over and redrawing elements until happy. I adopted a co-design approach, consulting with Natalie through the design stage to ensure my ideas are meeting her expectations and needs. The bird itself fitted nicely into the back panel of the jacket provided  (A client requirement) and therefore it was a matter of digitising the design turning it into embroidery. “

Embroidery Art - Denim Jacket Style Tips

Upcycle Your Denim Jacket

I have many amazing denim jackets stored away at the moment some as twenty years old. But I know with the skill of David who is breaking new ground regarding digital embroidery art. Anything and everything is possible. They are far too boring for me now.

Embroidering A Denim jacket Behind The Scenes What Is Involved?

Cotton denim makes for an ideal cloth to digitally embroider on due to its stability and forgiving properties, helping to reduce distortion and puckering issues caused by the process, nightmare issues for all digital embroiderers! However, when digitally embroidering onto a garment such as a denim jacket, things start to get somewhat far more complicated. Depending on the client’s requirements the approach I take to designing and embroidering the artwork changes. there is not one process that fits all.

A denim jacket is constructed from separate pattern pieces sewn together using seams and possibly shaping added causing the flat fabric to have a 3D quality allowing it to fit snuggly around the body. The seams for a denim jacket are often thick and panels are usually relatively small, broken up by topstitching detailing, pockets, studs, rivets, buttons and more. This, therefore, causes issues when placing the embroidery in the required location. I  ask myself…Can it be hooped? Will the fabric lay flat? Will the needle go through the seam thickness? Will the jacket fit under the machine? What distortions could occur? Do I need to remove the pockets, buttons? How can I get around any metal elements of the jacket? Is the denim stretchy? Etc. Each design and client request needs to be reviewed and analysed on an individual basis.

For small images or images that are to be placed on the centre back panel of the jacket only (assuming there is no centre back seam) the design and production processes are pretty straightforward.


The Denim Jacket Message

For Natalie’s Firebird jacket for her new single, “On My Way” the brief was specific and clear, with the image having a personal meaning to Natalie,

 ““Firebird represents strength and fragility and the balance between those things”, a concept reflecting Natalie’s often life and career. In a way Natalie is a “firebird”.

For this piece David approached the design element in a traditional way using paper and a pencil, sketching the bird to scale, tracing over and redrawing elements until happy. I adopted a co-design approach, consulting with Natalie through the design stage to ensure my ideas are meeting her expectations and needs.

In her own words,

It’s great that Aussies love what I am doing. if Aussies like denim jackets with embroidery, is there a country that loves leather jackets with embroidery?

Being an Australian born native from an Italian background. Of course, embroidery is and has been done on leather jackets. I talk about this in another article.

How To Choose The Right Denim Jacket For Embroidery Art

The bird itself fitted nicely into the back panel of the jacket provided  (A client requirement) and therefore it was a matter of digitising the design turning it into embroidery. Again due to the image type I was able to directly move to the Wilcom E4.5 software and recreate the design manually using embroidery fills stitch types, involving Natalie again as things evolved. The colours had to be carefully selected, as they needed to reflect Natalie’s personality, reflect a firebird and also link to the album artwork image (A client requirement).. this stage took some time to get right, sampling on spare fabric to review colour combinations.

Don’t go and choose any denim jacket, consult with David the specifications needed for it to work.

Given the amount of time it takes to digitally embroider compared digitally print on fabric, there is always an element of risk, so for me to involve the client through the process reduces the chances of the client turning around at the end and saying “ they don’t like it. “ For digital reprinting artwork can take minutes whilst re – embroidering artwork can take hours, having a big impact on the running costs of a business.

Embroidery Machine Limitations

The embroidery machine limitations have a direct impact on what you can and cannot do when it comes to applying the embroidery directly to the jacket. I prefer to use a single head single needle domestic machine as it gives me a lot of control and asks me to stop and reflect on the piece as it emerges, a very much spontaneous, responsive approach ( I don’t just hit the start button and walk away as some people think). Currently, I use a Janome MC11000 hybrid domestic machine with a maximum hooping of 20×20 cm and a stitching count of 65K per hooping.

Tech Talk

Natalie’s firebird was larger than this, which meant the image had to be split and embroidered in sections and matched up like a jigsaw puzzle on the cloth, taking care to make join lines. invisible  (No easy to do!)  There are machines with larger hooping sizes and stitch counts which makes life a  lot easier. If the image can be embroidered within one hoop, then a floating hooping approach can be used, which again reduces any risk of distortion.

But like I said not all processes are the same, compare it to my current denim Jacket collaboration, an all-over embroidery for flamboyant interior designer Siobhan Murphy.

Using Siobhan’s “Donuts are a girl’s best friend” image.

Embroidery Art - Denim Jacket Style Tips

I am challenged to apply and adapt this to cover the back, front, sleeves and collar of the jacket. Siobhan is very keen for me to add my own artistic style and interpretation to her graphic and to produce something eye-catching bold and confident, reflecting her own personality and style but also bring me into the mix also. I have a lot of freedom as a creative to push the boundaries.

For this jacket, it was easier to design and embroider the jacket whilst it was in separate pieces, allowing for it lay flat and be more manageable under the machine. Once deconstructed  I was able to use Abode CAD software to design directly onto each piece, scaling, rotating and manipulating the image until I was happy it worked across all the sides of the jacket. No pen and paper were used.

Wilcom’s Software

Once the design was created in Vector format it was imported into Wilcom’s software to be digitised into embroidery,  again taking a different approach to that I did with Natalie’s. Due to the intense detailing, I used a hybrid digitizing approach combining auto digitizing and manual digitizing, a process that works well for the more detailed images and my own style. Again splitting the design into hoopable sizes was needed. Once embroidered the jacket will need remaking and any distortions will need to be taken into account. Given the artistic freedom I have been given on this peace, I have involved the client less within the process as the risk element is deemed low.

Section of my Hand & Lock, Wilcom Digital Embroidery Award submission entry, 2021.

Embroidery Art - Denim Jacket Style Tips

Embroidery Art

So what makes a denim jacket stand out like no other? What could David do regarding reinventing the denim jacket with an eco-friendly message? He could cut denim jackets that can be oversized or cropped, waist-defining or designed to be worn open.  He could find denim jackets at vintage stores that span blazer shapes, to wear easy overshirts. Or experiment with waist-cinching belts and detachable embroidery collars. So customers can opt for wearing it or on occasion not at all.

On this occasion, the customer opted for embroidery art on the back of the denim jacket.

In speaking to David,

Applying digitally embroidered imagery to a blank denim jacket can make it stand out from the crowd and help to give it a new life and increased personal connection to the wearer. However, it is a process that is multi-complex, requiring artistic flare, creative imagination and technical know-how. For me, digital embroidery represents our technological culture and the ultimate in luxury, taste and quality.

Other Trends For Denim Jackets

What I am noticing is that designers for denim jackets are strategically positioned panels, inventive application of pockets and smart-looking hardware like opulent gold buttons.

But it still means a brand new jacket has to come into play.

Coloured denim jackets are also ago like the one below I spotted in Holland.

Holland denim jacket 2021

Double Denim Returns

The Dutch are not afraid to wear double denim. I saw it everywhere amongst the youth. If you are seeking some laughter, listen to my interview with Natalie Maitlis way back in 2013, on her thoughts about Will Smith and his double denim obsession.

Another new trend is denim’s distinct felled seam lines. They have been used to masterful effect by good pattern cutters. Indigo style curves are used to create the illusion of a nipped waist. This is excellent for larger women.

Sustainable Fashion

This is my image of two ladies in Amsterdam last week. I noticed very traditional denim jackets being worn. Now Amsterdam has many vintage stores packed with vintage denim jackets. It was packed with teenagers and students trying on all sorts of denim. Imagine some embroidery on the back. A personalised message.

A message we support sustainable fashion. Or we are the vintage generation.

Amsterdam Denim Jackets 2021

I am seeing an incremental approach to sustainability. It’s:

“How can we use recycled materials here and there, reduce our impact by a little bit?”

Upcycling your denim jacket is a trend I am putting out there!

What we need is much more transformational change. When it comes to the clothes we wear. If every denim jacket were made with a carbon footprint that is a quarter of the industry standard, imagine how big the impact of that could be?

But it takes discipline, it takes thought, and I think ultimately it will take some regulation to pull the whole industry along.

David chose to create using a vintage jacket and experiment with digital embroidery art. That’s a brilliant message of carbon footprint.

Carbon Denim Jacket Footprint

Why do fashion designers need to be labelling all of their products with their carbon footprints in 2021? Is that the best way to bring this idea into the broader consciousness and help people understand it is the prevalence and availability of information?
An average person can’t explain exactly what a calorie is and how it’s measured, but that doesn’t matter. What matters is that they can contextualize a calorie. It’s that context that needs to be created around carbon footprints as much or even more so than the science behind how it’s calculated.
That will only happen if many other companies, like ZARA, Primark and H & M the fast fashion industry go beyond, label products with this data.

What Exactly Do Your Carbon Labels Measure?

Inside each denim jacket tag, there is a number representing the kilograms of CO2 that were created in making that product. The number measures five things: raw materials, transportation, manufacturing, product use (washing and drying) and end of life.

By measuring the emissions created across the entire life cycle of that product, even after it leaves the shop. The customer sees the sum of that number but can also access the breakdown of it.

That is why I work with small artisans, I know who made it, where the materials were sourced. The factory conditions they are working in. The exact carbon footprint. The clothes I get made or handbags are clothes or items that were created in positive conditions with an eco-friendly mindset.

What Makes The Standard Denim Jacket Different From Embroidery Art?

The norm is a stand-out contrasting stitch colour will make a jacket look more expensive than it is. The thing about vintage denim jackets. Is that we can clearly see what we are getting for our money, based on the quality of finishes and the state of the always-unlined inside. Denim of the past plus hardware were amazing years ago, unlike fast fashion shops of today.

So when placing your embroidery order, go through your wardrobe or your parents closet, everyone owned a denim jacket at some point. I am sure like me, we can’t fit into it too anymore.

Designer Vintage Denim Jackets

I have amazing quality denim jackets that need some embroidery flare to them. I know with two daughters they will love to input into the design too. I have a stunning Yves Saint Laurent denim jacket with amazing hardware accessories. The chunky zips and attention to detail are amazing on this jacket, that I have never ever worn.

All it needs is some digital embroidery art from David to give it an eccentric statement. Once it is out of storage, I will send it to David and see what we both come up with?

That is the beauty of what David can offer a personalised message or piece of art that represents my message. By ordering this it supports the artists that recreate unique pieces and find the rock star within me.

Can you do embroidery on leather jackets? These are may Made In Italy leather mules. Another article on embroidery with leather soon!

London Sock Company Chie Mihara