Sewing on a Patch by Hand or Sewing Machine

September 29, 2023

Patches can be used for hiding holes or showing off a recent event / adventure / accomplishment in an obvious way. These are two vastly different situations but the methods to sewing on patches are the same. How many times have you heard others asking about sewing on Girl Scout or Boy Scout badges? I get requests all the time, since many people know that I sew. If you didn’t catch that, patches are also referred to as badges. I’m not fond of that name, just because I think of badges as metal. Of course with the exception of patches from Girl Scouts – They’ll always be ‘badges’ to me.

This post is for those who want to learn how and how to choose between sewing on a patch by hand or by sewing machine.

DISCLOSURE: THIS POST/PAGE MAY CONTAIN AFFILIATE LINKS, MEANING I MAY GET A COMMISSION IF YOU DECIDE TO MAKE A PURCHASE THROUGH MY LINKS, AT NO COST TO YOU. PLEASE READ MY DISCLOSURE PAGE FOR MORE INFO.

Patches used to only be embroidery on a thick background fabric with a large edge. With new technologies there have been some upgrades and more options available. Some samples:

  • Traditional Embroidered Patch without merrow edge and hand cut – See ‘Syracuse Football Club’
  • Woven Patch with a merrow edge – See ‘Liberty’
  • Woven Patch with hand cut edge – See ‘Mojave’
various patches to sew on garments
Random samples from patch manufacturer, no copyrights implied

Combine these methods with metallic thread, fancy stitch patterns, then patch combinations and styles are nearly endless…

Looking for custom patches in larger quantities for your company, team or organization, please feel free to reach out to me. My other day job is custom imprinted products for all size businesse, fundraisers and groups.

Decisions to make before starting to sew by hand:

Stitch choice

There are many stitches useful for applying patches by hand. Running /straight stitch, Whip Stitch, Blanket Stitch, ZigZag stitch, Backstitch… Decide based on your comfort with making the stitch, the amount of wear and tear the garment will receive and the look. Hide the stitches or have them be visible decorative. Here is a link showing some of them in detail. I’m showing just a few examples here but the sky is the limit.

Thread Choice

I usually use all purpose thread. It’s what I have the most of and in quite the variety of colors. Find something you already have that matches, it doesn’t have to be exact, it can be slightly off. Our eyes are good at fooling us to believe things match or things are different. Just lay the thread over the edge of the patch or whatever you’re matching it to, see if it ‘disappears’. Try different colors that are similar in value too, you never know until you try what will look the best. Click here to see a grey thread that I swear matches everything and other info on thread.

Some people like to use a thread doubled, but since the double thread is thicker going through the already thick patch, the thread tends to create loops. The loops can be avoided with absolutely fabulous attention being paid to the sewing process, making sure to pull both sides of the thread taut for every stitch. Do whatever you think is good for your project, single or double, you’re the boss. I have also used ‘button craft’ thread, it is thicker than the usual all-purpose thread. Another option for you to decide, JOY! If you haven’t been here long, you’ll need to know that the word ‘joy’ around here is pure sarcasm. 😁

Can’t forget about thread length. For super small patches, use as much as you think will do it one shot, plus a few inches. If it’s large, go with about 18-20 inches – final length 18-20 inches for single thread, 38-40 inches for a double thread. You may need to use more than one thread. It’s better to use multiple threads instead of one really long thread. Thread that goes through such a thick, tight space like a patch will slowly weaken due to the friction. Plus, by securing the beginning and end of each smaller thread section, you will have a much more secure application. If the thread gets snipped accidentally, only one section needs to be replaced.

Temporary Ways to Hold Patch in Place while Sewing

To use tape, either tape a few spots on the outside:

showing how to tape a patch for sewing

OR using the ever helpful rolled up circle of tape method on the back of the patch.

tape rolls on the back of a patch to hold it down while sewing.

Get about half of the patch sewn down, leaving enough room to remove the tape circle. I don’t think you want it to stay there… I use trusty masking tape. I personally don’t use the blue painter’s stuff because it doesn’t hold well enough. But in reality, use whatever you have that will not leave a residue or misshapen the fabric when pulled off.

To use straight pins is a little trickier. Patches are usually thick and it may take some maneuvering to get it in at the right spot. Insert the pins like you would for pinning fabric together, but you may end up bending a few pins. I save them and the next time I need to pin something thick, I use the ‘pre-bent’ pins.

showing how to pin a patch for sewing

This is why I don’t like using straight pins in the ‘normal’ way – like you would for pinning fabric together or pinning something thin on top of the fabric. The straight pins make the patch bend.

using straight pins to pin a patch can make it bend funny

If forced to use straight pins, I use them sticking out from the inside of the garment, towards my eyeballs. It lets the patch lay next to the fabric flat and yes, it is more dangerous, but I know I’m already going to draw blood, so why not have an extremely well-placed patch while I’m at it? hahahaha.

Image showing how to pin a patch so it does not bend
patch lays flat with straight pinning the patch from the back of the fabric/garment
Super flat patch. Way better than a bent one in my opinion, but use the pins however you like.

Temporary adhesive spray is the way I like to make patches stable before sewing. It isn’t ideal if you do not have a place to safely spray it or simply don’t like using chemicals. I usually fall into that latter category, but my hands beg me to just use the spray. Only problem is, in winter when it’s cold out, I have to grin and bear it to do a quick spray outside. I have used this brand of temporary adhesive for many years, I recommend it highly. I like it because you can remove the residue just by rubbing it and it comes off in little boogers, just like rubber cement. Can you tell that I like getting my hands messy, my mom is a retired art teacher and I like things to work as they are supposed to? Definitely only “TEMPORARY”!

using a temporary spray adhesive to tack down the patch

Ironing patches on first does make sewing them on easier. If the fabric you are going to put the patch on will withstand the heat of the iron, go ahead, double check your decision and iron it on.

To do that, cover the patch with a thin ironing cloth like a piece of muslin or white quilter’s cotton. Use the highest heat setting to get through the thickness of the ironing cloth and patch, but not so hot that it melts any part of the patch/fabric. By ironing it on, you are ‘tacking’ it in place, making it more stable when sewing in place. If you decide to move it later, you may not be able to get it off or remove all of the ironed on glue. (Another reason I really like repositionable/temporary adhesive.) See next paragraph to see how I feel about using only an iron to apply patches.

Methods of permanently applying/attaching patch

Patches can be secured by ironing, sewing, or a combination of both.

Just Ironing

To use iron on patches that have adhesive already on the back, here is a warning: Attaching a patch via home iron is most likely not reliable enough for daily wear and washing. The typical home iron does not get hot enough for most patches according to the manufacturer’s application directions. Patches are usually applied with a heat press by a garment decorator. These presses get hot enough to secure the patch in one application. Not only does the heat press get hot enough, but it also applies pressure for the melted glue to go even deeper into the fabric. That is what makes them the most secure without stitching. Even on patches that say ‘low-melt’ (the politically correct way to say that your home iron is weak and only gets hot enough for a low temperature glue to melt and won’t do else anything useful), it is better to secure it with stitching too.

Start Sewing By Hand

When presented with an occasional patch here and there to apply, sewing by hand is a very useful option. It really only requires the patch, the item it goes on, thread, needle and scissors. It is helpful to temporarily secure the patch onto the item with either a temporary adhesive spray, tape or straight pins, but it is not essential. It may be harder to get it straight, but as long as you keep on top of it and pay attention, it can be done. This means a lot of checking in while sewing and maybe a sore thumb after… I usually use my left hand to hold it in place while I sew with my right.

If you need a refresher on threading a needle, click here.

Option 1: Attach by Sewing into the Merrow Edge

Many of the more traditional embroidered patches have a thick edge that looks like thread sewn closely round the edge, like a very tight wh. It is in fact a type of thread that is stitched over the edge to keep the edge from fraying and showing. This edging is called a merrow edge. When applying a patch to an item that will not get a ton of wear or washing, there is a simple way to attach the patch without seeing it.

Bring your needle to the back of the patch and pretend to go through the patch towards the front, but only snagging the merrow edge stitches. The big old ugly knot can be seen below next to my left thumb. This puts the thread in the right place and it also allows the knot to be hidden when you start to tighten the thread after a few stitches. The knot looks like it’s on the edge, but it can be moved down under the patch when stitches are tightened.

Grab a few merrow stitches at a time. Then dive back down into the garment. This does require some finesse as you go, trying to sew something down tightly, but still needing access to the stitching area. I will do a small section of maybe three stitches a little loose then pull them tight before I make another stitch. Just a trick to make those three stitches easier.

Image showing sewing on a patch using the merrow edge.

First handful of stitches are pulled down most of the way, by looking up under the patch you can see where the stitches need to land in order to be invisible.

image of patch being sewn through merrow edge

Digital Version if you are having a hard time imagining or seeing what is going on with fingers in the way…

Illustration showing how sewing into the merrow edge to attache the patch.

Option 2: Sewing on by hand without merrow edge

Not all patches have merrow edges, new technology allows for woven patches to have no edging at all. In order to sew these patches down, position patch and temporarily adhere patch in position using your preferred method (or using whatever you have close or just laying around, that’s how I roll). Bring the needle with a largish knot on your thread and enter the wrong side of the patch and out the top – good side – of the patch but in between the merrow edge stitches. Do not go through the garment’s fabric yet. This buries the knot between the patch and garment instead of having an annoying knot on the inside of your clothing.

Using your chosen stitch, continue around the patch edge. If you need to learn or relearn the stitches shown here, go to this page for detailed information. I didn’t want to repeat it here, then this post would be WAY too long, right now it is only a BIT too long…

A running/straight stitch would look like this:

image showing two different color threads on a patch

Whip Stitch:

You can get as fancy or as simple as you like. I am lazy, but somewhat of a rehabilitated perfectionist so I choose easy but do it as nicely as I can. I love handsewing but I do not do it enough to be good at it.

image showing difference between running and whip stitches

Go around the entire patch edge, ending at the starting point. I usually start at the bottom somewhere, no particular reason other than habit. You may need/want to take another stitch or two, especially if you started with the knot between the patch and garment. Starting under the patch instead of inside the garment usually leaves that one spot loose since the thread did not go through the garment at the same time. Secure the thread as you normally would, see SECURING STITCHES HERE.

You can hide the securing stitches in between the patch and garment just like that big old knot at the beginning. Just do it very close to the edge and before trimming the thread, dive the needle down in the garment but away from the edge of the patch, go to the inside of the garment and trim it there, carefully next to the fabric. This prevents the tail of the thread from going anywhere, it is tucked under the patch. See what I mean about lazy but rehabilitated perfectionist? I just can’t leave that tail out dangling, not physically possible… I might self-destruct. 😂

TIP: Pay attention to where the securing stitches land, with a merrow edge made out of stitches, it can pull towards the front easily. Even though I made the stitch on the back side, it looks like it is on the front, it has just slid up between the merrow edge stitches.

image of securing stitches at the end of stitching

Done! Voila!

Sewing By Machine

Practice comes in handy here. Plus going very slowly. You can either do a running stitch that you will likely be able to see after it is done. You might like the look of a contrasting thread to sew it on. Or you may want to conceal it as much as possible using a matching thread color. This is an example of how a small change can help personalize or stand out by not following the usual rules. No one says the thread MUST match. You can go around as many times as you like as well. If you do not want the securing thread to show as much as a running stitch, you can use a zig zag stitch in a thread that matches the merrow/patch edge. The zig zag will blend in with a merrow edge rather well.

DISCLOSURE: THIS POST/PAGE MAY CONTAIN AFFILIATE LINKS, MEANING I MAY GET A COMMISSION IF YOU DECIDE TO MAKE A PURCHASE THROUGH MY LINKS, AT NO COST TO YOU. PLEASE READ MY DISCLOSURE PAGE FOR MORE INFO.

This looks like a lot of steps, but they are tiny steps so you don’t get ahead of yourself. Read all the way through before starting.

1) Thread machine with matching or contrasting thread based on the style you want (See below how to hide or how to contrast the thread) – for both the top and bobbin thread. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, visit this link for some good sewing machine knowledge.

2) Prep by securing the patch with your chosen method, a tape circle works well as does the spray adhesive. Just know that the adhesive may collect on your needle. It’s a 50/50 shot, it can work ok or it can be a real PITA as you go. Pins may get in the way, especially if you do the dare devil method of pin heads in the back.

3) Put the patch/garment combo onto the machine, ready to sew. Holding both threads to the back and left of the presser foot, lower the needle into the patch/garment combo in the ‘down’ position. This can be seen here if you need an extra minute to orient yourself.

*I’m going to refer to the ‘patch/garment combo’ as the ‘patch’ for this section, no need to overcomplicate this! ­­­­­­

4) Raise the needle, this will put a single stitch into the patch where we can see it. Put machine in straight/running stitch mode and lower stitch length to almost nothing. (Needle MUST be raised when changing stitch length/stitch width/style of stitch otherwise it will damage the needle. Again, how do I know this?)

5) Take three to four stitches at this reduced stitch length, this secures the thread at the beginning. Raise the needle, change the stitch length/width/style to what you want it to be for the actual sewing process. Just like above, the stitch used will affect the look.

6) Lower needle into patch. Only sew as fast as you can drive around the patch. If you do not drive well, you may run off the road into a ditch – off the patch into the garment. And we really don’t want that. For those of us who aren’t pro racecar sewers, take one stitch at a time, going around the patch.

(I like to sew ‘by hand’ for these, especially if they’re super small with any shape other than a circle or rectangle. ‘By hand’ on a machine means we are going to slowly make one stitch at a time, either by turning the wheel towards us so the needle travels up and down one time or by using a needle up/needle down button. I like to land with the needle down, it makes sure the patch doesn’t go anywhere if you need to raise the presser foot. It’s like a paperweight, only sharp and jabbed through the patch. Ouch!)

7) Follow around the patch, ending a few stitches past the beginning stitches. If you drive over the original path, it will secure the thread even more.

8) Repeat the securing process by raising the presser foot, changing to the straight stitch with a very small stitch length. Place three to four stitches. End with the needle up and out of the patch. Do not clip it short, leave long tails on the beginning and end for now.

9) Trim thread – if you don’t care about perfection, trim as close as you can to the edge of the patch. BUT… if you are anal ‘particular’ like me, grab a needle or other small implement to draw the top threads (at both beginning and end of the stitching just completed) to the back of the garment. You can trim now or anal particular me likes to do a quick double knot on beginning and end sets of threads. The threads should line up well, tie the top and bobbin thread from the beginning together in a double knot, repeat with the end. Secure, Secure, Secure as heck…

That thing ain’t going nowhere. I don’t usually use this kind of talk, but sometimes a situation just calls for it…

Step-by-step video of process with sewing machine:

Using a Patch to Hide Holes or Ugly Bits

This is for a practical patch that will cover a hole or conceal something. Choose a fabric/patch that matches or blends in well where it will be placed on the garment. Get thread that matches both the patch and the garment. Thread doesn’t have to be the exact same color to blend in, sometimes another color with a similar value will blend in too. See this post on color for more information on value. Smaller stitches with a regular all-purpose thread will blend in better than a thicker thread. Have a hole that needs covering, get some fun patches from Amazon, Joann Fabrics or Etsy.

To show off the patch/style

If you want the patch to be noticeable and create a statement, use colors that stand out against the garment. Contrasting colors bring attention and excitement. See this post on color for more information on contrast.

Using larger stitches with a thicker thread can also show your creativity. Embroidery floss is a great alternative to all-purpose thread. You can incorporate the stitches into making the patch more noticeable. I am picturing a small sun patch but using bright threads that contrast the garment to make sun rays popping out of it…

If you use a thicker thread, you’ll probably need a thicker needle to accommodate. BUT… a thicker needle (even though it might sound easier to push through a thick patch), it might be harder.

Like a ‘fat guy in a little coat’. Double points if you email me with the movie reference and character who said it! I don’t agree with the shaming, but it’s a very well used line in our house…

If you run out of thread on the needle

It’s ok if you run out of thread. Just repeat the same process when you started, hide the knot where possible and just keep sewing. You may need to back up a stitch or two so that the front looks the same and the patch is secured completely. I’ve finished patches and realized that it looks like I missed a stitch since I started between the patch and garment, no big deal but it can look like it is pulling up off the fabric.

If you have a hard time pulling the needle through

Use a thimble or little round grippy thing that reminds me of those printed can opener thingys that were popular in the 80’s. And according to Google, some of the correct names are ‘can gripper’ or ‘jar gripper’. I saw one recently, made me nostalgic for my mom’s house in the 80’s. What a simpler time… take me back! These little things are very helpful, see this one here that I have and use regularly. I recently saw this other little goody that I think will be going into my shopping cart right away!

Using a small gripper to pull out a needle that is hard to get out

What if I need to take off a patch?

Cross your fingers that it was hand sewn… Hand sewn patches are much easier to remove. For removing a patch, pull up the edge of the patch and snip the threads between the patch and garment. It is easier to clip there rather than try and undo the secured stitches. Just cut it off carefully and completely remove all the threads. Running the top of your fingernail on the holes left in the fabric may help them look smaller. Hopefully there will not be any glue residue. If so, try and gently scrape it off.

Questions? Comments? Please feel free to comment here or shoot me an email!


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2 Comments

  • Reply James Walter March 10, 2024 at 11:15 pm

    Wow, thank you for such a thorough and helpful guide on sewing patches by hand and machine! I like how you explained all the different stitches and ways to temporarily hold the patch in place. The tips for sewing into the merrow edge vs patches without one are really useful too. And the illustrations really help visualize the techniques. This is such a handy skill to have.. Really appreciate you taking the time to provide all these details and tips!

    • Reply Marissa March 11, 2024 at 3:00 pm

      Thanks! It’s fun so it doesn’t feel like a lot of time…

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