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Creating Patches with Your Embroidery Machine
Who doesn't enjoy patches? From our early days in Scouts, some of the first things we often collect are patches. Merit badges, rock bands we love, or just quirky patches are some of the most fun things we have to dress up a shirt, a bag, or the back pocket of a pair of well loved jeans.
If you're lucky enough to have an embroidery machine, you've probably already figured out your machine can do patches. And even if you've never made one, chances are pretty good that you know for a fact your machine can do it.
This article will give you the basics, how to make a patch, materials that can be used, and ideas for using your new patches and how to price them if you sell them online or at local shows.
Get Ready to Patch
First thing is fabric. I like to use cotton canvas, or duck, but most often, my patches are done on plain old felt. I use Kunin Eco-fi most of the time, but I also enjoy felt from Commonwealth Felt. Real wool felt often gives a depth of color that not even the deep Eco-fi colors have.
Don't be afraid of wild color choices, customers for my Etsy shop often ask me for neons, or wild calico prints. There are also many printed felts that can become part of the patch design with a little fussy cutting.
Next, you'll need some water soluble stabilizer or "WSS". If you've read my article on making lace, I discuss WSS there, and here I'll just suggest one brand, Fabri-Solvy. You can also use a tearaway, or even cutaway stabilizer, but remember, unlike the water soluble stabilizer, it will be left on the back of the patch.
Fresh needle. I've found that patches, with all their satin stitching, and going through rough felt can wear down pretty fast. So take the time to change your needle. You should be changing your needle at least weekly or every 20 projects depending on how stitch heavy they are.
If you are going to attach the patch to your own clothing and not sell it, I suggest Patch Attach, a special glue that is great for grabbing all those threads on the back of a patch, without causing the fabric to eventually break down. Otherwise, a hand needle and some sturdy matching thread is just fine.
Patch design. Either one you created yourself using your software, or one from the many patch designers out there. The ones in this article are from, you guessed it, Urban Threads. My Pinterest board may give you some sources as well. Patch making is currently not a big hobby among home embroiders, hopefully this article will give hobbyist and designers both the desire to create more fantastic patch designs.
Let's Do Science!
One of my most popular patches is UTs Let's Do Science!. A nice, simple patch, with only a couple of color changes. This is a great beginners patch that is still "cool".
I almost always use a neon felt for this patch, the brighter, the better. Black thread, and a matching thread to the felt for the goggles on your scientist.
Grab your felt, if you are using a 9x12 sheet, just cut it into 4 squares, this is enough for 4 patches.
Your first line stitched will be your placement line. If you use the adhesive spray, then give a light spray to this square, and pat your felt down. I don't use it if I can avoid it, and I've found felt clings just fine to Fabri-Solvy. Your next stitch will stitch your felt down for you. You're going to remove your hoop from the machine once this is done, and trim close to the stitch line for that perfect patch.
On this particular patch, the large design is next, it is pretty stitch intensive on this one, and even going 650 stitches per minute (SPM), this can take some time. Clean up around your work area, or take some time to relax, don't leave your machine entirely unintended, sometimes just blinking is a secret single for your machine to chew up the felt, bird's nest, or rise from the table 5 inches and slowly spin as the demon currently possessing it has some fun at your expense. Now would be a good time to Facebook.
Next, are your goggles, use any color, but I try to match my goggles to my felt. It just gives a more streamlined look to the patch.
Text is next, switch back to your main color, in this case, black. And lastly, the border patch, which will add a heavy satin stitch, just like a "real" patch. You've now officially just made your first real patch!
Other patches can be more complicated, in my patch making, I've encountered designs with 30 color changes, so know, the more colors, the more thread changes.
Remove your hoop, and pop the patch out, you will want to trim close to the edge before rinsing off your Fabri-Solvy, remember, those scraps are handy for lace making!
Sometimes, you are left with "fuzz" around the outside of your new patch. No worries, grab your lighter (yep, just a plain old Bic) and gently run it along the edge of the patch while lit. Don't get so close you melt the thread, but get close enough that the flame causes the "fuzzies" to melt away.
If you did your patch on cut or tear stabilizers, this will also work, and if the felt or leftover stabilizers really offend you, grab a matching Sharpie and run it around the edge of the satin stitching.
I also have found that if I rinse my patch, and let it dry, a fast blast from a steam iron really perks the patch up, giving a far more crisp, and professional look to the patch. Make sure you have the steam on! Nothing worse than melted felt on an iron. Wool felt doesn't melt like this, but still have your steam on, and using your iron's steam button, blast a couple of hits into your patch, you can also place the patch between the layers of a kitchen towel if you are worried you'll melt something. But don't worry, felt is pretty sturdy stuff.
Selling patches to customers who are looking for unique and interesting patches to collect can bring in some nice income. But the old pricing formula which works for pricing so many other things, really doesn't help much with patches. They are usually done pretty fast, and often have only a couple of color changes.
So how do you price?
- I base my prices off a few factors. First, what fabric have I used? Am I using top end wool felt, or 25 cents a sheet Eco-Fi that I can get 4 patches from? Has my customer required this be placed on satin?
- How many color changes did I use? I currently carry two patches in my store that only use one or two colors. But another patch, "The Tribal Seal" has 11 changes, although the last three are simple stops, and you don't have to actually change the color.
- How large is the patch? Are you using one of your quarter sheets, or was this large enough to need a half sheet of fabric? Size matters with patches.
- Last, how hard is the patch to trim and clean with your lighter? Simple round, or square patches are simple, but patches such as "Hit Like a Girl" require small scissors, and patience to clean out triangular areas near the banner and wings on the patch. How bad are the jump threads? Are you spending all your time sitting at the machine cutting out the jumps? Are they numerous? Simple? How long are you going to need to clean this patch?
My Tribal Seal patch is honestly one of those pieces of custom work, that when an order comes in, I shudder. I love the patch itself, the design is fantastic, the colors always look wonderful, and it has a good price tag to go with it. But it has jumps galore, 11 color changes, and is often my most failing patch that I may do 3 of before getting one I can send to a customer.
I started selling the Tribal Seal at about $7, when I sold 4 in a row, I realized, I had a hit patch, which was fantastic, but the time to make it was sitting at the machine for nearly an hour, sometimes more! Right there, even using my lowest per hour price, that was $10! So, I raised the price of the patch to $12. I felt that this made the patch worth my time, and covered the materials.
Let's Do Science can take as long to stitch out, but you aren't doing color changes as often, you're walking past the machine, and pushing the start button on your machine on the way to get another glass of wine. Far less of my time is spent sitting at the machine, and cutting the jump threads takes 10 minutes tops. So I felt comfortable going even below my hourly wage, and charging $7 for this patch.
So think carefully when pricing patches. A small patch that is circular, and 2" in size, might seem like it should cost less, but then you discover that there are 46 color changes, and you'll suddenly discontinue that patch.
Loving the Patch
Patches are great for, patching. Cover holes in clothing, or other items, and you're not only saving money by not replacing the item, but you've now made it more uniquely you.
Jeans - You've got a hole in your favorite pair of pants, a merit badge style patch will fit perfect, and better, it is a wonderful custom patch that you've created yourself!
Purses - in particular "messenger" bags. Who wouldn't love an awesome "Let's Do Science" or "Treehugger" patch on the bag they carry daily?
Anyplace you've got a glueable, or sewable spot, you can have a patch. There's no rules!
If you have further questions, feel free to comment, I can't guarantee I know the answer, but I will try to help the best I can!
If you were hoping for more info on turning a basic applique into a patch, I suggest this already well written tutorial from Embroidery Library.