Tips for Embroidering Patches

By Connie R. Smith, Contributing Writer

February 13, 2017

How many times have you said no when asked to embroider patches? It can be a bit intimidating unless you know a step-by-step way to get the job done. The following offers a step-by-step approach — so, order those blank patches and let’s get started.

You can buy blank patches online from a number of vendors. There many options so make sure to read the details about the patch you’ve selected. You can choose a shape — round, square or rectangle — or create a custom shape if you need something unique. You can get them as small as one inch and as large as a full back. You will want to choose a size that doesn’t crowd your design, but that isn’t so big that your design gets lost.

You can pick the color of the patch fabric and, in some cases, companies offer different fabrics for the background as well as the back of the patch. You can either choose a plain or heat-sensitive material for the back. A heat-sensitive may be more difficult to stitch through and cause a buildup on your needles. Also, applying this type of patch to a garment will require a heat press, as it needs high heat and a lot of pressure to make it adhere and stay attached. If your patch is going to be a “give away” at an event, recipients likely won’t have a heat press, making this kind of back unnecessary. A plain back can be sewn on and also will cut down on cost. 

Always order a few extra blanks, as you may be asked to add some patches to the order at the last minute. Having a few on hand also gives you the opportunity to do a one-of-a-kind patch as a thank you or a sample to show off what you can do.

After selecting the size, shape and color, you will need to choose a merrowing color. Merrow is the term used for the thread border around the patch. Most borders will have a very small bump where the threads lock. This is normal and considered necessary to tie off the threads at the start-stop point. Remember to place the bump of the patch in the same direction every time when positioning it on your backing. It should face the same direction as in the picture you scanned for making the running stitch outline. This will help ensure everything is centered.
 If you are setting up the embroidery yourself, just think of the patch as a graphic or base for the embroidery. 

Step 1: Scan the patch and make it a graphic to use in your digitizing software.

Step 2: Digitize your design and fit it onto the picture of your patch (See Figure 1)

Figure 1

Your design will always start and stop in the center. If you center the design on the patch and the patch is centered in the running stitch outline, everything will fit once you lay your blank down to add the design.

When creating your design, you should leave a little distance from the merrowed border to keep the presser-foot on the machine from rubbing against it and causing the patch to move. Focus on centering throughout each step. Be sure to save your design. You will need it later to merge with other steps.

Step 3: Make sure the embroidery is centered on the patch and make a running stitch just a tiny bit larger than the patch.

With just the picture of the patch showing in your digitizing software make a running stitch around the outside of the patch. This will provide an outline and make it clear where to place the patch before you add the design. Remember the outline also will start and stop in the center. When you start your design, your needle will be in the exact spot you need it to be for your embroidery.

You can merge your outline with your design to speed things up and make sure everything is centered. First, stitch the running stitch outline, and then use that as a guideline to place the blank patch. Next, add your design. If your software has a “stop” function you can add it after the running stitch and that will allow you to put the patch in place before stitching the design.

You can adhere your patches several different ways. You can use a “sticky” backing (stabilizer). If you are going to do multiple patches in one hoop, the stabilizer may gather on your needle and cause thread breaks. You can prevent this by rubbing a cotton swab with one drop of machine oil on the needle to help keep it clean. Only use one drop, as you don’t want any excess oil to stain the patch. Another method is to use a spray adhesive (Figure 2).

Figure 2

When using a spray adhesive, make sure it is a brand made specifically for embroidery and not crafting. There is a difference and using the improper adhesive can cause problems with your machine. You want to spray the back of the patch and allow it to dry and then check to make sure it is sticky to the touch. If not, spray another “mist” of adhesive on top of the first coat. That will add just enough to make the patch stick.

Never use adhesive close to your embroidery machine. The adhesive can get into machine parts and cause them to stick, and eventually cause major damage to the machine. I have found the best way to spray patches is to cut the top off a large cardboard box and use it as a holder, placing the patches with the back side up then sliding the holder into the bottom of the box. Then, spray into the box. This keeps all of the spray inside the box and you can carry the holder to the machine and use the patches right off the holder. This also helps to keep your hands clear of the adhesive.

Embroidering a patch is as simple as making the outline, laying the patch down and then embroidering the design. Using a larger hoop, you can do multiple patches in one hoop. After finishing the first patch, simply move your needle over and start the next patch. When the hoop is full just pull the patches off the backing and trim them up, bag them and call your customer to come and get them (Figure 3).

Figure 3

Use your imagination and get creative!

Connie R. Smith has been in the embroidery industry for more than 30 years and has been an industry speaker and consultant. She also is an award-winning digitizer. For more information or to comment on this article, email Connie at lickatstitch@yahoo.com.