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Making custom patches with an embroidery machine takes time and thread but is a surprisingly simple project once you understand the process.
However, the process can be a bit perplexing for embroidery beginners.
For instance, how do make the patch an iron-on patch? Can you use just stabilizer, or do you need to embroider on fabric? How do you even create a patch embroidery design or get the patch to the right size?
Worry no more!
No matter the type of patch you want to embroider, here’s a tutorial on how to make embroidered patches with a machine.
Types of Custom Embroidered Patches
Patches differ in size, shape, border stitch type, color, base fabric, and even the type of thread used.
To understand how to make your own patches with an embroidery machine, you first need to understand the different types of patches.
Categorizing Patches by Thread Fill Amount
Differentiating between a patch composed of only threads and one with a fabric base is essential to selecting supplies.
1. Using Fabric As Background
Some embroidered badges or patches use a base piece of fabric (rather than stitches) to provide color and texture to parts of the patch.
Benefits of this type of patch include less thread used and a shorter stitching time.
2. Thread-Only Patches
In contrast, thread-fill patches have the main image and background completely created by thread.
There is no base fabric visible, and the number of stitches required is much higher.
You can still use base fabric for a thicker, more durable patch (and I recommend it). Although, with a well-digitized small design, you can sometimes use only stabilizer when embroidering.
Embroidered Patch Edge Options
With both types described above, the base fabric can be contained within the border (as with a merrow or thick satin stitch border) or can extend past the border (common with a bean stitch or thinner satin stitch).
1. All Fabric Inside the Border
As shown above, traditional merrow patches or those made with a thick satin stitch edge often have a clean outer edge. The base fabric is covered by the border stitch and does not poke outside.
To embroider this patch type as a hobbyist embroiderer, you should cut the base fabric to size before the border stitch runs.
2. Cut Fabric Edge Outside the Border
Here, the base fabric extends outside the stitch area.
Thus, this type of patch can be trimmed to size before, during, or after the final border stitch.
Best Patch Fabric Options
Patches are easy to embroider because the base fabric is stable and not easily distorted.
So, what do you use as a base fabric for best results?
As a general rule, select a stable, sturdy fabric–NOT stretchy and knitted–that will not fray or distort during the embroidery process.
Fabrics with a non-woven (or patch-intended) backing fray less and provide more support. (Unless you plan to use Fray Check on the patch edges.)
You can purchase fabrics made specifically for patch embroidery with a backing already, or you can add your own backing to suitable sewing fabrics.
Now, below are my preferred options for the best patch fabrics!
1. Patch Twill
The best patch base fabric I’ve found is patch twill.
Patch twill is made specifically for patch embroidery and has a non-woven backing.
As such, it provides that well-loved patch “feel” and doesn’t fray. (It’s important that cut edges don’t fray, as the tiny threads can sometimes work their way out of the patch border, giving a not clean patch edge.)
I love DIME Poly Patch Twill, which comes in a bundle of themed colors or single-color sheets.
However, I also sometimes use a less expensive neutral twill fabric from Fabric Wholesale Direct for fill-stitch design patches.
Since it doesn’t have a backing like patch twill does, I add my own fusible to the back to make the fabric more stable.
You can also use felt as a patch background!
Felt is inexpensive and easy to find. Plus, you likely already have felt somewhere in your craft room.
My favorite patches to make with felt use a bean stitch or small-width satin stitch as the border. When trimming felt patches, I like the felt to extend past the border. (It’s kind of like making a feltie!)
Felt doesn’t fray, so it doesn’t need a special backing.
3. Other Options + Applique Patches
Of course, you can use materials like leather, denim, wool, tightly woven cotton, and even canvas as patch fabric.
Many of these options will perform better with backing also.
And, don’t forget, making an applique as part of an embroidered patch is another alternative!
Choose your favorite applique fabric, and use this to decrease the stitch count of the patch. When using applique, you still need a base fabric, though.
4. No Base Fabric At All
Stitch-filled patches can technically be created using only one to two layers of heavy-duty water-soluble stabilizer as is done when embroidering free-standing lace.
My machine makes better, flatter patches when I use a base fabric, though, especially if the patch is larger than 2.”
Trimming Patch Fabric to Size
If you plan to use a base fabric for your patch, you must cut it to size at some point before, during, or after the embroidery process.
Here are common ways to trim fabric for patch-making.
1. Digital Cutting Machine
This method is particularly helpful for intricate badge shapes or embroiderers with unsteady hands.
For Cricut Maker users, above is a quick overview of the fabric cutting process.
First, open a new canvas, and insert the shape you desire (or your patch design’s .svg file). Adjust the size, and click “Make It.” Then, click “Continue” on the bottom right of the screen.
I use “Canvas” for my material and load the rotary blade to cut patch twill. (You may have to play around with the settings for your machine.)
Last, load your cutting mat with patch twill, and press Go to start cutting!
2. Die-Cutting Machine
For the not-technologically-inclined embroiderer, you can use an AccuQuilt or Sizzix Big Shot Plus with compatible dies to cut patch fabric to shape before stitching. (I love my fabric cutting machines!)
You can also cut most fusible web products with paper backing using these machines, which is a time saver when embroidering iron-on patches.
For instance, AccuQuilt has a 2″, 3″, and 5″ circle die for circle patches. Furthermore, the circle dies (and most AccuQuilt Go! applique dies, for that matter) include free applique embroidery designs. If you don’t like digitizing, you can use these embroidery files as your patch border!
Also, Sizzix has a 2″, 3″, and 4″ circle die for circular patches. If going this route, purchase Sizzix Bigz shape dies since Framelits, Thinlits, and others don’t cut fabric well.
If you set up your design like an applique (placement line, tacking stitch, border stitch), you can hand-cut fabric after the tacking stitch but before the border.
For the closest fabric cut, I recommend curved embroidery scissors or duckbill applique scissors.
You can also cut fabric away from the patch after embroidery if you plan to leave a fabric edge outside the border stitch.
4. Stitch and Cut
Hoop or float a piece of patch material, and stitch the placement line.
Then, trim along this line to get the fabric to shape.
5. Premade Patch Shapes
You can purchase blank patches with merrow or satin borders and base fabric that are just waiting for you to add a design! These come in most standard shapes.
6. Hot Knife
You can also use a hot knife for trimming and cleaning up the edge of the patch. This method doesn’t work as well for me as cutting with scissors (before the border stitch) or using a pre-cut shape.
Lastly, you can use a laser to cut borders. (This is for more commercial-minded embroiderers and not something I have access to!)
You can learn more by watching this laser cutting machine in action, though.
Embroidery Patch Adhesives & How to Attach Embroidered Patches
Here are common (and some uncommon ways) to attach a patch.
These methods are important because how you plan to adhere the patch to your fabric dictates how you finish the back of the patch!
1. Sew On
Use your favorite needle and thread or sewing machine to sew on the patch. Another option is to program your embroidery machine to stitch on the patch using an outline stitch.
You can still add a sealing layer to the back of the patch, or you can sew it on without anything.
2. Iron On (Heat Seal)
Making an iron-on-patch requires a fusible web or the equivalent fused to the patch back after the embroidery is completed.
It’s important (for hobbyist embroiderers, at least) to iron backing on after embroidery.
Too much iron-on adhesive gums up the needle on my embroidery machine and causes thread breakage faster. Also, the adhesive gets stitched through so many times it’s not effective when ironed later on.
3. Hook and Loop Fastener
Use an iron to adhere one side of the hook and loop fastener (the trademarked name is Velcro) to your patch and the other to your desired surface.
4. Safety Pins or Turning It Into a Pin
Safety pins add that punk rock feel to patches on jackets, vests, backpacks, soft guitar cases, and more.
As an alternative, you can turn a patch into a pin by sticking it to the top of a badge pin. Think nametag pins or military badge pins.
Permanent fabric adhesive glue works like a charm for most embroidered patches.
6. Sticky Adhesive
Add a sticky fusible adhesive (or even sticker paper) to the back of the patch to make the patch like a sticker.
One of the great things about using an embroidery machine and Cricut together is the Cricut will cut the patch base fabric and also the magnet to go on the back!
Just adhere the magnet to the embroidered patch with your favorite permanent craft glue.
Best Stabilizer for Patches
When embroidering badges or patches, I use one or two layers of heavy-weight, film-like water-soluble stabilizer. Not the lightweight film-like topping like Sulky Solvy but the thicker, more durable stabilizer.
If you do notice the patch tearing away from the stabilizer during embroidery, consider adding an extra layer of stabilizer or switching to a different brand or weight.
In my experience, the fibrous wash-away stabilizer doesn’t provide as much support around the dense satin edges. However, this option works well if you plan not to cut the edges of the base fabric until after the patch is removed from the hoop.
Also, avoid tear-away stabilizer as it leaves fuzzy, not clean edges when removed from the patch and is more likely to tear away from the patch border edge during stitching.
Lastly, if you have a commercial embroidery machine, another option is E-Zee badge film or an equivalent, which is heat-sensitive and makes badges “pop out” easily after embroidery.
Digitizing Patch Embroidery Designs: Understanding Design Parts
The most critical aspect of creating patch embroidery designs is getting the correct stitching order of the parts.
You can think of a patch embroidery design almost like an applique design.
1. First, there’s a placement stitch for the patch base fabric followed by a tacking stitch to attach that fabric to the stabilizer.
2. You then stitch any fill stitches or center designs.
3. The patch ultimately ends with the dense border stitch. If using a satin stitch, it needs to be 3 mm or wider to camouflage and encase base fabric edges.
Now, it’s crucial to always stitch the border last.
Repetitive dense needle penetrations where the satin stitch meets the stabilizer create a weak point. If you stitch the insides after the border, you risk the patch popping out during stitching or distorting.
For digitizing beginners, I recommend Hatch Embroidery’s Patch Tutorial, which shows digitizing steps using embroidery software and includes a free patch embroidery file.
The tutorial covers everything from digitizing the perfect satin stitch border and placement lines to combining them with an existing design.
One last thing to note is that traditional-looking patches have a merrow border (above).
This merrow stitch, derived from the Merrow sewing company’s signature machine, is somewhat similar to an overlock stitch (see the little yellow chain tail?) and requires a special merrow machine.
If you want to mimic this look and steer clear of the satin stitch, though, you can still create (or buy) a faux-merrow border design to use with an embroidery machine.
Supplies for Embroidered Patches
If you wonder what embroidered patches are made of, here’s the summary of what I use when making patches with my embroidery machine!
- Embroidery machine (Brother SE1900)
- Embroidery hoop (Smaller hoops save stabilizer on single patches, and stabilizer is tauter. Of course, you can stitch multiple patches at a time in bigger hoops.)
- Stabilizer: Heavy-duty water-soluble stabilizer (ex: Sulky Ultra Solvy or dime Heavy-Duty Water Soluble Stabilizer.)
- 75/11 embroidery needle or sharp embroidery needle (Consider plated needles for longevity.)
- Patch twill or preferred base fabric (ex: DIME Poly Patch Twill)
- Embroidery thread (Polyester, rayon, or cotton. Thicker threads provide thicker, more filled borders.)
- Fusible backing (ex: Patch Attach or OESD Fuse and Seal) or your preferred backing like HeatnBond
- Iron or heat press
- Embroidery patch design file (Create your own or grab one that’s pre-digitized.)
- Odif 505 (optional)
How to Embroider a Patch With a Machine
Now that we’ve gotten through the boring background material, let’s get going step-by-step with the process for embroidering any patch!
1. Hoop Stabilizer.
First, hoop your water-soluble stabilizer taut.
2. Set Up the Machine.
Next, load the hoop into your embroidery machine, and set your top and bobbin threads. Load the design and verify the stitching order of the parts.
3. Stitch the Placement Line.
First, stitch the first placement line on your stabilizer.
(If you aren’t using base fabric, you can start embroidering your patch without worrying about these steps.)
4. Add the Base Fabric.
Then, place your base fabric (trimmed to size or not) on top of the line. If you notice shifting, consider a light layer of spray adhesive like Odif 505 to hold the fabric in place.
Make sure to align the base fabric with the placement stitch outline carefully. Misaligned base fabric can leave spaces around borders or excess fabric hanging outside the border.
5. Stitch the Tacking Stitch.
Next, stitch the tacking stitch to permanently secure the base fabric to the stabilizer.
This will be either another running stitch or a zigzag stitch, depending on how your design is digitized.
(When trimming base fabric to size after placement, I prefer a few rounds of running stitches to get the closest cut. If my fabric is pre-cut, I prefer a zigzag stitch for this step to make sure I’ve aligned the base fabric perfectly.)
If you haven’t pre-trimmed your fabric, next trim the fabric close to the stitched edge.
If you accidentally trim a few border stitches, no worries, as the faux-merrow or satin stitch will cover errors. Or, err on the side of caution and restitch the tacking line or add a zigzag stitch.
(Of course, you can delay trimming patches where you want base fabric edges to be outside the border after completion.)
6. Stitch the Insides of the Patch.
The next step is to stitch all interior designs, whether the patch is made from 100% thread or not. Change thread colors as needed.
7. Finish Off the Patch Border.
Finally, stitch the border stitch, and watch to ensure your patch doesn’t pop out of the stabilizer!
8. Tidy Up.
Now, remove the hoop from your machine, and release the stabilizer.
If you used a satin stitch border and film-like water-soluble stabilizer, the patch should then tear out easily. (If it doesn’t, trim closely with scissors.) Dab a bit of water on the edges to remove any residual stabilizer.
If you used a bean stitch or thin satin stitch and cut the fabric outside the border, you must trim the stabilizer yourself or run the patch under warm water.
Then, trim any jump stitches or loose threads on the back.
To remove residual stabilizer from the back of patches, you can run the patch underneath water and dry it flat. Another option is to place the patch face down underneath a moist paper towel and use a medium-heat, dry iron to remove the water-soluble stabilizer.
9. Adhere the Backing.
Now, it’s time to make the back of the patch match your desires!
To make an embroidered patch an iron-on patch, you need to apply fusible webbing to the back.
I like to do this with my heat press (because it’s fun to play with, and I have to rationalize the purchase somehow.) However, an iron will also do the trick.
When it comes to applying adhesive, I recommend following the exact instructions on the back of your specific fusible.
In general, though, cut a small piece of fusible webbing roughly the size of the patch. (Measure or trace on the webbing for more precise results.)
Make sure the webbing is slightly larger than the patch, or the edges that don’t get fusible won’t iron on later.
Once you’ve cut the fusible, turn over your patch and place the rougher, adhesive side of the webbing onto the back of the patch. (The paper side should face up.)
Then, fuse with firm pressure (don’t move around!) using a heat press or a steam-free hot iron. I recommend a pressing sheet underneath and over the top surface of the patch.
Next, let the patch cool.
Finally, peel off the paper layer to reveal the iron-on surface.
If you have extra fusible around the edges, use scissors to VERY CAREFULLY trim close to the patch edge. You can also fold the excess over the sides to the back with your fingers or use a hot knife to remove it.
What To Do With Embroidered Patches
So, where do you put embroidered patches now that you’ve made them?
One of my favorite uses for patches is to decorate items I’m too afraid to embroider directly on! (Think letterman jackets or any leather jacket for that matter.)
Or, use DIY patches on hard-to-embroider items like hats where stitches are always getting lost in that center seam. Other hard-to-hoop items include jeans legs and pockets, jacket sleeves, shoes, slippers, and small makeup bags.
For parents of tiny kids, I know you’ll also appreciate being able to use patches to patch holes in kids’ clothes.
It’s also fun to stick patches on backpacks, shirts (hello, removable company logo), or memory pillows. Or add sports team personalization to all sorts of goodies.
One other idea from Eileen Roche is to use patches on onesies, which eliminates the difficulty of embroidering a onesie and makes it where no bobbin thread is inside the onesie to irritate delicate baby skin.
How Long Does it Take to Embroider a Patch?
The time it takes to embroider a patch depends on the patch size, percent of fill, number of thread colors, max machine embroidery speed, and the type of embroidery machine used.
A 3″ wide, 50% fill-stitch patch with a patch twill base and satin stitch border takes roughly 20-30 minutes to embroider on my mid-level, single-needle embroidery machine. A 100% fill-stitch patch of the same size takes closer to 50-60 minutes.
Users with multi-needle embroidery machines can knock out multiple patches with higher speeds and no manual thread changes. A multi-needle machine is thus the way to go if you are looking for a patch embroidery machine for bulk production!
And that’s the complete guide for how to make custom patches with an embroidery machine! Let me know if you have any questions.