Designing Custom Patches
Patches have kept me pretty busy this year. I have spent the better part of it educating myself on their design and construction. There is a lot of information out there and if you are not interested in sewing or embroidering them yourself, many commercial production houses are available. You do have the option of designing the patch and having them assist you in turning your artwork into stitches if you are not familiar with digitizing software. *Note* they will charge you a digitizing fee in addition to producing patches for you. Usually small changes like resizing and stitch out corrections are free. If you make larger changes, they will most likely charge extra fees which is understandable. So go into your collaboration with them once you have a specific design in mind to save time and money. I have used Hatch by Wilcom for all of my digitized designs. After trying several different brands of software, Hatch is by far the one I now use predominantly for all of my design work. My first patch was a re-branding for a local volunteer fire department. They approached me to assist them in creating a patch for their turnout gear.
They sent me some original artwork to work from and we tweaked it over a few weeks to come up with the finished patch. I also designed some alternate color combinations since they have different ranks in the department. The colors would help distinguish that. The gray and orange was the main patch and here is a gray subdued patch the officers chose.
Subdued Color Patch
I will advise you that if you are going to work with a fire department, you will need to research their equipment before you sew anything on them. Although they originally requested the patches for their turnout gear, we ultimately sewed the designs on caps and polo shirts for them because the gear needs to be fire rated including anything that is attached to it. There are fire resistant patch materials and threads that need to be used for that purpose. Also, there is a warranty that comes from the manufacturer of that gear and it can be voided if someone alters it who is not authorized by that manufacturer. So it is best to go through a company that does that as part of their regular services. These companies clean and inspect that turnout gear also to ensure the firemen are safe while going through their duties. You could still design the patch for them and have a production house sew it out for you then contract to have the fire rated patches sewn on. Just be very careful in altering any of their gear without first speaking to the manufacturer and make sure you use the fire rated materials or advise whoever is producing those patches for you to do so. In this case, the caps and shirts were a great way to help the department update their look.
Original Design and Patch Sewn Out
Another re-branding I worked on was for a local grocery store. Earlier this year, our area was hit very hard with tornadoes. This grocery store was forced to close for several months while re building. While their store was being brought back to life, I helped them come up with a new logo and then tried a few designs for patches on shirts.
I also worked on adding a vinyl application to T Shirts for their employees because they wanted something a little more casual. An extra "Lagniappe" bonus was this little headband for their daughter to wear for the Grand Reopening. Too cute.
Motorcycle groups are usually great admirers of patches and many collect them at every event or dealership they ride to. I worked with a small group to design a custom patch for a ride to Racine Wisconsin. They were attending an event and wanted to commemorate it. Although I didn't have any artwork for this design, I did have specific colors they wanted. I worked on the design and once they approved it went into full blown production.
I have played around with several different border design thicknesses as well as backings while embroidering patches. For me I found that on a free standing patch, going at least 3mm wide on the border helps to fully cover the edges of the material. You can go wider than that depending on the look you want to have. I tried both a mesh washaway stabilizer backing and a heavy duty plastic washaway. Both worked really well. Also, I found that stitching the design first, trimming away the excess material, re-hooping and then doing the border works quite well. It is a little more labor intensive but makes beautiful patches. In production houses, they use huge metal dies to cut the patches out after stitching and then they use merrowing machines to individually sew each patch border. The trick in using an embroidery machine is to mimic that merrowed edge. The next time you purchase a patch, please know that although small, there is a lot of love that goes into each one. Some of my designs also worked well to stitch completely with a single hooping if there was not a lot of dense stitching in the design. If there were too many stitches, by the time the border sewed out, the entire patch would be torn away defeating the purpose of the stabilizer. So the registration would be off on the design. You will want to do some trial and error with your designs if you want to try and get a complete patch sewn out in one hooping.
This design came to me from one of the motorcycle riders who is also a family member. They wanted to give this patch for Christmas. I worked on the design and it is probably the one I am am most proud of.
I made the patch as big as my largest hoop would sew out so it is about 10 3/4 inches wide. Just for informational purposes, this patch takes about 1.5 hours to stitch out because of the size. It is about 50 % to 60 % covered in stitches. The yellow background is actually fabric so that cuts down on the stitch time. So if you are thinking about producing patches as a profession and have a single head machine, each one will be time consuming even if you gang them up in one hooping. You may want to invest in either several machines or a multi head once you get up and going.The background fabric is a duck material which I have found is really great for patches. The cross weave is dense enough to hold all of the stitches and keep it's shape. It is also washable so depending on what they sew it on they should be able to launder. Another fabric on the market is called "twilly". It is similar to the duck fabric but has a diagonal twill weave with a ironed on backing that keeps the patch material stable while stitching. I have tried it also and it works well also but has a lighter feel than the duck. Felt is another fabric that many patches are made of. If you look in stores notice the edges are not always sewn with a border because the felt does not ravel. If using this material I would advise you to preshrink the felt before you stitch on it so your finished product can be laundered and it does not degrade your design with shrinkage or twisting. If you purchase felt from a hobby shop, you can't always determine the materials. A good practice would be to also stitch out a test patch and run it through your laundry just to see how it performs. This will help research any probable issues and it is fun to experiment with different fabrics and techniques.
Here it is on a jacket back. I think it looks really nice and that yellow color is just beautiful. If you do any designs like this one, be careful of any copyright issues or trademark infringements before designing and selling. When I digitized this patch, I did some research on the "Laughing Indian" just in case. I know the person I did the patch for is giving it as a gift and will not be reselling so I felt safe in using the original design for them. You could also get permission from the original artist if they are available to ask. A great place to research is the US Patent Office. You can search by keywords and see if something has been registered or even expired. There is usually information on who applied for the trademark which may make it easier for you to contact them. Not all designs are registered but still have trademark rights so keep that in mind also. Pretty interesting to read through the Patent site and with this design I would make contact with the Indian Motorcycle Manufacturer or Polaris if I wanted to make several of them to sell instead of one for a family member..
Here are just a few other original designs I am working on myself. Once you get started, it is kind of addictive with patches. Each one gives you the opportunity for a small piece of artwork. Then knowing that someone will think it's good enough to wear makes it really satisfying. Other advice I might tell you is to research whether you will need any kind of adhesives on the patch backs. All of the ones I have constructed were going to be sewn directly on garments or caps. There are many different ways to adhere the patches with irons or heat presses. You will want to ask about that if designing patches for someone because there are adhesives that are not meant to be sewed through. If you have a difficult item that can't be hooped and embroidered but can be ironed, a patch might be an alternative. I hope you have enjoyed this post, share what you have learned and are generous with what you make. Someone will appreciate your hard work.
Lagniappe Peddler believes that the process of working with our hands can be one of the best forms of healing the hurts in our lives and welcomes all who visit this safe little corner of the world.
What is a Lagniappe Peddler?
ˌlanˈyap,ˈlanˌyap - something given as a bonus or extra gift
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