Sewing Patches: Ideas and Inspiration for Creating Unique Art on Your Clothes

Patches, whether embroidered, appliquéd, chain-stitched, machine or hand-sewn, are the perfect way to cover up stains, holes or ugly logos.

Patches can be used to embellish plain-Jane garments or they can be designed to make a statement. Contained within the patch – color and texture, meaning and emotion, or any image or symbol that fits within the boundaries – you can set the tone, tell a story, state who you are, what you believe in or what you’ll fight for.

Patches are a creative self-expression. Using recycled fabrics, bright threads, and machine zigzag stitches, I like to imagine my patches as grownup merit badges. They adorn most of my outdoor wear. I add my favorite symbols to clothing, and I sew my spirit animal, the snake, onto aprons, jackets, vests and bags. The snake is the symbol of health, transformation, renewal and regeneration, and my own personal talisman.

The snake, my personal talisman, adorns most of my outdoor wear.

The snake, my personal talisman, adorns most of my outdoor wear.

Nature is most important to me, so my badges (patches) usually reflect some aspect of my outdoor experiences or observations. Hiking, camping, kayaking, gardening, or just enjoying the nature I've created in my backyard soothes my soul, cranks up my sense of wonder and jumpstarts creativity. I find beauty in the landscape wherever I go. Beautiful earth tones are soothing, the textures and smells appeal to the senses, and seeking out the interactions between flora and fauna simultaneously excites me and gives me a sense of calm. Flowers, butterflies, moths, birds and snakes are patches of praise.

For my sister-in-law, Kathy, the lotus flower represents the physical and mental benefits she associates with practicing yoga. With the flower, emerging from the mud and reaching upward through the cleansing water to bloom each day, she is reminded to slow down and focus inward. While her roots are here in the U.S. she often travels to Southeast Asia, and she and her family lived in Vietnam for several years. The lotus symbol evokes good memories from her experiences there.

Customize your clothing. Sew your own one-of-a-kind wearable art. Celebrate your skills as an outdoors person, a musician, a gardener, a yogi, a wordsmith, a maker or crafter, or a naturalist.

To get started, pick a symbol. Sketch it onto a piece of paper to make a pattern, use an image in a magazine clipping as a pattern, or draw directly onto the fabric with chalk or pencil. Cut out the pattern. Pin the pattern onto the fabric and cut out the symbol, or if you're dealing with a printed fabric design, cut out the print directly.

Thread the machine with a matching or contrasting color. Pin the patch piece or pieces onto the article of clothing or accessory, and use a 1/2" length zigzag stitch to sew on the patch. The tight stitching will define the outline and prevent fraying. If you don't own a sewing machine, no worries, sew your patch with embroidery floss using a simple whipstitch.

If the patch is to be sewn on the flap of a bag, onto the back of a jacket, or in a place that can easily be sewn with a machine, sew the patch directly onto the item. But if it's to be applied to a sleeve, leg, pocket, or something that is impossible to access with the machine, sew the patch onto a felt base. If felt is used, cut around the symbol leaving a half-inch allowance, and hand sew the patch onto the garment with embroidery thread using a simple whipstitch or running stitch.

Wear your badge proudly and celebrate your bad-to-the-bone awesomeness.

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