How to Sew a Patch {plus a no-sew trick for pocket patches}

a how to for sewing on patches  image name DSC_0026.JPG

Learn how to sew a patch with this easy step by step tutorial. Keep in mind we are not talking about repairing a hole in an item of clothing with a patch but rather about adding decorative pre-embroidered organizational type patches.  Repairs are another matter.

You can sew a patch on either by hand or with your sewing machine. Learn lots of tips and tricks for sewing patches here. You will soon be attaching those pesky patches to troop uniforms like a pro.

My neighbor came over the other day and asked if I would sew some patches on a jacket for his daughter. I’ve done this quite a bit because I have a cub scout myself, so I thought I’d write a quick how-to. When I sewed some on for the first time I looked on the web for advice about sewing patches on by machine but didn’t find much. I guess the proper way is sewing them on by hand, but if you are not a fan of hand sewing, you probably have a sewing machine and you like to use it.

If you don’t have a sewing machine yet, I love my entry level Brother. It’s perfect for beginners and is feature rich for the price point. If you only have one sewing machine, it should probably include decorative stitches. Being able to sew a zig-zag stitch is a minimum requirement for most basic sewists. Even quilters use the zigzag stitch to attach applique to quilt tops.

So here we go…

green, brown and tan camo shirt with 2 patches  image DSC_0010_01.JPG

What you need to sew on patches

  • the patch(es)
  • a hand sewing needle or needles for your sewing machine
  • small scissors (see my favorite sewing scissors)
  • the shirt or other garment that you want to sew the patch to
  • a thimble is helpful to protect your fingers
  • sewing pins
  • double sided tape can be useful too

Pin or Adhere the Patch in the Right Spot

First, ask the person to pin the patches in the correct places for you. This {click here} is the resource I found for cub scout patch placement; if you are sewing them on for another organization I suggest letting the recipient tell you where they should go. A simple patch could be located based on personal preference but a organization specific patch probably requires exact placement. Measure accurately to ensure the patch is in the right position. Whatever the patch represents, be sure that it is on straight.

If the patch is too thick for straight pins or a safety pin, double sided tape is a great trick.

Prepare your Sewing Machine

Install a sharp (not ball-point) medium or heavy-duty needle in your sewing machine. I try to use the smallest needle necessary in my projects, which leads to needle-breakage from time to time, but smaller holes in my projects. If you are sewing very heavy patches or badges, make sure to use a heavy duty needle. Most patches use heavy fabric and they are being sewn onto another layer of fabric so make sure you use a needle that is appropriate for the thickness of the patch plus the underlying fabric. Sewing a thick patch onto denim will definitely require a needle that’s made for the job.

pocket with blue rectangular patch being machine sewn  image DSC_0015.JPG
blue spool of thread loaded onto top of sewing machine  image DSC_0017.JPG

Match the Thread to the Fabric

Choose the correct color thread based on the color of the outside edge of the patch. I am not personally fond of sewing with clear thread so would choose to match the color of the thread instead. Patches that have a solid color background and no border make it easy to decide on the thread color. Don’t be tempted to use a contrasting color in the bobbin. The thickness of the patch may cause unpredictable tension issues, and if your bobbin thread pulls to the top in spots, it won’t show if it is the same color as your top thread. Load your bobbin from the same spool of thread that you are going to use as your top thread. This will avoid any color variation.

inside of shirt sleeve showing the gold thread outline of a patch  image DSC_0022.JPG

This one required yellow thread.

Sewing the Patch to the Item

Hand Sewing Method

If you are going to hand sew your patch on, be sure to use a thimble to protect your finger. You are going to have to push the needle through at times when the needle is hard to pull through the patch. This is especially true when sewing to a piece of clothing made of thick material like that found in a pair of jeans, a vest, or a denim or leather jacket. This would be true with a backpack as well.

When sewing a patch on by hand, be sure to start the thread with the knot against the back of the patch so the knot is not visible from the inside of the garment. Trim the loose thread ends as close to the knot as possible. Use a small straight stitch (also called a running stitch) and trace the border of the patch with your stitching. Small stitches are best to try for in this type of hand work. Follow the inside edge of the border stitching keeping your stitch line as straight as possible. Your eye notices differences and you want your hand stitches to disappear visually into the thread that is part of the patch.

When you get to the end with your stitching, make a loop with the thread and pull through to make an ending knot. Make sure the knot is not right up against the fabric. You want to leave a little thread before the knot so you can finish it off between the fabric and the patch to hide the ending knot.

Insert the needle at an angle so that it comes out under or on the backside of the patch (not through the patch). Pull the needle as far as you can then give a little tug – you will feel the knot resist a little and then pop through the garment’s fabric. Your ending knot is now hidden. Take your small scissors and carefully snip the thread and remove the needle. Make sure the ends of the thread are not visible. Tuck them in against the wrong side of the patch.

Machine Sewing Method

You will be able to use your sewing machine to easily attach a patch above and around pockets, on the back of a shirt (but I’ve never put any there), and on the upper sleeve. Using the free-arm on your machine (if you have one) helps make this process easier to manage. Go slowly to get the best result.

If your sewing machine has decorative stitches, you could use them to sew on a patch because they are very secure. A small zigzag stitch that fits on the inner edge of the patch trim area is a great choice.  The blanket stitch is  a decorative machine stitch that could be used for sewing on a repair patch and is perfect for applique work. The blanket stitch or an overcast stitch is not a choice I would use when sewing patches on an organizational patch, especially to a military uniform.

pocket of same camo shirt with patch attached. Patch is mostly yellow with a diagonal lightening bolt and wolf head with teeth and tongue showing. Patch says FL-123 at the top and SBCS WOLFPACK at the bottomDSC_0029.JPG

Pocket Problems

Patches on pockets are a different story. You have several options with this one. You could do one of the following.

  1. Stitch it on with your sewing machine but the pocket can never be used again because you’ll stitch it shut.
  2. Hand stitch it on but it’s really thick so use a really sharp needle, strong thread, and a thimble.
  3. Iron it on using that weak glue that comes on the back of the patch… except I’m not really sure that’s what it’s for because its bond is not strong.
  4. Carefully remove the stitching on both sides of the pocket so you can lay it flat to sew the patch on without sewing the pocket shut. Leave the bottom stitching in place so the placement of the pocket does not change. Sew the pocket sides to reattach the pocket with the patch in place. Remember to match the thread color to that used in similar areas.
My Sewing Alternative
Sometimes you may need to attach a patch to a pocket or over a seam where it is impossible to sew with your sewing machine. In that case, I use a permanent adhesive. Here is my favorite:

Spray n Bond fusible adhesive can DSC_0031.JPG


Check out my trusty can of SpraynBond. I used it here and here and on some stuff I never told you about and there’s still some left!  I sprayed the stuff all over the back of that patch and let it dry for about 30 seconds. Then I put the patch over the pocket in the right spot and pressed my hot iron over it for a good 15 seconds.

Yellow Oliso pro iron being used to bond the Wolfpack patch to the shirt pocket  imageDSC_0039.JPG

I peeked to make sure the patch wasn’t melting (who knows what it’s made of) and then I pressed the iron down hard for another 30 seconds.  After that, I turned the jacket inside out and repeated the process from the inside. The patch was thick and I wanted to make sure the heat went all the way through and bonded it tightly.

image DSC_0038_01.JPG shows a hand testing the bottom of the same patch for adhesion. Patch is not lifting off the shirt pocket.

And it sure did. That patch is on to stay. Maybe I should have used the SpraynBond on all the patches, not just the pocket one. What do you think?

More tips:

  • If you have a clear presser foot, use it because it helps you see where you are sewing.
  • A clear zipper foot would allow you to get close to the edging threads. Do not use if using a zigzag or decorative stitch.
  • Make sure to trim away all loose threads at the end for a neat finish.
  • Using a pressing cloth to protect the patch when using spray adhesive is a good idea.
  • Use a wool mat when pressing so the patch gets heat from both sides.

Happy Sewing!


Disclosure: some of my posts contain affiliate links. If you purchase something through one of those links I may receive a small commission, so thank you for supporting SewCanShe when you shop! All of the opinions are my own and I only suggest products that I actually use. 🙂