Sewing Patches for Pleasure and Profit

If you like working with fabric, sewing patches is a skill equally applicable to business or just the maintenance of your personal wardrobe.

| May/June 1983

sewing patches - illustration of wheatear stitch

The wheatear stitch looks a little more complicated


This morning, I rejuvenated a worn-out (but irreplaceable!) shirt, transformed a pair of threadbare jeans into a work of art, and saved some comfortable shorts from the ragbag ... all by sewing patches.

I've been rescuing clothes this way for years (I even ran a garment-patching business in college), and I find it one of the simplest, least expensive, and most gratifying ways to repair, restore, and embellish worn wearables. Besides, I have fun doing it! Many people don't seem to understand when I explain that I view each hole, rip, or frayed area as a new and exciting sewing challenge.

Of course I could restrict myself to using unadorned, utilitarian, well-made squares and rectangles, but it stimulates my imagination and my needlework skills to use various shapes and embroidery stitches to make my work individual and, I think, beautiful. The techniques that must be learned in order to tackle this type of sewing are relatively simple, too. In fact, most of you who are reading this article probably already know the basics and may even have many of the supplies you'll need.

The Necessary Materials and Equipment

Anyone who sews very likely has an array of good pieces left over from former projects. These, plus old blue jeans and the legs from denims that have been made into cutoffs, will be your main supplies. Furthermore, if you don't have such resources on hand, you'll find that friends and neighbors will often be willing to contribute fabric scraps or unwanted garments that can be cut into usable pieces. Flea markets, garage sales, thrift shops, and benefit sales can be of help, too. Also keep an eye on the remnant counter at fabric shops and discount chain stores: You'll frequently come across excellent buys on small amounts of cloth. Whatever the source, though, always try to select material with a high percentage of cotton, as it has little stretch, holds a crease well, and is both durable and easy to work with.

A free-arm sewing machine that can make either straight or zigzag stitches will definitely help simplify your task, but you should be aware that some of the most beautiful patches are made by hand. The choice is up to you. (Special thread is necessary only when you're trying to achieve a particular effect.)

How-To Procedures

Two basic procedures are used in patching: folding and stitching. I generally allow a 1/2" edge turnover on my patches. (To turn the raw edges of a square or rectangle, first fold in the four corners to the wrong side, then turn under 1/2 " along each side.) For the actual sewing, a straight stitch (by machine or by hand) will do if you make two rows of stitches 1/4 inch apart (one should be as close as possible to the edge of the patch). I recommend, however, that you use a mechanical zigzag stitch if your machine has one. Or you can buttonhole-stitch by hand. When using either of the latter two suggestions, be sure to position the stitch across the joined edges in order to catch both the garment and the patch.

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