In honour of Pride Month, I thought I’d offer patches applicable for the wider LGBTQIA+ and queer communities. This tutorial showcases the steps for making a heart-shaped patch, with patterns available for flags with three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine and ten evenly-spaced horizontal stripes. Folks who want to emphasis love as an element in their identity can sew the hearts in the traditional upwards-facing orientation, while aros like me, who like to de-centre the role of love in my pride, can sew them upside down.
You’ll need familiarity with cross stitch (full and quarter crosses) and backstitch to make the unedged patches, along with a buttonhole/closed blanket stitch (or a neat over stitch) to make the edged patch. The first instalment of this patch tutorial series demonstrates cross and blanket/buttonhole stitch, while the second covers backstitch. If you’re new to embroidery or needlecraft, I recommend completing the first tutorial–a simple square patch–before attempting the heart. The shape isn’t complex, but it does require sewing along curves.
Needed materials include:
- Aida fabric
- Embroidery floss in the colours of your chosen flag
- A matching or contrasting floss for your backstitch outline and patch edging
- A blunt tapestry needle and a sharp embroidery or chenille needle
- Fabric stiffener, Fray Stop/Check or clear nail polish
For the unedged patches:
- A matching or contrasting alcohol-based graphic marker, fabric marker, fabric paint or dye (to treat your fabric before sewing)
If you wish your patches to be bigger or smaller, the easiest way to accomplish this without adjusting the pattern is by changing your fabric. The 20 block heart sewn on 11-count aida is larger than the same pattern sewn on 14-count, which is in turn larger than when sewn on 18-count:
The idemromantic (uncut white swatch) and non-binary (pale mauve border) patches are sewn using the same pattern. The idemromantic heart is stitched on 11-count fabric, while the non-binary heart is stitched on 14-count. Beginners should note that 10, 11 or 14 count aida is much easier to work with!
For more information on fabric, floss and needles (including types and sizes), please see my basic stripes patch tutorial.
Patch Patterns and Stripe Modifications
I refer to these patterns by their height, as they accommodate more than one stripe count. The sizes also vary in terms of rounding, proportion and spacing, allowing you to experiment with different heart shapes.
Be sure that your fabric swatches are large enough to stitch your heart and the border around it. My borders are roughly 2-3 blocks wider than the heart cross stitch, so I cut my fabric into rough squares or rectangles approximately 4-5 blocks wider and taller than required. This gives myself plenty of spare space when sewing and treating the fabric.
Please note that all patterns are arranged upside down, with the point or bottom of the heart facing upwards. I find it easier to count and sew the heart in this orientation; just rotate the complete patch into its correct position afterwards.
The 21 block pattern is a heart 21 stitches high and 21 stitches wide. It includes three and seven stripe variations, perfect for many gay and lesbian flags, the genderqueer flag, the pansexual and polysexual flags, the agender flag, and some aromantic and asexual flags:
The 20 block pattern is a heart 20 stitches high and 21 stitches wide. It includes four, five and ten stripe variations, perfect for the transgender flag, many aromantic and asexual flags, some lesbian flags, and the non-binary flag:
The 18 block pattern is a heart 18 stitches high and 19 stitches wide. It includes three, six and nine stripe variations, perfect for the rainbow flag, the genderqueer flag, the pansexual and polysexual flags, and some aromantic and asexual flags:
The 16 block pattern is a heart 16 stitches high and 17 stitches wide. It includes four and eight stripe variations, perfect for many aromantic and asexual flags, the non-binary flag, some gay and lesbian flags, and the more pride more colour/Philadelphia flag:
The 15 block pattern is a heart 15 stitches high and 17 stitches wide. It includes three and five stripe variations, perfect for the genderqueer flag, the pansexual and polysexual flags, the transgender flag, and many aromantic flags:
If you want to use these patterns for flags with unevenly sized stripes, you may need to double up on some stripes, or reduce/increase their allotted rows of stitches, to make them fit in an existing pattern. You can sew the bisexual flag, for example, on a five-stripe pattern by sewing two pink, a purple and two blue stripes.
If you want to use these patterns for flags with vertical stripes, you’ll need to take the width of a pattern (provided in the top row of each pattern and referenced above) and divide it by the number of stripes in your flag. If you have a whole number, you can use that pattern as is; if you don’t, you’ll need to resize the pattern to create evenly-spaced stripes.
I can use my 20 or 21 block heart patterns (21 blocks wide) to create evenly-spaced vertical three-stripe and seven-stripe flags, for example, but I can’t use them for an evenly-spaced vertical five-stripe flag.
Sewing Your Heart Patch
For the purposes of the rest of this tutorial, I’m sewing an upside-down 20 block patch in the five stripe variation with no additional modification. I find it easiest to first cross stitch the heart without quarter stitches, followed by the backstitch outline and then the quarter stitches. This allows me to tuck the edge of my quarter stitch underneath the angled line of backstitch, as demonstrated on my first text patch tutorial.
If you prefer to keep this as a traditional cross stitch piece without quarter stitches, do so! This gives a squared-off, pixel sprite look to your patch, which you can outline with backstitch or leave as is.
As these hearts are sewn upside down (point facing upwards), you’ll need to take care when laying out your floss. If you’re making a traditional rightside up patch (the swells of the heart facing upwards), lay out your floss in reverse stripe order to that of the flag, so that your bottom stripe is your first colour and your top stripe is the last. Once you’ve completed your cross stitch, turn your patch into the desired position.
If you’re making an upside down patch (the point of the heart facing upwards), lay out your floss in flag stripe order and work your way down the pattern from first colour to last.
To begin, take your swatch and arrange it in a landscape orientation (longest edges on top and bottom) if it isn’t a perfect square. (Most patches are wider than they are tall.) The quickest way to find the vertical midpoint is to fold the top two corners together and make a small pinch in the middle of the fabric at that uppermost edge. Open your fabric, counting down the crease holes enough for your edging and excess. (I usually leave five or six holes.) This spot (I mark it with a pin or my pre-threaded needle) is where you begin your first, single cross stitch–the tip of the heart’s point.
For the first part of the heart, you’re building a triangle or mountain shape, with every successive row increasing by one more stitch on each side of the line. (A three stitch row is followed by a five stitch row, etc.) Each pattern has a different number of rows comprising the triangle, so I count these before starting to know how far down I sew: this 20 block pattern has a triangle 11 rows high.
(If you wish to decrease your chances of your thread knotting and tangling, please use much shorter pieces of thread than shown here!)
Once I’ve sewn my triangle, I follow it with a block of lines the same length as the bottom line of said triangle. (For the 20 block pattern, it’s 4 more lines 21 stitches long.) This is the easiest and most tedious bit of the pattern, as you’re just stitching long, straight lines.
The third section involves sewing two lines of the same length (21 stitches) with a single stitch/block gap in the centre of each line. (In other words: you miss stitch 11.) This is followed by the two curved swells of the heart. You may consider these as two flat-topped triangles, both decreasing by a stitch on either end of each half row. I find it easier to sew each curve separately, as its own mini triangle, instead of as two parts of a longer row. This means I avoid running longer sections of thread across blank aida on the back of the patch.
I then take the floss for my edging (or floss that matches my aida when leaving the edge raw) and backstitch around the heart shape.
The last thing to do in cross stitching is to fill the gaps between the angled back stitch and the edges of the heart with quarter stitches:
Fabric Trimming and Treating
I always rough-trim my patch. I first cut it square along the weave of the cloth, leaving three blocks for my border where the outline runs vertical or horizontal. I then cut wide angles along the diagonal edges, leaving plenty of room for later trimming and rounding. I don’t yet cut between the curves of the heart’s top or attempt to round off my corners.
As the heart-shape of these patches means curves and corners, I treat the raw edges of the patch with fabric stiffener once rough-cut. Stiffener stops the curves from buckling under the tension of the thread while sewing a closed edging and prevents cut strands of aida from poking through (or the lumps that result when I cover over these strands). Stiffened fabric is also much kinder for cutting clean, rounded curves! Use a fine paintbrush and take care to avoid touching the floss as you coat the fabric, as you don’t want it to discolour or stiffen.
(Floss that isn’t colourfast, particularly cheap dollar-shop, Daiso and eBay flosses, can leech dye if you touch it with stiffener or clear nail polish. Black and red are the worst for this! If you’re unsure about the steadiness of your hands, use known colourfast flosses like DMC, Anchor or Sullivans.)
You can use clear nail polish as an alternative to fabric stiffener, but clear nail polish can deteriorate and yellow over time. I consider clear nail polish best used as a stiffener when covered by a closed edging stitch (like buttonhole stitch) to hide any future yellowing.
A stiffener also prevents fraying should you decide to make the edging-free versions of these hearts (see below). If you’re treating fabric that has been first coloured with fabric paint, alcohol-based graphic markers or dye, test both on a scrap piece of aida before you sew. Your chosen stiffener may leech colour or change a painted fabric’s texture/tackiness, so first check how your stiffener and your paint/ink/dye interact on a test swatch!
Once my stiffener has dried, I trim my patch by evening out thicker sections, rounding off the corners and cutting a small indent between the heart’s curves:
You’re now ready for the final step: edging your patch!
Border Options and Modifications
The edging is the hardest part about these patches, as my buttonhole/closed blanket stitch technique requires placing many stitches beside each other, sealing the edges of the aida inside a border of floss. If you’d like a patch that’s easier and quicker to sew, alternatives do exist!
If you’d still like a sewn edge, consider an open over/whip or blanket stitch, each stitch sewn through the holes in the aida:
My allo-aro square patch features two rows of backstitch and an outer row of blanket stitch around the stripes. (You can also sew another row or two of backstitch around the patch, leaving the edges raw). Decorative backstitch is also an easy way to fasten your patch to a garment or bag: place the patch on top and sew your backstitch through both patch and garment.
My rainbow heart patch features one row of blanket stitch, the beginning of the stitches alternating between holes close to the heart and holes between the heart and the raw edge of the aida.
My allo-aro heart patch is finished in a triple blanket stitch. I start by beginning my stitches in the holes along the heart’s backstitch frame, working my way around the patch. I continue with the holes in the middle of the border, again doing this for the whole of the patch, and finish by starting my stitches in the holes closest to the raw edge. This gives a mottled or streaked pattern, while the thick rows of thread on the edge of the patch look rather like chain stitch.
But if this is too difficult or takes up too much time? Don’t edge it at all: just leave it trimmed and treated!
I find that the treated-aida border looks best on coloured cloth, particularly in a colour that matches or contrasts with the stripes in your flag or the backstitched outline. If you like the raw look, consider using transparent sewing thread to attach your patch to a garment or bag with a running stitch, as this decreases the visibility of your stitches.
My fifth patch tutorial contains a section on how to colour aida fabric. While alcohol-based graphic markers aren’t lightfast and risk fading over time, they’re my preferred way for quickly colouring small swatches to match pride flags. (Cheap Copic knock-offs work just fine!) If you wish to be sure of longer-lasting or more even colour, I’d use fabric paint or dye instead. Just be sure to colour your fabric before you sew!
Curved Buttonhole Edging Techniques
I prefer a closed blanket stitch/buttonhole stitch for patch edging, as detailed in the first tutorial of this series. Working around a curved, rounded shape requires a little more care than a square or rectangle, as it’s easy to end up with lumps and bumps in the struggle to enclose the aida around corners and between protrusions.
To avoid as many bulges as possible, I sew the edging twice!
On my first pass, I focus on neatly placing the outside edge of the stitches, not on covering the aida. This means I have odd gaps where the fabric shows underneath. Don’t attempt to fill them; keep embroidering your border. This goes double for the gap between the curves at the top of the heart, because the decreased length on the outer edge (compared to the increased length on the inner edge) makes it difficult to not get stitches piled and bunched over each other, causing those dreaded lumps.
Instead, place a few angled, longer stitches over the raw aida as you approach and round the gap:
(I’ve used Sullivans floss, which doesn’t have the smoothest laydown. It likes to bunch, snag and lump together. If you want your edging to better resemble machine embroidery, I recommend DMC. Quality floss makes the difference.)
On my second pass, I fill in my gaps with a closed over or side-by-side stitch worked inside the buttonhole stitch. I bring my needle up from underneath on the inside edge of the border and bring it down again inside the twisted/knotted edge, tucking the thread underneath that twist:
I work my way around the patch, adding stitches to fill in gaps where needed, always tucking my filling stitches underneath the edge created by my knotted/twisted buttonhole stitch. This minimises lumps and bumps around corners and curves, because these new stitches aren’t part of the line of buttonhole stitches and won’t distort that neat, twisted row.
In the gap between the curves of the heart, where the angle of the stitches change to meet a cluster of straight stitches, I slide my angled filling stitches so they sit underneath the straight stitches. This avoids two lots of stitches crossing over the top of a third and causing further lumps:
Once I’ve finished my filling stitch pass, my final step is to see if I’ve caught my line of back stitch inside my buttonhole edge. This is easy to do if I’m not paying attention, especially where the backstitch is sewn diagonally:
This is easy to fix: just sew in new backstitches where needed!
Your finished patches will look something like these:
And that’s it!
These heart patches have enough shape to offer more interest than a striped square but not enough curves to be frustratingly complex, which makes them quite addictive to sew. I’ve had a lot of fun with this tutorial, and I hope most LGBTQIA+ people can find at least one pattern suitable or adaptable for their own shape of pride.