If you’ve been following my tutorials, you may have spent the best part of a year cross stitching your own pride patches. I’ve been sewing to occupy my hands while streaming TV during Victoria’s covid-19 lockdowns, so I’ve ended up with a lot of patches. What better thing to make with them than the ultimate in pride clothing–a one-of-a-kind pride jacket?
I used a cropped denim jacket from K-Mart that I got on clearance, as I had no access to op/thrift shops or other retail clothing shops during lockdown. Whatever jacket or coat you have on hand should work, although it is easier to work with thinner denim.
This tutorial describes tips and techniques for hand sewing patches onto a jacket, which is the cheapest but most difficult and time-consuming (or occupying!) method of attachment. If you use a heat and bond or iron-on adhesive product, much of this tutorial won’t apply, but you may still find useful the sections on layout and temporary adhesion.
Needed materials include:
- Coat or jacket
- Embroidery floss matching the borders of your patches or
- Transparent nylon sewing thread
- No-iron hemming, rescue or bonding adhesive tape
- Needles with sharp points (see below)
- A fair amount of patience
Optional materials include:
- Ruler or square (for checking patch alignment)
- Needle threader (helpful for nylon thread)
- A second pair of household scissors (for cutting the adhesive tape)
If you’re attaching your patches with embroidery floss matching the colour of each patch’s border/edging, you’ll need a sharp-pointed needle with a larger eye (like an embroidery crewel). If you’re attaching your patches with clear nylon thread, I prefer a sharp-pointed needle with a small eye (like a sharp or crewel), to stop the nylon from constantly slipping out of the eye.
I use the smallest possible needle when sewing patches onto bags and jackets, as this prevents the needle from punching any large holes into the patch or the fabric beneath. If using a fine sharp on denim or canvas, though, you’re likely to bend or snap your needles when sewing through seams (particularly the flat felled seams on the front, back and shoulders of my jacket). Your thread or floss, your garment’s fabric and the number of seams through which you need to sew will together dictate the type of needle.
Because you may get glue residue from the rescue tape onto the needle as it passes through the patch, in addition to bending or warping on thicker fabrics, you may choose to buy a set of needles just for this project. Likewise, cutting the tape with a second pair of household scissors prevents gunking up your good sewing and embroidery scissors.
I clean glue off my needles and scissors with a couple of drops of tea tree oil on a cloth or tissue, taking care not to get the oil on my skin.
Patch Layout and Arrangement
My first step is to take my jacket and play around with layout. As much as sewing on a large number of patches feels daunting, this provides greater options in terms of spacing and placement. If you want a jacket that appears more intentional in design, I recommend saving up patches to sew on together rather than sewing each patch on immediately after making it.
How you lay them out depends on the size and shape of your patches as much as the cut of your garment and your own stylistic preferences. I prefer some white space–blank denim–left between the patches so the jacket doesn’t feel too busy or overwhelming. Other folks may prefer covering the denim with as many patches as possible to make a pride statement piece.
The many seams on the front of a denim jacket form a convenient grid structure onto which one can align patches. Start by aligning patches along the bottom hem, the button plackets and the centre flat felled seams. The side seams and the flat felled seams above the pockets offer further places to align square and rectangular patches. I then filled in the gaps around these patches by roughly aligning new patches to the others. This is useful for heart patches and other non-square designs.
Aligning patches along seams and plackets also allows for use of symmetry. On my jacket, I have two arrows along the hem and two “aro” patches above the pockets, both aligned to their respective button plackets. The chevron cut of the pockets also lets me align my heart patches. You can even create “pairs” of patches in the same style and shape, mirroring one layout on both sides of the jacket front.
On the back of my jacket, patches can be aligned along the side seams and both sides of the flat felled seams.
(Note to self: swap the agender and trans hearts!)
Non-denim jackets may not have as many helpful seams, but they should still have a hemline, side seams and a zipper or button placket.
Keep in mind that hand-sewn patches aren’t completely square, particularly if you’re working with patches of a variety of sizes. Don’t worry about trying to get your patches perfectly aligned, because it just isn’t possible!
Testing and Temporary Patch Adhesion
Once you’ve arranged your patches, you’ll want to try on your jacket. An arrangement that looks good on a flat surface doesn’t necessarily look good when worn, so, unless you have a dress form onto which you can place your jacket while arranging patches, you’ll need to stick those patches down long enough for a test wearing.
For this, I use a cheap no-iron bonding/hemming/rescue tape. There are such tapes designed for heavier fabrics, but if you don’t pay the extra money needed for them, please know that this tape won’t permanently adhere your patches to denim. You’re only giving the back of the patch enough stick to hold it in place while you try on the jacket and then sew down the patch.
The tape goes on like an ordinary double-sided tape, a thin film with adhesive on both sides:
Avoid the edges of the tape overlapping the embroidered patch border, where the needle is likely to pass through during sewing. You can push back the tape’s corners, as I did above, for shapes that aren’t square. This reduces the chance of the needle passing through the tape when sewing, which prevents adhesive from sticking to your needle (and fingertips). It also makes it easier to remove the tape from the patch, should it be necessary.
Taped patches can fall off when brushed, jostled or knocked. I lost one patch when it fell off my jacket and I unknowingly stepped on it–only after a day did I find this patch stuck to the sole of my ugg boot!
I also recommend taking photos of your layout so that if patches do fall off or shift position, you can restore your previous arrangement.
Thread and Floss
Choosing what thread or floss you use to attach your patches will depend on what you prioritise: neatness on the inside of your garment, neatness on the outside of your garment, or ease of sewing experience.
If you want the inside of your garment to show as little of your stitches as possible, you’ll need to use transparent nylon sewing thread. The reverse side of my stitches are only visible on close inspection:
Compare this to patches sewn with embroidery floss:
Transparent thread isn’t invisible (for all it’s often sold as “invisible thread”). I find it blends into floss quite well if the floss is shiny and a light or pastel colour, my stitches only visible under bright light or a camera flash. It blends very well on my hot air balloon patch with the multi-coloured floss.
Clear nylon does not blend well into matte floss or floss of a dark, bold colour. My stitches are always visible on the green border around my allo-aro dragon patch and are often visible (depending on the angle and the light) on my abro patches with dark purple/violet edges. This doesn’t bother me too much, but if you have many patches with dark edges or use matte floss, I’d recommend sewing with matching embroidery floss, not transparent nylon.
If you don’t care about interior neatness because nobody will see the inside of your garment, use matching embroidery floss to sew on your patches. Nylon thread is a pain! It curls, it knots, it tangles, it forms unseen loops on the reverse side of the fabric, it snags on everything and it’s difficult to thread! If you get easily frustrated with hand sewing, or this is your first time attempting such a project, pick ease of sewing over perfect neatness. Embroidery floss is much more forgiving, and sewing with matching colours will make your patches look magically attached to your garment.
If you use nylon thread, constantly check both sides of your garment for loops where the thread hasn’t completely pulled through. Because it’s translucent, it’s easy to snag the thread on a button or corner without noticing until you’re five stitches further along. Check, check again, and keep on checking.
You should also thoroughly finish or knot off your thread, because nylon likes to untie itself. One quick knot at the end won’t keep your stitching from unravelling.
Sewing Tips and Techniques
I sewed these patches the same way as my tutorial on attaching my patches to my bag with embroidery floss: a series of over stitches from the inside edge of the patch border to the outside, my floss following the grain of the buttonhole embroidered edge (where possible). I feel that this over stitch technique more securely attaches my patches even if the transparent thread breaks, since it’s very easy to unravel or unpick stitches sewn with nylon.
You may prefer a quicker, less obvious running or backstitch around your patch, especially if you created patches without a buttonhole edge.
Even with tape to hold the patches in place while sewing, I still pulled them out of alignment when sewing–particularly when working on an awkward part of the jacket or trying to hold the jacket without crushing any previously-sewn-on patches. This happened with my smaller trans heart patch:
(My alignment isn’t perfectly square on any patch, but the upside-down heart is meant to point straight up, not to one side–as seen in photos above.)
The easiest way to keep square and rectangular patches in position as you sew is to first tack down each corner with a couple of stitches and then work your way in a circle around the sides. If tacked down at the corners, the fabric beneath can’t pull the patch out of alignment as you sew along the border.
To tack your hearts, start with the heart’s tip (bottommost point on a standard arrangement, uppermost point on an upside-down heart) and then the crevice between the two swells on the top (or bottom if upside-down). I then tack down two points on each side of the heart before working my way around the entire border. Other irregular shapes work similarly: add as many “points” for tacking stitches as you think will hold the patch in place.
When attaching patches to small jacket pockets, I swear by the cheater’s method! I have never used those pockets on any jacket, so I set the patch on top and sewed through both the pocket and the jacket beneath. Easy! To keep things neat, I sewed down the pocket flap as well. This won’t work for larger pockets where you wish to preserve their function and therefore must attach the patch without sewing through both layers, but for smaller ones it saves a lot of frustration. Who’ll know, right?
(Aside from the internet, I mean…)
When finished, you may end up with something like this:
(My iPad’s me-facing camera is as good as my ability to make pleasing facial expressions … which is to say, not very!)
I have a couple of frog buttons to go on the collar, because frogs, and a few other cute buttons to fill in larger spots of blank denim. The shoulders are also earmarked for future patches! I don’t want the front to be too busy, though, so I’m happy with my patches fairly spaced out.
The hot air balloon and the butterfly designs come from my vintage Ondori pattern book, while the frog and the pea patches are adapted from Sullivans cross-stitch ornament kits–most of which will make gorgeous patches. Keep a look out for mini kits with small designs like animals or flowers, as these are easy to convert. Opportunity (thrift/second-hand) shops are great for picking up old/out-of-print books and kits for affordable prices.
I can’t say that this process has been smooth sailing. (Nylon thread, crooked patches, the awkwardness of sewing things onto a jacket, a missing patch stuck to my ugg boot…) Honestly, if you can afford iron-on adhesive or can pay someone else to sew? Do it. I defy my patches to fall off, however, and I will end up with a jacket celebrating my unique, personal, quirky shape of aromantic queerness.
Unfortunately, my chronic pain flares make this piece still a work in progress. I hope you don’t mind waiting a few months for the sequel, in which I’ll show off the back half of my jacket … and figure out what to do with my face when I take photos of myself wearing it!