Published Feb 17, 2023 by Rick Cundiff
It’s time to patch things up. No, we’re not talking about a disagreement you’ve had with someone. We mean classic embroidered patches. They can add flair and style to just about any garment, and can promote your school, band, business or other organization at the same time.
While there are multiple ways to attach embroidered patches to fabric, iron-on and sew-on are the two most common. All things considered, iron-on patches have the advantage of being the easiest type to apply.
Let’s examine how iron-on patches work, their pros and cons and a little bit of ironing history. And of course, we’ll have complete instructions on how to properly iron on a patch.
The act of pressing wrinkles out of cloth with a hot metal object is nothing new. Paintings from centuries ago show Chinese women pressing cloth with open pans full of hot coals.
Around the late Middle Ages, blacksmiths forged flat irons. These were a simple piece of iron with a handle. Heated over a fire or stove, they became a fixture of many homes.
They weren’t easy to use. They were heavy, and usually required some sort of cloth or pad to grip the handle without getting burned. The heat rose from the iron toward the ironer. It could be difficult to gauge the “sweet spot” between sufficiently heated and too hot for the cloth being pressed, sometimes resulting in ruined clothes. And standing next to a hot stove all day wasn’t exactly fun.
Other designs followed, using charcoal, gas – connected to a gas light fixture -- or liquid fuels as an internal heat source. While an improvement, they still left much to be desired.
In 1882, Henry W. Seely, a New York inventor and associate of Thomas Edison created the first working electric iron. Over the years, his invention has evolved to the lightweight, temperature-adjustable appliances that make life so much easier today. In essence, he laid the groundwork for the creation of the iron-on patch.
Patches haven’t always been a custom fashion accessory. Patches began as a simple way to cover holes and worn spots to make garments last a bit longer.
Embroidery, on the other hand, has long been a form of decoration, with intricate tapestries and royal garments dating back hundreds of years. But for most of that time, it was a slow, labor-intensive process. That made it affordable only to the wealthy.
The development of machine embroidery in the 19th century brought embroidery to the masses. Machines could produce embroidered works that regular folks could afford. Custom patches became a possibility for uniform name patches and other uses. Then the 1960s brought patches to the forefront.
The social upheaval of the ‘60s brought a new spirit of creativity to many. Custom patches became a way to protest the Vietnam War, express support for traditional values, or simply wish someone a nice day. Shirts, jackets and jeans soon sported patches as decoration, rather than just a means to cover a worn area.
Around the same time, iron-on decals for t-shirts became popular. Although using a slightly different technology, they emulated patches in the way they became an affordable, easy way to make a statement. They paved the way for the heat-sensitive adhesives used for iron-on patches.
Today, custom printing has mostly eclipsed iron-on decals, but demand for iron-on patches remains strong. And with good reason.
Ironing on patches is the easiest way to apply them to a garment. Unlike tape backing, they’re not temporary. Best of all, you don’t have to know how to use a sewing machine, or sew them on painstakingly by hand. A few minutes with a hot iron and you have a perfectly applied patch that looks great.
If you want to go an extra step for a truly long-lasting patch, just iron it on, then add a stitch or two at the corners. You don’t have to worry about it shifting as you sew.
Iron-on patches do have some limitations. They’re not suitable for all materials.
The most important factor in deciding whether to iron on or sew on a patch is whether the garment material can take the heat of the iron. Cotton, polyester, or a poly/cotton blend are the best materials for iron-on patches. Denim jeans and jackets are well-suited for adding iron-on patches.
Some fabrics can’t take the heat needed to apply patches, which can range from about 350 to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. These include:
Silk or lace
Highly elastic fabrics such as Spandex
If you find yourself dealing with any of those materials, it’s better to just resort to sewing your patches on. Otherwise, you’ll risk damaging the garment, the patch or both.
Once you’ve determined you can safely iron on your patch, you’re almost there! Just follow these easy steps:
Lay the garment flat on a smooth, heat-resistant surface.
Position your patch EXACTLY where you want it on the garment.
Place a thin towel or washcloth over the patch. Don’t try to apply the iron directly to the patch.
Set your iron to the hottest setting the material can take (the care tag can be helpful here.) Be sure the steam setting is OFF.
Set the iron on top of the covered patch and press down firmly for 15 to 20 seconds. Don’t move the iron.
Remove the iron, then carefully remove the cloth and try to lift the edge of the patch. If it does lift, replace the cloth and apply the iron for 10 seconds more. Repeat as needed until the edges don’t lift.
Let the patch cool and you’re ready to go. You’ve just successfully ironed on a patch! Laundry tip – don’t wash the garment in hot water, which could loosen the patch. Or, as noted above, add a stitch or two at the corners of the patch.
And there you have it – everything you need to know about ironing on custom patches. Feel free to express yourself and get creative in designing your patches. When you’re ready to order, we’re here to serve!