Sewing on Badges & Patches

There are many ways to attach badges.  My personal preference is to use a sewing machine to sew them on because:
  1. They stay on.  Even through the washing machine.
  2. They come off if you need them to.  Use a seam ripper to cut the stitches and you can move the badges/patches to a new location.
  3. Badge Magic Tragic is evil and the iron-on residue is almost as bad.  I've had to reconfigure vests where those (along with fabric glue, hot glue, super glue and/or some other unidentifiable glue) were used and I have nightmares.  I have a cleaning guide here if you have to try to get that stuff off.
I highly recommend teaching the Scouts to sew on their own badges.  It's a great lifelong skill!  I taught both of my girls at the Brownie level.  They don't sew on all of their stuff, but they definitely know how and have both worked on their own vests.

I've sewn thousands of badges at this point... some of the same badges multiple times because we had to reconfigure things to get more stuff to fit.  I've learned many tips and tricks to make it easier and/or faster to sew on patches that I'm sharing here.  I'll also include Amazon links to the things I use if you're interested in looking them up.  I do not use affiliate links, if that matters...

We'll start with my TIPS:

Machine - Most non-industrial sewing machines can handle patches just fine.  I do have a mechanical-only Janome HD3000 that is more heavy duty that I use, but my Brother CS6000i computerized machine does just fine and is the preferred machine by my girls.  Getting a machine that has a speed control is VERY useful if you're just starting out or have kids who don't have a light touch on the pedal.  You can set the stitch speed lower so that no matter how much the pedal gets mashed, the machine plods along at a manageable speed.  My HD3000 doesn't have any of those fancy bells and whistles, but the CS6000i does and is a great machine for beginners through intermediate sewists.

Needle - This is probably the single-most important component to success.  To avoid breaking needles, you need a good strong needle that is both sharp and thick enough to punch through the patches, and the eye needs to be big enough to use with the invisible thread without snagging.  My personal favorite is the Schmetz Microtex 90/14.  Microtex needles are designed to sew through the iron-on material without gumming up and the 90/14 size (blue band) is strong enough to go through patches without breaking, but not so large that it's damaging the patch or the uniform material.  I have sewn on 100+ patches in a single sitting without having to change out my needle or stop to clean off any residue.  They come in small packs of 5 or you can buy them in bulk boxes of 100

Thread - High quality thread is going to last longer and break less.  I use Gutermann because it's easy to pick up at Joann Stores and they have colors that are a near match for each uniform.  I use the invisible thread on top and a uniform-matching thread in the bobbin.  These are the color numbers that I use for matching:

Invisible Thread: 111
Daisy Blue: 248
Brownie Brown: 575
Junior Teal: 687
Cadette-Ambassador Khaki: 512

The invisible thread is a little like fishing line.  It comes off with a curl/coil from being on the spool and sometimes that unravels faster than it should.  I've found that it works better on a vertical spool.  My CS6000i only has a vertical spool peg, so we've had no problems with it on that machine, but my HD3000 has a horizontal spool holder by default.  There is a separate peg that came with my machine that lets me put the spool up vertically, so I use that.  If you don't have that option, you may want to put the spool in a cup behind/beside your machine instead of on the spool holder itself so that it can come off the spool smoothly.

Stitch - I use the normal sewing foot and a medium width/length zig-zag stitch.  (You can see those settings on the pic above.)  If you use a zigzag stitch that's in the middle on both your stitch width and stitch length settings, you'll have it be wide enough to jump the edges on the thicker bordered badges and secure everything neatly. It's also easy to slide a seam ripper through on the back if you ever need to move anything. (I've needed to move things many, many times...girls keep earning more than I expect or GSUSA reclassifies badges as parts of journeys and upsets my whole OCD balance.)

Now for my TRICKS:

Trick #1 - You can use masking tape (or blue painter's tape) to hold your patches in place while you sew them. It doesn't leave an adhesive residue behind and you just peel it off when your stitches get to that part of the patch.  (I'm aware it looks like these patches are on the wrong side, but the other side was already full.  You can see her full uniform here and now you know why I've had to learn how to sew badges so well!)

Trick #2 - You can speed up the tying off of the tails by pulling them through from the back instead of using a hand needle to get the invisible thread tails down through the patch.  When you're done stitching the section of patches and are ready to tie off the tails, just grab one of the bobbin tails in the back and give it a little tug.  This will pull a small loop of the invisible thread through from the top.  

Now you can take your seam ripper and poke it through that loop and gently pull the rest of the thread through.  Make sure you're using the dull part of the seam ripper or you'll cut your tail too short to tie!  Maybe a mechanical pencil or ballpoint pen would be safer?  Once you have one of the tails pulled up, grab the bobbin thread you didn't use the first time, and give it a tug to pull up the other main thread.  Grab two threads in each hand (I generally grab one invisible and one uniform-colored) and tie 2-3 half knots.  Cut off the tails with about 1/2" remaining so that it won't unravel.

Trick #3 - You can pre-sew badges together that belong together so that they don't shift while you're attaching them to the uniform. This includes things like the Council ID patches, Troop Numerals, fun patches with segments/rockers, D/B/J/C journeys, and B/C/S/A badges. You just put the badges together and run them under a zigzag stitch that catches both sides. It lets you control the two patches alignment without worrying about if it's straight on the uniform first. If you have the older Made in China badges where the iron-on is a little stronger, you might need to put a piece of tissue or parchment paper down under the badges when you run them under your needle, but the new Made in USA ones never give me trouble.  The example below is the very first time I used that trick.  I don't stop after each badge anymore.  I would sew those 5 together by starting at the base of Dancer and the left bottom corner of Senses and stitching along their paired up side, then leave the needle down in the top of the Senses badge and rotate it so that the next stitch line will catch Computer Expert and sew it onto the other side of Senses.  Then just continue through the other two badges in a giant zig-zag.  Then you only need to tie off each grouping once.  Wastes less thread, and takes less time!

Trick #4 - If you're sewing badges together and you have a mix of the Made in China and the Made in USA ones, they don't always want to fit together cleanly.  You can actually make the Made in USA ones look like Made in China ones by trimming a little bit of the extra material from the outside and using an Ultra Fine Point Sharpie (this size doesn't bleed too much ink at once) in a matching color to the border to make them look uniform.  In the example below, we already had Hiker and First Aid in the older style, so I trimmed down the Cabin Camper and Take Action badges to make them the same size and colored in the edges with brown Sharpie.

Trick #5 - For those pesky Daisy and Junior badges that you can't pre-sew together due to their roundness, you can sew them a whole row at a time. I sew the bottom half of each badge, leave the needle down, lift the presser foot, and rotate the uniform 180 degrees, then put the next badge in place (unless I taped the whole row down like the picture from Trick #1), put the foot down and sew the next bottom half. Once I get to the end of the row, I repeat the half-circles along the top edge of the row of badges. It decreases the number of times you have to tie off your thread, so it's faster, and it uses a lot less thread.  The red line below shows the chain of half circles I use.  The back ends up really clean, too, with less tied off ends poking out everywhere.

Trick #5b - I do the daisy chain of patches getting sewn all at once on fun patches, too.  I lay out everything first, then use tape to hold everything in place.  Then I start at an edge and sew the first half of a patch until I am next to the side of another fun patch, then I put the foot up, rotate the uniform to line up that patch, put the foot back down and sew along the side of that patch until I hit the next one.  Once I have 5-6 patches halfway sewn on, I loop back along the sides I didn't already do until I get to my starting point.  The only gotcha here is making sure I don't run out of bobbin thread midway... that messes up the return trip.  I try not to do more than 5-6 patches at once because I don't want things to start getting off alignment without me realizing.  If something goes wrong with one smaller grouping, it's easier to unstitch and fix.  Example below is because I had to move all of the fun patches up on my younger daughter's vest when we realized she was going to need space for 3 full rows of retired badges on the back.  Normally I don't need to sew so many at once.  For this example, I sewed the bottom 6 down first as one set, then did the left-side 7 as a set and the remaining 6 on the right-side as a set. (The Global Action and World Thinking Day awards were already attached in their special little corner.)

Trick #6 - This is for those who use sashes.  If your Scout always uses the same uniform shirt underneath, you can sew invisible magnets to the underside of the sash and the inside shoulder of the shirt and the magnets will hold the sash in position without having to repin it each time (or have it sliding off), but when the sash isn't being worn, there is no outwardly visible sign of the magnets on the shirt.  I sewed the magnets onto SF101 and then ironed that onto the uniform and reinforced it with straight stitches along the side seams.  This example is for my daughter who wore a sash layered over her vest for overflow badges.

That's it!  Happy sewing!