Because of Alphonse Kursheedt and Isaak Groebli, mass production of custom embroidered patches was made possible. Kursheedt invented the first embroidery machine in the 1880s. The machine was a combination of hand embroidery and power looms. A few years later, Groebli developed the machine and named it Schiffli embroidery machine. “Schiffli” means “little boat” which is what the shape of the machine replicates.
The Schiffli embroidery machine is a multi-needle machine that can be operated with two threads system. The machine can produce a large batch of embroidered products with equal quality. One of the most popular embroidered products then and now is patches.
Patches are created using a thread and a fabric backing. Patches can be attached usually to an article of clothing with pins. They can also be sewn on. Today, modern attachment processes have been available including iron-on adhesive, Velcro backing, and dryer heat adhesive.
Embroidery Before The Revolutionary Era
Without machines, sewers can only create clothes, decorative fabrics, and patches by hand. The process is obviously long. It took hours to create a simple piece of embroidery and for that reason, the cost of the pieces are not cheap. Only the rich and elites could afford and wear embroidered garments before the 1800s.
Some people nowadays still embroider by hand or purchase hand-made embroidery pieces. To make custom embroidered patches by hand, you have to prepare a fabric backing first. The edges of your backing should be heat-sealed to prevent fraying. After that, you can start stitching the threads in place to create your design. You can use the backing as a background of the design or otherwise, you can simply cover it with stitches. Some of the stitches used in embroidery are chain stitch, back stitch, blanket stitch, running stitch, buttonhole, cross stitch, straight stitch, hemming stitch, and satin stitch.
Traditional Functions Of Custom Embroidered Patches
The United States military units were the first to use embroidered patches in 1812. They also wore patches in the 1845 Mexican War and the 1860s Civil War. They used patches as a unit identification known as SSI or shoulder sleeve insignia. SSI had been significant in the World War II. The Navy, Army, Air Force, Marines, and Coast Guard all had their distinct embroidered patches which bear their functions in the war. From then on, wearing embroidered patches has become a tradition in the military.
The number of patches an individual has on his uniform also indicates the number of organizations he is affiliated to. He may or may not wear all his patches depending on the situation. Commonly, SSI is located on the uniform’s upper left arm below the shoulder seam. If the soldier needs to be in a body armor that covers his shoulders, the SSI can be moved elsewhere. There are strict rules and regulations on how and where to wear SSI.
There are different metaphors associated with military patches. It was believed that every image and color used in the embroidered patches is of significant meaning. Animals are the common image to be seen in military patches. Lion means courage, tiger portraits the soldiers’ fierceness and valor, and bear symbolizes protection among the units. A soldier wearing patches with wolf is someone who is dangerous to assault.
In terms of colors, green and blue depict loyalty. Yellow and gold both signify generosity. White and silver are peace and sincerity. Red is for fortitude.
Nowadays, custom embroidered patches from 1800s and 1900s are becoming active in the collectors’ market. They are rare and limited edition patches which carry proud history of combats, wars, and honors.
Other Practical Uses Of Custom Embroidered Patches
The main function of embroidered patches is to indicate one’s group or organization. It is still being upheld today but not just in military. Every government unit now employs the use of patches. Sports teams, non-government organizations, charities, foundations, companies in the private sectors also use patches to denote rank, job position, and specialized departments.
Embroidered patches are also popular in scouting organizations and in various clubs. Astronauts and space agencies adopt patches to denote mission; some of these patches have become collectibles too.
Customization basically enabled this massive use of embroidered patches. With the use of embroidery machines and digital printers, any image or design can now be applied in the patches.