Award-winning digitiser, Erich Campbell presents a simple step-by-step guide to making patches using water-soluble stabiliser

One of the simplest methods for making custom-shaped patches without purchasing new equipment is to stitch your patch on a water-soluble stabiliser. This works with any embroidery machine and you can even start with nothing more than a pair of sharp scissors to cut your substrate and still get a solid, saleable outcome. However, I prefer to use a standard plotter/cutter – the same you would use for heat transfer vinyl or sign vinyl applications – to cut the base fabric.

This method is much like stitching a standard appliqué. When digitising, you simply create a run stitch line just inside the shape of the cut-patch piece, starting and ending at the top of the area so as to allow access to the hoop during placement of the patch ‘cut’, followed by a zig-zag or e-stitch ‘tack-down’ run that’s meant to lightly sew the patch cut in place. Then you digitise the main body of the design, followed finally by a full density, underlaid satin stitch border with an outside edge that is just slightly outside of the area of the cut piece – by no less than 0.4 mm. Stitch the border last as the water-soluble backing is weaker than the patch material and may have some tendency to shift or loosen under the heavy border stitching. As you want to keep the patch stable for as long as possible during the run to enhance registration and clarity, you should stitch all of the central matter before the border.

Once the file is digitised, the execution is very straightforward.

Cutting First, depending on your software, you can either directly cut or create a vector cut line to export to cutting software to cut patch blanks on your plotter. Distributors offer a backed, rolled twill in multiple colours that comes pre-made with pressure-sensitive adhesive. This works well for this method.

Hooping Second, hoop up a double layer of a fibrous, water-soluble stabiliser. Though film stabilisers may claim to work well for badges and patches, I find that with particularly heavy patches and borders the fibrous, opaque-looking soluble stabilisers stand up better and are more resistant to tearing out during border stitching.

Run your placement line This will tell you where to place your ‘cut’ blank material. Place the material with pressure-sensitive adhesive or, failing that, with a small spray of light, embroidery-specific adhesive.

Run your tack-down stitching This holds the ‘cut’ in place for further stitching. Also, due to the open nature of this stitching, if there has been a major flaw in placement this your last chance to easily cut the patch free so that you can move it back into place. If you do so, make sure to repeat the tack-down run.

Run your design and border Watch for any shifting before the border runs; if you don’t catch between 2mm and 3mm of patch material, you may see fraying or loosening of the border as the edge unravels, depending on your chosen material. Attempt to get as complete an overlap as possible with the patch material.

Unhoop and finish After you’ve done any necessary trimming, unhoop the patches and soak/rinse them until all of the water-soluble backing has melted away. What remains is a clean-edged patch; once your pieces are rinsed out, all you have to do is let them dry!

At this point the patch can be stitched on or heat-seal adhesive can be applied with a heat press so that the patch can be later heat-applied to a garment.

The hand-cut method

The great thing about this method is that you can also use a hand-cut method to create these pieces. Simply place a larger than necessary piece of uncut material in your hoop after hooping the water-soluble material, stitch it down with the placement stitch, then temporarily remove the hoop from the machine. Use angled appliqué scissors to cut the excess material away as close to those placement stitch outlines as possible.

Making water-soluble backing-based patches is incredibly simple; give it a try!

1. The backed roll twill

2. Cut out the patch

3. Hoop a double layer of a water-soluble stabiliser

4. Run your placement lines

5. Using adhesive, place cut pieces on the stabiliser

6. Run the tack-down stitching

7. Run your design and border

8. The finished embroidery

9. Unhoop the design

10. Trim away any excess material

11. Rinse out the backing

12. The finished patch

Erich Campbell is an award-winning digitiser, embroidery columnist and educator. He works for Black Duck Embroidery and Screen Printing in New Mexico, US.