Personalizing with Patches


I have self-diagnosed as having a massive patch problem.  I am a patch addict.

dolls and satchels for travel 2

I’ve written about the satchel-style backpacks I made for our children who vigorously pursue the Junior Ranger program at every National Park we visit.  They love these backpacks, and so do I (especially now we’ve upgraded them with an interior zipper to give it more structure and prevent their treasures from falling out).  But they have rapidly run out of space for new patches–we have taken trips to Southern California, Colorado, Kentucky, and Virginia in the past 14 months, and visited a stack of National Park destinations in each, so in addition to seeing the properties nearest to where we live here in Atlanta, we’ve added a couple dozen more park patches, and suddenly find we have no remaining backpack real estate on which to put them!

Compounding the problem is that there are so many great organizations supporting the National Parks since the centenary, and many of them produce patches of their own.  One is Every Kid In A Park, an initiative founded in 2015 under former President Obama to fund a program allowing every family in the US with a fourth grader to receive a free access pass to all the national parks for the year (that program runs through August 2018, and there is some question as to whether it will be renewed, so if you have a fourth grader this coming school year, jump on it while you have the chance! the program also applies to homeschool families with a ten-year-old this school year).


There’s also The Parks Project, who have a patch that helps fund microgrants to teachers who share the national parks with students.  Bonus points: their patch is tiny compared to a lot of the Junior Ranger patches, and fits easily into tight spaces.

And I’ve recently discovered National Park Geek, who have one of the best logos I’ve seen in some time, composed of a ranger hat plus a stylized version of Teddy Roosevelt’s glasses, honoring the founder of our National Park system back in 1916 along with the rangers who keep them running on a daily basis.  It was this patch that launched our matchy-matchy family outfits for our most recent parks trip, out to Colorado in July:


My husband worked with Hanes to promote their new partnership with the National Parks Foundation, who have launched a program to “inspire people from all backgrounds to connect with America’s National Parks.”  They sent us their Nano-T for each of the kids, a style I vastly prefer to the Beefy tees I wore when I was younger, because the fabric is so soft and easy to layer.  They also sent each of us an Eco-Smart zip hoodie, which are made from recycled plastic bottles in a poly-cotton blend–generally, I am an all-cotton girl, but I think we all have to acknowledge at this point that cotton is tricky business, and that cotton farming uses a great deal of water and pesticides; polyester, which has its own drawbacks, at least is made by re-using recycled plastics, and this hoodie is particularly soft and cozy.

First thing I did when they arrived in the mail was run them through the laundry, to remove any manufacturing residue and to pre-shrink them.  Second thing I did was get to work adding patches to our tees and sweatshirts to personalize them (see a step-by-step here).  Most of these are iron-on, but I never trust the heat-activated adhesive to be strong enough to keep a patch in place through constant washing and wearing.  I always use my machine to stitch them down and make sure they don’t budge.  Attaching patches doesn’t require any special thread, just something to match the overcasting along the edge of the patch–I find that if I try to blend the stitches in with that slightly raised edge, they’re nearly invisible, while if I try to match the body of the patch, they don’t blend in as well.


We 1000% needed those sweatshirts at Rocky Mountain National Park, where the temps were high for them, but still a windy 59-degrees.  We hiked the alpine tundra and did measurements + experiments with the park ranger, and the kids and I were glad to have our hoodies and scarves!  Absolutely a glorious landscape–I sincerely don’t think I’ve ever wanted to hug a mountain before, but that tundra was the STUFF.  Makes it easier to enjoy when you’re not busy wishing you hadn’t left your sweater at home.


In addition to adding patches on the right breast of each hoodie, I did flags on the sleeves.  If I had been constructing a garment from scratch, I think I would have preferred to sew the patch to the unfinished pattern piece, and then inserted the sleeve into the armhole, but since that wasn’t an option, I just rolled the sleeve back and put it on my free arm.  The fabric was so soft and stretchy that I had no trouble at all, and I love the look of the American flag on each sweatshirt.


Fun fact: while there’s no law about it, the convention is for flags sewn on sleeves to be attached in such a way that they appear to be blowing back from the front of the garment, apparently symbolizing how a flag would have been carried on a standard and blown back by the wind.  So the basic American flag, with the stars on the upper left, should be applied to the left sleeve only–they actually make patches called a “reverse flag” for attaching to the right sleeve that are “backward” so they’ll produce the same wind-blown effect.


Adding the patches to the short sleeves of the Nano-T was even easier, just fuse for a bit then stitch along the edge using the free arm on the sewing machine (I have a step-by-step how-to post, if you’re interested).  The patches can be “molded” slightly with your hand to match the curve of your child’s arm, if you don’t want them to stick out and be stiff, and they soften up quite a bit after washing.  Bonus: when these shirts are too small, they can be handed down, and eventually, when we don’t have any babies left to wear them, the patches can be removed and the old shirts donated or recycled (did you know there are textile recyclers all over the world who will take used garments and turn them into insulation, furniture, blankets and even paper?  Goodwill and other donation centers will even accept your worn out garments and sell them to these recycling plants for a profit, so even if a tee is beyond wear, you can donate and know that it will go on to do some good!).

Up next for us is adding straps to the bottom of those satchels that will loop around a small camp blanket made of the same fabric–the kids want to start adding their patches to a blanket that will grow with them, since we’re out of room on their backpacks.  We might also keep adding some to the backs of their hoodies, because seriously, we have a LOT of patches at this point.  If you’re in the market for patches yourself, consider visiting, where many of the National Parks are represented in patch form–a great resource if your kids want to complete their Junior Ranger activities online and mail them in for their badges!

Emerson Shorts in moss linen

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When our family took a trip to Maui this spring, I started packing pretty late in the game, for me: only a week ahead.  Because, for real, I get SO EXCITED when we travel that I am honestly thinking about packing weeks in advance, and have to hold myself back to only start putting things in the suitcase seven days before the wheels come up on the plane.

And the thought of spending a week on Maui in the last days of winter, with my family??  SIGN ME UP.

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Lost Project: Beatrix Top in Liberty Cotton

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This is the Beatrix Top from Made By Rae, which I made up in Liberty lawn before ever making a muslin, and learned a valuable lesson.

The pattern itself is really excellent—I love the sleeve styling and length, and the buttons up the back (mine are faux, see below).  The pattern also includes adjustments for various cup sizes, which is great if you’re someone who always needs a full bust adjustment every time you sew up a new pattern.  Here’s where I went wrong, though: the bust adjustment used most frequently doesn’t work for me.  So I made up a “muslin” version of this top in the final fabric and didn’t take into account that I wasn’t sure the shaping would work for me.  #sadtrombone

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Lost Project: Liberty Lawn Tuxedo Tank Top


This particular Lost Project actually got a lot of screen time, just not publicly: I originally drafted this pattern for my League of Dressmakers, and we worked with it in various capacities for a few months in 2016, and then re-visited it in 2017.  I used one of my all-time favorite Liberty of London lawn prints to sew this up, and honestly, if my budget allowed it I would probably have an entire closet filled with nothing but Liberty, linen, rayon and jeans.  I might be 95% serious about that.

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Florence Kimono in rayon–with cherries!


I have a truly absurd number of garments hiding in my closet.  Things that I’ve made, for myself, over the past few years that have never been shared or blogged about.  Or more accurately, have made it on to my Instagram feed, but have never been written about at length in a format where I can actually archive them and make them searchable, like here.  I’ve been calling them Lost Projects.

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Registration Open: The Murder Mystery Quilt 2018

Murder Mystery Quilt a year long block of the month club

It’s back!  The Murder Mystery Quilt is now open for registration for next year.  I am so, so excited–will you come play with us?

For the past two years, I have had the honor and the pleasure of sewing alongside over 1500 quilters who love to read, and who have made new friends while sewing a mystery quilt.  These are smart, funny folks who enjoy a good story and a good puzzle, and who are having a ball putting the two together in a sewing project that lasts all year!  Registration is open NOW for an all-new quilt and an all-new story.  Come play with us next year and sew the quilt to solve the crime!

register now button pink

The Murder Mystery Quilt is a monthly subscription club that reads along together and stitches up a quilt to find clues and solve the murder mystery contained in the story.  

Members receive a chapter from a mystery story each month, and a pattern for a quilt block.  The quilt block relates directly to the chapter you’ve read, and contains an additional clue (or clues!) to help unravel the plot.  There are 12 blocks, one for each month of the year, and every quilter gets one guess as to who the killer is.  All the correct guesses are put in a bucket, and a winner is drawn for a giant prize basket of quilting goodies and fabric!  There’s also a second prize for those who complete the quilt top, regardless of whether they made a correct guess, so that everyone has a chance to win–even if you feel more like a Watson than a Holmes.  (After all, Holmes was a little bit of an egomaniac who didn’t like to share credit, but it was always Watson who supplied the necessary connections to get to the solution, right?)

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Destash for Charity: Selling What We Can’t Use to Give to Those Who Need

destash fabrics

I’m getting ready to do a huge de-stash.  When we finished our basement this summer and I moved out of my office space and into the new basement studio, I packed up box after box, and even though I was sure that I had eliminated every item I could POSSIBLY bear to live without, when I unpacked the boxes again in the new space–which combined the office with my home sewing space in our dining room–I found, really, appalling levels of fabric that I didn’t have room for and didn’t really need.

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Knitting Fail: the Top-Down Turtleneck Cardigan

This is the first knitting project I’ve done where I finished and said, Huh.  I don’t really like this.  And that’s a little sad.


Let’s start by saying that this post is NOT about: this post is not about my out-of-focus cell phone photos, or my frowny face (mostly cropped) from the sun being in my eyes, or my lack of ironing on my tunic.  Stay focused, my friends.  This post is about the fit of this sweater.  Last summer, in anticipation of our Big Trip to Scotland, which I learned during my pre-trip research was going to be 30 degrees cooler than Atlanta, I knitted two sweaters: the Georgia sweater and the Top-Down Turtleneck Cardigan.  Both are made in the same Purl Soho Mulberry Merino yarn.  One is yellow and I lurve it.  The other is…this one.

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How To Sew On Patches

How to Sew On Patches By Machine | Whipstitch

For our children’s Junior Ranger backpacks, I worked hard to plan the design to enable the maximum number of patches to be added over the years.  Every Junior Ranger receives a pin when they are sworn in, and I’ve seen some children at various national parks with dozens of these on vests and jackets.


Some of the parks, however, also award patches to their Junior Rangers.  They do these in different ways: some parks give the patch as a matter of course.  A few have levels of patch, based on the age level of the Junior Ranger in question, and kids can earn more than one patch at that particular park by completing more Junior Ranger activities on subsequent visits (this is usually only the very largest and most popular parks, like Yellowstone).  Other parks have it in the gift shop where it can be purchased–but only after showing the pin badge as evidence of Junior Ranger-ness.  Some, like Grand Canyon, also have them in the gift shop, but behind the counter where Junior Rangers must ask for them and then purchase.  A few (like when we visited Mojave National Preserve this spring) award the patch only if the Junior Ranger activity booklet is completed on-site, versus being mailed in after the visit.*  And others have no patches at all, or at least not any specific to the Junior Ranger program (although we have encountered a very, very small number that didn’t have SOME kind of embroidered patch available).

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Junior Ranger Backpacks with Patches and Pins

junior ranger backpacks square

I make a lot of things for my children.  I don’t often make things for them that I want to get out and play with when they’re not home.  This time?  Yes, I totally do.


These are one of my very favorite projects I have made for my children: their Junior Ranger backpacks.

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