Patches are a fun, retro accessory that can add character to your jacket, shirt, bag, jeans, pillow or any other fabric item. Putting a patch onto fabric can be done in two ways – sewing or ironing – but to use the iron-on method, you need to have the right kind of patch. Any patch can be sewn, but to iron on a patch, it must have a special adhesive backing. If you don't have the original packaging, which would include the necessary iron-on instructions, there are a few other ways to determine whether you have an iron-on patch or a sewing patch.
Iron-On Patch vs. Sewing Patch
Iron-on patches and sew-on patches look the same from the front, but turn it over and examine the back of the patch and you should be able to determine what type it is by looking. An iron-on patch has a layer of adhesive on the back, which is activated by the heat of an iron. If the back of the patch appears to be only fabric or embroidery threads with no signs of an adhesive coating or backing, it is most likely a sew-on patch.
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There are two main kinds of adhesive typically used on the back of patches, and each looks a little different. Some patches have a layer of glue on the back, which has a smooth, plastic-like texture and a cloudy, usually white appearance. These patches can be quite stiff and do not bend easily.
The other type of iron-on patch has a piece of thin, fabric-like adhesive covering the back. It is similar in appearance to a dryer sheet, with a slightly rough texture and some flexibility.
Is Your Patch an Iron-On Patch?
If you are unable to tell whether you have an iron-on patch vs. a sewing patch by looking at the back and you don't have the original packaging, then the only other way to be certain is to try to iron it onto fabric.
This method is only useful if you already own the patch and not so much if, for example, you're browsing specifically for iron-on patches in a vintage store. Also, it's only useful if you know for certain the item to which you want to apply the patch and you're ready to complete the process. An iron-on patch can only be applied once, whereas sew-on patches can be repeatedly unstitched and sewn on again.
How to Iron On the Patch
The method for applying an iron-on patch is always the same: Set an iron to the hottest temperature setting suitable for the fabric. Position the patch in place with the adhesive side down and place a press cloth (such as a kitchen towel or pillowcase) over the patch.
Press down firmly on the cloth-covered patch with the hot iron for approximately 30 seconds. Check to see if the patch has adhered to the fabric. If it has, you certainly have an iron-on patch, and if it hasn't stuck at all, then you have a sew-on patch.