When my son first joined the Civil Air Patrol over seven years ago, I didn’t mind sewing the name tapes and other patches onto his BDU’s. However, that all changed when he earned the Billy Mitchell Award and came home with blue fabric scraps with unfinished edges and a white dot in the middle that I was supposed to form into a square and sew onto his cap and collars. I somehow managed to fold it into the correct shape and pin it in place and get it sewn on but after promoting all the way to Cadet Colonel and having two sets of BDU’s, those officer patches were still a source of frustration for me even as an experienced seamstress and home-ec graduate! I pinned and basted and ironed and even made little templates but every time he promoted, I knew the frustration would return.
It’s been three years since his last promotion but I’m still being asked occasionally to sew on a cadet’s newly earned patches and I gladly donate my time to this organization which has played a huge and positive role in my son’s life. Just the other day, after procrastinating on a BDU sewing job, a brilliant idea popped into my head. What if I were to use fabric adhesive spray to help form the patches and then also use it to keep them in place while sewing? It worked wonderfully! In fact, I sewed three patches in just a few minutes!
Here’s how to do it: Set out a large protective surface (I used poster board). Spray the back side of the patch and fold the top and bottom to the back. Press firmly and hold in place for a few seconds. There is supposed to be a 1/8” blue frame all around the dots (or diamonds) so measuring and ironing it first would help with accuracy.
Spray the back again and fold the sides in pressing firmly for a few seconds with your fingers.
Carefully following the regulations, spray the back again of the now-folded patch and press it down in the proper place on the uniform.
Stitch around the edge and you are done! If the side has flared a bit and there is some fabric sticking out from under the patch, use a pin to tuck it back in while you are sewing.
The can of adhesive spray was $12.95 and worth every penny. I sure wish I had thought to buy a can the day my son became a Civil Air Patrol cadet officer!
Jesse Case said:
Great tips! I actually used glue for my insignia, so same basic idea I guess. The one thing that bothers me is that your cadet is asking you to sew his stuff on instead of doing it himself. Taking care of the uniform is part of the character and life building experience of the program. Through CAP, I learned how to iron clothes with a high standard for detail, how to sew by hand, how to shine shoes well, and most importantly how to take good care of something and keep it nice (among a myriad of other things).
Jessica Brunelle said:
Thank you so much for the precise directions, it really will help a lot when sewing on my daughters patches. In response to the above Cadets’ issues with a Mama sewing on her son’s patches; I just have to say I am sorry that you have a problem with it but these are just children and it sounds like her son probably joined at an early age as did my daughter who has so many important tasks to excel in CAP without learning how to use a sewing machine. I don’t know about your experience but my daughter spends two hours a day working out and studying for her CAP tests. She volunteers for EVERY CAP function they have and spends many weekends at the Airport trying to get in some flight time. She also is on the HHR in school and has many school activities as well. She does shine her own Boots but CAP would not accept a hand sewn badge on their uniforms, she would not pass an inspection, they are very particular with how the patches are sewn on.
BTW I have been using fusible webbing iron on tape up to this point, however I have used adhesive fabric spray on other sewing ventures in the past, it is a fabulous idea! THANK YOU
Lawernce Tate said:
nobody asked for your opinion Jesse
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Bryan Cooper said:
There is fabric adhesive?! Where were you when I was a cadet? Ok, and senior that was getting promoted. I think my BDU days are over but it is a trick I can teach other senior members.
A great tip on sewing. But a note to cadet officers: Sewing, like typing is an excellent life skill. Learn it and be responsible for your own uniform – be self sufficient! Mom should not be doing your sewing for you, you should do it your own self! Trust me, Mom, it’s even easier for you that way!
What adhesive spray did you use and where can I get it? I’ll reach officer hopefully by the end of September and will have to sew on the ranks. Would spray starch and an iron work as well?
I used 505 spray which I found at a local sewing machine store. Fabric stores, such as JoAnn Fabrics, also carry it.
Thank you! Thank you so much!
Jeff Williams said:
There are two classes of this spray, a permanent fabric glue which you should avoid, and a basting spray. 505 is probably the best basting spray. Check your local WalMart — it is about 25% less expensive than JoAnn’s or Hobby Lobby. By the way, I bring a sewing machine to encampment, so I do a lot of these.
That’s great that you take your sewing machine to encampment. People who don’t know how to sew are so grateful for the help! Hobby Lobby always has a 40% off coupon on their website.
Lt Col William B. Cheney, III. CAP said:
As a Cadet and Senior Member. I always sewed on my own patches. At 72 , it is a little more difficult. but still doable, if I can see to get the needle threaded.LOL!
And back in the old days we had a lot more patches on bot Fatigues and Class A & B uniforms.
Lt Col William B. Cheney, III, CAP
SC Wing Asst Director of Communications,
Message Center, and Net Manager
U.S. Air Force Auxiliary
I have been rather surprised at the criticism I’ve received for sewing my son’s patches. Naysayers should be happy to know that it doesn’t appear to have hindered his success as he graduated from a prestigious university with highest honors in Aerospace Engineering and participated in the Air Force ROTC program. He is currently working as a Flight Commander and is well respected and appreciated. He is a CAP success story!
ADAM WILLIAMS said:
Just ignore the trolls. I appreciate your article, since the minimum age to join CAP is 12, they should all be able to read by now and can find your article just as useful as their parents can. I have not found where sewing you own insignia is part of the cadet program, and even if it is it is probably less important than wearing it properly! It sounds like a success story to me as well. GREAT job!!
Enjolivure, thank you! I just ran across your post while searching for specific placement of the wing patch on ABUs. (I’m a perfectionist; also a 9-yr 4-Her and former 4-H agent, so I, too, have a decent amount of sewing experience.) My husband is the current squadron commander of our local CAP unit. He’s had quite a few new young members join, and they have no experience (nor do their parents/guardians) when it comes to sewing on uniform patches. Generally my husband takes them to our local dry cleaners, however the seamstresses there don’t always attach the patches correctly, and it is costly to the unit to send them off. He has asked me to do the sewing for them, and I am happy to help. A few years ago, I did all the alterations and patches for our local AFJROTC unit (a unit of distinction); believe me, the kids were never expected to do this themselves! In fact the instructors didn’t want them to – they wanted to make sure they were applied correctly, precisely, and that they would not easily come unstitched. Our oldest son graduated from the United States Military Academy-West Point, and his cadet uniform patches were always professionally applied on post. As an Army Captain, he still purchases his uniforms and patches on post, and they sew them on right there in the PX. Sewing is a wonderful life skill to possess, but no one necessarily expects a cadet or officer to do it him/herself. From one sheepdog momma to another, kudos to you for raising an awesome, intelligent military leader!
As a brand new cadet mom, I am EXTREMELY appreciative of your helpful tips, Enjolivure. I was shocked as well to read the unsolicited negative comments. THANK YOU for posting!!
Thank you for your post and helping other mom’s like myself with sewing tips. Those of you CAP graduates who are commenting with a boastful attitude, you should practice the virtue of being grateful and humble instead of judgemental. My son was just accepted into this program and I hope he is taught these virtues. I know I teach them at home. Oh and KINDNESS IS A VIRTUE too.
Jeff Williams said:
Eventually you will want your son to learn to sew his own uniforms. As mentioned earlier, this is a life skill that will help in the future. A button is nothing compared to building a complete set of ABUs.
That being said, thank you for supporting him in this endeavor. Your support is very important if he is to succeed.
Finally, as you are purchasing your spray adhesive, make certain it is not a permanent adhesive. There are two problems with the permanent as opposed to the basting adhesive. First, with repeated washings the glue fails. Second, the glue hardens in the fabric in such a way where you cannot sew new patches on the uniform or repair the failed patch by sewing. I almost ruined a new sewing machine by trying to fix such a uniform at an encampment.
Basting or temporary adhesive is good, permanent is evil beyond belief.
Thank you so much for this info! It is so helpful especially the tip on getting the 505 Spray! I do not know how to use a sewing machine so I just sewed the corners down (underneath the material so it would not show) by hand to make sure the edges do not flare up. Especially since it will have to be replaced upon promotion to C/1st Lt.
Dawna Penrose-Engelhardt said:
Thank you, thank you, thank you!!! I too procrastinate because it is difficult. I will give this a try.
Thank you very much!
Very well explained!
I last used a sewing machine 30 years ago, but and decent with a needle and thread. Is hand sewing allowed, or is it not precise enough?
I don’t see why not. I would use small stitches and space them close together. The finished look is what matters!
Krista Dopf said:
I ended up figuring out the sewing machine. The name tapes are so think that there’s no way I could’ve done it by hand. And to share my tip: I used fashion tape to hold everything together to supplement the pins. Worked great!
Stephen Ryan said:
There are 2 ways to sew on military patches. Method 1: sewing by a machine. Method 2: sewing by hand. If you want to wear a military patch, it is crucial to learn how to sew a patch on a military uniform.
I think that by the time my son separated from the Air Force, the patches were all attached with Velcro. If they did need sewing, he figured it out because he was hundreds of miles away from me by then.
Stephen Ryan said:
I love to use basting tape to hold the patches in place. Regular basting tape needs to be removed before you finish sewing the patch on, but water soluble basting tape can be left in the project.
It’s so neat to hear of various solutions to this pesky problem. Thanks for sharing!