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(Army - Army Air Force - Marine Corps - Navy - Civil Air Patrol National Guard)

A Few Words About Patches In General And This Book In Particular

While the idea of using a shoulder sleeve insignia to identify a particular unit in the field had its' American start in the civil war, its' U.S. Army rebirth in the twentieth century was not without controversy. The story is told that in October of 1918 in France, the 81st "Wildcat" division began wearing an olive-drab circle with the black representation of a wildcat thereon. The design was to represent that the division had trained at Camp Jackson in South Carolina on the banks of Wildcat Creek. General Pershing felt that this was detrimental to uniform discipline and ordered that the patch be removed. After his staff studied the situation a bit further, it was found that the idea of each unit having a unique design on their uniform had a positive morale effect on the troops, and, trench warfare being what it was in WW I, the army needed all the positive effect it could find.

Being fairly smart (and, after all, he was the Commanding General), Pershing then ordered that all units should design a shoulder sleeve insignia and proceed to wear it on their uniforms. This gave a feeling to the individual that he was a member of a particular group and should take pride in the special accomplishments of that unit. Thus, began the army's headlong rush into insignia design. Soon, every unit had to have their own distinguishing marks on everything from the individual soldier to vehicles, equipment and in some cases, even buildings.

With the advent of WW II and the resulting explosive buildup of the military, shoulder sleeve insignia (SSI) designs proliferated. Hundreds of new designs appeared almost overnight. Designs were coming in from the units themselves, along with professional designs from Hollywood and New York. An entire industry sprang up almost overnight of designers, embroiderers, distributors and of course, collectors.

The purpose of this book is to provide a military reference source concentrating primarily on U.S. Army designs where most shoulder sleeve insignia originated. However, we have incorporated some of the most popular U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps designs that will be encountered. Keep in mind that in 1947 with the advent of the realignment of the armed services, several major changes occurred. The U.S. Air Force was created and separated from Army control to become an independent entity and the U.S. Marine Corps ceased wearing patches on uniforms.

Future volumes will portray the U.S. Air Force patches. We have included a section in this book to illustrate some of the "Unoffically Authorized" patches prevelent in the U.S. Marine Corps today.

There are many unofficial and variant designs in this book. It is simply because these patches are present today and will undoubtedly be encountered. We have made no distinction between "original and "reproduction" designs. This is an ongoing debate best left to those who revel in it.

With certain exceptions, the patches pictured in this book are from the author's collection. We hope that you gain as much enjoyment from the hobby as we have. GOOD HUNTING!

Patch Production Through The Years

Methods of construction and material used in making patches have been extremely varied over the years. From the most basic techniques to the highly sophisticated computer operations, the goal has always been to produce a design that someone can wear with pride and purpose.

Illustration #1

Illustration #2

Originally, appliques were simply colored bits of cloth sewn together to make a design that met the need, (illustration #1). This led to the designs being embroidered on bits of uniform cloth. First by hand, (illustration #2) and later, with the development of machines, mass production became the norm.

Early patches were made by machine with the design drawn on the fabric and the maker simply followed the drawing using a single needle. This is a crude method, and takes a skilled operator to produce an accurate design. This is commonly seen on in-country made Vietnam era patches (illustration #3)

Illustration #3

In the beginning, the most popular fabrics used were usually old bits of uniform on which the design was embroidered. Then, the design was cut out and stitched on the soldier's uniform. The development of the Schiffli machine in the late 19th century permitted the use of bolts or rolls of base fabric with as many as 360 needles embroidering as one. By the time of WW II, the Schiffli stitch had become the standard method by which most all U.S. military patches were produced. Because the machine was developed in Switzerland, this is sometimes referred to as "Swiss" embroidery. The bobbins are shaped like double-ended boats, hence, the term "Schiffli" (German: "Little Boat"). An example of the schiffli stitch is shown in illustration #4.

Illustration #4

Another 19th century invention that was used to produce patches in large volume was the Jacquard weaving machine. This method of weaving was developed in France and employed a series of punched cards which permitted shuttles to move in a predetermined pattern to produce the design. The designs are made in one long ribbon and then cut from the strip as needed. This method is commonly used today to make clothing labels, ribbons and fine silk fabrics. A foremost producer of WW II German insignia using this method was the firm Bandfabrik Ewald Vorsteher. Today, in the world of insignia, the term "BEVo" is synonymous with this type of construction (illustration #5).

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