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J.L. PETE MORGAN, TED A. THURMAN
With the rise in computer technology, patches are produced today in greater quantity and accuracy than ever before. The small machines can produce from one to twenty pieces at a time using multiple heads which eliminates the necessity of rethreading the needles for color changes. By using computers, it is possible to have registration of color and accuracy of design repeated in every patch in a production run (illustration #6).
There are several methods used to finish the edges of patches to prevent the embroidery from unraveling. If the patch is cut from felt, there is normally no finishing and the edges are left raw. In the single needle type, it is common for the stitch to continue around the perimeter of the patch (illustration #7). The same is true of hand stitched designs.
For schiflli made patches, it is normal for the direction of the perimeter stitch to simply be turned perpendicular to the main body stitch, (illustration #8) This would in effect lock in the stitches and prevent raveling. The entire patch design would then be cut from the main bolt of fabric and the process was completed. This is called a "cut" edge.
In the 1950's, The Merrow Sewing Machine Company developed a machine that would make a heavy overlock stitch around the outer perimeter of a patch. This stitch would produce an edge that would not unravel despite rough handling (illustration #9). This "merrowing" has become the standard method of finishing edges and is seen on almost all military patches made since the mid-1960's.
Base fabrics upon which the embroidery is done have also changed during the years. Originally, natural fibers were used - cotton, wool, and linen. This continued until the late 1930s' and the development of man-made fibers. At this point, it became less expensive to use newly developed polyesters or a blend instead of pure natural products. Later, many manufacturers came to use a blended polyester base because of the advantages of being colorfast and having minimal shrinkage.
This is also true of the colored thread used to make the design. In the current market, it is very difficult to find patches being embroidered with anything except a blended polyester thread. Many attempts have been made to try to determine the age of a patch through the types of manufacture, colors of thread used in the bobbin and fiber content. Other tests used are black light, burn tests, smell and taste tests. None of these are absolutely accurate in dating the manufacture of a patch. Collectors should be as knowledgeable as possible regarding the methods of manufacture and construction of patches and make their collecting decisions accordingly.
During the Vietnam War, the army changed their field uniform from the familiar OD fatigue uniform that had been standard since WWII to the now familiar Battle Dress Utility (BDU) camouflaged field uniform. On the new uniform, the brightly colored unit patches tended to defeat the camouflage effect desired. It was then decided to make all patches in two fashions. One in the standard colors and another for wear only on the new BDU's. The new patches were in shades of black and olive green in order to blend with the uniform. Although the colors are different, the methods of construction are the same as other patches.
Down through the years since knights painted their crests on their shields to identify themselves to friend and foe alike, man has sought to gain recognition not only as to who they are, but also as to what they are. Thus has come the idea of using colored bits of cloth and metal worn on clothing not only as personal identification but also to indicate the quality of his service in whatever endeavor he has embraced. The shoulder patch is a perfect embodiment of this need. It is little wonder that this small item has proven its value in filling a basic human need. If you are a collector, I hope that you have as much enjoyment as I have had over the last fifty years. Happy Collecting!