Introduction: Finish a Hand-Embroidered Patch Like You Mean It
I spent a short time online looking for instructions for finishing hand-embroidered patches as part of a larger project I'm working on. I found a few solutions, but none that I liked. This instructable will show you the solution that I came up with. If you've seen any of my other sewing instructables, you already know this is not going to be the fast or the easy way, but it is beautiful, secure, and adaptable.
Here are some techniques I did NOT use, and why:
1. Whip stitch
The whip stitch is often used to finish a raw edge but it is frankly not well-suited for that purpose. It's easy, but even done very carefully it looks sloppy -- it shows gaps, through which loose threads easily poke, and it deforms the edge of the fabric.
2. Blanket stitch
A smidge better than the whip stitch, but with basically the same problems.
I didn't want the bulk or textural difference of a fabric-bound edge, but generally I think binding is not ideal for very small projects.
What I did do is back the patch with cotton, turn the raw edges in, and bind the seam with buttonhole stitch. Here are those steps broken down.
Step 1: Back the Patch With Cotton
So you've already finished the embroidery part. Choose a compatible, relatively thin but high thread count material that harmonizes with your design.
Pin your patch to the backing with right sides together, then sew. You can do the sewing with a machine if you like; my design has some tight curves and angles and I wanted the sewing line to follow them perfectly, so I used a hand backstitch. You will need to leave a space where you can turn the whole thing through when you're done, and it's best to have a straight-ish area for this. You can see this in the last photo.
If you intend to sew the patch down permanently to another piece of fabric after you're done, you can choose instead to close the seam and cut a hole in the middle of the backing piece.
Step 2: Cut
After you're done sewing the patch to the backing, cut around the stitching. You can see that I cut quite close to the seam, and this is important, because excess material will be lumpy. If your patch has corners, like mine does, you will need to snip them almost right up to the seam.
Where I've left a gap for turning, I also leave a little more material.
Step 3: Turn
Turn the patch right-side out now. This may be difficult, especially if you have narrow areas, like the middle of the butterfly. Be patient and do not use anything sharp to help you. The seam with its very narrow allowance is easy to damage. Even if you're careful, you may have a few spots where the seam doesn't quite hold and a little bit of raw edge pokes out. Repair these with pins. Close the opening with a pin as well.
Step 4: Buttonhole Stitch
There are many resources on the internet for learning how to do the buttonhole stitch. It isn't difficult but it does have to be done exactly right, and I have to look it up every time even though I've put in thousands of these stitches. This is the page I referred to:
What makes the stitch special is that it has a little knot, called a purl, at the top. These purls line up to form a tight, uniform edge that is forgiving of slight variations in your sewing and very secure. It looks a little like a friendship bracelet.
Work the stitch patiently all the way around the outside. Depending on how you intend to use the finished patch, you can take pains to hide the knots if you so desire. You also might choose to do a little extra stitching across the surface -- I re-stitched some of the vein lines -- to help the patch lie flat.
Step 5: Finished
Your patch is finished! Attach it to whatever you like -- or not, because it is sturdy enough to hold up on its own.
If you look closely at my example, you can see a little bit of white show through at some places between the butterfly embroidery and the buttonhole finish. I could have avoided this by being more careful with my backstitching, but it would be easier to choose a fabric that was closer to the color I ended up embroidering onto it. If you don't want any of your embroidery support fabric to show at the end, take care to consider both of those things at the beginning of your project. I don't recommend taking larger stitches with your buttonhole, because this can make it look messy.