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Cathy Callahan’s Old School: Iron-On Patches

Craft & Design
Cathy Callahan’s Old School: Iron-On Patches

I just hated it when my mom used iron-on patches to “fix” my clothes. I was so embarrassed to wear something that had been patched in that manner: the patches were hard and scratchy (especially when applied inside a garment) and usually ended up falling off. As soon as I was old enough to do my own mending, I stitched on embroidered appliques (like a turtle or a daisy) that I purchased at the fabric shop using my allowance. Heck, I loved those things so much I even stitched them on things that didn’t need mending.
Pictured above are a few packages of iron-on patches I found at my mom’s house. I actually think she might have used the drawing on that Sturdy Brand package as a style guide for the way she dressed me. There are pictures of me dressed in almost that exact same outfit. I absolutely adore the graphic design, color palette, and illustrations. Wouldn’t you just love to walk into Jo-Ann’s today and see a whole rack of packages that looked like these?
I am actually kind of fascinated by the Plasti-Stitch corduroy patches. Were they meant to blend in seamlessly and look like you never had a hole in your pants? Or could you go wild and do a little mixing and matching? Perhaps you could tone down your plaid pants a bit by adding a little gray corduroy patch. The back of the package lists purple, olive green, maroo,n and gold as other available colors. Wow!
Let’s take a closer look at the Touch O’ Magic package: “Use on new jeans for longer wear…” I love their approach to “preventative” patching. But why not wait until you actually have a hole? And isn’t the very nature of denim its strength? Iron-on patch sales must have been down in 1968, so those folks at Sandrew, Inc. (makers of Touch O’ Magic) of Streetsboro, Ohio, had to come up with new ways to sell their product.
Since my father (a warehouse worker) and I (a klutz) were deemed to be “hard” on our clothes, there was always a stockpile of iron-on patches in my mom’s sewing room. Don’t get me wrong — it’s not that I’m suggesting that my mom was not skilled at mending (she was an amazing seamstress); I rather think she liked the convenience they afforded and was probably swayed by their marketing. Who wouldn’t be? How easy to just plug in the iron, cut the patch to size, and press for 40 seconds.
And they were GUARANTEED.
Then why did they often fall off? At least then you could try to put another one on. But the worst was when the adhesive gave out only around the edges (and yes this still did happen even when you rounded the corners) and they curled up. Once that happened, the garment was history because the center of the patch was now stuck on the hole and you couldn’t get it up to put a new one on without making a bigger rip. Well I guess you could have just used another, bigger patch.
“This Sturdy Brand Patch is guaranteed to last for the life of the garment to which it is applied. If unsatisfactory, return package and unused portion to manufacturer for replacement or refund.”
That must have been why my mom saved all of these Iron-on patch packages. She didn’t want to void her warranty.
About the author:
Cathy Callahan is a crafter and window dresser who draws inspiration from vintage crafts. She blogs about 1960s and 1970s crafts at
Cathy on MARTHA 3/11:
Set your DVRs! Cathy Callahan will be on MARTHA tomorrow, March 11th. She will be showing Martha Stewart how to make vintage flower loom flowers. The main theme of the show is the 50th anniversary of Lily Pulitzer. Check your local listings for show times.

20 thoughts on “Cathy Callahan’s Old School: Iron-On Patches

  1. erin says:

    as a girl with voluptuous thighs, i can attest that denim is NOT as sturdy as one would like, sadly.
    i do occasionally patch up the worn parts on the inner thighs with iron-ons and have never had a problem with them falling off. all you gotta do is a quick whip-stitch around the perimeter and you’re set. and once they’ve been washed a few times, they lose that stiff, scratchy feeling. maybe that’s just the new-fangled, modern patches, though.
    but i wouldn’t mind learning more about other methods of patching.

  2. Natalie Zee Drieu says:

    Thanks for your comment Erin. We have a few more posts on patches coming up this month, including a 101 on patches. Stay tuned!

  3. Cam says:

    The trick to using them on new jeans, as I remember, was to iron the patch on the inside wherever your jeans usually wore through first.

  4. Amy says:

    The corduroy patch packaging is a bit disturbing–it looks as though the pants model is wearing a tiny pair of beige short shorts and has applied the patches directly to her skin.

  5. Keith says:

    I actually put patches on every new pair of Levi’s I buy. It seems that the first place I wear jeans out is always the top corners of the back pockets. I take a knee sized patch and cut it into quarters, round the edges of the pieces, and iron them on the inside. I have not had any of the patches peel up at the edges or come off at all. If you patch your jeans when they are new your patches will age and soften along with the denim. You won’t even notice that they are there. Maybe they are made better now than they used to be?

  6. Goli Mohammadi says:

    Thanks for the tip, Keith!

  7. Anonymous says:

    Growing up I was super hard on clothing. My Mom would iron these things on the knee’s of my pants as soon as she got home from purchasing them. I don’t think I ever got all the way through the patch and the denim on any pre-patched jeans.
    I was still hell on cords though as these were never pre-patched.

  8. angelune says:

    I’m always patching the crotch of my jeans – I seem to wear them out in the same place every time. I’m not sure if it’s related to cycling?
    I’ve been making my own patches with 2-sided fusible. You just pick a fabric you like or if you’re short like me, you probably have some leftover denim from hemming your jeans. First, iron the sticky stuff on it, then peel back the paper, cut it to the shape you want, and presto! a new patch. Once I iron it in place, I usually zigzag around the edge or do some criss-crossing straight stitch all over the entire patch to mend the hole.

  9. chris says:

    I remember my mom having these patches as well, and they never really worked worth a darn.
    Any holes or tears I get in my garments/sheets/towels/etc. are darned by machine. Works best on denim or other fabrics with a twill to them because the pattern in the weave can disguise your stitching.
    Just find a patch of matching or similar color fabric (I save anything I cut off from alterations), place it behind to stabilize the hole, then sew it up by machine by going forwards and backwards over the tear, like a series of M’s or a really really big 3-step zigzag stitch closing up the tear. Don’t trim off any frayed edges until the very end, they help disguise the mended area since they’re the same color.
    For tears in towels, I just wing it without the extra piece of fabric.

  10. Viky Love says:

    This is really informative Cathy. I wish I can purchase some really good patches online. Aside from ebay and etsy. I found this site iron on patches which has some patches but I’m searching for more designs.

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I'm a word nerd who loves to geek out on how emerging technology affects the lexicon. I was an editor on the first 40 volumes of MAKE, and I love shining light on the incredible makers in our community. In particular, covering art is my passion — after all, art is the first thing most of us ever made. When not fawning over perfect word choices, I can be found on the nearest mountain, looking for untouched powder fields and ideal alpine lakes.

Contact me at or via @snowgoli.

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