Sewing for scouts! How to sew badges, uniform tips, retired badges, keepsakes, and more. All projects and posts may contain affiliate links. Read our policies here.
A sewing machine is a MUST for attaching badges to scout uniforms the right way, as you've heard me say before. "Magic" products are just a waste in the long run, hand-sewing is hurty and takes way too long, and ironing just doesn't last. I know I'm a bit of a sew-vangelist, but sewing really, truly is the only real way to get patches to stay on. We all learn this eventually - be it the hard way or the easy way...
And not only for badges - a good machine will also help you do uniform hacks like this vest pocket and zip-up vest, and make your own fun things like Girl Sprout vests and headbands! Sewing is so empowering - I've built my own business based solely on the fact that many people haven't yet learned to sew.
I've learned to make all of these things with just a bit of practice, and more importantly, the right tools.
But still, it makes me crazy when I hear y'all say, "But I can't sew!" We don't let our girls assume they can't do something without even trying, right? Of course you CAN sew, you just haven't learned yet. It's a skill, just like anything else, and practice is the only way to get any good at it. And sewing is a fundamental skill in danger of being lost.
Not only that, but sewing is the ultimate in STEAM activities. It surprises people when I tell them I'm actually trained as a scientist and not an artist (read more about my story) because they think of sewing as something artsy and creative. However, for me, it's all about engineering (AKA finding common sense solutions to common problems) - building something that works to fix something else. Newer machines come with programming features (I teach coding as part of my sewing badge workshops!) and every good sewist needs to know how to take her machine apart, fix it, and put it back together. Sewing certainly isn't all glitter and happy blog posts!
Before we get to the DOs, let's do the DON'Ts:
1. Badge Magic - UGH. I cannot tell you how much I hate this stuff. If you're not familiar with it, it's basically double-sided sticky tape that comes in sheets you can cut or in pre-cut shapes to match badges. It WILL fall off, eventually. Their hair gets tangled up in it. And when it does fall off, you have to replace the patches AND you're left with a goopy sticky mess on the uniform that's hard to fix because it's impossible to sew through it. And, it's expensive! No thanks.
2. The kiddie machine - It's a great tool for a young kid starting out, but that's basically all it's good for. The motors in these just don't have the strength to go through badges and uniforms. And any child that starts on one of these will outgrow it pretty quickly. These are cheap and found in toy stores, not craft stores. Some name brand sewing companies do make junior machines, but I haven't tried them so I won't comment.
3. The handheld machine - you know the As Seen on TV kind? Much like the kid's machine, the motor in these is just too weak. Not only that, they're cheaply made and don't last.
4. Ironing (or rather, ironing alone) - I know the badges *say* they're iron-on, but we've all learned that lesson, haven't we? First, they peel at the edges, then they get caught in someone's hair, then you flat-iron them on (I have to admit this is genius, but it still doesn't last), then they fall off again, and then you have to buy new ones. I definitely iron, but only after taping and sewing first!
Now, onto The Badge Fairy's recommendations. I've heard that you should get a machine that's one level above your current skill, because you'll learn it and will stay with you longer. This has held true for me too.
$ - Brother CS6000i
I STRONGLY recommend this machine as a starter machine, or anyone looking to upgrade from one of the don't methods above. I used a very similar model (the CS770) for many years on scouting, baby and toddler clothes, Halloween costumes and more. It handles this kind of sewing very well. It's inexpensive at the $150 range, widely available, and still does a great job. Just like anything else, learning how to use it properly extends its life, and Brothers come with fantastic easy-to-read manuals. If $150 gives you a bit of sticker shock, just think at how much you've already spent on Badge Magic and replacing lost patches! This baby pays for itself in no time! Get this, and scroll down to get my other must-haves.
$$ - Baby Lock Rachel
For more investment (~$400), you can get a machine that does just a bit more. I like the Rachel for someone who's been sewing for a while and wants to move up just a bit. The thing with Baby Lock machines is that because they are a premium brand, you can only get them through authorized Baby Lock dealers.Find one near you. I personally shop at Jackman's Fabrics, the best fabric shop in the whole world!
$$$ - Baby Lock Katherine
(~$1,000) This is MY Baby Lock, and I love her! I traded in my Brother CS 770 for Katherine in the last year. I'm still at the stage where I don't know everything she can do, but new-to-me features include basic quilting, embroidery, and an increase in the types of stitches used in garment formation and tailoring. I love the programming and design options, though I still mostly use her just for scouting! (but I'm getting there...)
And a few bonus items that I cannot live without:
Shears - Hide these from your kids, your partner, the dog, the guinea pig, the mailman, and anyone else who comes near your home! They are the ultimate sewing shears. I accidentally came across these when they were included in the cost of a sewing class I took long ago. They are still in GREAT shape, just don't let anyone use them to cut anything but fabric!
Clear thread - This is a MUST for sewing over badges, as I detail in my previous post on Permanent Badge Placement! It is truly invisible, which means you don't have to worry about changing thread colors over and over with each badge. But take care because it also means it can be difficult to thread it correctly!
Lab Tape- you've heard me talk about this one before too! It's CRUCIAL for getting patches attached in the right place without shifting around and getting all wonky. $12 for a roll might seem steep, but one roll lasts a really long time. It only takes small pieces to hold a badge in place while you sew, and those pieces can be re-used many times over. You can sew right through it too!