You Don’t Need to Work Overtime to Make Something Personal

Ready for Battle

Arlo in their battle jacket
Me, Arlo (the artist formerly known as ‘Clo’), wearing one of my battle jackets!

While I do love making garments, bags and quilts from start to finish, I rarely have the time or motivation to delve into a full project. To supplement my sewing desires, as well as my desire to have unique clothing, I frequently customize my store-bought clothes with bite-sized projects that I can sew by hand and take with me on-the-go. One of my favorite bite-sized projects is a patch jacket!

Patch jackets (also known as battle jackets) hold their place in the punk and metal scenes as a form of metaphorical body armor. A visual representation of one’s personality, they imbue confidence while also suggesting: “don’t mess with me”.

A Bad*ss History

Battle jackets – as the name might suggest – came about during World War II, when Army Air Corps pilots wore leather bomber jackets embellished with unit patches and hand-painted art. After the war, many pilots got into motorcycling, and they continued to add patches and art to their old jackets.

They are most often decorated with band patches, political statements, studs, and pins, but the possibilities are truly endless and tailorable to every personality. A patch jacket is also never truly finished. Take the former pilots for example – as their tastes grew and changed, their jackets transformed to reflect it.

I like to decorate mine one patch, pin, or stud at a time. This aspect, for me, makes the process stress-free and purely enjoyable! My battle jackets are wearable at any stage.


Patched Together

The other great thing about the continual embellishing process is that inspiration is allowed to strike organically. Whenever I go thrift shopping or stop by Rockin Rudy’s in Missoula, I keep an eye out for enamel pins or patches that speak to me.

At the same time, I love painting and embroidering the custom patches I make myself using our Big Sur Canvas! It’s an easy process, and it guarantees that the embellishments added to my jacket will be 100% me.

The Raw Materials

Working at The Confident Stitch, I see a lot of great fabrics, and I’ve learned how to simply decorate my jackets (and clothes in general) with my favorite ones! I lined the collar of this denim vest with a Hokkoh floral corduroy, and – as you can see – it adds color and texture to an otherwise plain black denim. Additionally, covering pockets or stitching on knee and elbow patches is another way incorporate your favorite fabrics into your wardrobe. (This simple form of decorating is also a great way to make use of leftover scraps!)

As mentioned, The Confident Stitch carries canvas, embroidery floss (in store), pyramid studs, and – of course! – a variety of awesome fabrics that can be used to embellish a pre-existing garment.

All in all, my battle jackets have become home to the many patches, pins, and scrap fabrics that I collect. Together, they make up a piece that is uniquely me.

What are some ways you have customized your pre-existing wardrobe? Tell us about it in the comments!



Battle Jackets: Photographer Peter Beste Explores the Art of the Metal Vest

Hell’s Angels 303rd Bomb Group

The History & Significance of the United States Army-Air Force Patches

9 thoughts on “You Don’t Need to Work Overtime to Make Something Personal

  1. Niki says:

    My husband is wanting to make a battle jacket, but actually sew the vest – do y’all have any suggested patterns? Thank you!!

  2. Diana Schlosser says:

    The photo of the tiny child with a bullet belt is troublesome to me! What message are you sending? In our violent and divided world today…do you really want to see a toddler wearing items of death?? An adult can wear what they choose, but a child wears what is put on them.
    This post today is almost offensive to me. I have followed your blog for several years, but am considering moving on….
    Sincerely, Diana Schlosser….quilter

    • Rachael Riley says:

      Hi Diana, Thank you for reading and commenting. We appreciate you pointing out that the child’s photo was troublesome and have removed it from the blog.

  3. Sally says:

    I love this jacket, the story, and the history. My husband likes to add patches to an old canvas backpack and stickers to his plastic canoeing gear barrels to remind him of trips he’s taken.

  4. Stephanie says:

    “Patch jackets (also known as battle jackets) hold their place in the punk and metal scenes as a form of metaphorical body armor. A visual representation of one’s personality, they imbue confidence while also suggesting: “don’t mess with me”. I understand some people are offended by this article, but I read it with great interest. To wear an item one has created that represents their personality and imbues confidence is quite something. Not much different ( in my own personal opinion) from designing and having a bespoke tattoo. It’s refreshing to see creativity and thoughts from a younger generation. I have sent this article to my niece in England as she has just told me she is creating her own patches. I can’t wait to see what she comes up with. I truly believe we need to keep an open mind and be curious all the time. Which includes embracing a younger generation of creative people. Please keep your post going Arlo I find them a breath of fresh air.

    • Arlo Smytheman says:

      I’m with you there! Placing a patch is very similar to getting a new tattoo–the only difference being I do often shift patches around. Thank you for your kind words of support, it means the world! 🙂 And thank you for sharing with your niece. I’m from England originally and love to see that the tradition of patches and battle jackets is living on over there as well.

  5. Catherine Ockey says:

    I love this! I have a collection of patches and pins sitting in a drawer. Now I know what to do with them. Thank you!

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