Before the advent of computer technology, patches were made by hand. The general process, however, remains the same today. First, a fabric backing is cut to shape. To prevent fraying, the edges of the backing are heat-sealed. Then, the thread is stitched into place. Some designs incorporate the backing as the background of the patch, while others completely cover the backing with stitches. To finish the patch, iron-on adhesive may be applied to the reverse—a step that was not originally done.
Machinery created during the 18th- and 19th-century Industrial Revolution changed garment production with technology such as power looms and sewing machines, making fabrics of more uniform quality and greatly increased production efficiency. Embroidery—once a time-consuming hand-made stitch-by-stitch process—was revolutionized by the introduction of the Schiffli embroidery machine, invented by Isaak Groebli of Switzerland in 1863. Like the game-changing sewing machine, it operated with a two-thread system. Early production from the multi-needle machine, powered by a hand-turned crank, wasn’t much quicker than handwork, but significantly, multiple copies of identical designs could be created. Groebli's machine utilized the combination of a continuously threaded needle and shuttle containing a bobbin of thread. The shuttle itself looked similar to the hull of a sailboat. "Schiffli" means "little boat" in the Swiss dialect of the German language, so his machine came to be known as a schiffli machine. An automatic machine, refined by Isaak’s eldest son in 1898, simplified the mechanical system so it could be run by a single operator.