This is a compilation of common terms used over the years by patch collectors. It also includes common embroidery terms, some well-known personalities and patch companies as well as official Air Force definitions. If there are additional terms that you believe should be added, please contact the Webmaster. Special thanks to Greg Ogletree who provided many of the definitions in this section.
Your Content Goes Here
Your Content Goes Here
Ace Novelty. Japanese Wholesale Patch Supplier. Ace Novelty was a source of military patches located in Tokyo, Japan. Patches made by Ace Novelty were easily identified with a brown or blue tag imprinted with “Ace Novelty, Box 1374, Tokyo Japan” placed on the back of the patch. From the late 1950s to the 1970s, Ace Novelty patches were individually packaged in cellophane with a calendar which could be used to narrow down the year of manufacture. Ace Novelty actually contracted out production of patches to other local companies, leading to a wide variety of manufacturing styles and/or types. Early Ace Novelty patches were typically hand or sewing-machine made; patches made after the mid-1980s were computer embroidered. Because of the ability to produce small quantities, as well as their low prices, Ace Novelty became a popular manufacturer of military patches, not only for the U.S. Air Force, but the U.S. Navy as well. These same attributes also made Ace Novelty a source for patch reproductions. Ace Novelty patches remain highly sought after in collecting circles and patches from the 1950s and 60s have been known to fetch prices in the hundreds to thousands of dollars.
Air Force Colors. The official colors of the USAF are Air Force Blue and Air Force Yellow. Air Force (ultramarine) blue signifies the sky as the primary theater for Air Force operations and Air Force yellow signifies the excellence required of Air Force personnel. Source: Air Force Instruction 84-105.
Anniversary Patch. Morale patch produced to commemorate the annual recurrence of a date marking a notable event. Such events include the anniversary of an organization/unit’s establishment or the number of years a particular organization/unit has operated a specific type of aircraft.
Approved Patch. Any patch authorized by a competent authority. A patch may be approved, but not be official.
Backing. Also Backing Support. Material used beneath the embroidered fabric to prevent fraying and to provide strength, stability and support. Types of backing used for patches include gauze, heat-seal and plastic.
Base Material. The material that forms the foundation of a patch. Such materials include leather, vinyl, plastic and cloth. For cloth patches, the base material is typically twill, but can also be wool, felt or sateen.
BEVo. Also BeVo, Be Vo, BEVO. A machine-woven patch with a very tight weave — some might call it a micro weave -that, at a glance, may even appear to some to be screened. This unique method of construction was developed by the Germans during WWII and apparently is still unique to patches from Germany. The name is derived from the firm of Bandfabrik Ewald Vorsteher, in Wuppertal-Baren, where this manufacturing technique originated.
Blazon. The technical description of heraldic insignia. Source: Guide to Air Force Heraldry.
Bullion Patch. Embroidered patch made with metal wire thread on a cloth backing, typically hand-sewn, often manufactured in Pakistan and India. This type of patch is often for one-of-a-kind patches since each bullion patch is hand-made. In the Air Force, bullion patches were worn on blazers and on dress uniforms for formal occasions. Since bullion patches were never widely used by U.S. Air Force organizations/units, a bullion patch is often the first indicator that a patch is a reproduction.
Burns. Inscription in either ink or marker appearing on the back of some patches. This marking indicates that the patch was once owned by Rick Burns, a retired Los Angeles fireman, who would write his last name on the back of every patch in his collection. A few years ago, he sold his collection and many of these patches have found their way into other individual’s collections.
Chenille Patch. Type of patch in which a loop stitch is formed on the top side of fabric using heavy yarn of wool, cotton, or acrylic thus giving a “rug” like appearance (e.g. a high-school “letter” patch). Seldom seen in Air Force patches, most date from the 1950s.
Class Patch. Type of morale patch produced by training classes such as pilot training, navigator training, Weapons School, and space/missile training. Pilot and navigator patches from the 1960s and prior are typically identified by the fiscal year and a letter designator (e.g.. 68-D to indicate the fourth class in 1968). Pilot, navigator and space/missile class patches from the 1970s to present are typically identified by a class number which includes the fiscal year of the class and the number of the class (e.g. 90-08 indicates the eighth class of 1990). Class patches may or may not be approved for wear.
Combat Hours Patch or Combat Missions Patch. Morale patch awarded to aircrew members who have completed a specified numbers of missions or hours in combat. One of the most famous combat missions patch is the one designed in 1965 by Capts. Bruce Holmes and Will Koenitzer, two F-105 pilots in the 469th Tactical Fighter Squadron. See article here for more information on this patch.
Computer Embroidery. Style of embroidery made on computer-driven multi-head sewing machines allowing for a much greater level of detail than older methods of embroidery. Computer embroidery became widespread in the mid-1980s and is now the predominate manufacturing method for patches.
Cut Edge (CE). Also Flat Edge, Schiffli Edge. Type of border that is sewn on a patch then cut to shape, thus making the base material visible outside the sewn border. Cuts are most commonly made by a die, hand, a hot-edge knife or in recent times, a laser. This type of border was extremely common on patches prior to the wide-spread adoption of the merrowed edge in the 1960s. Most irregular shaped patches use a cut edge to prevent the fraying associated with a merrowed edge.
Damaged. A patch that has suffered a slice or cut, usually inflicted while attempting to remove it from a uniform or from VELCRO; that has a visible stain on the front side (even if only rust from a staple); or that is missing some portion of the embroidery or base material (does not include doctoring). It should be noted that patches containing mounting residue on the back, even heavy residue, are not considered damaged unless its presence or effects are visible while viewing from the front (e.g., the glue has soaked through the fabric and stained or discolored the front).
Death Patch. Term occasionally used in reference to a morale patch produced to commemorate the inactivation of a unit/organization or the retirement of a weapon system, often with the year(s) indicated in the design or on scroll. See also Inactivation Patch, Retirement Patch.
Decaled. Some vintage patches, especially WWII leather patches, were created by applying a decal to the surface rather than by painting or embroidering the design elements. These typically show their age by cracking and/or flaking as the decal becomes more and more brittle with age.
Desert Subdued Patch. Also Desert Patch, Tan Patch. Patch whose color palette features predominately brown/tan color tones. The official Air Force desert color palette consists of black, spice brown and khaki, however many desert patches use additional colors. Desert patches are worn on the Desert Camouflaged Uniform (DCU) and the desert flightsuit. Desert patches came into widespread use in the Air Force during the 1990s.
Dexter. The right-hand side of the shield from the standpoint of the man behind it. Source: Guide to Air Force Heraldry.
Disc. Shape on which the heraldic devices, symbols, or elements of a unit emblem are displayed. The disc of today originated with a roundel, which consisted of a white five-pointed star in a blue circle, with a red disc in the center of the star. The roundel was displayed unofficially on early USA Signal Corps airplanes, adopted officially in 1917 for airplanes, and later evolved into the national star and bar aircraft marking of today. The US Air Force adopted the disc in the early 1950s as the official shape for squadron emblems. Source: Air Force Instruction 84-105.
Distinctive Unit Insignia (DUI). A metal heraldic device worn on service dress uniforms by the U.S. Army. DUIs are not used by the U.S. Air Force. However, prior to the Air Force separating from the Army in 1947, many Army Air Force unit/organizations were authorized DUIs. Many of these DUIs subsequently were modified for use as the unit/organization’s official emblem.
Doctored. A patch that has been intentionally changed in some manner from what was produced originally. This may be anything from cutting off a rocker, scroll, or tab, to something as subtle as adding embroidery (often difficult to detect without a close examination of the back side). Post-production embroidery may include the addition of one or more elements to the field, but more often it is done to correct a “typo” in the designation or motto. Occasionally, it’s even done to change an inscription rather than to fix an error-even officially!
Element. In emblem design, a symbol or group of symbols portraying a single characteristic, trait, or concept. Source: Air Force Instruction 84-105.
Emblem. An officially approved symbolic design portraying the distinctive history, mission, and general function of an organization. It is an important, abiding element of the organization’s heritage. Official emblems have been approved by a formal process outlined in Air Force regulations/instructions and are registered with the Air Force Historical Research Agency or the Air National Guard History Office. Official emblems are protected by Federal law (Code of Federal Regulations Title 32, Part 507 and US Code Title 18, Section 701). Source: Air Force Instruction 84-105.
Embroidery. The application of thread to the base material for the purpose of creating an emblematic design using one or more elements. (There are known to exist patches from several units, particular back in the 1940s, where colored beads were added to the thread, sometimes to outline and other times to completely “fill” an element and/or the field itself, but such “beaded” patches were custom-made and not at all common.)
Error Patch. Patch that contains a mistake, typically in spelling, size and/or thread colors. Error patches are often rejected by the ordering unit/organization, but in some cases the unit/organization used the error patches.
Factory Patch. Also Manufacturer’s Patch. Patch given out as promotional items by a weapons system contractor. Factory patches are often adopted by military units for wear (e.g. the F-16 Fighting Falcon “Swirl”).
Fakes. Also Eye-Candy, Fantasy Patch, Novelty Patch. Fakes are patches that were never issued or used by a unit/organization. Unlike a reproduction, in which a copy of an existing patch is produce, a fake is based off an original design or artwork/decals that were never made into patches by the unit/organization, hence the alternate term “fantasy patch”. In patch collecting fakes carry little to no value.
Felt. Nonwoven fabric made from wool, fur or hair matted together by heat, moisture and pressure.
Felt Edge. Raw or unfinished embroidery border.
Flying Hours Milestone Patch. Morale patch awarded to aircrew members who have completed a specified number of flying hours. Although many variations exist, flying hour milestone patches are typically awarded in 500 and 1000 hour increments (e.g. 500, 1000, 1500, 2000, 2500 or 1000, 2000, 3000, 4000). Flying hour milestone patches are often tab patches worn above another patch (e.g. major command patch). In recent years, many major commands have created one-piece major command patches with a scroll inscribed with the number of flying hours. A variation of this type of patch is the combat hours or combat missions patch.
Friday Patch. Any patch worn on flightsuits in place of approved patches on Fridays. In the Air Force, on Fridays personnel are usually allowed to wear any patch in good taste (although this is commonly violated) on the left sleeve of their flightsuit. See also Morale Patch.
Fully Embroidered Patch. Also 100% embroidered. Patch in which the entire surface has been completely embroidered rendering the base fabric invisible. Fully embroidered patches cost more to manufacture due to the use of additional thread. See also partially embroidered.
Functional Emblems. Unofficial non-unit emblems locally designed, authorized, and displayed. These are often referred to as morale patches. Source: Air Force Instruction 84-105.
Gaggle Patch. Patch representative of multiple organizations and/or specific aircraft assigned to a unit/organization. The term originates from a mother goose and her young, “a gaggle”. See also Pizza Patch, Wing King Patch.
Gauze Backing. Also Cheesecloth Backing. A fabric backing for patches that is very thin and has the appearance of the type of material used for surgical dressings or first aid. This backing was common on many patches during the 1950s and 1960s.
Generic Patch. Patch used by numerous units/organizations.
Ghost. Collector term for a patch that is embroidered in only one color, usually black or white, making the design very difficult to discern. Some of these actually use a different color for the merrowing or they have a normally colored scroll and inscription, but such patches are more accurately called “Quasi-Ghost.”
Hand-Made Patch. Also Custom Patch. Style of embroidery in which a patch is produced by an individual embroiderer using a needle and thread or a generic sewing machine. The design is transferred to cloth by punching holes in the original drawing, placing the drawing on a piece of cloth, and rubbing blue powder to transfer an outline of the design to cloth. Designs may also be drawn directly on the cloth or done freehand. Because each patch is individually embroidered, no two patches are exactly alike.
Hat Patch. Generally, any patch that was intended for wear on a uniform hat or cap. These include small rectangular patches bearing unit designations, and also smaller versions of approved unit emblems (generally 2.5″ or less in height or diameter).
Heat-Seal Backing. Also Iron-On. Special backing placed on a patch that allows it to be affixed using heat.
Heraldry. The emblem, motto, designation, scroll(s), and shield (of an establishment) or disc (of a unit). Source: Air Force Instruction 84-105.
Heritage. Those traditions embodied in the history, lineage, honors, and heraldry of an organization. Source: Air Force Instruction 84-105.
Heritage Patch. A type of morale patch and reproduction, ordered and used by an organization/unit, which features a historical design previously used by that organization/unit. World War II insignia are the most popular heritage patches, although designs from the Korean and Vietnam have been used. Many squadrons use a heritage patch in place of their normal squadron patches on Fridays or other days as designated by the commander. Heritage patches are often mistaken for reunion patches. While technically reproductions, in patch collecting circles they are considered authentic patches since they are ordered and worn by the members of a unit/organization.
Hook and Loop Fastener. Also VELCRO?. A two-sided fastener consisting of stiff “hooks” and soft “loops”. Hook and loop fasteners were patented by Swiss inventor George de Mestral in 1955 under the name VELCRO?. Although VELCRO? is often used generically to refer to hoop and loop fasteners, the term actually is a registered trademark referring to the company and its line of products. Hook and loop fasteners came into widespread use to attach patches to flightsuits in the 1980s.
Hunt, Randy G., Sr.. Notable Patch Reproducer. Randy Hunt was a collector and reseller of space and military patches based out of Crawfordville, Florida. Randy produced countless reproductions of space and some U.S. Air Force patches and in many cases failed to represent patches as such. Randy died in 2007 but many of his reproductions remain in wide scale circulation.
Inscription. The alphabetic/numeric characters or words on an emblem or patch.
Jacket Patch. Also Back Patch. Term used to refer to any very large patch (7 inches or greater in height, width, or diameter). Typically, such large-sized patches were intended for wear on the back of a jacket or coveralls or the upper front of a jacket. These large patches were also produced for use on engine covers, helmet bags and some organizational flags.
Launch Patch. Type of morale patch commemorating the launch of a rocket, missile or spacecraft. Launches patches are produced by the USAF organizations responsible for launch, contractors and/or program offices responsible for the program management. Besides USAF patch collectors, launch patches are also popular with collectors of space patches.
Leather Patch. Emblem that is printed, painted, decaled or assembled on leather. Leather patches were popular during World War II and Korea and often worn on leather flight jackets.
Leatherette. Term occasionally used to describe the backing upon which emblems are embroidered that are intended for wear on the modern A-2 jacket, though it is actually vinyl. Also, this term was used to describe “patches” made during the 1950s and 1960s whose construction consisted of a screened emblem or a decal that was applied to a cardboard-like material with a peel-and-stick backing that was intended for attachment to flight jackets (these emblems would never have endured the launderings a flight suit or uniform shirt experiences). The most commonly observed patches of this sort are from the 4082d Strategic Wing and the North East Air Command (NEAC).
Lineage. The unique, official, traceable record of organizational actions peculiar to each Air Force organization and to no other organization. Source: Air Force Instruction 84-105.
Lineage & Honors History. A statement that identifies the lineage, accrued honors, assignments, stations, and emblem of an organization. It may include a list of commanders and a list of aircraft, missiles, or both. If the organization is an establishment, the lineage and honors history may also identify component organizations. Lineage and honors histories for combat or support organizations that participated in significant Air Force operations may also contain narrative summaries of operations. Many lineage and honors histories are available on-line from the Air Force Historical Research Agency Organizational History Branch. Source: Air Force Instruction 84-105.
Loom. A machine for weaving together threads of various colors to form a patch. The most popular of these were manufactured by Schiffli, and the patches they produced are often referred to as Swiss Embroidery. The principal advantage of loom-made patches was that large numbers could be made relatively inexpensively, since each run of a large Schiffli loom could produce a hundred patches. After setup, a typical order of 1,000 patches could be made in little more than an hour.
McAllister, Harry, CMSgt, USAF (Ret). Notable Patch Collector. Harry McAllister was a dedicated U.S. Air Force patch collector and mentor to many patch collectors. Born in Louisville, KY, in 1923, CMSgt Harry C. McAllister served in the Army Air Forces and the U.S. Air Force for 27 active and 3-1/2 inactive years. He entered the military in 1943 and during World War II served in New Guinea, Philippine Islands, Okinawa and Occupied Japan. He returned to civilian life in 1946 but was recalled to active service in October 1950 as a member of the Kentucky Air National Guard. Harry changed from reserve to regular status in February 1951 and served continuously until retirement in July 1974. During that period he was stationed in England, Dominican Republic, Japan, Thailand and Germany as well as several locations in the U.S. His interest in military patch collecting started in 1943 when he collected army shoulder patches. He retired his small collection in 1946 until 1963 when his interest returned, especially in U.S. Air Force jacket patches. Over the years, his collection exceeded 16,000 Air Force patches plus an additional 5,000 patches from other services. Harry passed away in 2002. Source: Biography provided by Harry McAllister to Greg Ogletree.
Merrowed Edge (ME). Also Overedge Stitch, Overlock Stitch, Rolled Edge. A patch having a protective “molding” of thread all around its edge, often referred to as a “rolled edge” because of its appearance, the original purpose of which was to prevent raveling. Merrowing is an overedge stitch added using a special machine. On loom-made patches, this is performed after a patch has been embroidered and cut; on multihead-made patches, it’s done to the pre-made twill “blanks” before they are embroidered. The telltale sign of merrowing is the “pigtail” end that is usually either glued or taped to the back of the patch. Merrowing machines are named after their inventor, Joseph M. Merrow. Although a few patches with merrowing from the 1940s and 1950s have been observed, merrowing of military patches didn’t emerge until the 1960s, didn’t really “catch on” until the 1970s, and didn’t become widespread until the 1980s. Merrowing now seems to be the industry standard, though quite a few are still unmerrowed. It should be noted that because twill doesn’t ravel and is often treated, cut-edge patches really don’t need merrowing, so nowadays it’s usually added because the designer thinks it enhances the looks of the patch.
Morale Patch. Unofficial patches that are used by a unit. Morale patches may be, but are not necessarily, approved. Such patches are designed to raise the “morale” of the unit, thus the origins of the term. See also Functional Emblems.
Motto. Part of the heraldry of an organization. It expresses in a word or short phrase the organization’s goals, ideals, or principles. Source: Air Force Instruction 84-105.
New Embroidery. South Korean Patch Manufacturer and Reseller. New Embroidery is an embroidery company located outside the main gate of Osan Air Base in Songtan City, South Korea. New Embroidery supplies patches to many units throughout the USAF. New Embroidery has a distinctive embroidery style that can be easily identified.
Nipped. A patch with visible moth damage, usually one or more holes of varying sizes, but could also include, or might be limited to, munching done at the edge (technically, not holes).
No-Glo. This term describes a patch that does not fluoresce when illuminated by an ultraviolet light (i.e., blacklight). More recent patches tend to be constructed of synthetic fibers which will “glow” when exposed, whereas patches made before the introduction of synthetics generally do not glow. The one exception is when an older patch has been washed with a detergent, which tends to leave a residue that appears to glow.
New Old Stock (NOS). Term created to describe both the condition and the age of an item simultaneously (i.e., an older patch that is unused and in like-new condition).
Official Patch. A patch of a unit’s official, approved emblem.
Overruns. Also Manufacturer’s Overruns. Extra patches produced above and beyond a customer’s original order. Overruns are made in anticipation of a re-order from the customer or for resale on the collector’s market. Overruns are considered authentic patches by the vast majority of collectors if they originated from the original manufacturer and are 100 percent identical (and thus indistinguishable) from the customer’s original order. A large number of patches available on the resale market are actually overruns.
Painted Patches. Patches, almost always using leather for the base material, upon which the elements have been depicted by painting them on. These were quite popular and fairly common during World War II, especially in flying units. Because high-tech methods are about the only way to determine the vintage, and therefore the authenticity, of such patches, these are frequently reproduced.
Patch. An informal term used to refer to the cloth or leather depiction of an emblem (either in full color, woodland subdued or desert subdued) that can be affixed to a uniform. Source: Air Force Instruction 84-105.
Patch King. American Patch Manufacturer and Reseller. Patch King was an embroidery company founded during World War II in New York City, New York by entrepreneur Sol Marks. After World War II, Marks anticipated demand for military patches and dispatched buyers around the world to purchase surplus stocks. After amassing a large stock, Patch King resold the patches to collectors and veterans worldwide primarily through a print catalog. While many of the patches sold immediately after World War II were authentic patches, Patch King also commissioned reproduction patches of World War I and other patches. Patch King apparently closed its doors sometimes in the late 1980s/early 1990s. Sources: “King of Patches”, Colliers Magazine, January 24, 1948.
Partially Embroidered. Also Embroidered on Twill. Patch in which parts of the base fabric is visible because only parts of its surface has been embroidered. Partially embroidery costs less to manufacture than fully embroidered patches and are thus a popular way to save on production cost. Partially embroidered patches are referred to as “Embroidered on Twill”, however the term is incorrect as technically, fully embroidered patches are embroidered on twill as well. Additionally, the base material used is not always twill.
Pencil Pocket Patch. Type of morale patch designed to be affixed to the hook and loop fastener located on the left sleeve of a flightsuit. The pencil pocket flap is often removed from the flightsuit thus allowing patches to be attached.
Pigtail. Piece of thread on a merrowed edge that extends beyond the patch. Pigtails are often taped or sealed to the back of a patch.
Pizza Patch. Type of gaggle patch which resembles a pizza pie.
Plastic Backing. Plastic added to the back of a patch which prevents fraying of threads and provides rigidity to the patch.
Pocket Patch. Any patch intended for wear on a uniform pocket, though in practice these were/are worn above the pocket also. Does not include square or rectangular patches containing only a unit designation, as these were intended for wear only above the pocket (like a name tape) or on headgear. Because of their equivalent sizes, Shoulder Sleeve Insignia are properly considered pocket patches by most patch collectors.
Previous Issue. A patch that was previously issued and worn by member(s) of a unit.
Puff Embroidery. Stitching over embroidery/craft foam to create a three-dimensional effect.
Reject. Also Rejected Patch. Patches that were ordered by a customer but were refused and/or returned to the manufacturer. Patches are rejected for a multitude of reasons including errors or issues with quality. However, not all error patches are rejects since some units will retain error patches for use. When patches are returned to the manufacturer, they are often dumped onto the resale market in order to recoup losses. In patch collecting, a reject carries little to no value.
Reproduction. Also Knock-Offs, Repro, Replicas. An exact or close imitation of an authentic patch. Patches considered reproductions were never ordered, used and/or authorized by the unit/organization owning the design. Instead, they are produced by individuals to fill holes in collections or businesses for the resale market. In patch collecting, fakes carry no resale value. Reunion patches and heritage patches are specific types of reproductions that are considered “authorized” reproductions and thus are not typically grouped in the reproductions category. Some collectors view any patch beyond the first one produced as a reproduction, but this generally represents a minority opinion since most patches are intended to be produced in some quantity. While there is disagreement among collectors for and against reproduction of patches, there is widespread agreement that the larger issue is that individuals and companies not deliberately misrepresent or mislead consumers on reproductions.
Reunion Patch. Also Reunion Piece. A type of reproduction ordered by individual veterans or unit alumni which features an emblem of their respective unit/organization. Reunion patches are made because original patches are cost prohibitive and often difficult, if not impossible, to locate. While reproductions, many collectors group these patches separately since they are ordered by former members of a unit/organization. Reunion patches can usually be easily identified from the original by the style of embroidery. For pricing purposes however, reunion patches are treated as reproductions. Reunion patches are often confused with heritage patches but they are two separate and distinct categories of patches.
Sample. Also Manufacturer’s Sample, Prototype Patch. Pre-production patch used by a manufacturer to obtain customer approval for full-scale production. Samples are sometimes one or few-of-a-kind since a customer will direct changes prior to full-scale production.
Screenprinted Patch. Also Screened Patch, Silk-Screened Patch. Screenprinting is a technique using a stencil on a silk, nylon or organdy screen. Paint is applied to the screen and penetrates areas of the screen not blocked by the stencil. Several stencils are used to achieve multiple colors.
Selvedged. Similar to merrowing in both appearance and purpose, but this edge finishing is performed with a sort of cross-stitch (very much like a button-hole stitch) rather than by using a merrowing machine, so there is no pigtail remnant and the edging lacks the look of merrowing.
Shield. Shape on which the heraldic devices, symbols, or elements of an establishment’s emblem are displayed. This shape derives from the shield displayed on the Air Force Seal, which the Department of the Air Force adopted in 1947. The Air Force requires establishments to use this type shield to display their distinctive emblems on organizational flags and emblems. Patches for uniforms using this shield shape were phased in during late 1940s and early 1950s as the US Army Air Forces shield was phased out. Source: Air Force Instruction 84-105.
Shoulder Sleeve Insignia (SSI). Patches intended for wear on the upper portion of the uniform sleeve, near the shoulder seam, primarily used in reference to U.S. Army patches. Term also applies to United States Army Air Forces or Air Corps insignia, such as the Army Air Forces patch and World War II Numbered Air Force patches.
Sinister. The left hand side of the shield from the standpoint of the man behind it. Source: Guide to Air Force Heraldry.
Soiled. A patch that has not only lost any original luster or sheen it may have once had, but which also has visible dirt, grime, or skin oil accumulation or contamination on its surface.
Spoof. A patch that, at first glance, very closely resembles another patch, but has been slightly modified for the purpose of making fun of the original or what it represents. This modification can be to the inscription or changes to the actual design. A spoof patch differs from a doctored patch in that doctored patches are changed after production, whereas spoofs are manufactured that way.
Swiss Embroidery. Also Schiffli Embroidery. Style of embroidery involving a paper tape, punched like the roll for a player piano, that is mechanically “read” by a machine that directs hundreds of needles on a loom simultaneously. The process begins with a sketch of the patch, enlarged to six times the size of the finished product, with every other stitch actually drawn in by hand. The operator traces every indicated stitch line with a metal stylus, creating a paper template for the loom. During the sewing, a different color of thread is used on each “pass” and this, in effect, layers one color on top of another, creating a bas-relief effect, as opposed to the uniformly flat surface of a Multi-Head patch. Two or three layers is fairly common, but attempting to penetrate too many layers tends to break needles, so rarely are more than four or five observed. The perception of depth from the raised layers of color, and the effects of highlighting and shadowing that occurred naturally when light hits the patch from various angles, tends to make some of these patches with more elaborate designs true works of art. This type of patch embroidery had its genesis in Switzerland, hence the term “Swiss embroidery,” but the process was imported into the United States and was firmly established in the northern New Jersey area by the outbreak of World War II. Swiss embroidered emblems are often referred to as Schiffli patches because they are made on Schiffli looms. These looms use a shuttle that resembles the shape of a sailboat’s hull, and “Schiffli” means “little boat” in the Swiss dialect of the German language. A video of the Schiffli Embroidery process can be seen on the Action Embroidery website.
Tab Patch. Also Arc, Tab. A indistinguishable patch typically worn above or below another patch. Tab patches are usually constructed in a manner that allows them to fit along the edge of the other patch and typically consists only of an inscription indicating a specialty, qualification or flight/crew hours.
Theater-Made. Also In-Country Made, Theater-Make. Patch made by a local vendor located near or on overseas bases. Theater patches are typically, but not always, hand-made in limited quantities (since the 90’s many local vendors have switched to computer embroidery machines). Frequently, theater-made patches are specified by country or region (e.g. Turkish made, Korean made, Far-East made, Middle East made). Some of the more common countries for theater-made patches include Japan, Korea, Philippines, Vietnam, Qatar, Thailand, Turkey and Saudi Arabia. Theater-made patches are usually more sought after by collectors due to their limited numbers.
Tiger Embroidery. Okinawan Patch Manufacturer. Embroidery shop located outside Kadena Air Base in Okinawa City, Okinawa, Japan. Opened by Sachiko Asato in 1964, Tiger Embroidery is a popular manufacturer of patches for units located at and on temporary duty (TDY) to Kadena. Originally, Tiger Embroidery patches were hand or sewing-machine made, but since the 1990s, Tiger Embroidery has made use of computer embroidery. Early Tiger Embroidery patches are typical sought-after by collectors, but in recent years, current patches have become widely available on eBay. Tiger Embroidery patches can typically be identified by their distinct embroidery style.
Tinsel. Actually, aluminized Mylar, this is a metallic-looking polyester thread that has the appearance of either silver or gold. Mylar should not be, but often is, confused with bullion thread.
Tracking. The destructive trail left by moth larvae as they eat their way along the surface of a woolen object. These “tracks” are usually about 1/16″ (1 mm) wide.
Twill. Also Twill Weave, Twill Fabric. Strong, durable, firm fabric typically used as the base of a patch, characterized by diagonal ribs. Twill fabric is typically a polyester or a cotton/polyester blend and is quite durable and can be dry cleaned or washed and still look crisp. One of the most appealing characteristics of twill is that it doesn’t ravel.
Variation. Difference in two patches of an otherwise similar design. This term is often debated as to what constitutes a “minor” and “major” variation. The following are some, but not all, criteria used by collectors to classify variations: size, manufacturing, colors and wording (e.g. abbreviated versus spelled out).
Wing King Patch. Type of gaggle worn by Wing Commanders representative of multiple units/organizations assigned to their wing.
Woodland Subdued Patch. Also Subdued Patch, Camo Patch, Camouflaged Patch, Muted Patch. Patch whose color palette features predominately dark green, brown and black tones. The official Air Force woodland subdued color palette consists of black, olive drab, spruce green, garnet, and flag blue, however some patches use additional colors. Woodland subdued patches are worn predominately on utility uniforms (i.e. – olive drab fatigues and the Battle Dress Uniform (BDU)). However, they are also worn on flightsuits, particularly by Air Force members working in special operations. Woodland subdued patches came into widespread use in the Air Force during the late 1970’s and officially replaced full color patches on the utility uniform in 1980. Because many units/organizations had no need for a full color patch after this time frame, only subdued patches exist for many units/organizations during this period. During the early 1990s, General Merrill A. McPeak, then the Air Force Chief of Staff, ordered the removal of all unit patches from the BDUs. This decision was subsequently reversed in mid-1990s by McPeak’s successor, General Ronald R. Fogleman. With the phase-out of the BDU by November 2011, woodland subdued patches will only be found on flightsuits, primarily those worn by special operations personnel.
Wool. Occasionally used in lieu of twill, especially on older patches from the 1940s or earlier.