G.P. Putnam's Sons New York

Embroidered Patch for the “Eidolon” Mission to Mars

One of the pleasures of my life is that I get to be friends with other creative people whose work delights me. My friend Meg Howrey wrote an amazing novel about three people picked for the first human mission to Mars, and about how it affects them and their families. It’s called “The Wanderers,” it’s a thing of beauty, and you should read it!

Now, I’m a bit of a space geek, so as soon as Meg told me about this new book of hers, I asked her if she wanted an embroidered patch for the mission in the novel. Of course she did. Wouldn’t you?

The mission in the book, run by the Space X stand-in “Prime Space,” is called “Eidolon.” There’s a reason for that, but I’ll not spoil anything here. Crucially, the book actually describes the mission patch: “Their self-designed Eidolon mission patches have an emblem of three crossed swords: they are Musketeers for Mars, all for one and one for all.”

This was a great description to work with: concrete about the major feature of the patch, but also wide open about the particulars. I went to work. And right away I cheated a little: The swords on my patch are not crossed, but let’s say they’re about to be crossed. I chose a classic mission patch shape from the Space Shuttle area, added the Earth and pointed the swords at Mars. In classic NASA fashion, I added the names of the mission astronauts along the edge. And I kept it all to seven colors to save cost. Basic mission patch stuff.

I showed the patch to Meg, who loved it. She showed it to her agent and to her publisher, G.P. Putnam & Sons. They loved it, too, and decided to have these patches made. A few months passed while they found an embroidery vendor. In the meantime, I got hired to design an embroidered project for my friends at JPL, and while that job eventually morphed into developing a cryptic alphabet instead, I got to do a fair amount of research into patch embroidery. Let me distill my findings for you: It should be easy, but it ain’t.


You campaign in poetry; you embroider in prose.

Everything you think can be embroidered, cannot be embroidered. “Certainly not that small!” Vendors won’t tell you this. They’ll just redesign what you send them to suit their specs and then send you a proof of their version without comment. Phone calls followed. I redesigned the patch to make it fit the machine, and once again received a proof that was sort of what I’d sent. And on and on it went.

I’ve since done more embroidered work, and that process seems common in the industry. For somebody used to the precision of modern printing, the… interpretative… quality of the embroidery workflow is a bit unsettling. Whether you can move the design back to where you can happily call it your own depends entirely on your ability to spend time and money, and on your tolerance for having your name spoken with bitterness. I suspect that the same is true of many fields. But in the end, embroidered patches are pretty damn cool just for existing. The results are inherently rough but fun. I slowed my breathing and enjoyed our spiffy Eidolon patch for what it is.

Both Meg and Putnam are using the patch to promote the book, which—again—is excellent and you should buy. In the meantime, I’m enjoying the fact that my first mission patch design is both for a fictional space mission and in support of a friend’s very real literary mission.


A thousand monkeys with a thousand needles sewing for a thousand years could not match the glory!
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