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Handmade cotton clothing label

Hidden Messages

You probably know that feeling of surprise when you find a treasure tucked away in the pocket of a jacket that you’ve not worn for several seasons. Like a rock picked up at the beach or on a family hike. You pull it out and remember the day – who you were with, the conversation, the relaxing feel of just wandering. It makes you smile – and you might just decide to leave it there as a reminder of what is most valuable.

From time to time, I’ll write down a quote and tuck it away in my planner. The quote often brings me back to center when I’ve been going a hundred miles an hour. I think of these items we randomly collect and drop into a pocket, a zippered pocket of a purse… as hidden messages to ourselves.

You may have seen a hidden message of sorts in handmade garments in vintage stores or even stitched a label into garments and accessories you’ve made. A message that reads something like “Made Expressly for You by the maker’s first name.” How wonderful to slip the garment on knowing the maker stitched in a lot of warmth and love as they knitted the sweater as a birthday gift, a back-to-school outfit, or simply because.

The coat Jill Biden wore on the evening of President Joe Biden’s Inauguration included a quote embroidered into the lining: “Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.” The quote, from Benjamin Franklin, is meaningful to her as an educator. And, it was something to “carry with her” on the historic day.

Quiltmakers often include a label on the back of a quilt with their name and the date. When working on a commission, I ask clients if there is a sentiment they would like to include on a separate label. Many provide one, especially if the quilt is to be a gift.

So, here’s a small project – or a big one, depending on how you run with it! Make some labels to stitch into your own clothes, your child’s, a partner’s… 

  • Include a family motto, a simple drawing, a quote, or a personal sentiment.
  • Decide on whether you will use fabric markers or embroidery to make the design.
  • Play with cotton fabric scraps, pieces of felt, buttons, and ribbon as you design your label(s). 
  • Consider the orientation of the label before stitching. For example, do you want the wearer to be able to view it when wearing the garment or just when they slip it on.
  • Select materials and determine size based on where you want to stitch the label and how it will be washed. For example, avoid anything scratchy that will be stitched in at the neckline.
  • Test the materials you are using before sewing into the garment/accessory to make sure they are colorfast. This is especially true for fabric markers – it’s best to make sure the ink doesn’t run before the label is stitched into a favorite sweater.

The label pictured above is made from 100% cotton fabric, a leftover scrap from another project. The edges were turned under and stitched in place using a running stitch. When I tack it down, I will incorporate a bit of ribbon.

Have fun!

Handmade cotton clothing label laying on mittens

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