An Apollo Mission Insignia Patch made in the late sixties looked like this:

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Patches made today and sold by a NASA shop for $5.75 look a bit different:

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The new patches were made using a computer controlled stitching machine.

But what about the old patches, were they made by hand or using a numeric controlled stitching machine reading punched paper tapes?

  • $\begingroup$ Back in the days, I bet it was a lot faster to hand-stitch the few needed insignias. Note also that the origibal is somehwat "less perfect" $\endgroup$ – Hagen von Eitzen Apr 5 at 20:54
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    $\begingroup$ From Wikipedia: "Before computers were affordable, most machine embroidery was completed by punching designs on paper tape that then ran through an embroidery machine. One error could ruin an entire design, forcing the creator to start over. Machine embroidery dates back to 1964, when Tajima started to manufacture and sell TAJIMA Multi-head Automatic Embroidery machines." So machines were available. $\endgroup$ – Uwe Apr 5 at 21:04

It was done by a machine controlled by a paper punch tape. The process is explained on the NASA webpage "The Making of the Apollo 11 Mission Patch":

The embroidered Apollo 11 patch was manufactured by A-B Emblems, a patch embroidery company started by E. Henry Conrad. A partner of NASA for previous missions, A-B Emblems became the sole contractor for all NASA patches in 1971.

It was a common practice for the commander of each mission to fly a T-38 into the Asheville airport to help the designers achieve the vision of the crew. Once the graphic was approved, a drawing would be created of the design. The drawing would then be blown up, using scale rulers and enlarging cameras, to exactly six times the size of the patch. The enlargement would be marked with a pencil to show every embroidery stitch required for the final product. The sketch would then be fed into the punching machine, which would produce a roll of paper with punches for every stitch. As the final step before embroidery, the Swiss Embroidery Loom would be threaded and the punching roll is fed into it along with the cloth. After the machine (with the help of a human hand) was finished embroidering, the emblems were cut and given a triple-thread pearl stitch border in order to insure that it is ravel proof.

The embroidered patches are sewn onto flight suits, recovery suits, jackets, and any other official NASA gear for the mission. The spacesuits themselves did not have embroidered patches. Instead, the patch would be silkscreened directly onto the fabric along with the NASA logo and the American flag.

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  • $\begingroup$ From the A-B Emblem web page: "A Partnership Since 1960 E. Henry Conrad and NASA got together in the 1960’s and A-B Emblem made the first NASA Patch aka “the Meat Ball” and the partnership continues to this day. Since February 1970, A-B Emblem has been the sole supplier to the Astronauts office with our emblems flying in space on the Apollo vehicles, the Space Shuttles and most recently our Expedition emblems on the Soyuz space craft." $\endgroup$ – Uwe Apr 6 at 10:40
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    $\begingroup$ And someone had to enter the data onto the punch tape. $\endgroup$ – spring Apr 9 at 0:29

The textile industry had a long tradition of using numeric controlled weaving looms. The Jacquard machine with punched cards control was invented 1804.

Jacquard's invention had a deep influence on Charles Babbage. In that respect, he is viewed by some authors as a precursor of modern computing science.

This portrait of Jacquard was woven in silk on a Jacquard loom and required 24,000 punched cards to create (1839). Only a small part of the large portrait.

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In 1898 Joseph Arnold Gröbli (1850-1939), the eldest son of Isaak Gröbli, developed the fully automated embroidery machine controlled by a punch card reader. See Wikipedia.

So a numeric controlled embroidery machine was available 60 years before the Apollo Mission. Many thanks to DrSheldon for providing the search string "Swiss Embroidery Loom".

But the design of a control program for the machine was pure manual work only, no CAD, no color graphic raster display were available during the early sixities. No editor with copy and paste functionality could be used. Hopefully they got a combination of a paper tape reader with a paper tape punch to copy a part of a tape to a new one.

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