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What is a Varsity Letter?

Purple chenille and yellow scrim felt varsity letter H

A varsity letter or monogram is an award earned in the United States for excellence in school, college and university activities. A varsity letter signifies that it’s winner was a qualified varsity team member awarded after a certain standard was met.

It symbolizes pride and achievement, and getting your hands on one is no easy feat. Varsity letters are highly coveted, and anyone who wishes to earn one needs to prove that they deserve it. Varsity letters are always stitched using chenille yarn. They are also known as Letterman patches because they are used on Letterman jackets. Schools often create custom varsity patches to their desire and award these to top-performing students who do a great job bringing a good name for the institute. And it doesn’t matter whether you’re the captain of the football team or the leader of the debate team; you need to be at the top of your skills. Only then can you qualify for one.

Today, varsity or Letterman patches are also used in fast fashion to make a statement! Clothing brands such as Phat Farm, for instance, is famous for its unisex varsity baseball jackets. So much so that if anyone’s wearing one, it’s hard not to spot them! The big, bold letter, located on the left chest, comes in different colors and sometimes features complimentary stars within the alphabet’s shape.


Varsity letters aren’t recent trends – they go back over a century. The monogram was first introduced by none other than one of the world’s top university; Harvard. In 1865, their baseball team, eager to personalize their sports uniform, came up with the idea to embroider their institute’s coveted initial on their jerseys. This allowed them to flaunt their association with the university and helped differentiate players from other teams. Needless to say, when the baseball team played against a different university, onlookers could easily spot which student belonged where. Naturally, when the team won, their efforts added to the varsity letter’s prestige even more.

It was, however, sufficiently challenging to retain the jersey. Unless players performed well, their prized possession was taken back from them. That certainly isn’t the case anymore as almost every institute has a varsity jacket, and students get to keep them until after they’ve graduated.

Years after its first appearance, Harvard’s football team revisited the idea, making it their own once again. Then, various other sports departments joined in, and the varsity trend spread across the states to high schools. 

Typically, varsity jackets have the letter patched or embroidered on one of the breasts or back. Varsity letters aren’t going anywhere any time soon.


Traditionally, varsity letters are made with chenille on wool felt. A letter is first traced in the desired shape and then, the border is sewn on with a thread. A machine is used to fill inside the boundaries, and you can choose from an array of different colors. Once that’s done, additional borders are added, and loose threads are cut. 

Depending on the design’s thickness, this can take some time but rest assured, there isn’t much manual exertion at play here. The machine does most of the heavy lifting, and the person involved needs to move the material when needed. The final step consists of cutting around the patch, which can get a little tricky. Since these varsity patches are later sown on apparel, the letters are separated without cutting right next to the chenille border. Instead, a small space on the wool felt is intentionally left out for final stitching.

Uses and Application

The award letter is usually made in the colors and initials representing the school that the recipient attends. The letter patch is primarily constructed of chenille and felt materials. Standard sizes range from 4 inches to 8 inches. While 4 inches and 5 inches  usually denote junior varsity achievements. 6 inches to 8 inches would denote full senior varsity.

The stitching style used for creating the Chenille look is called a moss stitch while the outlining is called chain stitch.

As a decorative clothing item the varsity letter has a huge number of variations and no set standards for any school on how it should look like. A varsity letter comes in many different forms and shapes, some institutions use old English or script styles, two or three letters, monogrammed, 3D shading, chenille bordered or the traditional straight block style.

Students generally receive only one natural letter but can win the distinction multiple times. These additional designations are shown by adding embroidered sport insignias, modeled metal insert pins, or bars that are attached to the letters. Some schools may also mix embroidery on varsity letters with their award titles for achievements in academics or arts.

Moreover, alumni that have received a varsity letter in their school or college years usually get them framed. So, don’t be surprised to find a wall-hanging in most professional baseball players’ homes and offices. It’s no less than putting up a badge of honor for public display. Various high schools in the United States flaunt framed varsity letters on their walls. They represent community spirit and are valuable memorandums worthy of preservation.

Throughout history, the use of varsity letters has remained pretty similar. And yet, people have added several variations within the design and application of these symbolic patches. This is to say that the options are endless in font, dimension, shading, and style. You can order custom varsity patches online and the options are unlimited with regards to sizing colors and backings. Whether you prefer small chenille letters or large chenille letters, the choice is yours!

If you want to order custom varsity letters just fill out the online quote form available across our website or give us a call at 541-248-8831 or email us at to get an instant quote for your customized varsity letters.