How to Applique
The first appliques I ever made were on stockings “Mrs. Claus” made for College Boy, Princess and Angel Face. I didn’t know anything about applique, but I stumbled along and managed to do a fairly decent job.
I’ve ahem… “Mrs. Claus” has made stockings for Jo-Bear, Z-Man, Little Guy, and Teacher. And grandmas, grandpas, aunts, uncles, cousins, you name it. I think the only ones in our family who don’t have an appliqued stocking yet are Great Grandma and me – go figure!
I loved applique so much that I started making appliqued diapers… but that’s a story for another time. The point is that over the years I’ve made a LOT of appliques and learned a LOT about how to applique. Now I’d like to share that knowledge with all of you. Don’t be scared – if you can sew, you can applique! Besides, I’ll be with you every step of the way and if you run into problems you can contact me. So grab your fabric scraps and put on your creativity hat – you’ll be surprised how easy and addicting applique is!
Obviously you’ll need basic sewing necessities like a sewing machine, scissors, thread, needles, pins, etc. In addition, you will also need:
- A regular pencil
- Plain or tracing paper
- An iron
- A water or air soluble marking pen or pencil
- Paper backed iron-on adhesive, like Heat n Bond™
- Tear away stabilizer, standard type
- Fabrics for the applique, prelaundered as the finished product will be laundered.
How to Applique – Step by Step
I did my best to explain each step thoroughly, but feel free to contact me if you’re confused about something.
1. Draw Your Applique Design
The first you need is a design to applique. A simple design with straight sides is easiest for beginners, so consider starting with a block, kite or star. If you’re an experienced seamstress you may want to try a design with curves, like a heart or balloon. I’m working on one of my elephant designs in the examples.
Either draw your design on the plain paper, or trace the design onto the tracing paper. Keep in mind that the finished applique will be a mirror image of your tracing.
2. Trace onto the Iron-On Adhesive
Place the iron-on adhesive on top of your design, paper side up, and trace your design onto the adhesive. If your design is made up of more than one element, like the elephant and heart, you will need to trace each section separately.
If there are sections next to each other, you need to decide which will go on top of the other. When tracing, extend the line of the bottom section about 1/4 inch where it touches the top one. This will allow you to layer the sections so there won’t be any gaps in between them.
3. Rough Cut the Design
After your design pieces are traced, you need to separate them from the rest of the adhesive. Cut around your tracing lines, about 1/2 to 1 inch away from the lines.
4. Choose Your Fabrics
This is one of my favorite steps – choose the fabric for each section. To make selecting easier I separate my fabrics into color families. Cotton woven fabrics are the easiest to work with, although you may want to experiment with other fabrics as you gain experience. Beware of fabrics that fray because they often shred when laundered, and thicker fabrics like corduroy or velvet may be too difficult for some machines to handle smoothly.
5. Fuse the Fabric to the Adhesive
Heat your iron according to the directions that came with the adhesive. When the iron is hot, place the preshrunk fabric right (front) side down on your ironing surface and press to remove any wrinkles. Be sure to put the side you want to use face down so you’re looking at the back of the fabric. Double and triple check before ironing – I can’t tell you how many times I wasn’t paying attention and fused the adhesive to the front of my fabric! Place the adhesive, paper side up, on the wrong (back) side of your fabric. Fuse according to the directions that came with your adhesive.
6. Cut out the Sections
Cut out each section, following the tracing lines carefully.
7. Remove the Adhesive Backing
Carefully peel the paper backing from the iron-on adhesive. If the backing is difficult to separate from the adhesive, tear the edge of the paper a little to get things started, or use a fingernail to separate the paper from the fabric.
8. Iron the Applique to Your Item
Place the applique, adhesive side down, on the item you’re going to apply it to and arrange the sections to match your pattern. If you have several pieces you may need to look at the pattern to remember how the sections fit together. When the applique looks the way you want it to, iron it down according to the directions that came with the adhesive.
9. Add Some Details
Using the water soluble pen or pencil, draw in any details you wish to add to the applique.
10. Stabilize with Interfacing
Cut a piece of tear-away interfacing large enough to cover the entire applique with a border of about 1/2 – 1 inch. Place the interfacing on the wrong side of the item you’re appliquing, under the applique. Now this part is a little tricky – holding the interfacing tightly, flip the item over and pin the interfacing on from the front. (You can see a pin in my next photo) If the item you’re appliquing is thin enough, you hold it up to a light to make sure the entire applique has interfacing behind it. If the item is too thick to see through you’ll have to check by feel.
11. Stitch Your Applique
Now comes the fun – stitching! Use a Satin stitch if your machine has it, otherwise use a Zig Zag stitch and decrease stitch length until the threads are sewn right next to each other. Most sewing machine manuals recommend loosening the top thread tension for applique work, but be sure to check your own machine’s manual for directions. Using a scrap piece of fabric, experiment with stitch width and length until you find an effect you like. You want the thread to go into the applique fabric on one side and into the background fabric on the other, so the raw (unstitched) edge of the applique is completely encased in thread. On my Viking I generally use a stitch length of .3 and a width of 3.5, but each machine is different so these numbers may not work for you. Once you find the stitch length and width you like, write them down somewhere so you don’t forget – the owner’s manual is a good place. Unless you tend to lose them like I do.
Line the applique up so the raw (unstitched) edge is in the middle of your presser foot and start stitching. Go slowly at first, until you gain some confidence. Slow down as you approach a curve or corner so you don’t overshoot the edge. There are several ways to turn corners; try different ways until you find one that works for you. The way I round a corner is by stitching to the end of the fabric until the thread is even with the bottom edge of the fabric. Then I sink the needle in the very outermost point of the corner, where the two sides meet. Raise the presser foot, leaving the needle sunk into the fabric, and pivot the fabric to the right so the raw edge is lined up in the middle of the presser foot. Lower the presser foot and continue sewing.
Curves are easier than corners, and wide curves may not require any pivoting. Stitch wide curves slowly so the stitches remain even. Sharp curves may require a pivot to keep the raw edge in the middle of the presser foot. When stitching an outer corner, like the outside of an O, stop with the needle down on the background fabric, then pivot just enough to line the raw edge up. When stitching an inner corner, like the inside of an O, stop with the needle down in the applique fabric and pivot just enough to keep the raw edge in the center of the presser foot.
Remember to stitch the details you marked earlier. I generally narrow my stitch width by one setting for inner details. Remember to backstitch whenever you begin and end stitching so your stitching doesn’t come out later. I realize this photo doesn’t show the raw edge in the center of the presser foot – I was about to pivot around the curve when I took the photo. See the pin holding the interfacing to the background fabric? Since taking this photo I’ve moved my pins to the edge of the applique so there aren’t any holes in the PUL.
12. Trim the Threads
Wen you’re all done stitching carefully trim the loose threads as close to the fabric as you can without cutting the fabric or stitching. I trim the font first because any tiny ends are usually pulled to the back when I grab those threads to trim them. Using a small, sharp scissors makes it easier to trim closely.
13. Remove the Interfacing
Remove the interfacing by tearing along the stitching. Your needle will have perforated the interfacing so it should come away fairly easily. Use a fingernail along the stitching to get things started, but do not use your scissors or anything sharp as it might poke through the applique. Don’t ask how I know this, it’s a tragic memory.
Congratulations – you’ve made your first applique! Now go show everyone what a fantastic applique you made, then send me a picture so I can see too. I hope you had as much fun doing applique work as I do!