Needle-turn appliqué Tutorial Part 2 – Technique and tips


I hope you found part 1 on appliqué tools to be helpful! Today I’ll concentrate on the method I use.

There are many different appliqué methods, including starch appliqué, which I never got the hang of. Here is a great post from Joanna Figueroa of Fig Tree Quilts about that method. Jeana Kimball of Foxglove Cottage (Queen of Appliqué, to me) teaches a method where she draws the pattern on the back of the background piece. I’ve used this method, and it is great for precise placement appliqué, like Baltimore Album blocks. There is a lot of reference material available for different methods of appliqué.

The kind of appliqué I do is purely needle-turn, where the pieces are marked with a small seam allowance and just sewn on by hand. I will try to better explain how I do this.

Marking the Appliqué Pieces:

I use freezer-paper templates to make the appliqué shapes. In addition, you can use a freezer-paper template several times before it will no longer stick to your fabric. Place the freezer paper, shiny side down, over the design, and trace the design onto the dull side with a fine-lead mechanical pencil. Do not reverse the image, unless instructed otherwise. Cut out the template on the traced lines so that they are the exact size of the pattern pieces.

Applique method

Tracing the templates.

Place the freezer-paper template with the shiny (coated) side facing the right side of the appliqué fabric. Leave at least 1/2″ between pieces. Press the template to the right side of the fabric using a hot, dry iron. Let the piece cool.

Applique techniques

Freezer paper templates on fabric.

Draw a line around the templates with a mechanical pencil. This line will be your stitching line. Remove the freezer-paper template. Cut out the fabric appliqué piece leaving a scant 1/4″ seam allowance around the marked line.

Applique techniques

Traced appliqué piece.

 Appliqué Placement:

An easy way to place the appliqué pieces on the background blocks is to use a light table. Once you’ve traced or copied the pattern from the book, place it on the light table, and lay your background block over it. Position the appliqués on the block, overlapping where indicated and paying careful attention to the stitching order marked on the pattern. Use appliqué glue to secure the pieces in place, usually one small drop in a few key places is enough. (Or if you prefer, pin each piece in place using appliqué pins.)

Applique technique

Appliqué pieces on the background piece.

If you find it difficult to see the pattern from the book through a medium or dark background fabric, or through a pieced background, try a pattern overlay. With a contrasting-color permanent pen, trace the pattern onto a piece of cellophane or clear acetate that is the same size as your background fabric. Place the plastic over the background fabric, pinning it in place if desired. To position each appliqué piece, lift up the plastic and slide each piece under the appropriate marking. Remove the plastic overlay, and then glue or pin the appliqué pieces to the background fabric.

Applique techniques

Cellophane tracing to place appliqué pieces.

Hand Appliqué Stitch:

The traditional appliqué stitch is the same for all hand appliqué methods. Stitches should be small and even. Use a single strand of thread in a color that closely matches the appliqué. Tie a knot in one end. If you are right-handed, hold the fabric with your left thumb on top and your middle finger on the bottom directly under the appliqué. You’ll be stitching from right to left. (Reverse this procedure if you are left-handed.

Applique techniques

Photo of my hand position on the front and the back of the piece.

Turn under a small section of the seam allowance with your needle and finger-press. Slip your needle into the seam allowance from the wrong side of the appliqué piece (not the background fabric), bringing it out through the folded edge of the appliqué. Make the first stitch into the background fabric, directly below where the needle emerged. Bring the needle up again about 1/8″ away, through the background fabric and catching one or two threads on the folded edge of the appliqué.

Applique technique

Appliqué stitch.

Continue to take small, even stitches, turning the seam allowance under with the tip of the needle as you go and catching just the folded edge with each stitch. Be sure to turn under enough seam allowance to cover your drawn lines. Continue stitching a couple of stitches past where you began. Knot the thread on the wrong side of the background fabric. When all the appliqué is complete, gently press the block.

There are four basic elements that will help you to achieve a quality needle-turn appliqué stitch: The inside curve, the outside curve, the inside point, and the outside point all require different techniques.

For an inside curve, clip almost to the line to ease the fabric around the curve smoothly. Before making your stitch, sweep around the curve with your needle, turning the seam allowance under. This is where the straw needle is essential, as the flexibility helps the inside curves sweep easily.

For an outside curve, ease the fabric around the curve pushing the seam allowance under with the tip of your needle and smoothing the folded edge before sewing. Keeping your stitches a bit smaller will help create a smoother curve.

Applique techniques

Inside curve and outside curve.

For an inside point, as you stitch toward an inside point, stop stitching before you get to the inside point and clip right to the line, at the point. Use your needle to sweep the seam allowance under. Stitch to the clip, and take one or two stitches right at the clip; then turn, sweep the seam allowance under, and continue to sew.

For an outside point, stitch on the first side of the piece very close to the point. Take one extra stitch, very close to the first stitch. This extra stitch will hold the fabric securely as you turn the point. Flip the point under; then sweep the seam allowance under on the next side and continue to sew.

Applique techniques

Inside point and outside point.

I hope this helps to learn appliqué! I really love hand appliqué projects, and always try to have something I’m working on.





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