Inside: Hand Appliqué: Making it easy and fun. Technique, tips, and hints.
The class was my friend’s first try at appliqué. The instructor looked at her work and told her she needed to unpick everything and start over. No, no, no! This is not the way to encourage people to learn to appliqué! My friend never finished the project.
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.This tutorial will 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.
- 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.
- 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.
Laying out the block:
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. One small drop in a few key places is enough. (Or if you prefer, pin each piece in place using appliqué pins.)
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.
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.
- 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.
- 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 a 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.
- 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.
Starch appliqué is another popular hand appliqué method. Here is a great post from Joanna Figueroa of Fig Tree Quilts about that method. (I never got the hang of this 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. Look for more reference material if you are interested in other methods of appliqué.
Note that all hand appliqué methods use the same basic stitches which I’ve shown you here.
Later my friend joined an appliqué group that was much more encouraging, and she is now the leader of that group! So you, too, can learn to appliqué!