Thursday, September 8, 2011

Some Applique Basics

Because we are offering some 12 applique blocks this year that co-ordinate with the Saturday Surprise blocks, I prepared some General Applique Instructions for those who are new to applique.
fusible applique on "Groovin'" designed by Bird on a Wire, sewn by me
needle-turn applique combined with pieced quilt
As well, I'll do free demonstrations of these 2 methods on Saturday afternoon, at 2, 2:15, 3, 3:15, 4 and 4:15 p.m.  

I usually do either needleturn or fusible applique.
There are other methods of applique that you can find in books that you might like better!!!

Needle-turn is a hand sewing method that requires you to add a small seam allowance to your shapes, since you turn it under as you stitch it onto the background fabrics. 
Fusible applique uses a product called fusible web which is a type of two sided tape that is heat activated, which bonds two fabrics together.

You can get more comprehensive instructions in a basic applique book or magazine.  You can also access a wealth of demos and tutorials on the internet.

1 Prepare your fabrics:
           In these examples, my finished block size is going to be 12 inches, so I will start with a larger piece of fabric -- about 14" square.  This is so that later you can trim your block to the correct size.
Iron the background fabric, and then lightly mark some guidelines with a chalk liner or other marking pencil that will wash or brush out later.

I like to draw two diagonal lines that cross in the center of the square, and then mark a perimeter that is   11" so that all my applique pieces will be at least a half inch from the seam line of the finished square.  After all the stitching is finished, and when you are ready to sew your blocks into the quilt setting, trim them to the correct size.

Press all the fabrics that will be used for the applique cut-outs

2. Needleturn Applique:
Trace the applique pattern pieces. onto the dull side of freezer paper,
Cut out. the templates from the freezer paper.  (If you need multiples of a shape, you can stack layers of freezer paper and cut them out in stacks rather than tracing and cutting each piece separately.)

Arrange on the cut out pieces onto the right side of the fabrics, leaving enough space around each shape so that you can add a narrow seam allowance when you cut them out. Press the pieces onto the right side of the cloth.  The heat of the iron makes the shiny side of the paper melt a little bit and creates a temporary bond with the fabric.

Cut the pieces out, adding the seam allowance as you go.  I usually cut add justa little more than 1/8th of an inch.
Using the pattern diagrams and the marked chalk lines on your fabric as guides, lay out the pieces on your background square to get familiar with where they will go.  Remember to keep them contained within the chalk outline you drew.  You might want to lightly mark some reference lines to remind you where you put them as you sew them down. 
From this point on, I add only a few pieces at a time, since it is easier to handle the whole piece without a lot of little pieces glued or pinned on.
In general, add pieces that will be placed underneath other ones first.  Sometimes the pieces will overlap so that you won’t have to turn under some edges since they’ll be covered by another shape.
Use a dab of basting glue or some applique pins (very short ones) to keep your piece in place as you sew it on.

Use an applique needle, called a “sharp”, which has a small eye, and a very thin thread such as silk,  to sew on your pieces with the same sort of stitch that you would use to hand-stitch your bindings.  The color of the thread should match your applique piece, rather than the background.  I tend to use a grey or taupe color that blends with many colors of applique rather than having a lot of different threads. 
 You use the tip of your needle to flip the seam allowance under as you stitch.  Keep knots on the back or underneath the applique pieces. I like to hold a small cushion on my lap under the piece to lay it on as I work.

When you have sewn on all your pieces, iron the block from the back. 

3. Fusible Applique:
There are various brands of “FusibleWeb” that you can use to do this type of machine applique.  They usually come with some instructions on a sheet or piece of plastic.
Again I usually make the background piece larger than the pattern calls for so that I can trim it to size after the applique is completed.
In this method, you need to reverse the patterns.  Often times the shapes are symmetrical, and so it makes no difference, but sometimes you will have a directional piece where this is important.
Place the paper backed fusible web over the applique pattern and use a pencil to trace the pattern.  You won’t need to add a seam allowance unless a piece is layered with another shape.  In that instance, add about 1/8th of an inch to the edge that fits under another piece.   You can trace the pieces close together.  If you need 12 leaves, you will need to trace the shape 12 times. 
Group the pieces into sections by color/fabric use. 

Loosely cut around the shapes and fuse the web and traced patterns to the WRONG side of the fabrics.  Don’t remove the paper backing, and be careful that you don’t get any of the sticky stuff onto your iron.  It can be useful to use a teflon sheet between your iron and the fabrics as you work in order to protect it. 
Use scissors to cut out the pieces along the traced lines, and peel off the paper backing.

Refer to your diagram for placement of the pieces onto your background fabric.  When happy with the arrangement, fuse them to the background using hot iron.

I like to stitch around each shape with a co-ordinating color of thread using either a narrow satin stitch or a machine buttonhole stitch.  You might prefer to use other colors, such as black or something.
Attach a tear-away stabilizer to the back of the piece before stitching the appliques.
Begin by stitching 2 or 3 stitches in one spot to anchor the threads, and then go around each piece, pivoting at corners, and trying to go around curves evenly.
At the end of the stitching, either stitch 2 or 3 threads in one place, or pull the threads to the wrong side of the background fabric and knot the threads. 
Carefully remove the stabilizer and press the block well. 

When your are ready to sew the block into your quilt, trim the square to the correct size. 

4.  Customizing your blocks. 
There are many ways you can make your appliques unique.
    Add more design pieces.  You might want to add to the pattern by layering another shape onto a large piece, or by adding in more of a basic shape, such as leaves or circles.
    Add decorative stitches by hand or machine.  You might want to embroider additional lines onto the design, such as tendrils to leaves, or french knots to the centers of flowers.
You might want to hand embroider around shapes with a stem stitch, or chain stitch to emphasize or outline a shape.
    Some applique blocks can be drawn on with a pigma pen or other fabric marker.  You could add words, or shading to a piece. 

I’ll try to add little tips as I think of them, but keep in mind that I am not an expert!! You might enjoy learning more about applique from a book or a demo/tutorial.
this is a good one from the blog "Applique Today" needleturn tutorial, the blog is here


  1. Do you ever feel like you are blogging to no one?? Well, I will be the first to comment on a fabulous post and tutorial!! Thank you very much for taking the time to photo and post this!! Nice blog, too!

  2. Hi Mary, Yes, actually I often feel that way! thanks for the message! m


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