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9 Tips for Successful Applique

Updated: Jun 8, 2023

A decorative sewing technique that can be stitched in any style, appliqué is where fabric shapes are applied to a background fabric and then stitched in place along the edges. In fact, the word, appliqué, is from the French language and means “to apply.” Initially a hand-sewn technique, there are many ways to appliqué using a sewing machine, creating beautiful embellishments, from simple to complex. Appliqué techniques can be used on a wide variety of projects: home dec items, adult garments, quilts, children’s clothing, and more. The tips below apply to most appliqué techniques such as satin stitch, blanket stitch, and decorative stitch appliqué. Use these tips to ensure success when stitching appliqué designs.

Applique Tip #1

Preparing the background fabric is important to the success of your appliqué project. Use a stabilizer behind the background fabric to provide support as the appliqué shapes are stitched in place. Always sew a test to determine if stabilizer is needed and which type works best. There are three basic types of stabilizers that work well for appliqué: Tear-Away stabilizer that is removed by tearing off the excess (some of it will remain under the stitches and will soften with laundering).This can be used on woven fabrics as well as some stable knits. Cut-Away stabilizer is trimmed after stitching, leaving about ¼” around the appliqué shape. The rest of the stabilizer remains behind the appliqué shape. Always use a cut-away stabilizer on knits such as T-shirts and sweatshirts. Water-Soluble stabilizer is used when you want all of the stabilizer completely removed such as when working on fine fabrics or sheers. This stabilizer is removed by rinsing the project after the stitching is complete.

Applique Tip #2

At the start of each appliqué project, insert a new needle in the appropriate size for the background fabric(usually asize80/12 or 90/14). When stitching woven fabrics, use a needle with a sharp point such as Microtex Sharp, Embroidery, or Denim needle. These needles help form the most clean, precise stitches. If stitching appliqué on a knit fabric, use a Jersey or Stretch needle. These have more rounded points, called a ballpoint, that move through the loops of knit fabric without breaking down the fibers.

Applique Tip #3

Use a lightweight 80-wt bobbin thread in a neutral color that blends with your background fabric. Using a lightweight bobbin thread means less thread build-up on the back of your work. And it is especially helpful if you are using several colors of thread for your appliqué stitches because you don’t have to change the bobbin each time you change the needle thread. The Quilter’s Select brand of 80-wt. thread has along staple Egyptian cotton core wrapped in polyester. It has been thermally processed, which makes it feel, stitch, and look like mercerized cotton, but it has the strength of polyester.

Applique Tip #4

A 40-wt polyester embroidery thread is a good choice for the needle thread. I use Floriani embroidery thread and I just found out that Floriani has a thread app for Apple products! The Thread Organizer section lets you keep track of your personal inventory of Floriani thread and there’s a shopping list function, so you’ll never buy a duplicate color by mistake again! The app has a new color matcher that lets you match Floriani colors with just about any thread company. This FREE app is listed as Floriani Thread and can be downloaded from the App Store.

Applique Tip #5

Adjust the motor to a slower speed than you normally use–half speed or lower. Sewing slowly makes it easier to be more precise when placing the stitches on the edges of the appliqué shapes.

Applique Tip #6

Use a lightweight fusible web to fuse the appliqué shapes to the background fabric. Fusible web materials vary in thickness and stiffness. Look for one that doesn’t change the feel and the drape of the fabric. For the appliqué design in this post, I used Appli-Stick from Quilters Select–a paper-backed fusible web that fuses with a permanent bond on one side. The other side has a light sticky coating that is not harmful to your machine, and it makes your appliqué shapes repositionable. You can move them around as much as you like until you have them exactly where you want. Then, you fuse the shapes in place on your background fabric, ready for stitching.

Applique Tip #7

When tracing the appliqué shapes, make sure you trace them in reverse as they will be flipped from side-to-side when placing them on the background fabric.

Applique Tip #8

Use the correct presser foot when stitching appliqué designs. I like to use an open embroidery foot because the wide indentation on the bottom of the sole leaves room for the extra layer of fabric (the appliqué shapes) so the fabric feeds easily under the presser foot. I also like it because the area between the toes is open, and I can see exactly where I am stitching. The stitch should be sewn mostly on the appliqué shape. Adjust your needle to the far-right position and as you stitch, guide the edge of the appliqué shape along the inside of the right toe. This places the stitch exactly on the edge of the shape.

Applique Tip #9

Engage the needle stop down function on your sewing machine so needle will stop in the down position in the fabric when you stop sewing. This keeps you on track if you stop and then restart. With the needle down, the fabric doesn’t shift, and you won’t lose your place.

Following these tips will go a long way to making your appliqué projects successful!

To learn more from and about Susan Beck, visit Happy Stitching!

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