Back again with another “So you think you can’t ____? Well, think again…” post and today’s subject is appliqué! Now if appliqué scares you a bit and you are about to close this and go back to browsing Pinterest…. just stop it, stop it right now! Gather some scrap fabric (or a project if you are feeling bold) and prepare to unlock your next level of sewing potential!
**A quick note before we get any further into this… Appliqué can be done on a variety of different fabrics but I usually work with knits so the tips, tricks, and techniques you see here are all intended for knit fabrics.
1) Scissors (a small pair with a sharp pointed tip are ideal for cutting around detailed pieces)
2) Fusible stabilizer. I used to appliqué with nothing but the fabric and a million pins but a friend turned me onto Wonder-Under and I LOVE it! It is a double sided stabilizer that comes backed with paper so you can iron it to your appliqué fabric and then peel off the backing and fuse the appliqué to your project so it sits tight while you topstitch. Genius!
3) Fabric for the appliqué (My preference is a nice thick interlock, many of the solid color fabrics featured in this post are Birch Organics interlock, it’s dreamy… but as long as you back with interfacing you can use just about any knit.) Appliqué is a fantastic scrap buster so pull out that bin of tidbits that you just couldn’t throw away and feel a little pleased with yourself for
hoarding saving them!
4) Thread for topstitching the design onto your project and a bobbin loaded with a stretch thread such as Wooly Nylon or even the Maxi-lock Stretch (not 100% necessary but it does give your stitches some extra give which I find helpful)
6) Basic sewing machine fitted with a clear foot and ballpoint needle. You don’t need anything fancy, I use a basic straight stitch or triple stitch. Yep, you read that right, straight stitch on knit fabrics!
7) Last but not least your appliqué design! This can be something you drew by hand, clipart you printed out (just be mindful of copyright) a file for your cutting machine or a pdf pattern designed specifically for appliqué. (Whimsy Baby Customs just started a line of beautiful appliqué patterns that I use quite often. The dragon pictured below is one of her patterns!) Grab a pencil for tracing your designs onto the paper side of the Wonder-Under (note: your appliqué piece will be the mirror image of what you draw on the back so flip your design before tracing! Or be like me and forget this important step but decide you love it anyway. As long as there aren’t any words in the design no one will be any the wiser… half the designs pictured in this post are backwards, can you tell which ones?? Exactly)
There are a variety of appliqué techniques you can use, all give a different look to your finished project and of course they also range in complexity. If it’s your first go at this I recommend starting with a basic silhouette. Here’s a rundown of the steps involved…
BASIC APPLIQUÉ METHOD
-Back your fabric with Wonder-Under (be sure to let cool after you iron it on 😉 )
-Draw or trace your design on the paper backing and cut out
-Remove the paper backing and iron the appliqué onto your project
-Topstitch around the edge and done!
(note: if the fabric you are applying your design to is thin or overly stretchy you can back it with some stabilizer as well before adding your appliqué. Use a one-sided fusible stabilizer in this case)
Now that seems pretty doable right? Here are a few examples. The moon and sunburst are both cut from single pieces of fabric. No layering, no fancy topstitching… just simple silhouettes.
I generally only use two stitches for my appliqué, straight stitch or triple stitch. There are a few others you CAN use, such as the blanket stitch or zigzag, BUT I personally don’t care for the extra fiddling they require around tight curves and corners. Since knit doesn’t fray there is no need for a stitch that encases the raw edge. Once you’ve selected your stitch the next thing to consider is the stitch length. If you go too short your seam can stretch out the fabrics and cause unsightly rippling around the edges of your appliqué. A stitch length that is too long can make maneuvering around your design cumbersome. I generally like a stitch length that’s just a smidge shorter than what I use for general sewing. However you decide, once you have settled on your ideal machine settings it’s very helpful jot them down somewhere or take a picture to save on your phone.
When topstitching your appliqué try to keep as close to the edge as you can without running off the fabric completely. I find it very helpful to line up the edge of the appliqué with the center guide on my machine foot and then adjust the needle position left or right as needed. If using a zigzag or blanket stitch you will align the edge of you appliqué with the outer limit of the stitch.
Earlier in the post I mentioned using your machine’s clear pressor foot and the reason is simply that it allows better visibility than your basic all purpose foot. If you have a free motion quilting foot that’s even better! But if you are still stuck in the dark ages with me and have to use the basic clear foot do not worry! Just go slow and lift the pressor foot to pivot your fabric around corners and curves. Its a pain at first but once you get in the swing of it it will feel like second nature I promise!
Typically when starting a seam you backstitch to knot your threads, and you certainly can do the same on your appliqué, but if you want a smooth continuous stitch all the way around your design just skip the backstitching, overlap your seam by one stitch, pull your threads to the back and knot.
With technical concerns out of the way now we can focus on the visual value of different topstitching techniques. (The fun part!) The thread color and stitch you use will have a big impact on your appliqué so putting some thought into your selections will go a long way towards achieving your desired look. (Remember there are no right or wrong choices here, just personal preference. No need to be nervous or overthink, just go with your gut 😉 ) A simple straight stitch is very subtle and can blend right into your appliqué with the right thread color. On the other hand, the extra bulk of the triple stitch will give your stitching more visual impact. For example, the designs on these baby sets are topstitched with a straight stitch and color matched thread. This is probably the simplest method and gives your appliqué a nice, clean, no drama finish.
Thread colors that are lighter or darker than your fabric will make your topstitching stand out more. This is useful when adding dimension to your appliqué like the ears on this llama. You can also use contrast stitching to add facial features and other little details to your design. To make this little guy’s eye and nostril I drew the outlines with a disappearing ink pen and then went over the lines with a triple stitch in contrasting thread. If you use this method but find the ink isn’t fading away completely, you can wash it away with water (it will get horrifyingly dark when you first wet it but then rinses away so don’t panic 😉 ) Tailor’s chalk can also be used to sketch out your stitching lines. Whichever you prefer.
Topstitching around your appliqué with black thread gives it a fun hand drawn look. If you are comfortable drawing by hand you could even try “sketching” your entire appliqué design with your stitches!) Still finding your sea legs? If you are having trouble keeping your topstitching a consistent distance from the edge try lapping a couple times around your appliqué with a simple straight stitch. You will end up with a delightfully scribbled finish and any wobbly stitching will look completely intentional!
There is so much design potential in this aspect of appliqué and I whole heartedly encourage you to have some fun with it! Try out every crazy idea because it might just be awesome!
COLOR, PATTERN & TEXTURE
Once you are comfortable with the basic appliqué process you can really start having some fun with your designs! The possibilities are endless but I will go through a couple techniques I’ve tried just give you some ideas.
The simplest way to jazz up your appliqué is just switching out a solid color fabric for something pattered. Totally breathes a new life into your design, no matter how simple. I tried it here with another Whimsy Baby Customs pattern (it’s actually meant to be a unicorn but I happened to need an appaloosa pony for a collection I was working on so I left off the horn) Now he’s pretty cute already but the polka dots (from Jumping June Textiles) add a little extra whimsy and can you ever go wrong with a little extra whimsy?
Layering your pieces is another way to add interest to your appliqué. Not only does this technique create dimension but it gives you an opportunity to add in more color as well.
I used some very simple layering for this toadstool tee. The bulk of the appliqué is just basic silhouette but the extra little spots of fabric added to the caps take the whole look up a notch don’t you think?
If you are ready to dive in try putting multiple pieces together like this flock of seagulls or the little sunrise romper picture below. Just start with the pieces you want in the background and work your way out from there! You can let the design come to life piece by piece or you can plan it out before fusing down and topstitching… whatever best fits your creative personality.
The last technique I’ll talk about before wrapping this up is 3-D appliqué. It is every bit as cool as it sounds but not nearly as difficult as you might think.
There are probably many ways to make your appliqué three dimensional (stuffing perhaps?) but the way I like to do it yields a lot of visual punch with minimal effort. Who can argue with that!? Most of my appliqué projects follow the simple steps I outlined at the beginning of this post and end up completely fused to the main fabric and fully topstitched. But one day I was designing a little floral back pack and decided on a whim to skip the interfacing on the leaves and just topstitch along their veins leaving the rest free. The result was way more dynamic! I mentioned earlier that sturdy interlock was my favorite knit to appliqué and that is definitely true for this technique. Jersey (especially the popular cotton/spandex blends) would likely roll at the edges so unless that worked with your design it would be an issue. So far I have only tried this technique with leaves, flowers and a mini tulle skirt but I’m looking forward to finding more applications! What would you do with it?
And there you have it! If you have any questions, comments or suggestions feel free to drop them in the comments! I hope this post can be of some help to you on your creative journey and incase you are still feeling hesitant to try appliqué I will leave you with a little cheat to get you rolling 😉
Sometimes the design aspect of appliqué feels the most overwhelming but you can sneakily bypass this step and swipe an image from a patterned fabric (large scale designs are best!) Simply back the fabric with Wonder-Under, making sure to center the part of the print you want to use. Cut the image out of the fabric, peel off the paper back of the Wonder-under and fuse to your project. Topstitch around the edge and voila!