13 Sewing Applique Tips and Tricks to Try Right Now
Many quilters are turned off by applique because they’ve been told it’s difficult and fickle. Other sewists have tried it, but they had a bad experience that left a sour taste in their mouths.
With the right technique, applique isn’t as intimidating as it seems. Use these 13 tips to perfect your applique technique.
1. Start on a Straight Edge or Gentle Curve
Whether you’re using a machine or sewing by hand, you want to start sewing your applique along a straight edge or a gentle curve. It’s tempting to start at a point, or corner, but you’ll get much nicer corners if you start at a different point.
2. Begin with the Needle on the Outside Edge
Needle position is important for creating clean, straight edges. It can be hard to calculate how far the needle will swing in one direction or another. How do you avoid this?
Position your needle on the outside edge of the applique shape.
Make sure that the needle is in the center of the foot. Your machine may have a marker that makes it easy to gauge whether the needle is in the starting position. If it’s not, remove the fabric, and tap the foot pedal to move the needle to the correct position.
3. Follow the Right Sequence
Everyone has their own opinion on where to start when sewing an applique, but many agree that it’s best to start with the pieces underneath and work upward.
In other words, start with the bottom layer, then stitch each additional layer one at a time.
When you stitch in this order, the start and end stitches of each row will be hidden beneath the satin stitching on top.
4. Use the Right Foot
When sewing an applique, it’s important to use the right foot. Many quilters agree that the open toe foot is ideal for applique.
With an open toe foot, you can clearly see in front of the needle, which makes it easy to see all of the corners and points of the shape. The open toe foot also has a convenient tunnel along the underside to accommodate the satin stitch’s raised edges.
5. Pivot Properly
One of the most complicated aspects of applique is maneuvering curves and corners. When turning corners, it’s important to pivot properly to create a nice look. That means paying attention to where the needle is positioned.
Many quilters recommend rotating the fabric 45 degrees at a time when working on outside corners. For inside corners, it’s important to stitch into the corner the equivalent of the stitch’s width.
6. Try Different Needles
Experiment with different needle sizes, brands and types if you’re doing applique by hand. Some people prefer longer needles when working by hand, but it’s ultimately about personal preference. You may need to experiment with a few before you find the right size and type for you.
If you’re stuck, try asking friends or local quilt shops for recommendations.
7. Experiment with Fabrics
If the project is difficult or impossible to turn, try working with a non-fraying fabric, like suede or wool.
Cotton has a tendency to fray and can be difficult to work with on these types of projects.
Experiment with different fabric types. Along with making life easier, they also present new and different texture possibilities.
8. Have Practice Pieces
Before starting any new project, do some test stitching on a piece of fabric that is similar to the one you’ll be using. You may need to make a few adjustments to the machine to get the look you want, so practicing helps you avoid time-consuming mistakes.
Always make sure that you have practice pieces on hand – no matter how simple the project.
9. Try Different Stitches
Most people prefer the satin stitch for applique, but there’s no law saying you can’t experiment with other stitch types.
Straight, blanket and zig-zag stitches can also be used for applique. And don’t be afraid to try out those fancy decorative stitches, too.
10. Be Prepared
Make sure that you’re prepared for every project that you start. Gather all of your bobbins and thread in advance, so you don’t have to run around looking for them in the middle of a row.
If you plan to use several different colors, use all of one color first before moving on to the next one. Having to constantly switch between colors will waste more time and can be frustrating.
11. Choose the Right Thread
Many quilters prefer cotton thread over silk thread, and for good reason. Silk isn’t always as durable as cotton – it has a tendency to disintegrate over time.
Cotton also tends to be better at matching the fabric, if you’re working with cotton fabric.
12. Don’t Forget to Use a Stabilizer
Sewists often forget this important step – pinning a stabilizer to the inside of the garment.
Why bother using a stabilizer? It will help prevent puckering and create a more professional look.
Just cut away a piece of stabilizer that is just a little bit larger than your applique. Pin it to the inside of the garment directly behind the applique design.
When you’re done, the stabilizer will easily tear away from the embroidered stitches.
If your project is washable, you can choose a stabilizer that’s removed by rinsing. Others are wash-away or heat-away, which provides you with more ways to remove the stabilizer.
13. The Majority of the Stitch Should Be on the Shape
When sewing applique, 99% of the satin stitch should cover the shape. If it does not, you’ll wind up with a ridge between the edge of the shape and the edge of the stitch.
Of course, there are exceptions to this rule. If you’re using a decorative stitch, it may not have a solid edge that will run alongside the edge of the shape. With these types of stitches, you’ll need to take more care in figuring out where the stitch lies in comparison to the edge of the shape.
Shannon has been and avid quilter for over 20 years. Her love of quilts came at an early age from her grandmother. She is a mother of 2 and lives in the US with her loving husband.