How To Machine Appliqué, Conquer Your Fear!I often hear quilters expressing their anxiety about undertaking appliqué projects and it always surprises me. With the right tips and tools machine appliqué really is straightforward and there are so many gorgeous designs out there!
Machine Appliqué Tools
You need a decent quality pencil (I find some others can leave too faint a mark or even wipe off the fusible web when it’s pressed to the fabric).
Any small sharp scissors will do. I use Fiskar’s curved craft scissors because they cut so smoothly round curves. I also use the appliqué scissors shown above for straight cutting but sharp nail scissors would work just as well.
There are a load of different fusible webbings out there, check out Megan Dougherty’s guide in this Back to School Blog Hop. Personally I use Bondaweb (known as ‘Wonder Under’ in the US).
(TIP: I try to only buy what I know I will use in a few weeks as if it’s laying around for a while then the paper can separate from the webbing. This may be something to do with the moisture content of my sewing room. I’m based in Ireland so there’s a lot of moisture around! If this has happened to you, lay the fusible webbing glue side down on a pressing sheet or baking parchment and briefly press it with an iron. Leave it to cool and the webbing should be reattached to the paper. It may not be perfect but it should be usable!)
Check the Printed Pattern Scale
If you are using a digital pattern and have printed out your template, it should have come with a scale. Use this to confirm that your templates have printed at the correct size.
Do take the time to check the scale is accurate!
If it isn’t then check that the printer is set to ‘actual size’ not ‘fit to page’.
Confirm also that you are not printing in ‘draft’ mode.
Still having problems?
Check the image properties and make sure it’s 100%.
If all else fails, try printing from a different software application.
The heart on the left was stitched with stabiliser underneath, the one on the right had no stabiliser and is slightly puckered.
There is a debate within the quilting community about whether stabiliser is necessary for machine appliqué or not. Personally, I do use it every time to prevent puckering and also to eliminate any tension issues.
There are lots of different types out there, cut-away, tear-away, heat-away and wash-away.
For machine appliquéing onto cotton fabric, my preference is for Vilene ‘Stitch-n-Tear’ which easily tears away after stitching.
Pressing your background fabric with a quick spray of starch before beginning the machine appliqué can also help reduce pulling around the stitches.
- Having confirmed the scale is accurate, take the paper copy of your pattern and trace it as accurately as you can onto the paper side of the fusible web.
NOTE: the finished pattern will be a mirror image of the template.
(TIP: You may want to label your pieces if your design uses lots of little bits that are likely to get mixed up.)
Cut loosely around the traced lines leaving a little extra space.
- Fuse the webbing, glue-side down onto the WRONG-SIDE of your chosen fabric.
- Accurately cut out the pattern pieces along the traced lines.
- You need to then remove the paper backing before fusing the appliqué piece to your background.
(TIP: I find if you try to pull off the paper backing immediately, it’s difficult to peel off and tugging at it can cause the fabric to fray and distort.
Leave it to cool for around half-an-hour and then it should pull off easily.)
Now position the pieces right side up on the background fabric and arrange as desired. Fuse again according to the manufacturer instructions and stitch in place.
(NOTE: It’s important to just PRESS the pieces, and not slide the iron over the appliqué which may cause the pieces to shift out of position.)
Setting Up Your Machine
If possible, set your machine to finish with the needle in the down position, this will make pivoting in the fabric easier. You may also wish to reduce the speed of your machine.
To begin, position the needle on the background right next to the edge of the appliqué piece. Turn the stitch length way down on your machine and do a couple of tiny straight stitches to secure the stitching then change to the required stitch length and style.
Machine Appliqué Stitches
Different stitches can be used to secure the pieces to the background fabric.
You must choose whether or not to match the thread to the fabric in the appliqué piece.
If you’re not too confident at appliqué then matching the thread is a good option as any wobbles will be less obvious.
Once your confidence grows, you might like to try using contrasting or variegated thread.
I have shown the heart appliqued on with different stitches so you can compare them.
Loose Zig-zag Stitch
I use this stitch A LOT, I think it is less intrusive than the heavier blanket stitch so it’s a good choice for stitching round smaller pieces used in more complicated, layered appliqué designs.
Some machines may not offer blanket stitch but almost all have a zig-zag stitch.
The points of the zig-zags should be just off the edge of the appliqué piece so the raw edge of the fabric is covered by the stitches.
This is a very popular choice.
Many machines have different versions of this stitch, mine has a single stitch, double and triple stitch version.
I used the single stitch for this sample.
Raw Edge Appliqué
Raw edge appliqué involves sewing around your appliqué piece, close to the edge, with a straight stitch.
After it has been washed a few times the raw edge will fray slightly which adds a lovely shabby chic element to the machine appliqué.
The stitching and the fusible web will prevent the appliqué unravelling dramatically!
Set the stitch size to be very narrow, I set my machine to 0.5 so the stitches are extremely close together.
This technique is often used on mass-produced factory appliqué and if I have stitched a design on my domestic machine then you can be sure I want the glory!
Additionally, stitching this way uses a LOT of thread and is the slowest to do however it can be beautiful and some folks love it.
It’s all just down to personal choice.
How to Machine Appliqué Tricky Bits – Corners, Points, Curves
Whatever stitch you are using, you will need to navigate corners, points and curves. I chose a heart shape to illustrate this tutorial as it incorporates all of these challenges.
When tackling corners, bring your stitching line right to the end of the corner, see the grey line of stitching in the diagram above. With the needle down at the point marked with the tiny circle, pivot the fabric around so you are now at the start of the new edge. Use your machine’s handle to manually guide the first stitch into the fabric next to the appliqué edge and then continue on as normal. You will now be sewing the green line of stitching in the diagram. As you can see, the two lines of stitching will overlap at the corner.
It is helpful to imagine the numbers of a clock face on circles and curves. Pivot with the needle down as you come to each ‘number’ on the clock face, making slight adjustments to the position of the fabric each time as you gently sew round the curve.
Copying Machine Appliqué Markings
You may be tracing a pattern piece that has markings on it, for instance, eyes or other facial features. These will be embroidered on after the appliqué piece has been stitched onto the background.
Trace the features onto the fusible web when you trace the outline of your piece. Once you have fused the webbing to the fabric and cut out your piece, hold it up to a window or lightbox and using an air-erasable fabric pen or dress-makers chalk pencil, trace the features through to the right-side of your piece.
The paper backing can then be removed and the piece positioned as normal.
If you use an air-erasable fabric pen, please do check that it is not set by heat so you can remove the pen marks after you have stitched in the features.
Appliqué Pressing Sheet
Beautiful appliqué motifs can be made by layering up different pieces of fabric.
I use an appliqué pressing sheet to make this layering process easier. Once I have cut out all my pieces I lay them RIGHT SIDE DOWN on the paper pattern.
Think carefully of the order in which the pieces need to be laid. In the example above, the flowers and strawberry tops were placed first, then the strawberries and finally the leaves. This can be a bit confusing as you are working in reverse.
Lay the appliqué pressing sheet carefully on top being mindful not to shift any of the pieces underneath. Fuse with an iron according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Leave it to cool and then peel the finished motif off the pressing sheet.
The motif can then be positioned and stitched to the background fabric as normal.
I use this technique all the time but break it down as much as possible. In the example above, the strawberries and strawberry tops were fused together first and then the leaves were added behind them and so the design was gradually built up.
(NOTE: You can use baking parchment as an alternative if you don’t have access to a pressing sheet.)
Do I add the appliqué before or after I layer up the quilt?
Usually before. Adding it to the quilt top and stitching it in place before you create your quilt sandwich ensures the stitching used to hold the appliqué pieces in place is not visible on the reverse of the finished quilt. However it is perfectly acceptable to do it the other way round if for any reason that suits better. No quilt police here!
Do you need the same thread in the bobbin as on the reel?
As long as your machine’s tension is correct there shouldn’t be any need to match the two threads. I usually keep the bobbin thread similar in shade to the background fabric.
Do I HAVE to use stabiliser?
The best answer is, it depends! I find with some cotton fabrics, puckering is more obvious than others. If you are using a tight satin stitch then you almost certainly will need a stabiliser. With a looser zig-zag stitch on good quality cotton, you’ll probably get away without it. The only way to be sure, is to do a test with the fabrics you will be using.
Will it gum up my needle?
I have never found this to be a problem. Every now and then give your needle a quick wipe with some damp cotton wool to remove any residue. Just remember to switch your machine off first!
What sewing foot should I use?
Most machine manufacturers offer an appliqué foot as an optional extra. If you have one, then it’s great to use it, but if not the standard walking foot is fine. All you’re after is a foot that’s open around the area you are stitching so you can see what you’re doing clearly.
Do I need to lower the feed-dogs?
Nope. Allow the machine to feed through the fabric as normal and navigate around the shape by pivoting with the needle down.
Won’t it ruin my iron?
If you do a lot of appliqué, you have almost certainly experienced fusible web stuck to your iron or ironing board. When I cut the appliqué pieces out of the fabric, I cut away the remnants of fusible web that are still stuck to the fabric as it’s so easy to forget they’re there! Using Teflon pressing sheets, (or baking parchment), under and over your appliqué will protect your iron and ironing board. If melted fusible web is becomes stuck to your iron, then ironing a damp dryer sheet on a hot setting for a couple of minutes usually shifts it.
Back to School Blog Hop
The Back to School Blog Hop for 2017 is now over but luckily you can still check out all of these great tutorials!
- Day 1 – August 15 – Sam Hunter: How to spray baste a BIG quilt – www.huntersdesignstudio.com
- Day 2 – August 16 – Mandy Leins: Thread Dread: removing stray bits after quilting – www.mandalei.com
- Day 3 – August 17 – Nancy Stovall: The Sweet Creamy Filling – www.justquiltingpdx.com
- Day 4 – August 18 – Ebony Love: 7 Indispensible feet for your sewing machine – www.LoveBugStudios.com
- Day 5 – August 19 – Michelle Freedman: Machine throat plates – www.designcamppdx.blogspot.com
- Day 6 – August 20 – Teresa Coates: Edge/Under/Top stitching – www.crinkledreams.com Day 7 – August 21 – Kelly Cole: Ten ways to regain your sew-jo – www.vintagefabricstudio.com
- Day 8 – August 22 – Megan Dougherty: Choose to Fuse: tips for working with fusibles for applique – www.thebitchystitcher.com
- Day 9 – August 23 – Kim Lapacek: Tricks to being productive while hauling your kids around – www.persimondreams.blogspot.com
- Day 10 – August 24 – Yvonne Fuchs: Circuitboard quilting on Domestic and Longarm Machines – www.quiltingjetgirl.com
- Day 11 – August 25 – Sandi Hazlewood: Chain Piecing Quilt Blocks Tips – www.craftyplanner.com
- Day 12 – August 26 – Juliet van der Heijden: Paper-piecing with children – www.thetartankiwi.com
- Day 13 – August 27 – Maddie Kertay: Fabric folding for any storage solution – www.badassquilterssociety.com
- Day 14 – August 28 – Cath Hall: Working with Lawn fabric – www.wombatquilts.com
- Day 15 – August 29 – Tracy Mooney: Tips for the perfect seam – www.sewmuchcosplay.com
- Day 16 – August 30 – Teri Lucas: How to bury thread – www.terificreations.com
- Day 17 – August 31 – Debby Brown: Securing machine quilting knots – www. higheredhands.blogspot.com
- Day 18 – September 1 – Flaun Cline: How to put some sparkle in your fabric pull (part 1) – www.ipleadquilty.com
- Day 19 – September 2 – Jessica Darling: How to put some sparkle in your fabric pull (part 2) – www.jessicakdarling.com
- Day 20 – September 3 – Trish Frankland: A bigger blade really IS better?! – www.persimondreams.blogspot.com
- Day 21 – September 4 – Robin Koehler: Tips on how to travel with handwork – www.nestlingsbyrobin.blogspot.com
- Day 22 – September 5 – Jane Davidson: How to make scrappy HSTs – www.quiltjane.com
- Day 23 – September 6 – Linda Pearl: Low cost tips for organizing your sewing room – www.onequiltingcircle.com
- Day 24 – September 7 – Christa Watson – Top 10 tips for quilting on a domestic machine – www.christaquilts.com
- Day 25 – September 8 – Sarah Nunes: To Starch or Not to Starch – www.berrybarndesigns.com
- Day 26 – September 9 – Suzy Webster: Testing fabric for bleeding – www.websterquilt.blogspot.com
- Day 27 – September 10 – Sarah Goer: Machine bind your quilts like a pro – www.sarahgoerquilts.com
- Day 28 – September 11 – Vanda Chittenden: Beginner paper-piecing tips – www.chittenden.co.za
- Day 29 – September 12 – Cheryl Sleboda: Needle threading tips – www.muppin.com
- Day 30 – September 13 – Kim Niedzwiecki – Different thread weights and when to use them – www.gogokim.com
- Day 31 – September 14 – Sandra Healy: Conquer Your Fear of Machine Appliqué – www.sandrahealydesigns.com
- Day 32 – September 15 – Sandra Starley: The Basics of Antique Quilt Collecting – www.utahquiltappraiser.blogspot.com
Please note: I am not affiliated with any of the companies whose products I have mentioned. They are purely products that I use and love.
Sparkle On with Abbie says
Hi Sandra, I am going to print your tutorial and add it to my “how to” binder. I learned so many tips from you that I didn’t know before. Also I love your strawberries in a pot. You make applique fun 😊
Sandra Healy says
Ah, thank you, Abbie, I feel genuinely honoured to have a place in your ‘how to’ binder! I’m so glad you find the tutorial useful, I love applique and I’m happy to share that enthusiasm with anyone that will engage! x
Sparkle On with Abbie says
So nice of you to say! I’m working on a Fall applique table runner that I drew up myself and am excited to have you see it when I’m done.
Diane B says
Hello Sandra, Thank you for the pivoting tips…I will imagine that clock now in my circular and curved points. That is so helpful:) Still very new to applique and my fear is diminishing. Your post is very inclusive, informative and well, fun! THankyou for it all.
Sandra Healy says
Hi Diane, thanks for your lovely comments. I’m thrilled that you found the tutorial useful. I’d be delighted to think I was helping others get confident with this beautiful craft.
Sandy @ sandystardesigns.com says
Such a wonderfully comprehensive tutorial! I hadn’t thought about stabilizer, thank you!
Sandra Healy says
Ah, thank you, Sandy! So glad you found it helpful.