Summer Sewing ~ Simple Machine Appliqué

on July 7 | in Sewing + Quilting Tips, Sewing Tutorials + Patterns | by | with 114 Comments

This is the first of two articles by Elizabeth; she shares everything you need to know for some fun, summer appliqués! This first post is a “how to” covering supplies and materials, machine settings and more, and today Elizabeth even gives you a PDF download to get started. The basic appliqué sheet includes a sea horse, sea anemone and starfish. Later this week she’ll help us with layering and more complex appliqués (and great patterns for more involved designs). Maybe you’ll want to try appliqués on your new summer tote?!

Years ago, I had a job sewing patches, letters and so forth onto letterman jackets and sports uniforms. It was a terrible job, but I learned a lot about how to sew things onto other things, and I’ve used those skills to refine a style of machine appliqué that I like to use on quilts and bags.

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I start with fusible webbing, which is basically a paper-backed web of glue that can be fused to fabric, turning it into a kind of iron-on patch. It also stabilizes the fabric, making it possible to use slippery materials or even stretch knits for appliqué.

The two brands of fusible webbing I see most often are Steam-A-Seam and Heat-N-Bond. Both brands come in heavy and light (or “lite”) versions. The heavy versions are difficult to stitch through, so I always buy the “lite.” The main difference between Steam-A-Seam and Heat-N-Bond is that Heat-N-Bond has paper backing on only one side, whereas Steam-A-Seam has paper on both sides.

Having the paper on both sides is useful if you want to trace a mirror image of something (like letters) because you can trace the image or letter the “right” way on one side and then flip your sheet of Steam-A-Seam over to the other side to trace the mirror image. If you’re using patterns that are already oriented appropriately, Heat-N-Bond may be a better choice because you won’t have to fiddle with the extra paper.

Using a stabilizer under your work can make the process easier, especially on lightweight fabrics and stretch knits. It prevents your fabric from shifting and pulling as you stitch around your appliqué. I like to use iron-on paper stabilizer, which can be torn away when you’re finished. This product is especially nice to use when placing an appliqué over patchwork, since it keeps your seams from shifting about while you work. If your project can use some added support, a lightweight fusible interfacing does the same job and won’t have to be removed when you’re done stitching.

If you have a finicky machine, or if you’re having trouble getting a good stitch, placing a drop of Sewer’s Aid (silicone drops) on your needle may help. It’s a lubricant that will help your needle get through all the gluey layers smoothly.

Here are some of the materials I use most often:

Cotton: Solid or printed cotton is easy to find, easy to use and easy to care for. Cotton is ideal for use on solid backgrounds. However, it’s relatively thin and often translucent, so it’s not always the best choice to use over patchwork.

Felt: Felt is my favorite material for appliqué. I like to use wool and wool blend felts, because they can be ironed. Acrylic felt can be used, but it’s more work, since it melts and scars so easily. If you do use acrylic felt, I suggest buying the kind that comes on bolts. I’ve noticed the quality is often better than the kind that comes in sheets. If you’re using 100% wool felt on a quilt or clothing, be sure to pre-wash it.

Polar Fleece: Polar fleece is a great, economical choice for baby quilts. It also stands up well to machine washing and drying.

Microfiber Fleece (e.g. Minky): Microfiber fleece is a great choice for animal appliqués. It sheds a lot and it can be tricky to get the nap just right when cutting it into appliqué shapes, but the results are worth the extra effort.

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For best results, match your thread to the color of your appliqué. (If you’re choosing between two colors of thread, I suggest using the darker one.) I always use the same color thread and bobbin.

Creating Your Appliqué:

The first step is making an iron-on appliqué. Place your fusible webbing over your pattern, with the glue side down, and trace your pattern using a pencil. Trim away excess fusible webbing and place glue-side down onto the wrong side of your appliqué fabric. If you’re using cotton or wool felt, you can iron the shape directly onto your fabric. Use sharp scissors to cut out your appliqué. (Because I make lots of appliqués, I have a pair of sewing scissors that I use specifically to cut through fusible webbing and its paper backing.)

If you’re making an appliqué out of polar or microfiber fleece, or anything else that may be damaged by too much heat or pressure from the iron, pad your pressing area with a folded towel. Place your appliqué fabric, wrong side up, with your fusible webbing shape on top. Cover the entire area with a clean piece of scrap fabric and press quickly – just enough to adhere the fusible webbing. I’ve found that a few quick bursts of steam and very little pressure work well and reduce the smashing effect the iron can have on delicate fabrics.

Prepare the fabric you’re applying your appliqué to by ironing a piece of stabilizer or fusible interfacing to the back. Position your appliqué on the right side of the fabric, cover with a scrap of clean fabric and iron in place.

If your appliqué is fleece or something similar, you’ll want to do this process “upside down” so you can press from the back, rather than on top of your delicate fabric. Lay your appliqué, right side down on top of the same folded towel you used earlier. Place the fabric you’re applying the appliqué to right side down on top of the appliqué. Use quick bursts of steam and very little pressure to activate the fusible webbing and adhere the appliqué to your fabric.

Starting to Sew:

Prepare your machine by switching your settings to a buttonhole or satin stitch and putting in a new needle. If desired, put a drop of Sewer’s Aid on your needle.

Starting on the right side of your appliqué, begin sewing, encasing the raw edge of your appliqué in stitches and raising your presser foot to pivot the fabric as necessary. Your needle should always be in the down position before you pivot your fabric. When sewing around a concave curve or angle (as in upper right photo) your needle should be down in the left-hand position, or through the appliqué. When sewing around a convex curve or angle (as in lower left photo) your needle should be down in the right-hand position, or just outside the appliqué.

When you reach the point where you began, backtrack slightly. Remove your project from the machine and use tweezers or a seam ripper to gently pull the loose threads to the back. Trim threads and tear or trim away any removable stabilizer.

Being able to buttonhole stitch around shapes smoothly takes practice but I think it’s one of those things, like riding a bike, that you eventually “get” and then are always able to do. If buttonhole stitching proves too challenging, zig-zag stitching, or using a decorative stitch (a vine-like stitch works well) can be more forgiving. These larger stitches are good choices for non-raveling fabrics like polar fleece or felt.

The same method can be used to appliqué on t-shirts, onesies or other stretch knits. Just iron a fusible stabilizer to the inside of the garment, iron on your appliqué, sew around it, tear away the stabilizer, and you’re done! Keep in mind that the area where you place the appliqué will no longer stretch. (In other words: It’s best to avoid placing appliqués in the bust area of women’s t-shirts.)

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114 Responses to Summer Sewing ~ Simple Machine Appliqué

  1. Ibanez RGD says:

    vontade de jogar Guitar hero, mas pregui?a de subir pra casa.

  2. mahalie says:

    This tutorial ROCKS! Thanks for sharing. Just finished a monogrammed hat for a 1 year old’s bday party today :D

  3. Holly says:

    This is fantastic. Thank you!

  4. Teresa C says:

    Hi, great tutorial, I have done a bit of applique for different things, mostly garments. Last year I made a baby quilt with applique using the method you describe, basically, but the only problem I had was the steaming and then the stitching, even with stabilizer, caused my squares to shrink a little and made piecing the quilt a challenge. I am making another quilt, but would like to applique something onto the finished top, similare to your dinosaur, but am worried that the section I put the applique on will shrink causing my quilt top to not be square after. (Am I making any sense at all?) Have you had this problem before? If I was making individual squares I would just cut them larger and square them after (lesson learned), but where I will be appliqueing to the quilt top…… Any tips?

  5. Jeanne says:

    Nice tutorial. I am still figuring out the tensions on my machine. What tension do you put on the thread? I am having trouble with my fabric bunching. Could the foot be too tight?

  6. Merri says:

    Does anyone have any suggestions on where to get cute applique patterns? I have been looking for some various sized crosses and letters, but can’t find any. Thanks!

  7. Thanks sew much ‘Sew Mama Sew’. Have been trying to get th ehang of this! These little tips of experience I hope will make my work finer : ) Thanks so much. Have added you to our faves blog list on our blog : )

  8. Lauren says:

    Just wanted to say thanks so much for taking the time to do this–the tutorial answered every question I had, and I really appreciate you tailoring it (pun intended) for a novice!!

  9. Kathy says:

    Just wondered why a darning foot wasn’t used? Do you drop the feetdogs?

  10. Lisa says:

    thank you very much

  11. wow!
    Beautiful photography and detailed descriptions on this wonderful art form.

  12. Rita says:

    I am looking for a pattern for a applique shower curtain/with a beach scene.

  13. raajia says:

    Thank you for the wonderful applique tips thank you for taking the time to write it!! I really appreciate the descriptions and explanations , Thank you! Thank you!

  14. lindsey says:

    You are a great teacher. Thanks so much for this tutorial.

  15. christi Jensen says:

    Thanks so much for these instructions! I was doing this, but missing a couple of steps that seem like they will make the end better than what I was doing! Thanks so much!

  16. sandy says:

    HI, YOU ARE SOOO TALENTED….
    first let me say i have two left hands where sewing is concerned, however i have decided to make my son a shower curtain of his favorite sea creatures since i simply cannot find one that I like.
    Ok so i’m a little excited and a lot overwhelmed by this challenge. your site however gives me a flicker of hope. see, what i have in mind is a nice thick background (did i mention, i know nothing about fabric?)with appliques…sea horse, turtle, fish, frog, duck. oh and i love the coral on your tote.
    my question now is what fabric (s) is best for a shower curtain and can i buy the appliques instead of making them (fingers crossed)
    lastly do i need to need sewing for dummies first or is it really as easy as you make it seem? :-)

  17. shelle says:

    love the tutorial! I think I am going to give it a go on some tote bags. Thanks for sharing

  18. Sherry says:

    This is so helpful. Maybe I will try this! I love that blue shirt!

  19. Morgan says:

    This is great!! Thanks so much- it really makes the process clear!

  20. Helly says:

    Ahhhh… I’m a bit of a spaz when it comes to appliques, so I usually cheat and use fleece and felt so I can do it with a straight stitch…. but I’ve picked up a few useful hints from here. Fusible stuff is my friend…. right?

  21. DizzyMom says:

    Great tutorial. Can’t wait to try it out!

  22. stacey says:

    Oh this is very inspiring.
    I just got married and my grandmother gifted me a new sewing machine. I’ve just begun to learn, and your website is very inspiring, and I can’t wait to continue my sewing skills. Thanks!

  23. Alison says:

    Great tutorial. Applique has always scared the daylights out of me…I probably just need to give it a go and see how I do. :)

  24. Jessy Roos says:

    Elizabeth, thank you for this tutorial which was detailed and easy to follow! Get timing too as I’m just starting to experiement with different types of quilting and applique.

  25. Heather W. says:

    Makes it look easy!!! Maybe I’ll get to try it soon!

  26. Michelle Jadaa says:

    You’ve inspired me!I must try this,i make a lot of kids clothes but have always been afraid of trying applique.Thanks for all the tips:)

  27. BethAnn Rivers says:

    I love the pink fuzzy star applique on the quilt, i am definatly trying that!

  28. Valerie says:

    Wonderful tutorial, love the level of detail provided.
    The blouse pictured is adorable – did you make that, too?

  29. Abby says:

    p.s. I hope you don’t mind that I put a post on my blog with a link to this tutorial. Let me know if that’s not okay:)

  30. Abby says:

    Thank you for this tutorial! I can’t wait to applique, my mind is filling with ideas already!

  31. Jodi Renshaw says:

    Thank you! Thank you!
    Love, Jodi

  32. Evangelia says:

    Thank you for sharing

  33. Erin says:

    Thankyou so much for this! I’ve been wanting to try machine applique for a while but thought it would be too much trouble.

  34. EmersonLouWho says:

    This was such a helpful tutorial. Had a lot of fun combining this with the tote bag tutorial. Just posted a picture of the final product in the photo pool. Thanks!

  35. gardenymph says:

    Elizabeth, you explained everything so concisely, thank you. I will be bookmarking this for later reference when I start doing some machine applique.

  36. Adrea Shef says:

    wow! this is great! I love the stars!

  37. jodie says:

    Thank you! I just purchased some onesies with the plan to add a small applique…now I will actually know how to do it!!

  38. Suz says:

    These are wonderful instructions! I’ve been thinking about trying my hand at applique too!

  39. Sue Cahill says:

    I have always been intimidated by machine applique. Thank you so much for clarifying the process. I will be definately giving it a try!

  40. mikawendy says:

    Thanks for posting this tutorial! I’ve only ever tried applique by hand before.

  41. Tamera says:

    I cant wait to try applique!!

  42. water works says:

    Thank you so very much for this awesome post. The directions are clear, the steps are well thought out and the stitch instructions are invaluable. Thank you thank you thank you!

    Now I’ll definitely try this on my next bag project.

  43. Great tutorial – I think the applique would be marvelous with some of those Garden Party prints in the new products section!

  44. Katie Mitchell says:

    Excellent instructions! I can’t wait to try it myself!

  45. Tamara says:

    I can’t wait to try this!

  46. Wonderful tutorial. I’ve been thinking of trying this for a while, these clear directions might just be the push I needed. Thank you.

  47. Jes says:

    This was very helpful!! appliqués is something I just started with.

  48. Elizabeth says:

    Alisha,
    If you look at the photos I have on Flickr (here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/ohfransson/sets/72157605951066683/) there are some larger more detailed shots.

  49. Christina says:

    I’ve always wanted to try to applique. Thank you so much for this great tutorial!

  50. Alisha says:

    I love the shirt.

    Is there any way to view a larger photo? I would like to see more detail on the stitching, but some of the photos are too small.

  51. Lisa E. says:

    how cute! and seems simple enough. i’m definitely adding an applique to my to-do list

  52. Sarah says:

    Thanks so much for the great tutorial!

  53. Jen says:

    Great tutorial, thanks for taking the time to write it!!

  54. DawnMarie says:

    I have been wanting to try some applique…thanks for the great tutorial!!

  55. alison says:

    What a great tutorial. Thanks so much for the information.

  56. Celeste says:

    Thank you for this simple tutorial–so easy to follow, and lots of great tips! I am still learning the basics here, and I love how flexible appliques can be!

  57. Monica gee says:

    I have always been rather intimidated by applique, but this tutorial is super helpful! I have seen some cute stuff done by adding a little applique to a plain store bought shirts/dresses/onesies/etc. For those of us who don’t like making clothes (I am just a bag-maker/quilter at heart!), applique is a great way to customize store bought items. Thanks for the helpful tips!!

  58. Amber says:

    This is such a great post – thanks so much for writing this!

  59. Ellen B says:

    I’ve always loved seeing your creations! Thanks so much for sharing all the details needed to try these techniques….Now all I need is some of your creativity!!

  60. rachael says:

    So for me, sewing is another language! Your tutorial makes it seem so easy! We’ll give it a go!

  61. Anna says:

    A class in sImple machine applique got me back into sewing. I have a special fondness for this tutorial.

  62. HES says:

    Thanks so much! I definitely needed this tutorial.

  63. Amanda says:

    Wow! I’ve been looking for an easier way to applique without doing the dreaded hand stitching! Thanks so much for the tutorial, can’t wait to use it!

  64. Christie says:

    This is just the tutorial I needed – very thorough! Thanks for sharing – I can’t wait to try it out!

  65. Dawn says:

    Thank you so much!!! This is the best tutorial I have seen for applique. I never really understood the differences between fusables and I never really got why you would need interfacing. Thank you, thank you, thank you!!!!!

  66. Ruth says:

    This is a great tutortial, you do it so neatly, I am definatley going to be practising.

  67. laura says:

    thanks! this will definitely improve my applique!

  68. irene says:

    I love this article Elizabeth! I’m always wondered about the different types of webbing and if I really need stabilizer. Now I know and hopefully my appliqués will look like yours!

  69. JenR says:

    What a wonderful tutorial! I also never paid attention to the needle position around curves… makes perfect sense! I LOVE the seahorse pattern, and seeing as how my wee one seems to be in love with them at the moment… I see lots of seahorses in our future. Thanks!!!

  70. Thanks for the tutorial — I never paid attention to the needle position going around curves……your explanation was great. I’ll have to pay better attention next time around.

  71. I’m so excited to try this! Thanks for all the amazing tutorials!

  72. Nicole says:

    Yessssss….such great steps to follow. Keep ‘em coming, we’ve got alot of Christmas presents to make:-). Thank you Beth!

  73. Christine says:

    Great tutorial. I want to run to my machine and get busy. Thanks for the tip about the sewer’s aid. I didn’t know something like that existed.

  74. Shelly G. says:

    We have been trying applique at our house… and your tips will be very helpful for future projects… Thank you so much for sharing:)

  75. It’s always amazing to me what a simple thing like an applique can do to really spruce up a piece. Great tute that covers all the things you need to know for applique!

  76. suesue says:

    great tutorial. i’ve been appliqueing for years but never heard of sewer’s aid. i always had trouble with sticky needles!! thanks so much.

  77. kim says:

    wow! I’m going to have to give this a try soon. I can’t wait till the next lesson on applique….Thanks

  78. I’ve been wanting to make some appliques lately — even bought the Wonder Under — but have been scared. Thanks for the tutorial.

  79. Ally says:

    This is brilliant. Thank you so much for sharing your expertise.

  80. Kari Weber says:

    I am so excited about the Sewer’s Aid drops! I struggled with a gummy needle for I don’t know how long when trying to applique before! I figured out that the iron on webbing I was using was too thick, but even then had some issues! I will look for this the next time I go to the store!

  81. Jennifer says:

    Thanks Elizabeth! I appreciate you explaining.

  82. Elizabeth says:

    Jennifer,
    If you’re using a zig-zag stitch on 1, it’s probably the same thing as a satin stitch. I have an older, mechanical machine and use the first setting for buttonholes — it does the same thing. A lot of fancier new machines have a “satin stitch” setting specifically for this kind of thing, but it’s really just a tight zig-zag stitch.

  83. Holly says:

    Oh, Yay! I’m so excited to try this one out!

  84. Jennifer says:

    At the risk of sounding dumb I really have to ask… What is a satin stitch? I have heard people talking about it before when applicaying, but never asked what they were talking about. I have tried to applicay three times and always use the zigzag stitch on about a 1 so they are close together.

  85. Kelli says:

    This is a great tutorial! I am planning on appliqueing my first quilt soon and this information will help out a LOT! Thanks so much.

  86. Nichole says:

    Fabulous info! I learned so much and I thought I knew what I was doing LOL! Thank you!

  87. susan says:

    thanks you so much for the tute
    it was very well written, it seems easy enough to do, just will take practice to do it really well.

  88. Amy says:

    Thank you for sharing such a wonderful tutorial!

  89. Thien-Kim says:

    This is a great tutorial! It makes me even sadder that my sewing machine is broken. :* I have to stick to handsewing for now. I just added an retro applique to a t-shirt the other day. check out my blog!

  90. micki says:

    thanks! I’ve always wanted to know how to do this!

  91. Ali says:

    I never knew that convex/concave needle position trick – thanks!

  92. RobinE says:

    Thank you for the wonderful applique tips– particularly for working with those other (non-cotton) fabrics! I can’t wait to start exploring. And those sea shapes are so cute! :)

  93. debra says:

    Love the seahorse!!! I plan on using it soon on a cute dress for my daughter.

  94. Amy says:

    i have only just begun to work with this…thanks for all the advice!

  95. MeganVS says:

    Awesome! Thanks!

  96. Jenny says:

    Yay! I have been wanting to learn this for ages but never got round to it. thanks for such an easy to follow tutorial.

  97. Kelli says:

    Maybe sewer’s aid will help my crusty old machine that has a life of it’s own. I tried to applique tshirts for my little girl’s friends for Christmas, but my machine just didn’t want to satin stitch correctly all the way around. Cross your fingers for me and I will give applique a shot again!

  98. Debra C says:

    This is something I want to try. Thanks for the great tutorial!

  99. Sonja says:

    Thanks for the wonderful tutorial, I have been staring lately at all the beautiful appliques and just have’nt had the guts to try it. Thank you now I’m not scared to try it..

  100. Megan says:

    Elizabeth, thank you, thank you, thank you! I’ve been wanting to learn about applique for a while now but have been a little freaked out by it. This tutorial is fantastic. I can’t wait to put that sea horse on something for my toddler.

  101. Regina says:

    Wonderful step by step – makes it a lot less intimidating!

  102. Teresa says:

    Very cute! Great tutorial!

  103. Julie says:

    Great tutorial! Thanks for posting this!

  104. Amy Hodge says:

    I’ve been dying to try some applique. Thanks for the great information!

  105. Melanie O. says:

    As a beginning sewer I really appreciate such thorough tutorials. Thanks so much!

  106. Excellent tutorial!! I love making appliques for the kids clothes. Now I know how to handle the curves better. Thank you!

  107. eleen says:

    Love your tutorial – great level of detail and lots of helpful photos, plus super-cute appliques! I’m going to pick up a bottle of Sewer’s Aid too. Never heard of that before. Thanks so much!

  108. Shooky says:

    Thank you for the cool tutorial. I’ve always admired appliques and now I can create some of my own. Thank you!

  109. Karen B says:

    great tutorial…THSNKS!

  110. Natalie says:

    Thank you. This was brilliant. I really appreciate the thoroughness, elaborate descriptions and explanations.

  111. Tina says:

    This is great! Thanks for the wonderful tips, especially the details on the different materials. I’ve just started trying to do some applique and your hints are really helpful!

  112. Avlor says:

    How timely! I’ve just been starting to experiment with this! Thanks!

  113. That is a great tutorial! Thank you so much for sharing it with all us!

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