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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