Easy Applique ~ The Starch Method by Joanna from Fig Tree & Co.

on May 26 | in Sewing Tutorials + Patterns | by | with 40 Comments

Joanna from Fig Tree & Co. is one talented, busy woman! She produces over 100 quilting, sewing and children’s patterns and design booklets, and she designs several fabric collections each year for Moda Fabrics. Joanna also regularly publishes a style magazine, Fresh Vintage, and travels to teach her quilting and sewing techniques. You can learn all about Joanna’s work on the Fig Tree & Co. site, and Joanna also blogs regularly at Fresh Figs. (Be sure to check out her fun, recent posts from Quilt Market!).

Today Joanna took a little time out of her busy schedule to share one of her favorite sewing techniques with us. After you learn her tips and tricks for the Starch Method of Applique, you may just want to add applique to everything you make!

Hello, Sew,Mama,Sew! readers, my name is Joanna Figueroa and I am the owner and designer behind Fig Tree & Co. I am so glad to share one of my favorite techniques with you today! I design quilt, clothing and accessory patterns for the fabric industry and have been a textile designer for MODA fabrics for the last seven years. The quilting side of our company is known for finding simple and straightforward techniques that don’t use templates to create those complicated looking quilt patterns that we all love. We love to make complicated looking quilts that are actually easy to piece! And although piecing is my first love, applique-– the topic of today’s post– is such a wonderful way to add some unique personality to your projects that we love to use it for embellishment whenever we can!

Applique shapes, ready to sew!

I have to admit to you that even though I am not much of a gadget girl, over the years I have fallen in love with a few techniques and shortcuts that I just can’t live without, and this process I’m sharing today is one of them.

For those of you unfamiliar with this word, applique is just the word we use for anything that involves attaching one shape of fabric (or another medium too I guess) on top of another, whether by hand or by machine, with glue or with needle and thread. This is different from piecing, which would be sewing two pieces of fabric together. These are the two basic ways to attach fabric together in the quilting and patchwork process.

At this point in my quilting journey this is my favorite and only method for doing applique. Believe me when I tell you that I have tried most of the other methods out there and there are many of them. Some of them work well for large, simple pieces but no other method works well and gets you good results for both large and intricate shapes with little to no practice. The only thing that you need to do well here is to cut your shape out well.

Most people just refer to this method simply as the Starch Method of Applique.

Step 1: Gather your supplies for starching. There are, of course, a lot of specialty products that might help you in this process if you fall in love with it and want to practice it regularly, but to get you started you will only need five items:

  • Bottle of spray starch
  • Permanent marker
  • Small craft paint brush
  • Freezer paper
  • Iron

The starch and freezer paper are readily available at most grocery or drug stores. For this project, I will use my regular iron but the small craft irons work wonderfully well for applique if you decide you want to do it again!

Step 2: Spray some of the starch into a small container of any kind. You can even use the lid to your starch which is what I usually do, but I have lost the lid to my current bottle so am spraying it into one of favorite little tiny bowls.

Wait for the foam to go away while you prep the rest of your items.

Step 3: Rip off a piece of freezer paper and trace or draw your shape onto the SHINY SIDE of the paper. You will want to get into the habit of doing this if you are going to use this method because it does two things for you. One, it hides the pen lines inside the two pieces (as you will see in a second) and prevents any possible leakage of ink; although I have never had a permanent marker bleed ever, it is a small precaution. Two, it automatically reverses any images that need reversing for the applique process. The leaves we are doing here today are simple and the same whether reversed or not, but often an image will have a definite direction and in various different ways of doing applique there is always confusion as to whether or not the image has been reversed, needs to be traced reversed, etc., etc. If you get into the habit of tracing your image to the shiny side of the first piece of freezer paper, you will always automatically be doing that and you will never need to think about it.

Once you have done that, iron that piece of freezer paper to a second piece, SHINY SIDE TO DULL SIDE. You want the piece that you have created to have one dull side and one shiny side just like a single piece of freezer paper. Yes, this will also press your freezer paper to your ironing board.

Don’t worry and just peel if off the board and it is ready to use. This is one of the best things about using freezer paper– it sticks to whatever you want it to stick to and comes off when you want it to. We use freezer paper for all of our quilting and sewing templates and patterns and love it. We never have to use pins!

Cut the shape out on the line. What you have now is a double-strong (so the edges won’t curl as easily when you are starching), thicker piece of freezer paper that hides your pen marks inside, has reversed your image if necessary and is ready for starching.

Step 4: Place the freezer paper template on the wrong side of a piece of fabric and press to the fabric.

Step 5: Cut the fabric shape out, adding a 1/4” seam allowance all the way around the template as you cut.

Step 6: Using the now “de-foamed” starch and your craft brush, paint some starch on the wrong side of the seam allowance and use the tip of your iron to press that seam allowance back onto the freezer paper shape. Note: Make sure your steam is off!

Be sure you are pressing the fabric all the way onto the freezer paper shape so that your fabric is actually taking on the shape of the paper, otherwise your shape won’t match the shape you cut out.

Use your finger or a stiletto to pull the fabric all the way over the shape. When you get to the corner, press all the way on one side and then turn and repeat on the other side. Personally, on a simple larger piece such as this one I will then press that corner piece back inside and underneath.

If you are doing small, intricate pieces with lots of curves and points, there are other methods for those pesky corners but that is for another day. For this shape, turn that piece under with your iron, adding a bit of starch on it if it is dried and resistant to pressing.

Step 7: Find a “straight away” (meaning not a corner or an inside point of your shape) or a larger section that is more or less straight, and grab the paper and pull it out all with one movement.

Don’t worry about being slow and careful, fast is better in my opinion.

Press the shape one last time from the front after the paper is removed to get a nice, crisp turned edge.

Save the paper template and reuse it as many times as you can before it falls apart. I have sometimes used the same shape 25 times before needing to make a new one!

Step 8: As I’m sure you have noticed, due to the starch, the seam allowances stay put exactly where you pressed them and they will stay that way forever. Well… I guess I can’t claim forever, but I have left them for a few months in a baggie like that and they have not come undone!

You now have an applique shape that is completely turned under and ready for stitching to whatever you had in mind. You can simply pin or glue these onto your quilt, clothing, purse or whatever else you are hoping to embellish with the applique and machine stitch it on. I use a blanket stitch on my machine and love the end result. There are a variety of other stitches on other machines that work equally well, and in a pinch you can even use a small zigzag stitch to attach the applique to your fabric with great results. Play around with your machine and see what works best for you. Or you can hand stitch the shape to your fabric which is what I am doing here today.

Instead of creating a new project I thought I would just take a somewhat used-up pair of my daughter’s brown pants and add a little applique to them to make them cute for the summer. I made four small leaves and four medium size leaves using the method above. I used a combination of my Fig Tree fabrics and some older Amy Butler and Kaffe Fassett fabrics; one of my favorite things to do is to mix my more vintage-flavored fabrics with some of the more modern ones that use the same colors and tones for such a great effect! I glued them up one side of the right pant leg and then stitched them down using neutral thread. I think she will love these when she gets home!

In another post I will show you how I stitch these on by machine and by hand, and show you a few “tricks of the trade” for how to get the best results. I hope this makes applique a bit more doable for some of you out there!

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40 Responses to Easy Applique ~ The Starch Method by Joanna from Fig Tree & Co.

  1. What a great blog and revealing post.

  2. What a lovely blog page. I’ll definitely be back. Please maintain writing!

  3. car audio says:

    I am always searching online for articles that can aid me. Thx!

  4. Rachel says:

    This is a really great blog. Thx to the auther

  5. Cristy says:

    Very clever. I love appliqué, though I have limited experience. This little tidbit looks like a keeper. Thank you.

  6. Jill says:

    can’t wait to see the finished result

  7. Wow, fantastic weblog

  8. Great ideas!! Awesome post. Not to many people realize how valuable this information is. I found your site through Yahoo.

  9. Erika says:

    Great tutorial

  10. Tina says:

    This is just wonderful! I tried appliqué before and ended up frustrated and pulling my hair out – what, I wondered, was WRONG with me…..talk about a humbling (okay crying) experience! Can’t wait to see the tutorial post on the best (easiest) way to attach to my fabric. Thanks again!!!

  11. Chris H says:

    What an excellent tutorial!
    I love applique so will definitely give your starch version a go.

  12. Tommy says:

    That is an excellent method and very well explained. It looks like it has a perfect cut and crisp. This is great of some many applications. Thanks a lot for getting the brain to wake up and try something helpful.

  13. Christine says:

    Great leaves. Can’t wait to see what you’ve got for tomorrow.

  14. Beth T says:

    I’ve heard that starch will eventually attract bugs, that they like to eat the starch. Is that true? I hope not–this looks like a fantastic method of applique!

  15. Deanna says:

    I can’t wait to try this – I always avoid applique because folding under is such a chore!

  16. Jessica says:

    This is a fantastic tutorial. I do lots of applique work but have never worked with spray starch. I was just wondering why it needs to be brushed on instead of sprayed on. Is it just for control of where the starch goes? Thank you for teaching the rest of us your wonderful tricks!

  17. Laurel says:

    Wow! I have always avoided applique because it seemed to be so hard to make it right. This is a great technique! The double freezer tape thing is awesome. Thanks for sharing.


  18. Lisa says:

    I love this tutorial. I tend to shy away from applique, though I’ve got lots of patterns I’d love to do and this is going to help immensely!! I’m going to be making a Hawaiian baby quilt and this technique is going to cut way down on my anxiety levels for the applique portion. Thank you so much for sharing!!!

  19. elsa says:

    great tutorial! this will make doing applique so much easier! thanks so much.

  20. VickiT says:

    AWESOME tutorial Joanna! Thank you so much. I’ve seen other tutorials about applique but none as thorough and with such great pictures as yours. Great job!

  21. Lorraine says:

    Thanks for the tutorial! I haven’t read one in a while where I actually had all the supplies handy. 🙂 I’ll definitely be trying this.

  22. Cinnamon says:

    That is great! Thank you. There seems to be so many ways to applique, but this method seems so very easy compared to others. I will be trying this.

  23. Great tutorial can’t wait to try it!

  24. happy zombie says:

    Joanna rocks my world!

  25. Amanda says:

    Great tips! I tried applique once and it looks absolutely horrible. I’ve always wondered how to get it looking so nice and neat!

  26. Meg says:

    Thank you for such a great tutorial! It was informative, thorough, and read like a conversation with a friend!!

  27. Maman A Droit says:

    Ooh great tips! I definitely need to get some freezer paper…once I think of something to appliqué, lol.

  28. KarenH says:

    That is a fabulous tutorial. I’ve avoided applique because it looks really fiddly, this makes it look do-able. 🙂

  29. jane says:

    Thank you for the tute. I loved the idea of doubling up on the freezer paper, I never thought of doing it and now I can’t wait to try.

  30. Whitney says:

    Thank you so much for this! I’ve been doing some applique with felt(where you dont really have to worry about neat edges) for a while, but have been too scared to try it with fabric- this trick will definitely be something that i try!

  31. all8garden says:

    Great tutorial. Thank you.

  32. Kelly says:

    This is a perfectly wonderful technique! ~Kelly

    unDeniably Domestic

  33. Limor says:

    This is a brilliant idea. I love applique work and this will make my next project so much easier to execute.

  34. amanda says:

    great tutorial – I haven’t really gotten into applique, but this could make a huge difference. 🙂 thank you!

  35. Caren says:

    thank you! I have never heard of this method, but I’m addicted to applique (my friends call me the applique queen – though I’m far from well-versed, obviously!). Thanks so much for sharing!!!!

  36. Cecile says:

    Thank you for this post, it looks easier that most of the applique courses I saw up to now. I want to try ! Those pants look really cute.

  37. Caroline says:

    What a fabulous technique for applique! I adore a crisp edge and nice uniform pieces =) I’ll be picking up a can of starch while running errands this afternoon! Thanks for sharing!

  38. Southern Gal says:

    Thanks so much! Can’t wait to see the next post.

  39. Mhairi says:

    When turning under small things like above I use a cake tester. It has a flat edge and is metal so it doesn’t melt and it has a nice big handle so it is easy to use. Not sure where I got mine from but it is great for detail work. I never thought about using starch – what a great idea. Thanks for sharing.

  40. Rebecca says:

    excellent tutorial!

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