Appliqué Quilting: A Brief How-To

Posted by Kevin Gunter on

Originating from the French word appliquer, appliqué means to “put on.” It is a quilting basic technique that includes cutting pieces of fabric of various designs, sizes, and shapes and sewing them onto a background material. Appliqué quilting expresses a quilter’s artistic potentials and yields beautiful, pictographic quilts. However, some quilters often think that appliquéing is so hard a technique and therefore should be left to the master quilters. How afraid they are to try their hand on it. The truth is, appliquéing is not as difficult as people imagine. It is quite easy to learn and, if mastered, opens so many creative quilting possibilities.

So how do you exactly make appliqués? Here’s how:

  1. Prepare the design pattern. You can do this by tracing the design you want on to a freezer paper using a marker. Note that you have to draw the reverse side of the design. Then, cut out the pattern. Do not add a seam allowance.

  2. Place the shiny side of the cut-out freezer paper on the wrong side of the fabric. Next, press it with a hot iron. Take note: press. Do not slide the iron over the freezer paper. Note that the freezer paper will adhere to the fabric, but it can be peeled off easily.

  3. Cut out the fabric following the pattern of the freezer paper. Make a seam allowance of about 1/8 to1/4 inch. Then, fold the seam allowance over the edges of the pattern. If you are dealing with curves, you have to notch the allowance all the way around to make smooth, rounded curves. Again, press the seam allowance. After which, remove the freezer paper.

  4. Begin sewing the appliqué pieces to the background fabric. Remember to first sew the bigger pieces onto which you will lay and stitch the smaller pieces. For example, if you are doing a butterfly appliqué, first stitch the wings, then follow it with the body. You have to keep a stitching order in attaching appliqué pieces.

  5. Make small stitches. Whether you do hand or machine appliqué, it is important to make small stitches because they prove to be stronger and less visible in the quilt. You can use several kinds of stitches in appliqués, although the most widely used is blind stitch. If you are using a machine, you can do zigzag stitch, satin stitch, among others.

  6. Be careful with curves. Approaching curves is relatively easy when hand-sewing. It can be quite a concern, though, when using a machine. To perfectly machine-stitch curves, decrease your speed, make a few stitches, then put the needle down and slightly reposition the fabric. Doing so will avoid gaps in between stitches. Make fewer stitches and do more fabric repositioning as you approach tighter curves.
Your first attempt at appliqué quilting may not produce your desired result. But don’t be disheartened; rather keep this as your motivation to do better each time you do appliqué. Before you begin with actual appliquéing, it would help to get a few scraps and practice your stitching. What you need to watch out for are puckered background, uneven stitches, and sloppy appliqué pieces.

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