Happy summer to my blog readers! I am going to be traveling the next few weeks, so I thought I would present my three-part needle-turn hand appliqué series for fabric appliqué. I know many people are afraid of that “A” word, but I think it’s just because they haven’t had good instruction. Of course once you learn the technique, the keys to good appliqué are to practice and to not be too hard on yourself while you are learning. If you are always criticizing your stitching, you’ll become discouraged and quit before you’ve had enough practice.
I do all my appliqué by hand however, you can do appliqué by machine too. I do not do or teach the machine appliqué technique very well, so I am not your resource for that. If you are interested in the machine appliqué technique, do a Google search and you will find many designers that specialize in this type of appliqué. So come along and let’s get started with the supplies and preparation you need to do for an appliqué project.
Supplies and Preparation
This week, I will talk about the supplies I recommend and the prep work that needs to be done before doing hand appliqué. This is only what I recommend. Other appliqué teachers may recommend different supplies and tips. Feel free to try them all and see what works best for you.
Needles: These are an essential tool for hand appliqué. Finding the right needle for you is important. These are my favorite brand, John James Gold ‘n Glide:
These needles come in various lengths. The higher the number, the shorter the needle. I like size 9 because I feel it’s the right length for me. Test different size needles to see which length fits you best. I’ve also found that this brand of needle glides easier through all types of fabric, including batiks. This is something you need to consider. If you have trouble getting your needle to go through the edge of your appliqué because you are not using a good needle, that will make appliqué process more frustrating.
Also, change your needle often if you appliqué a lot. Needles will bend out of shape and also become dull with usage. A good rule of thumb is to use a new needle every time you start a new project. Another piece of advice is change your needle for every 10 hours of use, which could happen if you are working on a large project.
Threads: This is actually where a lot of designers have different advice. My favorite thread to use is a 100% cotton thread. Here’s some of the threads I use:
I like Mettler brand 50 wt, 100% cotton with a silk finish. The silk finish helps it to glide through the fabric easier and there are a lot of different colors if you like to match your threads to the color of each appliqué piece. Some people doing appliqué prefer to use silk thread but I find those to be too thin for my liking. We’ll talk about color matching in a later post.
I love this glue because it replaced the pins I needed to secure my appliqué pieces. I’ve been doing hand appliqué for almost 30 years and have had many finger sticks from appliqué pins over those years. As for the Sewline marking pencil, this is a mechanical type pencil with chalk lead. The lead comes in a variety of colors (white, pink, green, and yellow) so the markings show up on all colors of fabric. It’s erasable and completely disappears with a bit of water on a Q-tip. The glue is also water soluble so the Q-tip trick will work to get rid of any glue residue that ends up on your background fabric.
Good Lighting: Finally, good lighting is essential when you are doing hand appliqué. If you want to keep your stitches as small as possible so they are almost invisible, you need to have good light to see and, in some cases, a magnifier on that light. I have a desk top light and a floor light, for when I am sewing in my TV chair.
Other items like scissors (both for fabric and paper) for working with templates and appliqué pieces and rulers for positioning appliqués come in handy.
Templates: The first thing to learn about when beginning to appliqué is templates: what they are and how to work with them. Templates are what you use to create the units of an appliqué motif. Some patterns may come with already prepared, die-cut templates but most patterns will have the templates printed on the pattern pages (left photo, below) for you. I recommend copying those pages onto card stock and cutting out the templates to make them sturdier. That’s what I did with the templates on the right, below.
It’s a good idea to make these templates more sturdy so when you are tracing the shapes onto the fabric, the templates don’t lose their shape from repeated use. You can also store the reusable templates in the pattern bag with the pattern for when you want to make the project again.
Tracing: The next step is to trace your shapes onto the fabric for the appliqué piece, using the templates. For needle-turn appliqué, the templates are traced on the right side of the fabric. Templates are usually ready to use as is from the pattern, however, some patterns will tell you to also trace a template “reversed” which just means to flip it over and trace some that way. This usually happens with non-symmetrical shapes.
My example below shows the method I use. Trace around the template and leave at least 1/2″ between tracings if you are tracing several of the same shape on the same piece of fabric. For needle-turn appliqué, you need this space to cut out the shapes with enough fabric to turn under while stitching, as opposed to machine appliqué technique that requires no seam for turn-under.
Preparing the Appliqué for Stitching: Next step after tracing is to cut out the shapes and prepare them for stitching to the quilt top. Cut the shapes out about 1/8″ to a scant 1/4″ outside the drawn line. This creates the seam allowance that is turned under when stitching. Then, you will use your scissors to clip into the seam allowance up to, but not over, the drawn line (last two photos).
The clips in the seam allowance make it easier to turn under the seam and keep the original shape of the appliqué piece. The curvier an area of the appliqué piece, the closer together your clips should be and there should be more clips than you would have on a straight side.
So, this is it for this week. Below, I have a link to part 1 of my appliqué mini video tutorial series that covers the things I talked about today.
Next week, my post will cover laying out the motif and stitching. I’m giving away a prize package at the end of this series that includes my pattern, Winterberry Glow, as well as some appliqué supplies pictured below.
Leave a comment or ask a question below and you will be entered into this drawing! The winner will be chosen from all the commenters over the next three weeks and the will be announced on Monday, July 17th. **We have a winner! Congrats, Mary Borocz!**