Hi Readers! If you have followed me for any amount of time, you know one of the things I like to do is needle-turn hand appliqué. Early on when I began designing quilts, I would always feel like something was missing until I added an appliqué motif. At times I have to force myself to design a pieced only quilt, because I know not everyone is as passionate about appliqué as I am.
My aim in talking about appliqué in the upcoming blog posts and teaching people this technique is to dispel the myth that it’s difficult. I hope with my tips and advice, you decide to try it if appliqué has been a stumbling block for you in the past.
Here’s some of the things you can create!
These are beautiful pieced quilts on their own, but I think the appliqué adds even more beauty!
I do all my appliqué by hand however, you can do appliqué by machine! 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.
Supplies and Preparation
This post will familiarize you with the supplies I recommend and the prep work that you need to do when doing hand appliqué. This is only what I recommend. There will be other appliqué teachers recommending different supplies and tips. I say, 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. I recommend you 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 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 thread to the appliqué piece color. We’ll talk about color matching in a later post.
Other Tools: Here are two other items I can’t live without. Roxanne’s Glue Baste-it and Sewline brand marking pencils.
I was so happy when this glue came on the market! 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 marking shows up on all colors of fabric. It’s erasable and completely disappears with a bit of water on a Q-tip.
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: Time to move onto the first steps when beginning to appliqué. Most patterns will have their templates printed right on the pattern pages (left). I recommend copying those pages onto card stock and cutting out the templates to make them sturdier.
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.
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 1/4″ between tracings if you are tracing several shapes on a 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 with no seam 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″ 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 your clips should be and there should be more clips than you would have on a straight side of an appliqué piece.
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, I will give you tips on laying out the motif and stitching.
I’m also giving away a prize package at the end of this series for those of you who comment and/or ask questions each week. I will have a drawing a week after the last installment on 1/9/23. You will get a pattern, a pack of appliqué needles, glue and a small scissors set!
The drawing will be on Monday, January 9, 2023. **We have a winner. Congrats, Debbie Toth!**