My Applique Method

Before we jump into my hybrid Apliquck method, I would like to talk about a couple of other issues that are important to me before I begin the actual applique process.  The first of these is the background fabric. 

Neutral Tone-on-Tones are always classic applique backgrounds

Personally, I dislike a plain, solid background.  While I don’t want the background fighting with the applique for attention, I think a plain, solid background (unless your applique block is super-small), is kind of boring.  I either like my background pieced from similar-colored fabric or I use a white-on-white, white-on-ecru, ecru-on-ecru or other small print. I may even use another colored background altogether.  

These Tone-on-Tone pastels would make striking backgrounds for either piecing or applique

It just makes the block a little more interesting.  Once I cut out my background fabric at least an inch larger than the required unfinished  size, I draw a line with a Frixion pen down the center of the block, both horizontally and vertically. 

Then I draw lines diagonally from corner to corner.  If there’s a chance that I will iron the block and erase the marks, I will set my sewing machine to a basting stitch and sew across all of the lines.  I then mark my pattern in the same manner.  These lines will help me center and place my applique pieces correctly.

The second issue to deal is to prewash or not.  I get asked this question quite a bit in the applique classes and workshops I give.  It’s still kind of a hot-button issue for a lot of quilters believe me, I’ve seen near fights break out over this in guild meetings.   I’m going to answer this question here the same way I answer it in my classes and workshops:  I’m a prewasher.  There usually isn’t a piece of fabric that goes into any of my quilts that hasn’t been prewashed, line dried, ironed, and set with Best Press or starch.  Yes, this is the way I was taught, but most of all it eliminates any worries about crocking, bleeding, or uneven shrinkage.  For me, it’s worth the effort not to have to worry about any of that by simply throwing the fabric in the washer as soon as it comes through my front door.  However, for applique I do not prewash the background fabric.  I will explain why I don’t a little later.

And I also know that many of my readers are not prewashers.  So let me give a few words of caution at this juncture.  If you’re constructing a wall hanging or mini quilt that’s probably not ever going to see the inside of a washing machine, it truthfully doesn’t matter whether you prewash or not.  Nothing is going to get wet, so there will be no bleeding or crocking, or uneven shrinking.  All those quilts will do is look pretty.  But….

If you’re making a quilt that may at any point in time be washed, it’s a good idea to prewash all the fabric, except the background fabric.  This not only prevents bleeding; it eliminates any uneven shrinking.  Uneven shrinkage occurs when some of the fabrics have been prewashed and others have not.  With hand applique, uneven shrinkage can cause the pieces to wrinkle and even pull away from the background.  Yes, it’s an extra step.  Yes, fabrics that are manufactured today are much better than ones made years ago, so shrinkage is minimal.  But my train of thought is this:  Why risk it?  It would make me sick to my stomach to put in all the time and effort a hand appliqued quilt would take and then have it come to some catastrophe (big or little) in the washing machine. 

Now let’s discuss the way that I applique.  It’s kind of a hybrid version of Apliquick – I use that basic method and then throw in a couple of my own ideas to make it work for me. 

Here’s what you’ll need:

Background fabric cut at least one inch larger than the required unfinished size

Batting (more on this later)


Fabric for applique pieces

Apliquick tools or orange sticks

Water-soluble glue stick (more about this later)

Small iron (My favorites are the Clover mini-iron or the Black and Decker travel iron)

Applique foundation paper (more about this later)

Thread (more about this later)

Water-soluble basting glue (more about this later)

Dritz liquid stitch  (more on this later)

Spray starch (not Best Press)

Fine grit sandpaper

Clip Board

Hard pressing surface (more on this later)

Stapler and staple remover

Needles (more on this later)

Fabric and paper scissors (more on the fabric scissor end of this later)

Wet wipes to keep your fingers clean

Tudor Rose and Ribbon on Foundation Paper
  1.  The first step in my applique process is to trace the pattern pieces onto the applique foundation paper or freezer paper.  If you’re trying to decide about my method and don’t want to sink money into the applique foundation paper just yet, freezer paper is a good starting point.  You will probably want to iron two layers of freezer paper together to make the foundation piece a little sturdier.  And unlike the applique foundation paper, the freezer paper will have to be removed before sewing the applique piece to the background fabric.  In either case, if the pattern is not symmetrical or the directions do not state the pattern is already reversed, you will need to trace the pattern from the backside.  This is where a light box really comes in handy.  If you have to make multiple pieces of the same part of the pattern, trace the pattern onto one sheet of the freezer paper or applique foundation paper.  Then staple several pieces of the freezer paper or foundation paper together with the traced pattern on top and cut.  This way you won’t have to make multiple tracings.  Cut out the pieces on the drawn line.  If the applique foundation paper is fusible, be sure to draw on the dull side of the paper.
Making sure the foundation pieces are adhered to the wrong side of the fabric is important.
  •  Working with the fabric is the second step.  If you’ve pre-washed your fabric, you may need to put a little sizing or starch back into it to give it a some body.  While a “stiff” fabric is difficult to use with this method, a “limp” fabric is just as awkward.  It needs to be somewhere in the middle.  If you’re using fusible applique foundation paper, read the directions that come with it to make sure you use the correct heat setting on your iron.  Press the foundation paper to the wrong side of the fabric.  If you’re using freezer paper, a dab of basting glue or glue stick can be used to hold it in place on the wrong side of the fabric.  Remember, freezer paper will have to be removed before appliqueing the piece to the background.  You don’t want to fight to get it out, and too much glue will make you struggle.  This can cause the piece to lose its shape. 

If the foundation paper is not fusible, apply glue from the glue stick to the piece and then use your iron to heat set the piece to the wrong side of the fabric.  Foundation paper does not have to be removed before hand stitching the piece down, so this method can be used for non-fusible applique foundation paper. 

My fabric margins are generally scant 1/4-inch. The smaller the piece, the smaller I make the margins to reduce bulk.
  •  Cut out the pieces, leaving about a ¼-inch fabric margin around them.  As you get more proficient with this method, you may decide smaller margins work better for you, but begin with a ¼-inch margin.  You can always trim it a bit if the piece begins to feel too bulky.  Remember if the pattern piece has curves or points, placing the pattern on the bias will make it easier to obtain smooth curves and sharp points.
  •  Now we move to prepping the applique pieces.  Personally, I discovered a long time ago that a nice Netflix binge works well with this step.  When you’re prepping hundreds of leaves or circles, it’s nice to have something to watch as you move through this step. 
I apply the glue to the paper. That’s my preference, but do what works best for you. If you’d rather apply it to the fabric, the quilt police are not going to show up at your door.

Take a sheet of the fine-grit sandpaper and put it on your clipboard.  This will help keep your applique piece from sliding around as you turn the edges under.  You also will want to heat up your mini or travel iron at this point.  Lay your pattern piece on the sandpaper with the foundation paper or freezer paper side facing up.  Grab your glue stick and your Apliquick tools or orange sticks.  At this point, you will begin to apply the glue in order to turn that  ¼-inch fabric margin over the freezer or foundation paper.  So now we need to discuss whether to apply the glue to the fabric or the paper.  This is kind of a personal preference.  I have applique friends that apply it to the fabric.  I apply it to the paper.  I do it this way because to me this is easier.  I have found that if I put the glue on the fabric and have to reposition it, sometimes I need to apply more glue.  The more glue that ends up on the fabric, the “gummier” the material gets and then it becomes difficult to work with.  Not so much with the paper.  If the glue simply dries on the paper, so if you need to apply more of it, it doesn’t matter.  Putting the glue on the paper doesn’t affect the fabric as much as applying the glue directly to the material.  And if the applique pattern piece is large, I don’t apply the glue all at once.  I will do smaller sections at a time. 

Clip the curves after the glue is applied to either the foundation paper or the fabric.

Whether you decide to apply the glue to the fabric or the paper, clip the curves after the glue is applied. Clipping works better after the glue is put on in either circumstance.  

Wrong side of applique piece after the edges are turned under….
Right side of applique piece. Notice the nice, smooth edges.
  •  At this point, it’s time to press the edges of the fabric over the paper.  If it’s a large applique piece, your fingers may work better (and faster) than anything else.  If you’re using the Apliquick tools, use the forked stick to hold the pattern piece in place and the other stick to turn the edges over the paper.  If you’re using orange sticks (cuticle sticks), use one to hold the pattern piece and the other to turn the edges over.  This takes a little time to get the feel of, but once you’ve begun to master the technique, it moves really quickly.  Try to smooth out any lumps or irregular bumps as you go.  Sometimes this means prying the fabric loose and repeating the process.  Once the applique piece meets your satisfaction, if you’re using applique foundation paper, use a mini or travel iron and the hard pressing surface to heat set the edges in place.  If you’re using freezer paper, remove the paper, tidy up the edges of the fabric if you need to, and then heat set. 
  •  Now it’s time to position your applique pieces to the background.  There are several different ways this can be done.  You can make a transparent overlay out of clear vinyl.  If the background fabric is light, you lay the pattern diagram over a lightbox, then lay the background fabric on top of the pattern so you can see where all the pieces should go and use this to lay your pieces out.  Or, if you’re like me, and have more than several years of applique under your quilting belt, you may opt to simply “eyeball” it and lay it out. 
  • Once you’re satisfied with your applique placement, now is the time to adhere the applique pieces to the background fabric so you can stitch them.  Some appliquers will pin their pieces into place and then stitch.  I find pins allow the pieces to “wiggle” out of place too much and the thread catches around the heads of the pins – even applique pins.  Some quilters will pin their applique pieces in place and then thread baste them down, remove the pins, and then stitch.  This works well if you’ve used freezer paper and have removed it before stitching. However, I find it’s a little difficult to work a needle through the fabric and applique paper.  I glue baste my pieces in place with basting glue.  Basting glue is different from glue stick.  Basting glue will hold longer than glue stick, and since you will be handling the block quite a bit, you will need that better adhesive quality.  Basting glue will wash out, and it’s important to use just enough to hold the piece into place – don’t coat the back of the applique piece.  This will leave it feeling stiff and difficult to hand stitch.
  • Once every piece is glued into place, I let my block set for 24-hours before I begin to stitch.  This allows me to be sure that the glue has had time to dry.  If there are lots of layers in the applique, I will lightly press the piece with a dry, hot iron before stitching. 

And that’s it.  That’s the way I hand applique. Earlier, when I listed all the supplies needed to use my applique technique, I mentioned that several of the items I would give more detail on a bit later.  I will do that with next week’s blog.

Until next week, Quilt with Passion!

Love and Stitches,

Sherri and Sam

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