Appliqué is technique that quilters use to apply one or more fabric shapes to another piece of fabric. Depending on the look you are going for, the fabric can be attached by machine stitching, hand stitching or with an iron-on fusible web. Applique is a versatile technique that has been used in many cultures and throughout history. By learning the uses and how-tos of appliqué, you will expand the possibilities of the types of quilting and design options you can accomplish.
The first step in learning appliqué is to select a design. Small, intricate shapes are harder to work with and will not work well for this technique when you are first learning. You should start with a simple shape for your beginning appliqué project. Choose something basic like a circle or heart for your first attempt.
Many quilters choose freezer paper to create a pattern for their appliqué design because it is stiff without being too thick. Trace your design onto the freezer paper and cut it out. This will allow you to easily trace the shape onto the fabric you have selected for your applique design.
After you have traced the shape onto the fabric, carefully cut out the appliqué design. Make sure you leave an 1/8th inch seam allowance all the way around the shape. To stabilize the appliqué, you can either glue or pin the freezer paper to the fabric design.
The most important step in applique is to learn how to finish the raw edges around your design so they will not start to fray, unravel or be unsightly. This is also the most difficult step in applique since the fabrics are being layered atop one another instead of being pieced together as with traditional quilting.
The easiest way to do this is by using your scissors to carefully snip from the edge of the fabric down to the marked seam allowance all around the design. You will then want to press the seam allowance under with your iron all the way around your design. Using the tip of a Popsicle stick or a chopstick will help you to smooth the little edges of fabric down without burning your fingers with the iron.
After turning the edges under, you will need to position the appliqué design where you want it on the base fabric. There are several possibilities for stitching your appliqué. You will need to decide if you want to hide the stitches or use them as a decorative element for your appliqué. If you want to hide the stitching, using a blind stitch or hem stitch are good possibilities. You can also use an iron-on fusible web instead of any type of stitching.
For decorative touches, try buttonhole stitching or satin stitching. You can also use any embroidery stitch that strikes your fancy, but with some of the more complicated stitches it's a good idea to anchor your appliqué with a hem stitch first.
Once you have your applique sewn into place, you will want to very carefully cut a small slit in the background fabric only, behind the appliqué. Make sure you do not cut through the appliqué itself! After the slit is cut, gently reach in and remove the freezer paper from the back of the applique. Then turn your appliquéd fabric over and press it by smoothing the edges. Take care and be gentle if you've used a decorative embroidery stitch so you do not pull the thread.
You have now completed your first applique project. Although applique is not a difficult technique to learn, you will now be able to add professional looking designs to all your quilting projects.