Quilting tips for Applique

Applique for Beginners:

Quilting tips for Applique  a sewing technique in which pieces of fabric are sewn down on a base fabric. The fabric edges are normally folded over and stitched to the base fabric by using different types of stitches, sometimes visible but often times sewn so that the fabric applied to the base appears to be part of it by the use of invisible stitches. Appliqué can be sewn down by hand, by machine and fused to the base fabric using fusible webbing.

Alongside pieced work (patchwork), appliqué is a technique used extensively to make quilt tops. It appears in early American quiltsQuilting tips for Appliqué from the 18th century as “broderie perse”, in which large designs from printed fabric are cut and sewn down to a quilt top. Baltimore Album quilts from the 19th century are probably the best known examples of appliqué quilts and the pinnacle of style and workmanship for this technique. The quilt revival that took place during the decade of the 30’s in the 20th century brought back this technique in patterns such as Sunbonnet Sue and Sam, Dresden Plate or the famous floral patterns published in the Kansas City Star newspaper. Contemporary quilters continue using appliqué in their quilts, whether by using traditional patterns or modern free form appliqué. Art quilts incorporate this technique alongside piecing, fabric painting and other resources.

In a category of its own, appliqué is used in Hawaiian quilts. These quilts are unique in that they use a symmetrical stylized floral design that covers the entire quilt top. The snowflake-like designs are applied to the background fabric by using invisible stitches. The base fabric is normally white and the colors of the applied designs are bold.

There are many techniques to appliqué a quilt block, so it might seem daunting for a beginner to tackle their first appliquéd project. The best way to start appliquéing is by choosing a simple block pattern with gentle curves. Bigger pieces are easier to cut and stitch down than smaller ones. A great pattern for a beginner to practice could be as simple as a heart. Draw or print a large heart to fit within a six inch square. Draw the square with the heart centered on it.

Gather the tools you will need. To start practicing hand appliqué, you will need the following:

  • A simple pattern. There are plenty of free patterns on the web to choose from. Remember, big pieces, few pieces, gentle curves. Children’s coloring book designs are suitable as beginner patterns.
  • Lightbox. Not a must, but a nice tool to have. It can be a simple as a piece of glass with a lamp underneath. It will be used to make it easier to trace the pattern to the background fabric. Masking tape is handy to have to hold the pattern to the glass on the lightbox.
  • Marking utensils. A mechanical pencil will do, but it is best to use a washable quilting marking pen. A sharp chalk pencil might be necessary if marking on dark fabrics.
  • Template material. Depending on how many times you will be appliquéing the shape, you can choose to use template plastic, cardboard or freezer paper.
  • Background fabric. You will need to cut a background square the size of the quilt block plus the size of the fabricQuilting tips for  Appliqué allowances (1/2 extra inch) and a little more. If your block is six inches finished, your background should be six and a half inches plus a little more, perhaps seven or seven and a half inches. When appliquéing, the background fabric can shrink a little, so it’s better to trim the block to size after all the pieces are stitched down than to end up with a block that’s too small and needs to be eased in. Generally, background fabric for appliqued blocks is plain (non-printed) or tone on tone, as not to detract from the applied fabrics and the pattern
  • Fabric for the pieces to be appliquéd. Scraps or fat eighths and fat quarters are useful for cutting the pieces to be sewn down. Either prints or solids can be used. Prints tend to hide mistakes a little better, so they might be a better choice for a beginner.
  • Cotton thread. Thin cotton thread, 60 weight. Silk is too slippery for a beginner, cotton thread blends with the fabric and stitches made with a thin thread tend to disappear easily into the fabric. The color of the thread should match the color of the fabric being stitched down, not the background fabric.
  • Hand sewing needle. A long thin needle is the best choice. Buy sharps or straw (milliners) needles in a size that feels comfortable to you.
  • Pins. To hold the pieces to be applied to the background fabric, small sharp pins are needed.
  • Sharp small scissors. Needed to cut the fabric shapes and to clip curves and inner curves if the pattern has them. Never use fabric scissors to cut any other material, so a pair of scissors to cut paper is also needed. Background fabric can be cut with either scissors or a rotary cutter.
  • Iron and ironing board.

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