General Introduction to Hand Applique
Applique in quilt making is loads of fun! For me, it is simply addictive! It is visual and easy to make, best of all, it is the most free form creation – virtually anything goes… The following quilt I made using scraps that was started with a simple idea of a tree of life – it started to grow with the colors in my scraps into a stunningly beautiful tree oozing with life! That is the applique I am about to try to talk you into!
Introduction to sewing techniques of hand applique
While the image of your design will emerge with your creativity, a good master of applique sewing techniques are critical to save you from the frustration caused by ‘disobedient or misbehaved’ shapes and seams. This tutorial is about all techniques for Needle turn applique from easy to complex. This complete tutorial is all about the basic techniques no matter what styles and colors you prefer.
Blanket stitch for easy applique:
Blanket stitch is quite decorative way of applique for naive style and thick, soft and stretchy materials. You can use it on iron-on adhesive interfacing with raw edges of motifs or keep the project soft and cuddly (without adhesive) by folding the raw edges of motifs down or simply take advantage of raw edges on the bias of materials that don’t fray.
Tip: One distinctive merit of hand applique (vs. machine applique) is that you can applique before the quilt layers are sandwiched, or before background fabric attached or even after it is all quilted! Applique by hand gives you all the freedom and flexibility to create and sew. Applique is a part of embellishment.
Here I want to introduce a few decorative surface stitching that can be used in the place of Blanket stitch applique or as merely decorative stitches on hand pieced work or needle turn appliqued work that also reinforces your hand pieced work without adhesives.
- Decorative stitching for hand appliqued quilt works: — — — — — 3 back stitches + 3 gaps + 3 back stitches and so on so forth…
2. Decorative stitching for hand appliqued quilt works: — – — – — – — – — three back stitches + 1 gap + 1 back stitch + 1 gap + 3 back stitches and so on so forth…
3. Blanket stitch for hand applique: most suitable for thick and coarse materials, such as wool. Try not to use adhesive or fusible web on the wrong side of the motifs when using thicker needles for decorative threads because accumulated stress from pulling and push thick needles will cause debilitating injury on sewing hands.
The above decorative stitches can also be used on the following layered applique or whole-cloth applique.
Introduction to layers and styles of hand applique
Behind the sophisticated appearance of multi-layered applique (as shown in pictures above) lays bare the simple truth: it is as easy as single layer applique because all applique designs are sewn one piece and one layer at a time no matter how many layers applied in the end. It is that easy!
Applique style is more about the cultures than the techniques. For example, Hawaiian applique has a distinctive style: simple Island motifs spread across a traditional single layer fabric, stitched onto the background fabric. Baltimore Applique Album: meaningful American traditional motifs layout in block style and appliqued in multi-layers.
Guide to basic How-to applique by hand for beginners
Basic tools and materials for applique: The bottom line is hand applique is more enjoyable and least costly as it doesn’t need many tools or materials but a great imagination and a free spirit plus a thorough know-how.
According to your design (whether the layout is a round by round or radius or row by row or block by block) structure, find the centre or centre line, fold your background fabrics accordingly to create landmark guidelines crossways, fold the background fabrics and dry iron the folds. Place your applique motifs according to the reference point you create. This way, you get the most accuracy with least work!
Let’s stop looking at applique, for now, whether it is traditional, or contemporary, original and modern or timeless traditional, multi-layered or whole-cloth applique, beginner level skill required or master level. Just look at it as needle turned applique.
1. Sample of multi-layered needle turn applique in traditional style:
2. Sample of single-layered needle turn applique in whole-cloth design such as Hawaii:
3. Sample of Thimblelady original designs: appearing sophisticated or simple in coloring, skill requirement or simple in layering…
Single or fewer layered applique designs:
Needle turn applique is so easy if you approach and dissect it the Thimblelady way:
Divide it into sewing techniques for seams and understanding the secret of matching fabrics, needles and threads to your applique designs.
The sewing techniques is all about how to handle seams, which includes how to cut seams, needle turn seams under and stitch seams.
Beyond the colors, styles and complexity of needle techniques of the above designs lies the secret of the simple truth: They contain no more than 6 basic shapes. All you need to learn is the secret of needle turn around 6 most basic shapes that make up every image in the whole world of applique!
What are the 6 most basic shapes? In my book Perfect Hand Applique with Thimblelady, I show you everything about seams around the 6 shapes only: convex and concave, point and indent, band and circle. Because these shapes exist in everything you could possibly applique. For example, a leaf is a shape with two convex curves joined at two points. A heart is two convex curves joined by one indent and one point. So once you start to look beyond the actual objects or motifs, all you will see are one or multiple of the shapes joined one onto another.
Knowing how to turn seams around the six basic shapes, Needle-turn applique is to turn seams under with the needle tip in your hand or you are sewing with. Once you know how to handle seams around the above mentioned shapes, you will find needle turn applique dead easy, won’t you?!
Tutorials on the three common applique techniques:
- Blanket stitch for applique
- Decorative stitch for applique
- Needle turn stitch for applique
Tutorial on successful needle-turn applique:
Tip: How to learn better and faster: Focus on learning and practicing turning and stitching SEAMS around the 6 Basic Shapes.
Therefore, I hope you start to feel it is much more manageable than it appeared. I too used to be scared by the enormity and thought I had to applique many tops before I would be any good at it. The Thimblelady way is not applique harder but smarter.
Here is a picture on how to hold a quilt top to applique for the non-sewing hand:
The stitches for needle turn applique is known as blind stitches – meaning the stitches on the surface of the quilt top is so small that you can’t see it “easily”. That is how the needle moves to make “blind” stitches “invisible” to the naked eyes.
Here is how to start and how to finish：
- How o start applique: the following three ways are all permissible now adays.
2. How to end a thread: The picture is of the back of a quilt top – knot and end on the back.
Needle turn Applique stitching：The blind stitching is the same for needle turn applique no matter what color or shape you work on. One stitch at a time using thread color that matches the upper layer fabric. See below, red thread for red fabric on light green background fabric. When stitching the yellow circle onto the red fabric, the thread color should match the yellow fabric as the yellow circle is the upper layer. Change your threads as you applique.
Turning seams around a point: The sewing/stitching is the same as explained earlier. The key is how to fold seams:
For right handed sewer, fold the seam on the right first. For left handed, fold the seam on the left first. Sewing towards the point of the shape please. The rest is the same.
The following view is looking at the fold from the wrong side. This is folding seam first on the right side of the tip of the pointy shape.
The following picture shows the complete folds of a point shape from the wrong side of fabric. In practice, one should turn seams with your needle under on one side (right side for right-handed and left side for left-handed) of a point shape before blind stitch the fold down till the point. Then turn the seam of the other side of the point shape down and stitch.
Needle turn an indentation:
Seams around all indentations and concave shapes should get one or more vertical clip(s) to ease the seams. Clip(s) should be made right to the marked fold line. See picture below.
Blind stitch towards the apex of the indentation. Pause when your needle has one or two more stitches before reaching the apex.
Fold the seams on the opposite side of the apex as shown below. Do not touch the short seams at the clip of the apex with your needle tip or fingers. All threads tails and frays will turn automatically with the rest of the fabrics if you turn the big piece down under. When you see all seams went down as show below, Use your non-sewing thumb to press onto the apex. continue to stitch towards the apex until you have one stitch made just beyond the apex. Make a double stitch at the same spot. This is an important tip to make indentations remain a V instead of turning it into a U.
Take the over folded part out as shown below. If seams on the left side of the apex remain folded under, it is perfect and stitch the rest of the heart. If seams on the left side came out with the rest of the shape, then fold the shape back as it was and add a tiny stitch from where you made the double stitch until the seam on the left side remain under when you pull the rest of the shape out back into a full heart.
Tip: Cut out the extra under layer as you applique to prevent your work wrinkly from too much over stitching of layers.
Tip: if you ever get a wrinkly surface, do some easy “spot stuffing” to puff the wrinkles out:
Step 1: Cut along the bias of the background fabric under the wrinkly piece.
Step 2： Insert/Stuff soft batting bits into the open cut:
Step 3: Tacking stitch it close! It is that simple!
For sharp points, steep indents or fine lines (2mm width) and a circle as tiny as a pin head and finer lines like in my quilt below, get Thimblelady’s tell-all how to ebook （Newly revised version 2017) and DVD on needle turn applique! It is great fun! I can’t wait to share.