Appliqué is a quilting technique which involves applying layering one fabric above another and sewing it on. The term appliqué comes from the French word appliquer, which is a French verb meaning “to put on.” Even though the word comes from the French, the technique has been used in many cultures and throughout history, with the earliest examples of appliqué being found thousands of years ago. Learning the uses and how-tos of appliqué will expand the possibilities of quilting enormously for you. Appliqué is a versatile technique which is useful for design options regular quilting can’t accomplish.
The first step in learning appliqué is selecting a design. Small, intricate shapes will not work well for this technique, at least not when you are first learning. Start with a simple shape for your beginning appliqué project. Something basic like a circle or heart will serve you well for your first attempt. In order to create a pattern for your appliqué design, many people choose freezer paper, because it is stiff without being too thick. Trace your design onto the freezer paper and cut it out and then you can easily trace your appliqué onto the fabric you’ve selected cotton is a good choice). Next, carefully cut the appliqué design out, leaving 1/8th inches all around.
In order to stabilize the appliqué, you can either glue the freezer paper to the fabric design, or pin it. Now you will have to deal with the raw edges. Since the fabrics are being layered atop one another, as opposed to being sewn in seams as with traditional quilting, it’s very important to learn to finish the raw edges so they won’t unravel and be unsightly. One way to do this is to take your scissors and carefully snip to the marked line and then press the seam allowance under all the way around your design. Use the tip of a Popsicle stick or a chopstick to help smooth the little edges of fabric down.
Now position the appliqué design where you want it on the base fabric and hand stitch it down. There are several possibilities for stitching your appliqué. Do you want to hide the stitches or use it as a decorative element for your appliqué? If you want to hide the stitching, blind stitch or hem stitch are good possibilities. For decorative touches, try buttonhole stitching. You can 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.
The last step is to very carefully cut a small slit in the background fabric only, behind the appliqué. Be certain not to cut through the appliqué itself! Then gently reach in and remove the freezer paper. Now turn your appliqué over and press it, smoothing the edges and taking care if you’ve used a decorative embroidery stitch. That’s it! That’s how easy it is to learn to appliqué. Once you’ve tried your hand at appliqué, you will be glad you’ve added it to your quilting repertoire.