Hand Appliqué Any Fabric Project to Give It Some Extra Pop

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If you want to sew a dimensional design onto a quilt, pillow or any other sewing project — and you don't want anyone to see those stitches — hand appliqué is the technique for you. Once you nail the basic stitching, you'll be able to add any creation, be it a simple shape or a more complex pieced block like a Dresden plate .

Good to Know

There are actually two ways to hand appliqué. One uses a needle to fold under the raw edges of the shape while you stitch it to your fabric; the other uses freezer paper to create a hem before you stitch the appliqué to your fabric. Try both of these easy tutorials and see which method you prefer!

Hand Appliqué: The Needle-Turn Method

In this method, you turn the raw edges of your appliqué pieces underneath as you work. This eliminates a lot of prep time that the freezer paper method requires.

What You Need

  • Background fabric
  • Embroidery scissors
  • Straw needles (size 10 or 11 work well)
  • Appliqué pins or appliqué glue (such as Appli-Glue or Glue-Baste )
  • Thread (to match your appliqué pieces)
  • Fabric marker
  • Stiletto or toothpick (optional)
  • Template plastic

Instructions

1. Create Your Template

Before beginning, you need to create templates for each shape you want to hand appliqué. The templates should be traced from the pattern as exactly as possible. You can make the templates from template plastic — simply trace the pattern onto the plastic and cut out.

2. Cut Out Your Appliqué

Using a fabric pencil or water-soluble marking tool that contrasts with your appliqué fabric, trace your template onto the right side of the appliqué fabric. You want to be able to see this outline easily when you’re sewing on your appliqué.

Cut out the shape with a sharp pair of scissors, leaving ¼" extra fabric on the outside of the traced design. (This is the fabric you'll turn under to create a finished edge.) Repeat for all the appliqués you have.

3. Attach Your Pieces to Background Fabric

For some designs, you can simply place the pieces where you want them; others require meticulous placement. Refer to your pattern instructions for how to mark your background fabric to ensure the pieces are appliquéd in the correct spots.

Once you determine where you will place your pieces, attach them to your background fabric using a few dots of appliqué glue or appliqué pins.

Pro Tip

Place the glue or pins in the center of your pieces. Avoid putting glue or pins near the edges, as this is where you'll be stitching.

4. Start Hand Stitching

Thread and knot your needle. Use your fingers to fold under the edges of a short section of your appliqué piece (along the marked line). Bring your needle up from the bottom of your background fabric, through the folded edge of your appliqué piece. Stitch straight down into your background fabric and bring the needle back up, again grabbing the folded edge of your appliqué.

Continue working as such, making your stitches as close to the folded edge as possible (and no more than ¼” apart).

5. Turn and Stitch Around Your Piece

As you continue to stitch around your piece, use your needle to turn under the edges of your appliqué one small portion at a time. Once you finish stitching an area, turn under another section.

You may find it helpful to use a stiletto or toothpick to turn under the edges, especially at corners where the fabric is more bulky. Continue until you have finished hand sewing your appliqué piece to the background fabric.


Hand Appliqué: The Freezer Paper Method

Some prefer to hand appliqué pieces that already have all of the raw edges turned under. This requires more prep work, but allows you to sew the appliqué pieces without having to worry about continually turning under the edges.

What You Need

  • Background fabric
  • Embroidery scissors
  • Straw needles (size 10 or 11 work well)
  • Appliqué pins or appliqué glue (such as Appli-Glue or Glue-Baste )
  • Thread (to match your appliqué pieces)
  • Fabric marker
  • Freezer paper
  • Spray starch
  • Small paintbrush
  • Iron

Instructions

1. Cut out Your Pieces

Trace your pattern onto the freezer paper. Cut your pattern from the freezer paper, leaving about ⅜” around all of the edges.

Iron the shiny side of that piece of freezer paper to the dull side of another piece. (Be careful not to let the surface of the iron touch the shiny side of the paper.) Cut around the edges of your double-layered freezer paper template.

Iron the shiny side of your template to the wrong side of your appliqué fabric. Cut out around the edges, leaving ¼" excess fabric all around.

Good to Know

You’ll need to reverse your pattern pieces when using the freezer paper method, unless otherwise stated on your pattern.

2. Fold and Press the Edges

Use a small brush to paint starch on all of the exposed edges of your fabric. Use your iron to press the edges of your fabric over the edges of the freezer paper template, creating an appliqué shape with a finished edge.

Let your pieces cool, then remove the freezer paper. You may need to iron your piece again to perfect the shape. Repeat these steps for any additional appliqué pieces.

3. Place and Stitch

Determine where you want to place your appliqué, then attach your pieces to the background fabric using a few dots of appliqué glue or appliqué pins.

Pro Tip

Place the glue or pins in the center of your pieces. Avoid putting glue or pins near the edges, as this is where you'll be stitching.

Thread and knot your needle. Bring your needle up from the bottom of your background fabric, through the edge of your appliqué piece. Stitch straight down into your background fabric and bring the needle back up, again grabbing the edge of your appliqué.

Continue working as such, making your stitches as close to the edge as possible (and no more than ¼” apart). Repeat until you have finished hand sewing your appliqué piece to the background fabric.

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Hand Appliqué Any Fabric Project to Give It Some Extra Pop