Baltimore style appliqué quilt sewn by Lynda Shinner to raise funds for a charity
Baltimore style appliqué quilt sewn by Lynda Shinner to raise funds for a charity

The technique is ideal for pictorial or natural images, which involve curved or flowing designs, or intricate detail, which would be difficult to achieve in pieced patchwork. Appliqué designs can be sewn in blocks - traditional block quilts using complex appliqué designs are called Baltimore Album quilts, or as an overall design. Appliqué can be sewn by hand or machine in a variety of ways.

Working with templates

If working with templates, you should check whether or not they include a seam allowance. If they do, you should draw around the template and cut out on the line. Any seams should be sewn 1/4in from the line, unless indicated otherwise. If no seam allowance is included, draw around the template, then cut 1/4in outside the line. More experienced quilters can judge this allowance by eye. Beginners may find using a Quilter's Quarter useful. The drawn line then becomes the sewing line.

Hannah's Quilt by Cilla Green
Hannah's Quilt by Cilla Green

Appliqué templates sometimes have a grain line. If the grain lines of the appliqué patch match those of the foundation fabric, the work will lie flatter. Grain lines may be ignored if the design of the applied fabric is more important and a special effect is being created with the fabric.

For hand appliqué, cut the background fabric 1/2in larger than the desired finished size. Trim it to size once the appliqué is complete. Mark around the templates, placed right side up on the right side of the fabric, with sandpaper underneath to prevent slipping. Cut the fabric pieces leaving a 1/4in seam allowance as appropriate. As you practice you can use a smaller seam allowance. Lightly finger press guidelines on the foundation to help in placement of the patches, by folding it in half vertically, horizontally and diagonally.

Sew appliqué shapes in place with thread which matches the appliqué, not the background fabric. This is much less obtrusive.

TIP! lf your appliqué motif features tight curves, for example a heart, you may need to make small cuts in the seam allowance to make the shape lie flat. Inner (concave) curves should have small cuts and outer (convex) curves should have small notches cut out. Snip only if you need to as it creates a weak point.

Coping with curves
Coping with curves

Appliqué techniques

Tacking method

  1. Turn under the raw edge of each patch so that the marked line just disappears.
  2. Tack close to the edge with small stitches to achieve smooth curves. Edges which will be overlapped by another need not be turned under.
  3. Pin the shapes in place and having checked the placement, tack them 1/8in from their edges on to the foundation. Hem them to the foundation, using one of the two stitches described, and remove the tacking.

Needleturn method

Patches are marked on the right side as before, then placed on the foundation and pinned in place. The raw edges are turned under with the point of the needle as you go, and sewn down a short distance at a time.

Modern methods

Use a freezer paper template cut to the exact size of your piece and iron to the top of your fabric. Stitch in place as with the needleturn method. The freezer paper gives an edge to work to, and you do not need to mark the fabric. Freezer paper can be reused a number of times. Freezer paper shapes may be ironed on to the wrong side of the appliqué fabric as for machine appliqué method. They can be removed by cutting away the backing fabric or by peeling away when you still have just an inch to sew.

Appliqué stitches

Hemming stitch

This is rather like a conventional hemming stitch which picks up only the very edge of the fold of the appliqué. The needle then goes down in the background fabric exactly beside where it came out of the fold, and comes up again 1/8in away on the edge of the fold. It makes small stitches at right angles to the fold. On the back of the work it looks like a backstitch.

Appliqué hem stitch
Appliqué hem stitch

Blind hemming stitch

This stitch shows no thread at all on the right side of the work. An 1/8in stitch is taken inside the folded edge of the appliqué. The needle goes down through the background fabric and comes up again 1/8in away, then inside the folded edge again. When the thread is pulled fairly tight, it virtually disappears (the dotted line indicates the path of the thread). On the back, it looks like running stitch.

Blind hem stitch
Blind hem stitch

Cutting away the background fabric

You can cut away the background fabric behind the appliqué shape. This is optional but it reduces the layers of fabric to be quilted through from two to one and makes the work softer and easier to quilt. Cutting away is essential if the background fabric is dark and the appliqué shape is light, otherwise the background colour can show through the applied shape as a shadow and spoil the effect. Always leave 1/4in seam allowance.

First published in Patchwork Basics 2002