Appliqué is ideal for rounded, pictorial images as in this Partridge wall hanging by Lesley Coles
Appliqué is ideal for rounded, pictorial images as in this Partridge wall hanging by Lesley Coles

Templates for machine appliqué do not include a seam allowance. There are two basic methods for machine appliqué, which give quite different looks:

Satin stitch appliqué

The shapes to be applied are cut without seam allowances and are cut exactly on the sewing line. The edges will be finished with a satin stitch zig-zag. Hold small pieces in place on the background fabric by using a glue stick; larger pieces will be best held by a fusible fabric adhesive such as Bondaweb. This is applied to the fabric before cutting out the appliqué shape and the instructions on the packet need to be carefully followed to ensure correct adhesion.

TIP! Bondawebbed shapes do not have to be satin stitched - a decorative running stitch by hand securely anchors the motifs.

Check your sewing machine handbook for tips on satin stitch. It is often convenient to sew around the shape with a narrow, spread out zig-zag before covering it with a wider, closer one (Figure 1). Most of the stitching should be on the appliqué: the needle only just goes over the edge into the background fabric. It is easiest to work clockwise around the shape then the right hand swing of the needle will go over the edge into the background fabric.

Figure 1: Sew a narrow zigzag before the satin stitch
Figure 1: Sew a narrow zigzag before the satin stitch

To achieve a smooth curve and even stitches, pivot where necessary to avoid gaps in the satin stitch. Stop with the needle in the fabric, lift the presser foot, adjust the fabric and continue stitching. At acute angles, (such as the tips of leaves), reduce the width of the satin stitch as you approach the point. This gives a more elegant appearance. Many machines also come with clear appliqué feet or presser feet with a wider gap. Both give better visibility as you are stitching.

Invisible machine appliqué

This technique mimics the look achieved by hand appliqué.

Figure 2: Invisible machine appliqué
Figure 2: Invisible machine appliqué
  1. Make templates and place thern right side down on the matt side of freezer paper. Cut out exactly on the line. A separate paper shape is required for each fabric piece. Iron the shapes on to the back of the fabric, and cut out the fabric leaving a seam allowance arourd the paper shape. (see Figure 2a).
  2. Fold the seam allowance to the back of the paper and stick it down with a glue stick (Figure 2b). One that allows repositioning is useful as these turnings need to be unstuck later. When dealing with convex curves, tiny pleats in the seam allowance will take up the fullness. Some points will only need one fold (Figure 2c). For sharper points make an extra fold at the point (Figure 2d). As with hand appliqué, you may need to snip into convex and concave folds in order to make the fabric lie flatter.
  3. Pin the shapes in place on the foundation and stitch in place. Some machines have a special appliqué stitch. Others have a straight blind hemming stitch which may be adjusted to sew very small straight stitches and to throw the sideways stitch a short distance only. With some you have to programme your own stitch. Alternatively, use a very narrow zigzag stitch. Experiment on scraps until you achieve the perfect stitch. Remember to make a record of the machine settings required for future stitching.
    Figure 3: Straight blind hem stitch
    Figure 3: Straight blind hem stitch
  4. Whichever stitch is used, best results are obtained by using a fine needle. Use quilters' transparent thread on the top and a normal sewing cotton to match the background fabric in the bobbin. A print background fabric can help disguise the blind hem stitches, which should be positioned on the background fabric as close as possible to the edge of the appliqué, while the occassional sideways stitch just catches the folded edge of the applied shape (Figure 3).
  5. The freezer paper shapes are removed when the shapes have been attached. Cut away the background fabric under the shape, leaving a 1/4in seam allowance. Gently pull the stuck down seam allowances off the freezer paper and peel the freezer paper from the fabric below. Press the appliqué from the wrong side.
Variegated thread can provide an extra point of interest when satin stitching, as demonstrated in this stylised flower block by Anja Townrow
Variegated thread can provide an extra point of interest when satin stitching, as demonstrated in this stylised flower block by Anja Townrow

First published in Patchwork Basics 2002