Applique Applique is a method of decorating fabric by stitching another... items) over it to form some pattern or design. ...

Applique is a method of decorating fabric by stitching another layer of different fabric (or other
items) over it to form some pattern or design. There is also “reverse applique” where the
decoration color is underneath the main color (ground cloth) and forms the design or pattern by
showing through holes in the ground cloth. Applying woven or emboidered trim or sewing on
beads are common methods of applique, but this class will deal with applique of shapes to form
designs such as heraldry on fabric. Applique is often combined with embroidery, where the
applique provides a background color, and embroidery provides image details.
Historical Background
While applique has been known for about 2500 years, there are very few extant pieces. This
doesn't mean applique was necessarily rare, however. Textiles usually only survive the ravages
of time if they belonged to someone very important. Very important people would have
generally spared no expense and gone for the more laborious (and therefore expensive)
embroidered pieces. There are very few extant pieces of lower and middle class garments of any
kind. Even garments from minor nobility (Dukes and Counts) are very rare.
Because of weight and drape issues with applique, it appears to be far more common on items
such as wall hangings, pillows, and curtains, but it is not unknown on garments, especially items
where weight and drape are less of an issue, such as hats and gloves.
European Examples
Intarsia from Skokloster church, Uppland.
This cushion was made from a larger 14th
century object. Uses "intarsia" technique of
opposite color scheme applique. Historiska
Museet, Stockholm, Sweden
Banner of the de Blonays, a prominent
family in Vaud. Photo: Stamm and Saxod,
Islamic Examples
Embroidered and quilted hat; Mamluk period; Silk
fabric appliquéd to linen and quilted, with
additional embroidery in silk; Ashmolean Museum
Sword Bearer Blazon, Bahri Mamluk period, 14th
century; Wool, appliqué and couching; Museum
of Islamic Art
Issues with Applique
The primary issue with applique is getting the applique material to stay flat. The second biggest
issue (trailing only by a thread) is preventing the applique edges from fraying.
Using materials of similar weight and content helps with the first. Be sure both materials are
Choose a fabric that doesn't slide. The choice of fabric in applique can make all the difference.
Do not applique gauze. Wool to wool, on the other hand, is wonderful (after making certain that
both fabrics are completely shrunk).
The second can also be influenced by material choice. Fulled wool (a woven material that has
been beaten in a mill until it is partially felted) works very well. Felt is idea, but looks like felt...
In some extant intarsia pieces (several medieval Scandinavian ones, probably
wall hangings, come to mind) the intersection of the two fabrics is hidden
by a couched strip of gilded leather or parchment to give the effect of a
corded outline.
The way most applique was done in period is cut out the piece to be appliqued to size and apply
it to the ground cloth without turning under. They sometimes used glue or beeswax to control
the initial fraying of the edges. They almost always (like 99.9999% of the time) put cording
overtop the edges, which also controled fraying. This method produces very little puckering, but
also does not stand up to repeated machine washings.
Watch the grain when cutting. Fabric stretches more one direction that another (pull vertically,
horizontally and both of the diagonals and see how it works). If you cut a triangle, at least one
side will be along the bias and have a very different stretch when sewing it to the ground cloth.
Make certain that the tension when sewing the ground cloth to the decorative fabric is consistent
for both fabrics. If one is stretched more than the other, puckering will occur.
The Modern Method:
Use a paper backed Iron-on fusible web interface such as Wonder-Under.
Iron this onto your applique material (not the ground cloth) Paper side up, applique material
good side down.
Cut out your design.
Iron onto the ground cloth. This does a double duty. It fixes the applique to the ground cloth
and seals the edges to prevent fraying.
If this is a one-time use object (special banner for an event, etc) then you may be done.
If you need it to last through more than a few events/washes, you will need to stitch the edges.
The web will eventually peel.
Applique Stitches:
Needle Turn Method
You start by cutting the
appliqué about 1/4” larger than the
marked design. You make a row of
stitches roughly perpendicular to the
edge of the piece. As you stitch, you
use the needle to fold the seam
allowance under.
This works very well for simple designs, especially if most of the cut is on the bias. It is prone
to puckering for complex designs as the turn under may gather the fabric and you end up
pushing the slack forward.
For a difficult shape, you can sew a very light gauze to the applique right-side to right-side in the
seam allowance area. Leave a small gap along one of the straighter edges. Make small clips in
tightly curved areas. Turn it inside out through the gap and iron the turn under portion down.
For flat stitches you are machine stitching, a
blanket or whip stitch is best. This can be done by
hand or machine. Go slow with the machine to
keep the straight part of the stitch even with the
edge of the applique.
A hand blanket stitch with embroidery floss gives
a very nice outlines edge.
A very dense zig-zag (machine embroidery) will
give a faux corded applique look (ie; will pass the
10 foot rule).
If your machine does not have a blanket stitch, a loose zig-zag will work, Again go slow to keep
the outer edge of stitching even with the edge of the applique, and choose thread that is as close
a match in color to the applique material as possible to hide it. Zig-Zag stitching looks very