Thursday, January 23, 2014

Easy Machine Stitching Techniques for Applique

I have always loved applique, and I've spent most of my sewing life looking at applique with envy.

I mean, just look at this antique quilt. My gosh, thousands of tiny hand stitched pieces!  

I have a friend who does hand applique. Her stitches are so tiny and so perfect that I watch her in awe. I've tried over and over to imitate how she sews, but the ability to produce tiny, even stitching still eludes me. 

Tiny, neat stitches? Totally impossible!
I can't even get blanket stitches to come out even when I try to sew them by hand.

It took a long time and a new sewing machine before I figured out how to stitch appliques in place with the sewing machine. A few years ago I traded my limping1980 sewing in for a new one. The poor old gal was spending more time in the shop than in my house. I found a lovely little machine that I could use for free-motion quilting. The zigzag stitches on the new machine were not only more flexible, but there was a much larger variety of stitch options.  I suddenly found that I could applique with my sewing machine! Wow! One little project and I was completely addicted!

My "fancy", new machine - nothing at all like the 1980 machine.
It's perfect for applique and for free motion quilting, but nothing will ever  convince me
to part with  the reliable  1952 Singer  201 that I use for straight stitching. 

These are my three favorite techniques for machine applique stitching ... so far
(New tricks will come. I'm sure of it.)

Blanket stitch. This is the stitch I use most often. 

Sometimes I use a dark color thread that imitates vintage hand applique beautifully. 
And the stitches come out even every time!
Elephant Walk Bib and Burp Cloth

More often, though I'll match the thread color to the fabric piece. 
It doesn't disappear, but it's very subtle and well camouflaged.

Detail from "New Toys"

Zigzag stitch. I've learned more and more about how to use zigzag stitching this past year. In the past few months I've figured out that narrow, very tiny zigzags, almost a satin stitch, work best for me.
I use zigzag stitching for all of the silhouettes.

Detail from "February Valentines" mug rugs

The same zigzag stitch is the best way to attach slippery, satin appliques that might 
otherwise unravel easily when laundered.

Satin ears nose and tail from "Doggy in the Window" baby blanket

Raw edge applique.  This is a straight stitch that secures the applique in place on the background, and, as the name implies, the cut edges are left raw. Eventually, those edges will fray a bit, and that fraying will add a different artistic touch to the piece. Flowers and leaves, for example, will look even more realistic. I've used two different raw edge techniques on mug rugs this year.

a. The first technique uses raw stitch applique close to the outside edges of the applique. I could have used matching thread for these pieces, but since there were so many colors involved I chose invisible polyester thread instead. This saved me from having to change thread every few minutes. The pieces were first attached with fusible web, then stitched close to the cut edge. 

Detail from "Pansies" in the "Baskets for Mom" mug rug trio

b. Sometimes the pieces are so very small that another approach is needed. I used another raw edge technique when attaching flowers and leaves to my March House and April House quilts..

An unmarked section of fusible web was first ironed onto the wrong side of the chosen applique fabric. The paper was removed, turned over, and fused to the wrong side of a second piece of the same  fabric. Now, the fusible web was sandwiched between two pieces of applique fabric. The flower and leaf shapes were then traced directly onto one side of the sandwiched fabric and cut out. Pieces were reversible.

A few stitches made by machine or by hand will secure the appliques to the background fabric. In this photo you see both machine stitches and french knots used for that purpose. With this technique, the pieces become three dimensional, and add wonderful texture to the project.

Detail from "March House" mug rug

I hope you take the time to experiment with several of these techniques. They are each unique, and each is quite lovely in its own way.

Happy Stitching!


  1. Love doing applique. I did hand sewing for many years when my daughters were young and I made them things. Now I have a embroidery machine and love it. I still do some by hand. Love trying out new stitches. I have a very old 1930's Singer feather weight that I take with me when I want to sew. Small and trusty, Keep up the good work. Love your designs.

    1. Thanks, Cooki. Sewing machines have changed so much, but those old Singers are irreplaceable. I have a 1940's featherweight that makes lovely stitches. I carry that one with me like you do yours.

  2. I also love applique and I use my sewing machine. It is too hard on my hands any more. Very interesting blog.

    1. Thank you, Sue! The sewing machine was truly one of greatest inventions ever.