Improving Hand Appliqué

A little detail, a big appearance improvement in my applique!

I was looking at my little white turtles on their bright backgrounds. Why, I thought, do they look so uneven and sort of spiky? After staring fixedly for a while, I noticed that some of the ‘spiky-ness’ was from the little white applique stitches.

But wait! I could improve that! I did a little more applique focusing on tucking each stitch into the background material just a thread or two under the edge of the applique piece. Et voilà, a slightly smoother appearance.

I hope this turns out to be just one insight in a chain of future insights taking me closer to mastering hand applique!

Hand Applique Techniques

Here is the organizational hierarchy of Applique Techniques that I have figured out so far. This includes only completely hand-done applique, and does not include raw edge, Reverse Applique, Mola techniques, etc.

A.  Fold applique edges under as you sew
1.  Cut and go- traditional needle turn
a.  Cut applique piece ⅛” larger than seam line, pin to base, turn under while sewing
b.  Same with stitch basting or glue basting of template to base
2.  Back baste on seam line, cut ¼” larger than template, remove a few stitches at a time as sewing
3.  Front baste ⅛” inside seamline, turn under ⅛”, remove basting stitches when done sewing

B.  Fold applique edges under before sewing. Use ¼” seam allowance around shape.
1.  Hand baste to paper, remove paper after sewing
2.  Glue baste, remove paper before sewing
3.  Starch baste and iron, remove paper before sewing
4.  Freezer paper baste with iron, remove paper before sewing

These white turtles on their colorful backgrounds look good from a distance- but the closeups are a different story.


Here is technique A1a: Cut applique piece ⅛” bigger than seam line, pined to base, traditional needle turn of raw edge.


Here is technique A2: Baste the applique piece from the back on seam line, from the front cut applique piece ⅛” to ¼” larger than seam line, remove a few basting stitches at a time to permit needle turn of raw edges.



Here is technique A3: Baste applique piece from the front, ⅛” inside the seam line. Trim applique piece to have a seam allowance of ⅛”. Use needle turn or fingers to turn under the raw edge to meet the basted line and sew in place. Remove basting thread after sewing in place.


Here is Technique B1: hand basting the applique edges under the paper template. Pin or glue baste applique piece to base fabric, sew around the edges. From the back, separate the two layers of fabric and remove the base fabric that underlies the template (¼” interior seam allowance). This permits removal of the paper.



Turtle Paper Applique

In my hands, so far, I think technique A3 is working best- but there are more techniques to trial. Next task: trial the other techniques above.


Hand Applique- Oh, My!!

It all started with thoughts of a Hawaiian-style quilt. I’m a recently-retired ENT doc, and want to make one celebrating my medical career. Making the applique part to include stethoscope, syringes, scalpels, hemostats, maybe anatomic references to the ear, nose, tongue, sinuses, larynx. This would be a pretty complex applique, so I quickly realized that my go-to technique of machine applique would not get me the quilt I envisioned.

OK. I just need to learn how to do hand applique.

I had no idea what a confusing topic I was jumping into. I read dozens of blogs, half a dozen books, watched You Tube- and still had no idea of the best applique technique. If you want turned-under edges (as opposed to raw edges) you sew it from the front, you sew it from the back, you don’t baste it at all, you freezer-paper baste it. Nevermind, you glue baste it. You sew baste it exactly on the fold line- or was it ⅛” inch inside the fold line? Or a quarter inch? Or, wait, pinning will be just fine. You have the edges all firmly turned before you pick up a needle. No, never turn the edges under until just before sewing, using your needle to tuck the raw edge under.

In medicine, when there are so many options for, say, surgery for a particular disorder, we presume that none of them are fabulous, head and shoulders above the others, or there would not be so many techniques.   Maybe that’s true for applique also?  Maybe any one is good in the right hands?  Or maybe there is a fabulous fusion idea out there waiting to be described?

I chose a pattern to start practicing and experimenting with.  I wanted a compact design I could do over and over while trying different techniques.  One with inside and outside corners and tricky-to-applique areas.  I settled on this traditional turtle design and started working.

As you will see, these are, ahem, ‘rough’.  As in, I have no prior experience with hand applique.  So those of you who are accomplished at this technique, don’t laugh too hard!!

I’m going to keep working at this until I (a) understand all the different published technique variations and (b) can produce a beautiful smooth applique, even at inner corners!!