Saturday, May 16, 2015

Applique Tutorial - Part 1

My Applique History - Skip this if you just want to get to the tutorial!

Applique and I have been in a merry war for years.  I tried it a number of times, and inevitably I ended up tense and going to pieces.  It was no fun and I finally decided I just wasn't going to mess with it anymore.

However.......I belong to a quilt group in which there are many amazing applique artists, and they kept encouraging me to try again.  I kept saying, "Thank you, but no."

Well, eventually I ended up deciding that I needed to slay this giant, so signed up for an introductory applique class.  It was okay, but nothing super special.  I came away with an understanding of which thread I'd like to use, a handy way to make bias tape for stems, and an assurance that my stitching was fine.  I also came away with the confirmed knowledge that I still greatly disliked needle-turn. Period.

Shortly thereafter, a free block of the month project came up on for a World War I commemorative quilt.  My grandfather served in the Great War and I thought it would be a good quilt to make and try to use his uniform buttons on it somehow.  So I started in with the knowledge that I would have to conquer 34 leaves and as many inches of stem on each block.  I knew how to do the stems now, but the leaves.  Oh, how they made me quake!

A friend of mine had the same struggles, and she came up with an idea that solved the issue for both of us.  She made some "perfect" leaves from heat-resistant mylar along the same lines as Karen Kay Buckley's Perfect Circles.  Voila!! We were in business.

This is the result:

Ever since then, I've enjoyed applique.  I've branched out into other shapes as well, and when I design a pattern, or one strikes my fancy, I make sure the applique shapes can utilize the "perfect" method.  No sharp interior curves or angles, and I've got it made.

I realize that this method is limiting. Needle-turn is a creatively limitless method, but if it doesn't work for me, I'd rather do what does and be able to add those cute applique touches that make me happy.

Okay, now for the tutorial!!

Applique, Part 1 - The Tutorial

NOTE: It would be good to read through all the instructions before you start.
Some things that might be foggy at the beginning will be clearer the further you get into the tutorial.

You will need a few things to get yourself started:

Heat-resistant Mylar (I use both clear and opaque)
Karen Buckley's Perfect Circles (there are ovals, too)
Fine-tip Sharpie
Frixion Pen
Good sharp scissors
Needle and thread
Dry Iron
Best Press
Flour sack dishtowel

Step 1:
Trace your pattern pieces onto transparent Mylar using a fine-tip Sharpie.
It may be a little hard to see in the picture, but the Mylar is positioned over the flower and leaves in the middle of the picture.

Step 2:
Cut out your pieces using sharp scissors.
These are the shapes you will use to form your fabric.

Step 3:
Place your pattern shapes on another piece of Mylar (I like the white best for this step because it's heavier and thicker) and trace them using a fine-tip Sharpie.
Add 1/4" turning allowance to your tracing lines and cut out.
The larger shapes will be your templates for marking your fabric.

I make lots of the smaller shapes, but just one of the larger.
As you'll see farther on, the smaller shapes go inside the fabric.
You can get a bunch ready to go at once and save time at your pressing station.

I keep my bigs and littles in small zipper bags to keep them organized, and my Perfect Circles on the ring that comes with them.

Step 4:
NOTE: Make sure you click on this next series of pictures so you can see enlarged versions.

Using the larger size shapes you've made, trace around them on your fabric using a Frixion pen.
(The Frixion pen ink will disappear when ironed.)
If you are using Perfect Circles, use a circle 1/2" larger than your finished circle size so you have 1/4" turning allowance all around.

Step 5:
Cut out the shapes.
Good sharp scissors with a tiny serration are awesome for this.
I use Karen Buckley's Perfect Scissors.  The serration helps with minimizing fraying.

Step 6:
Using needle and thread, baste around each shape 1/8" from the edge.
No need to knot the thread.
Start and end your thread on the right side of the fabric as shown.

Step 7:
Place the Mylar shapes in the center of each fabric shape.
Pull both ends of the thread gently to bring the fabric up around the Mylar shape.
Continue to draw the threads across the shape and down, snugging the fabric around the shape.

Step 8:
Cover your pressing board with a flour sack dishtowel to protect it.
While holding the threads, spray the shape with Best Press.
Get it wet, but not totally soaked.
The wetness will relax the fabric.
If necessary, gently pull on the threads again to snug it up.
Using a dry iron set on medium-high, press on the wrong side first,
covering the shape with the iron.
Hold for about 10 seconds. Test the time for your iron.
The Mylar is heat resistant, but can buckle if it gets too hot.
Turn the shape over and do the same on the right side, making sure it is dry when finished.

This is what they'll look like.
The Best Press really makes a huge difference in keeping their shape.

Step 9:
Remove the Mylar shapes carefully.
Pat the edges down, but don't press again.  It can make nasty marks if you do.
Pull the threads across the shape and snip them.

Step 10:
Turn them over.
This is what they look like on the right side!!
Isn't that awesome?!?!

This is the end of Applique, Part 1, The Tutorial

How to make bias tape for perfect stems and vines.

This post was first seen on the Piecing the Past Quilts Blog.


  1. Thank you so much for putting together this tutorial!What a wonderful prep for applique. I have always been intimidated by needle turn applique, too.

    1. LuAnn, you're very welcome. If you like video format better, we have some tutorials on YouTube at these links: