Nori's Stuff - Gardening, quilting, cooking and dogs

Accurate applique

If you are participating in the RDQG program on machine pinned accurate applique, step by step instructions for preparing for the mini-class will be available shortly. Check back tomorrow.  If you haven’t read this page, do so while you’re waiting.

appliqued horse head

I don’t get to applique for long stretches at a time. Because I pick my applique up and lay it back down fairly frequently, I’ve been working on a technique that not only lets me do really fine and accurate applique, but it also holds everything together and in the correct relationship no matter how often I pick it up and put it down.  This technique also lets me do applique designs that would normally only be possible using iron on applique.

This technique works really well for me for a couple reasons.  I’m no longer jabbing myself on pins when I pick up my applique and I’m not having to repin because pins fell out. I’ve finally got a method that meets all my needs.

I used this technique for the fish on the back of the Ichthy Bog Coat, a fussy bit of applique with 16 separate pieces of fabric that all had to be in the correct orientation for the fish to come to life.  The seeds of this technique started with the background of the koi pond web quilt.

This method produces beautifully flat applique. It looks like it’s been ironed on without being ironed on. The horse head work you’re seeing here hasn’t been pressed but it looks like it has. Yup, it’s that flat. The only limitation is that of the weaving of the applique fabric. The finer woven the fabric, the skinnier the stem or trace possible.

Accurate and smooth lines with traces of less than 1/8

With this method I can do curves, points, valleys, narrow lines . . . the works, and have it come out beautiful, clean and accurate. This technique isn’t any slower than any other method of applique. I don’t have to transfer patterns or cut out and iron on butcher paper shapes.  Every piece ends up exactly where it should in relation to all the others. I can work off a sacrificial photo copy of the pattern with no additional prep.  No butcher paper, no cutting out patterns, no tracing designs, just machine baste and go.  This method rocks!

Because I’m demonstrating this technique at Guild, I thought I’d get all the info and images in place here as a reference.

So here we go, in text and pictures, machine-basted applique. If you can think of a better name for it, please share.

Here are the basic steps.  This technique can be used for regular or reverse applique.

  1. Transfer the pattern to paper.  Do not use vellum or tissue paper.  It will not hold up through the process.  You can use butcher paper if you must, but take care that you don’t iron your work until the pattern is removed.  The back of wrapping paper is good pattern paper but a piece of reinforced paper is almost a must for a big and/or complicated design.  This is the only time you’ll need to transfer the pattern.    The pattern will be reversed so now is the time to fix that if you feel it’s necessary.  For smaller designs, copy paper works just fine.  For larger designs, blank news print works but a slightly heavier paper would be better.  If you plan to do a whole quilt top, you can cut the pattern into manageable sections and work one section at a time.  This will require adding registration marks to the pattern before it is sectioned and transferring those registration marks to the background so each subsequent pattern piece can be accurately positioned.
  2. Machine baste the pattern to the back of the background fabric.  If the pattern is large, baste between or around the elements of the design to further stabilize the pattern.
  3. Starting with the pieces in the back of the design, pin fabric to the front of the background fabric and machine stitch using the pattern on the back to fasten that fabric in place.
  4. From the front, start trimming, picking, turning and appliqueing the fabric to the background working in 1/2 to 3/4″ sections.
  5. Repeat steps 3 and 4 until all pieces have been appliqued down.
  6. Remove the basting holding the pattern to the back of the background.

Below is a picture representation of the steps with individual explanations.

Place the pattern print side down

Place the background fabric on top the pattern, back of the fabric against the back of the pattern.

Pin the fabric to the corners of the pattern to hold it in place. Turn the assembly pattern side up and using large stitches (hand or machine), baste the pattern to the fabric on the outside edge of the pattern and at the outside edge and, for larger work, at least ½” outside the pieces to be appliqued. This stabilizes the pattern in relation to the applique work.

This shows the pattern basted to the background fabric with the stitching at least ½” away from the pattern. This is your pinning of layers, sans pins.

Turn the pattern print side down so the right side of the background fabric is up. Set the first foreground fabric right side up on top of the background fabric making sure it covers (including seam allowance) the pattern for that fabric. Pin the foreground fabric to the background pinning all the way through the pattern on the back but keeping the pins well outside that pattern piece location so you don't sew over it when you're machine pinning.

Turn the pattern over so the pattern is facing up. Using a small stitch (as close to the same length as you can get to your applique stitches), machine stitch the marked pattern lines. Try to start at a flat spot or the most gentle curve. I started on the inside of the leaf as that was the straightest line on the piece.

Flip the assembly over.  You can see the basting stitches easily. If you click the image, you can see the machine stitching holding the foreground fabric in place.  Roughly trim the foreground fabric away leaving about ½” of fabric outside the machine pinning line.

Make a slit in the fabric outside the machine pinning stitching where the pattern line is the straightest. Trim down to the desired seam allowance for about 1½” for your starting point. From this point on, you will only trim 1/2 to 3/4

Run your threaded needle in from the back, popping it through the paper pattern.  As you applique, don't run your needle through the paper.  You will find it acts as a natural barrier between your fingers and your work.  For larger projects you can fold the work to more easily reach the piece you're working on without fear of sewing through all layers.  Continue trimming and stitching. When you reach the end of your thread, run the needle through the pattern on the back. Make a small hole in the stitch line of the pattern and knot off your thread into the background fabric.


  1. Your instructions are clear, but for demo purposes, I would have liked to see you use a contrasting thread for your baste stitch.

    Also, I will need to work through it to get it.

    Comment by Carol Bezy — February 20, 2012 @ 10:57 am
  2. Corene said the same thing. I’ll do another set of photos with contrasting thread.

    Comment by Nori — February 20, 2012 @ 11:45 am
  3. Thank you for this bright idea ! all is clear in demonstration. I’m about to a new appliqué with cat’s head and sure will try yr method.
    arlette

    Comment by LOUIS — May 13, 2013 @ 7:06 am

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