Hand applique – 5 FAQ answered on hand sewing appliques

Hand Applique refers to stitching appliques ( fabric pieces cut in the shape of designs) on the surface of other fabric, entirely by hand, without using a sewing machine at all.

For some sewists, this is the ONLY way they do applique. A hand sewn applique can  look as if the design is a part of the fabric because of the inconspicuous way that the appliques are stitched on the fabric, but at the same time bring a dimensional look to the design

1 How to choose, mark and cut hand applique designs ?

There is no hard and fast rule in making applique designs. The nature of applique is such that you can make any kind of design.If I can be proud of my applique work here with flowers looking more like amoebae than the flowers that I intended them to be, anything goes.

hand sewing appliques

The beauty of your appliqued work will be dependant on the creative sensibilities of the person working on it and the suitability of the design for the project ; the fabric used, layering done with it and also the extra embellishments done on top of it all add to the beauty of the applique work

The convenient way of creating applique designs is to make templates – this way you can make multiple applique pieces of the same design. Just decide on your design.Transfer this design on to a hard paper/ plastic (without the seam allowance) and cut it out. This is your template

Place this template on the applique fabric, leave 1/4 inch seam allowance all around the template and mark.Cut it out.

You can keep the same template multiple times on the fabric spaced apart, mark and then cut it at once. This way you get the same design any number of times

It looks better if you cut the applique fabric pieces along the same grain line as for the background fabric. But no hard and fast rules

2 Which background fabric is used for hand applique ?

This is entirely dependant on what you want the project for. Hand applique can be done on any type of fabric. Just that, if it is a heavy weight fabric  you will find it difficult to hand sew.

It is also a good idea to have the applique fabric pieces and back ground fabric with the same care instructions and fiber weight. But this also a rule that  is always broken. Gauze and other sheer fabric when appliqued on cotton or other fabric can look delightful.And who cares they are not of the same weight. 

One thing to remember is that if your applique fabric has a tendency to shrink, PREWASH. Otherwise ( if the fabric is not prewashed that is), after you have stitched the pieces painstakingly and lovingly, the pieces will shrink on your project when the garment or whatever you have appliqued is washed. It is not a pretty sight to find shrunk distorted applique pieces. 

3 Which needle and thread is used for Hand applique sewing?

You can stitch hand applique with hand embroidery thread or machine sewing thread. Machine sewing thread will look almost invisible if used in single strand. So if that is the look you are aiming for, then use machine sewing cotton thread; but if you like a thicker outline, like a blanket stitched applique , use embroidery thread.

The colour of the thread used should be matching the applique pieces and not the background fabric

You also need basting thread. If you have the real basting thread (a weak thread which will easily come off) good for you, use this. But if you donot have this, use the regular sewing machine thread. It is compulsory that you use a contrasting thread to baste as you have to remove the basting stitches, and you need to see to remove them easily.

Needle – this choice is upto you. I would choose a needle with a big eye anytime as  find it frustrating to thread the needlle ; In hand applique yu will be threading the needle a lot of times ( when I donot have the needle threader handy) . Smaller needles are better for stitching curving shapes

4 How to prepare applique design pieces for hand sewing?

Remember that you had left 1/4 inch all around the template of the design. This extra has to be turned to the inside and baste stitched.

Prepare all the pieces this way.

You will have to leave areas which will be overlapped unstitched. Like, if a petal will overlap another petal half way, donot turn under that edge, as it will create unwanted bulk.

The basted pieces are then placed on the back ground fabric, arranged exactly the way you want. They are pinned on to the back ground fabric before the final stitching. You can also baste stitch if you would rather not pin ( pinning can somehow skew the arrangement,basting stitches are done so that it is more accurately placed).

5 How to stitch points when turning the hand applique pieces ?

To make points, turn the corner a little to the inside, first; Then turn under the other edges.This will give you a good pointed tip.As can be seen in the picture below

hand applique

6 Which applique stitch is used in Hand Applique ?

A Blanket stitch can be used for a beautiful edge stitch for  hand applique. Checkout the 11 variations of blanket stitch you can use. 

Applique stitch – The traditionally used applique stitch is worked from under the applique pieces. You have to use a single thread on the needle. You donot want the thread to be too conspicuous.

Bring up the needle from the back of the fabric and take two threads from just under the edge of the applique piece, and then the backgroud fabric ( two threads ) is caught in the needle ; continue making stitches this way. These stitches will be almost invisible from the top ofthe fabric. ( or try to make them as much as you could)

You can use simple embroidery stitches or other embellishments on your applique.


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