Hand applique – 6 FAQ answered on hand sewing appliques

Learn how to do Hand Applique by using blanket stitch and the traditional applique stitch;

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.


how to do hand applique

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.

hand applique

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.

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 heavyweight fabric you will find it difficult to hand sew.

It is also a good idea to have the applique fabric pieces and background fabric with the same care instructions and fiber weight. But this also a rule that is never followed.

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 tends 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 are 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 do not 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 up to you. I would choose a needle with a big eye anytime as I find it frustrating to thread the needle; In hand applique, you will be threading the needle a lot of times (when I do not have the needle threader handy). Smaller needles are better for stitching curving shapes.

4. How to prepare applique design pieces for hand sewing?

There are two ways of making the applique pieces ready for applique work. One is to leave extra allowance around the design and turn under this and stitch. The second method is to make a kind of facing / lining with fusible interfacing.

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.

Method 1

Place the applique 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.

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 halfway, do not turn under that edge, as it will create unwanted bulk.

The basted pieces are then placed on the background fabric, arranged exactly the way you want. They are pinned on to the background 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).

2nd Method of preparing applique pieces

Mark the design on the paper side of the fusible interfacing. 

hand made applique

Layer the fusible interfacing on top of the applique fabric. Fusible interfacing is paper side up on the fabric which is right side up

hand stitched applique

Stitch through the marking. Cut out the design leaving 1/8 inch seam allowance.

hand applique tutorial

Make a small hole in the back, on the interfacing side. Clip the seam allowance every 1/2 inch and on the intersections, if any.

hand made applique

Turn the design through the small hole in the back. Iron this applique design on to the fabric (remember the sticky side of interfacing  will be on the back)

hand sewn applique

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 do not want the thread to be too conspicuous.

Pull the thread firmly after completing each stitch.

You will see that the stitches are hidden inside the seam allowance this way.

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 background fabric (two threads) is caught in the needle ; continue making stitches this way. These stitches will be almost invisible from the top of the fabric. (or try to make them as much as you could)

hand applique stitch

Remove the basting stitches carefully after the invisible applique stitching is done.

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

Another very beautiful almost invisible stitch used is ladder stitch. In this small stitches are taken on the fabric and the fold of the applique fabric.

needle turn applique

needle turn applique

You can learn more in detail in this post on needle turn applique.

In case of layering you have to plan the pieces and layout accordingly.

easy bib sewing

6. What other variations of hand applique can I do 

  • Chinese applique 

Chinese applique is a very fine and delicate applique technique with brightly coloured  floral designs made on canvas fabric – this is then cut out separately. These are basically patches – these are then stitched to the garments with satin stitch.  

  • Swiss Applique 

This technique uses delicate net applique pieces applied on silk fabric. A buttonhole stitch is used here.  

  • White on White applique

In this, white fabric is appliqued on a white background for a slightly textured and unified look.

  • Inlaid applique 

This is a method in which the applique pieces are cut out without extra seam allowances or overlap. They are fitted within the shape of the space and the seams are joined with chain stitches or couching work.

  • Lace work

You can create beautiful lace-like fabric by appliqueing motifs cut from lace, net etc and applique it to a machine made ground using a blanket stitch and chain stitch.

  • Broderie Perse Applique work

In this floral and other printed designs from fabrics are cut out and then appliqued. Learn more about borderie perse applique work here.

  • Reverse applique

Learn more about this negative applique technique here – Reverse applique .

Related posts:

applique letters

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Author: Sarina Tariq

Hi, I love sewing, fabric, fashion, embroidery, doing easy DIY projects and then writing about them. Hope you have fun learning from sewguide as much as I do. If you find any mistakes here, please point it out in the comments.

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