How to sew Applique designs on T-shirts


Applique is a wonderful way to customize t-shirts. And a very easy way to do it. You can showcase all kinds of designs including letters and numbers and beautiful floral designs on to your fabric with applique. A t-shirt is the perfect blank-canvas for this. Here are some ideas.

There are 2 main steps in sewing an applique. First is the preparation of the design and the second is the sewing of the design to the t-shirt front.

Preparation of the applique design

First and foremost you should (ideally) prewash the t-shirt and the applique material – this will prevent the puckers due to shrinkage later. But you can get away with not pre-washing both the material if you are ready to take the risk.

There are many ways to prepare the design – this is the easiest way

Cut the design from fusible interfacing. Then cut the fabric a little bigger all around (1/4 inch or lesser enough to turn under)

Cut the fabric a little bigger than the interfacing cut in the shape /size of the design

Iron the fusible interfacing to the back of your fabric. Clip the edges of the fabric which is extra.

t-shirt applique sewing

Turn this extra edge to the back and press in place.

If it is a complicated design with lots of curves you have to clip the edge a lot and also baste the edge in place with hand stitches (running stitches)

Knit fabric appliques – If you are using a design (logo or print) from another t-shirt you will have to interface the back as well as the design.

appliqueing on t-shirts
Cut applique piece with a little edge outside

You do not need to cut extra from a knit fabric as you do not have to turn it to the back ; it doesnot fray – Just enough to accomodate a close zig zag stitch. (Read more about this below)

Now place the design on the t-shirt and stitch it in place.

Applique letters and numbers

If you are sewing letters or numbers the method of cutting the design is a little different.

First, take a printout of the design you want to applique on paper.

tshirt applique
Take printout of block letters

Cut out the inside of the design. You can use the cutout letters or the inside portion of the paper to mark the design on the fabric.

t-shirt applique sewing tutorial
Carve out the inside of the letters

If you are marking the design on the front of your applique fabric you can simply place the cut-out letters on the fabric and mark around. Cut it out.

But if you want to mark on the back of the fabric you will have to reverse the letter (flip it so it looks like a mirror image) and then mark.

t-shirt applique method
Place the cut out in reverse on the back of the fabric

When you cut it out you will get the proper letter.

t-shirt applique
Letters for the applique

If you have cut the applique pieces from a non-fraying material (t-shirt knits, lycra etc) you need not think of turning the edges – you can simply place the design on your t-shirt and stitch along the edges without caring for the edges fraying.

Reverse applique.

In reverse applique you do not have to cut out the design – you will be cutting the t-shirt instead. The background fabric peeps out through the cut out and forms the design.

t-shirt applique

The reverse applique method works like this –

Print out the design. Cut out the inside portion. Trim the design to some 1 or 1 1/2 inches outside the design.

Carve out the inside of the block letters

Keep it on the t-shirt and mark the inside using chalk – you can just drag the chalk inside filling the design.

Now using small scissors cut away the inside portion. (It will curl all over the place at this point, but do not worry- it will all come into place)

sewing applique designs on t-shirts
Cut the marked portion on the t-shirt

Now cut the background fabric in the size of your design.

Cut the back ground fabric in a size bigger than the letter design area

Finish the edges of the background fabric with fray check or zig-zag stitches or cutting with pinking shears. You can interface this fabric for better stability.

Keep this background fabric under the cut out portion. Use fabric glue to stitch the curling t-shirt portions to the background fabric.

Place the back ground fabric under the cut out portion

Use hand stitches to sew the edges of the cut portion to the background fabric – use a contrasting thread to make the design stand out (Your choice, of course).

t-shirt applique
Sew the edge to the background fabric with back stitches

Related post : Reverse applique; Back stitch.

Stitching the Applique

Hand sewing stitches, especially with the needle turn applique technique the design can look invisibly stitched. Whip stitches can be used to sewing your design – it is the easiest. Just use the same color threads as the applique material.

sewing applique designs on t-shirts
Use blanket stitches to sew the applique

You can use blanket stitches for sewing the applique – in fact I think hand applique is associated with blanket stitches. These stitches just frames the applique design beautifully. 

Related posts : Needle turn applique; Blanket stitches.

Sewing machine Applique for t-shirts

The t-shirt material is thin and stretchy; it is a little tricky sewing applique with a sewing machine on this material. Do not forget to interface the back of the applique piece and the t-shirt. Use thin fusible interfacing. 

Cut the design carefully leaving a small lip enough for stitching.

Use thread of the color of the design to sew the applique in place with a close zig zag stitch.

Tshirt applique
Keep it in place with fabric glue

You can use a Polyester thread and a Sharp or a Ballpoint needle (80/12, 90/14); You can also use embroidery thread (Rayon, Silk) and Metallic Threads for sewing the applique. 

The zig-zag stitch is used to sew the edges of the applique pieces. If you have a computerized machine the tension will be automatically be adjusted for the perfect satin stitch.

If you have an ordinary sewing machine you may have to adjust the stitch width and stitch length and tension appropriately. A 3 Stitch width and .9 stitch length is what I use. 

applique stitch
For sewing applique adjust settings : Stitch Width  – 3;  Stitch length – less than 1

Sew carefully along the curves, stopping every now and then to pivot.

stitching applique on tshirts

Sewing a simple straight design like a square is very easy – it is when you advance to complicated curved designs that you may have a little difficulty.

You will have to stop and stitch, pivoting slowly every now and then, following the curves (pivot with the needle down) – this is key in getting the satin stitch smooth on curves.

Sewing a few stitches and then stopping with the needle down and sewing very slowly again turning the fabric very slowly all the time is the key. Otherwise, you will find bunches of stitches in one place which is not attractive.

After you have finished sewing, cut off the extra interfacing from the back.

When sewing along an edge, it is better to start stitching the satin stitch in the center of a line rather than a corner.

Related posts : Sewing machine applique; Hand applique. ; How to sew sheer applique ; Applique letters

Updated on August 1, 2022 by 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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