Here’s my video tutorial for fabric appliques / patches. Appliques are a great way to embellish or customize a project. You can add them to bags, clothes, Xmas stockings, and more. Appliqued handmade goods make great gifts because you can tailor each one for the recipient!
If you scroll down, there’s also a photo tutorial version so you can go at your own pace, or go to a specific step.
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Here’s the photo + text version of the tutorial:
Step 1 : The fun part!
Pick your fabric!
What kind of fabric? Any medium weight woven fabric (like quilting cotton, broadcloth, etc.) will work very nicely for appliques. You can use heavier weight fabrics as well, just make sure your machine can handle it.
You can even use medium to heavy weight knit fabrics, but I’d suggest starting with a woven fabric if you’ve never done applique before.
Print or solid? I picked two prints that went well with the fabric I’m applique-ing onto, but solids work well, too. Pick something that either compliments or contrasts with your base fabric.
Speaking of base fabric: mine is the front panel of a bag. It’s a medium weight quilting cotton that’s been interfaced for added strength. The same principles for choosing applique fabric goes for choosing the base fabric. Medium or heavy weight wovens are perfect. You can applique onto knit fabrics, it just takes a little practice (and a lot of pinning).
Step 2: The other fun part!
Pick your shapes and make a paper pattern of each shape.
Any shape will do, but if you’ve never done applique work before, try simple shapes first. Hearts are good practice because they’re not too complicated, but they have all the components that make up the shape of any applique you’ll ever do. Inside corners, outside corners, curves, and straight lines.
You don’t want pieces any skinnier than about 3/8″ wide. They just won’t hold up over time, plus there won’t really be much to sew down. My music note applique had very skinny legs, so I fattened them up. If your design has lines that won’t look right fattened (hehe), it would be best to replace it with a line of stitching. Here’s an example:
Another way to get away with skinny lines would be to use felt. Felt is awesome for appliques, because it doesn’t fray. So if you have a skinny shape, use felt! Instead of trying to sew “around” the skinny part of a felt applique, sew straight down the center.
Now that we’ve chosen our shapes, it’s time to start tracing.
I’m using fusible interfacing on my appliques. Why:
- Interfacing adds a little extra weight and strength to the applique. BONUS!
- I can trace my designs onto the interfacing first, and then lay it over my applique fabric and get the exact positioning I want (this would be helpful if there was a particular part of a print that you wanted to use).
- The FUSIBLE part of the interfacing will make the edges of my appliques less likely to fray and eventually… fall off.
- For knit fabrics, it will keep the appliques from stretching and getting all wobbly looking.
If you’re using felt, you could skip the interfacing since it’s a good weight and won’t fray, but I still find that tracing on the interfacing is the easiest way to transfer an applique pattern, so I would still use it, personally.
So the moral of the story is: get yourself some fusible interfacing!
If you’ve never used fusible interfacing before, it has two sides. One side is flat and soft, and the other side is kind of bumpy. The bumps are really little teeny glue dots. When you iron the interfacing, they melt and bond to your fabric. So it’s important to know what side is what at all times to prevent a sticky mess on your iron.
Trace your design onto the SOFT, NON-GLUE side. Use a fabric marking pen or Sharpies. Don’t use anything that will bleed when wet.
HUGE IMPORTANT NOTE ABOUT SHAPES: if your shapes are not reversible (like lettering, or my music note) be sure to use the mirror image of them. Just trace your design onto the interfacing backwards. Notice how I’m doing this INCORRECTLY in my Step 2 photo.
Which results in a sad, ass-backwards music note:
I’d love to say that I did that on purpose to illustrate what happens when you do it wrong, but the truth is, I’m just a buffoon that wasn’t paying attention.
Time to cut out our shapes. You could iron the uncut interfacing to your fabric, and then cut both out at once, and thus save yourself a step- which I recommend doing because it’s much easier. But I like doing things the hard way sometimes.
So we cut! If you have detailed shapes, very small SHARP scissors help immensely. They can get in all of those little nooks and crannies much better than a big pair of sewing scissors.
I have these and they are awesomely, dangerously, sharp. I want to cry every time I misplace them:
NOTE: My music note is actually STILL BACKWARDS, because I haven’t realized my mistake yet. If you’re looking at the “soft” side of the interfacing, letters and other unidirectional shapes should be BACKWARDS.
Ironing! This is sort of fun ironing, if there is such a thing.
Flip your fabric over so you’re looking at the wrong side AKA the back side. heh.
Make sure your little bumpy glue dots on your interfacing are facing DOWN, and lay the interfacing on top of your fabric.
Annoying reminder #3: If you’re appliqueing letters, they should be backwards at this point!
Slap that hot iron on top and let the fusing begin! Your interfacing should have recommendations for heat and length of time. But if not, let’s guess and say: cotton setting, 10 seconds per 4″ by 4″ area. My appliques are both small enough that they each only need about 10 seconds. Apply nice even pressure.
Lift up the iron and let the fabric cool for a moment. See if you can lift the interfacing off the fabric. If you can, you need more time or more heat. It should be stuck on there reeeeal gooood.
Cut out your appliques using the interfacing as a guide.
When you’re done cutting, grab your base fabric and play around with placement. I thought it would be fun to layer my appliques on top of each other.
When you decide on your placement, pin the appliques down. Pin them well, my friend. I don’t pin much when I sew, but this is one of the few times that me and pins are good buddies. You don’t want your applique squirting around while you sew, getting all wonky. No sir.
If you’re doing a layered placement, only pin down the bottom layer to start.
An alternate to pinning is iron-on adhesive also known as fusible web. It’s sort of like the fusible interfacing, without the interfacing part. It’s like a big sheet of just glue that you can iron to the back of your appliques. Like double-sided tape for fabric!
Instead of pinning, you’ll iron this to the back of your applique, cut it out, peel the paper backing off, and then iron to your base fabric. I highly recommend it if you’re a beginner, or appliqueing onto knit/stretch fabrics.
Time to sew!
You can stitch your appliques with a straight, zigzag or even a decorative stitch. I’m using a zigzag stitch in the first example.
Thread color can be chosen to match or contrast your applique. Surprise, surprise, I’ve chosen BRIGHT ORANGE!
Notice that it’s a fairly wide zigzag with a short length (my stitch width is set to the highest number at 5 and my length is set at 1). This is called a satin stitch. Test on a piece of scrap fabric to get the settings right for your machine.
Now you’re ready to stitch around that applique! Choose a nice straight spot to start. Starting on a curve or corner is just going to be a pain in the butt.
Straight spots are fairly easy, and you can probably cruise right through them.
When you get to a curve, slooooow down. Wider curves can be done fairly quickly, but with tight curves on small pieces, it can be hard to get a smooth curve instead of a wonky curve. I like to take my foot off the pedal altogether and advance the needle by hand. With the needle in the DOWN position, lift the presser foot and pivot the fabric just a little bit. Put the foot back down, turn the hand wheel another stitch or two, and repeat- needle down, presser foot up, turn the fabric.
Inside and outside corners are another slow-down point, especially if you’re using a zigzag stitch. For an outside corner (like the bottom of the heart), you want to stop with the needle right on the outside tip of the corner. Stop with the needle down, lift the presser foot, pivot the fabric. Put the foot back down and continue stitching.
For an inside corner (like the top of a heart), you want to be INSIDE the corner when you stop with the needle down. Pivot and continue stitching.
This all sounds more complicated than it is and you’ll get the hang of it in no time, I promise.
I don’t usually backstitch at the beginning of an applique, because I wind up going over it at the end, and I have an easier time keeping it from looking like a big pile of messy stitches if I only backstitch once at the end.
When you’re doing a satin stitch around the edge of an applique, it’s important to get as much of the applique under the stitching as possible. You don’t want that sucker falling off. But you also want a nice clean outline, without little bits of the applique peeking on the edge. In my example above, when my needle is in the far right position during the zigzag, I want it lined up with the outside edge of the applique. That way, you’ll get maximum coverage.
When you get to where you started stitching, stitch over about 1/4″ of the first round of stitches, and then backstitch.
Here’s my finished heart. Now I’ll pin down my second layer and stitch that.
This time I think I’ll go with a straight stitch.
It’s pretty much the same as a zigzag stitch, except you want to keep your stitching inside the applique the whole time. For smaller appliques, you’ll want to stitch about 1/8″ from the edge. For a larger applique, you can increase that width.
Curves and straight lines are the same drill, but with corners, you need to pay close attention to keep the stitches a nice and even distance from the edge. When you get to an inside corner, stitch 1/8″ past the corner before you stop and pivot. For an outside corner, you want to stop 1/8″ short of the corner. It’s easy to forget this stuff and breeze right past and then oops- you’ve stitched off the applique. GAME OVER! Okay, not really, but you get the point.
You might need to decrease your top thread tension for a satin stitch, especially if your bobbin thread doesn’t match your top thread. Here’s why:
Notice how the black bobbin thread is actually so tight that it’s pulling my top thread to the underside of the fabric a little? For most sewing, that would be bad. For decorative stitching like this, it’s actually good. It means that none of that black bobbin thread will be visible on the right side of my design, and all of the stitching on my right side is tight and even.
So if you’re having trouble getting a nice looking satin stitch, try decreasing the top thread tension.
Here’s my finished bag: