Common Thread

Learn to Hand Appliqué

Hand appliqué is a method of hand-stitching fabrics together to create dimensional designs on a background fabric. In patchwork and appliqué quilting, designs such as Dresden Plates and Grandmother's Flower Garden blocks are often attached to background fabrics using hand appliqué. It can be very useful to learn how to hand appliqué as a quilter, and the skill will open up design possibilities in your work.

Other quilt patterns are created specifically to form pictures on fabric using pieces that are hand appliquéd to a background. So join along and learn traditional needle-turn appliqué as well as how to use the freezer paper method of preparing pieces for traditional hand appliqué work.


There are a few simple supplies you will need to gather before beginning a hand appliqué project:

• Small scissors with a sharp point
• Straw needles (size 10 or 11 work well)
• Appliqué pins (Clover manufactures a good appliqué pin)
• Thimble
• Thread to match your appliqué pieces
• Fabric pencil or marking tool
• Appliqué glue such as Jill Finley's "Appli-Glue" or Roxanne's "Glue-Baste-It"   (optional)
• Stiletto for turning edges (a toothpick will work in place of a stiletto)
• Template plastic or freezer paper for making patterns
• Spray Starch and small paintbrush (if using the freezer paper method)
• Iron

Traditional Needle-Turn Hand Appliqué

Needle-turn appliqué is a hand appliqué method in which you use the tip of your needle to turn under the raw edges of your fabric while stitching it to the background. Before beginning your hand appliqué you'll need to do some preparatory work. After you have chosen a background fabric, and fabrics for your appliqué pieces, you will need to create templates for each shape you will be appliquéing. The templates should be traced from the pattern as exactly as possible. Templates can be made from template plastic or from a double layer of freezer paper. In this method, fuse two layers of freezer paper together by ironing the shiny side of one piece of freezer paper to the dull side of another piece of freezer paper—make sure not to let the surface of the iron touch the shiny side of the paper. Then, use a fabric pencil or marking tool that contrasts with your fabric to trace the design on the right side of the fabric. You will want this outline to show up on your fabric so you can easily see it while you are doing your hand appliqué. Next you will cut out the shapes using a pair of sharp scissors. Be sure to leave 1/4" extra fabric on the outside of the traced design. This is important because this is the fabric you will be turning under to create a finished edge on your appliqué pieces.

Next you need to attach your appliqué pieces to the background fabric. For some designs you can simply place the pieces where you want them; however, others require meticulous placement of pieces. Your pattern instructions will give you information on how to mark your background fabric to ensure the pieces are appliquéd in the correct spots. You can then attach your appliqué pieces to the background fabric by using a couple of small dots of appliqué glue placed in the center of the appliqué piece (be sure not to place glue near the edges you will be stitching if you choose this method). Or you can also attach your appliqué pieces by using appliqué pins placed in the center of each appliqué piece.

 Begin by threading your needle and placing a small knot at the end of your thread. For needle-turn hand appliqué use your fingers to fold under a short section of your appliqué piece. Come up from the bottom of your background fabric with your needle. Bring the needle through the edge of your appliqué piece, coming up as close to the "folded under" edge as possible. Next you will take a stitch straight down into your background fabric. When you bring the needle back up, you will again come up through the background fabric and through the edge of the appliqué piece, making your stitch as close to the edge as possible. Your stitches should be close together—no further than 1/4" apart. As you continue to stitch you will use your needle to turn under the unfinished edges of your appliqué piece along the marked line.

A stiletto may also be used especially when turning under edges at corners where there is a more bulky section of the fabric. Turn under a small portion at a time, stitching that portion using the appliqué stitch, before turning under another section. Continue working in this manner until you have completed appliquéing your piece to the background fabric.

Freezer Paper Preparation Method for Hand Appliqué

Some quilters prefer to hand appliqué pieces that already have all of the raw edges turned under. This allows them to prepare all of the pieces ahead of time and simply use the hand appliqué stitch to adhere the pieces to the background fabric without having to worry about continually turning under edges. This method is also preferable for quilters who may be unsure about their ability to achieve smooth finishes using the needle turn technique. You will need to reverse your pattern pieces when using the freezer paper method, unless otherwise stated on your pattern.

Preparing appliqué pieces using the freezer paper method is simple to do. First you will need to trace your pattern onto the freezer paper. Then cut your pattern from the freezer paper leaving about 3/8" around all of the edges. Next you will iron the shiny side of that piece of freezer paper to the dull side of another piece of freezer paper. Cut around the edge of the double-layered freezer paper template. Next you will iron the shiny side of your template to the wrong side of your fabric. Cut out around the edges leaving 1/4" extra fabric all around. Finish preparing your pieces by "painting" a little bit of starch on all of the exposed edges of your fabric. Use your iron to press the edges all around the freezer paper template, creating an appliqué shape with a finished edge. Wait until the piece has cooled from the ironing process, then remove the freezer paper. You may need to iron your piece again to be sure it is in the perfect shape. Hand appliqué your finished piece to the background fabric using the hand appliqué stitch as explained above.

 If you're interested in learning more about appliqué techniques, you might enjoy Machine-Finished Hand Appliqué, which walks you through time-saving methods for appliqué that don’t sacrifice quality.
 Also, you can give us a call at The Common Thread (406) 932-5588.