From the French verb ‘appliquer,’ which means to apply, applique is a garment decoration technique with a long and rich history. It had its humble beginnings as a method used to patch holes in fabrics and reinforce weakened or worn areas, but over time, it has grown and evolved into the distinguished art we now practice. Today, applique is one of the most popular needlework decoration methods and can create intricate and complex designs. Most artists make applique using an embroidery machine for speed and efficiency. However, if you don’t have one, you may be asking, can you applique with a regular sewing machine?
Yes, you can. You can stitch and create applique designs just as detailed and well-done using a regular sewing machine as those created using embroidery machines. Applique involves stitching a fabric design on a more extensive background fabric. With suitable materials, you can easily do this using most sewing machines.
Applique remains a popular technique for creating quilts, garments, wall hangings, and making banners. With the proper stitching techniques and good practice, you can create effortless applique designs or ones that are as detailed and intricate as any painting or photograph.
How to Applique Without an Embroidery Machine
While embroidery machines have undoubtedly streamlined the applique process, they are not the only way to achieve beautiful applique designs. If you either do not own an embroidery machine or would like to try something new, here are some of the three main ways of applying applique.
1. Using a standard sewing machine
Below is a comprehensive analysis of how to applique using a standard sewing machine.
Step 1: Gather all the materials.
To apply applique using your sewing machine, some of the materials you will need include:
- The background fabric on which you will apply the applique.
- Fusible web is applied to the designed pieces to attach them securely to the background fabric to prepare for the machine stitching or any other adhesive.
- Needles and thread- Use sharp, appropriate-sized needles according to the type of fabric you are working with. You will need to change the needle as if necessary to get accurate and neat stitches.
- An iron- To smooth out fabrics before you sew them and for the stabilizers and fusible web.
- Sharp scissors-To trim the fabric edges and clip threads.
- Fabric stabilizers-Can either be temporary or permanent. The stabilizers add structure to the fabric and give it a professional look. Stabilizers also work to keep the material from bunching up and the stitches from getting distorted.
- A seam ripper- In case you need to undo or redo some parts.
Step 2: Set up the machine.
After gathering all the needed materials, you will need to set up the machine you plan to use. You will need to choose the appropriate stitch (zigzag and satin stitches work well to finish an applique design’s edges) with the correct dimensions. The stitch length and width will depend on the size of the design-smaller designs will need narrower stitches-, and the fabric type-loosely woven fabrics need wider stitches than those on tightly woven fabrics.
Carefully read the manufacturer’s manual and check if they offer specific instructions or settings for applique work. The manual will also provide insight on the feed dog position and the presser foot you should use. Also, set the thread tension to the recommended amount and run some test stitches to see the result before doing the actual applique.
Step 3: Prepare the design.
You can make applique designs yourself for a custom piece or download and print one. After creating the motif, you will then need to stick it to the background fabric. Fusible web is an excellent way to attach the applique pieces as it has adhesive on both sides. Trace your design on the fusible web’s paper side (to get the design’s mirror image), then cut it in the shape of the plan. Apply the fusible web to the applique pieces on the wrong side, peel the backing, attach it to the garment, and press it in using a hot iron. Also, keep the stabilizer beneath the background fabric.
It is essential to remember that the side of the background fabric on which you transfer the design depends on the technique you plan to use.
Step 4: Stitch and finish
After the design pieces are securely in place, you can then stitch around the design edges, ensuring that no bits of the fabric’s edge are peeking out. You can then remove the stabilizer (a tear-away one would be a good option) from the background fabric.
2. Hand applique
If you do not want to use any machine, you can also applique by hand, though it can be a time-consuming job, especially with larger projects. However, applique designs that you make by hand have a homemade and unique look that is near impossible to reproduce using a machine. Hand applique pieces are also quite durable when done correctly.
At its core, hand applique is just sewing a design to the background fabric using a needle and thread. However, the details will determine the quality of your project. Before you start stitching, make sure that you have the right-sized sharp needle. Your needle choice is crucial since the fusible interfacing makes the fabric stiffer thus harder to pierce. Some of the stitches you can use when doing hand applique include the running stitch, a blanket stitch, and a backstitch.
3. Fused applique
This technique is the fastest and most straightforward way to apply applique. It can be a good choice for you if you are running out of time but still want good results. Fused applique is created by fusing the fabric designs to the background fabric using an iron-on adhesive such as a fusible web. After ironing, the fabric design will stick securely to the background fabric. If you wish to do so or want a more secure attachment, you can add stitches to the design’s edges.
What Stitch Do You Use for Applique?
Choosing a stitch to use for applique will largely depend on the application method you plan to use. Some stitches are better suited to hand applique while others to machine applique.
Below are some of the best stitches you can use for machine applique.
The zigzag stitch
You can use this back-and-forth stitch with nearly all fabrics and areas where you cannot use a straight stitch, such as in stretch fabrics and edge-to-edge fabric joining. The size of the stitch you use will depend on the type of fabric and the size of the design. You can use a narrow zigzag for smaller designs and tightly woven fabrics while saving the wider zigzag for more significant designs and loosely woven fabrics.
The double-blanket stitch.
The double blanket stitch is a variation of the popular blanket stitch where you introduce another row of stitches between the first one. The second row can have a thread of a contrasting color to add some pop to your work. This stitch adds another dimension to your applique without being overly bold. Apart from the double blanket stitch, you can also use other blanket stitch variations on your machine.
A hemstitch is an excellent option for stitching applique shapes that butt up together. To create a hemstitch, draw the threads from the fabric next to the turned hem and the remaining stitches bundled into decorative patterns.
Some of the stitches you can use when doing hand applique include:
- The satin stitch
The standard satin stitch lays flat and fully covers a section of the fabric. The zigzag stitch in a sewing machine can help you achieve narrow rows of the satin stitch; you can also hand-sew it. The satin stitch is usually smooth and can be embellished using other stitch types.
- The running stitch
This basic stitch is an excellent option for beginners who are not yet confident with other stitches or if you would like to use as little time as possible. All it involves is passing the needle in and out of the fabric.
- The blanket stitch
The standard blanket stitch can also be done relatively quickly by hand. It is an excellent option for thicker fabrics such as wool and even cotton. This stitch also adds a decorative element to your project.
Can Sewing Machines Do Blanket Stitch?
Yes, they can. A sewing machine can sew excellent blanket stitches and save you the time and effort of doing it by hand. You need to thread your machine, adjust the settings appropriately, select the blanket stitch on your sewing machine, and let the machine work.
What Thread Do You Use for Applique?
Your thread choice will have a significant impact on the final look of your applique project and, to some extent, its durability. While there is no replacing experience, there are too many threads with different characteristics out there for you to sample and choose the ones that work best for you.
Below, we give you a guide on choosing the best threads for applique, the characteristics you should focus on, and when to use them. Here are some factors you should consider.
1. The type of thread
A lot of the people who do applique swear by silk threads. Silk has excellent strength and elasticity and is also very fine. Due to its fine diameter, the stitches created using silk are virtually impossible. It is a perfect option if you do not want the thread to be part of the design.
A cotton thread would be a good choice for fabric such as linen and cotton, made from plants but would not be the best choice for synthetics that don’t shrink. Cotton also has a low stretch which works excellent with woven fabrics.
For preshrunk and synthetic fabrics, a polyester thread would be a great choice. You can use it for both hand and machine applique and also works well with stretch fabrics.
2. Thread properties
Some of the thread properties you should consider are:
When selecting a thread color for applique, the general rule is to choose thread the color of or close to the color of the applique design you are applying, not the background fabric. While this will work well, there are several other color combinations and placements you could try to create different looks.
By choosing a thread whose color contrasts to that of the background fabric and the applique, the stitches can act as more than a joining device, and you can use them as a design element.
If the stitches you make tend to drift to the background fabric, use a thread color that matches the background fabric, so any mistakes are less noticeable.
- Thread weight and size
The thread weight will affect the overall look and visibility of your stitches. Several recognized systems determine thread size based on various parameters. You can experiment on different thread sizes and weights on a piece of fabric to get the one that works best for you.
Different types of thread have different luster ranges, with metallic threads being the shiniest and cotton having low luster. The thread luster can be an essential piece of the decorative element of your applique. However, make sure that you can use the thread you choose with the fabric.
How Do You Applique Large Pieces?
Applique is not only used for small, quaint designs on sweaters and baby blankets. You can use applique to create large breathtaking designs on large quilts or even use wall hangings. Below you can find tips to help you make large applique pieces.
Stabilizers are a must-have when doing applique, especially with large pieces, as they add structure to the fabric and prevent bunching and distortion. We recommend water-soluble stabilizers, as they produce a great stitch-out. You can use the other types of stabilizers though you may see it on the fabric edges, and you may risk ruining some stitches.
2. Use Pellon or batting
Though you can make applique without Pellon or batting, it enhances the stitches and gives the design body when used on larger applique pieces. If you are making pieces such as placemats, you can use thinner pieces for easier working.
3. Minimize movement within your hoop
Large applique designs can be quite stitch intensive, and it is essential to reduce any movement of the stabilizer within the hoop to get the best possible work.
4. Align the pieces correctly
If the design piece you are working on is more extensive than your hoop width, you can use the alignment crosshairs in the machine to make sure that the final design is perfectly aligned.
The decorative options when doing applique are near limitless. The type of applique you choose to do, the threads you choose, the application method, and the stitches you sew all play a role in the final appearance. By shuffling each of these around and trying new methods and techniques, you can create unique, beautiful pieces in near-infinite ways. But still, the question remains,
Can You Applique With a Regular Sewing Machine?
You most definitely can. Most sewing machines have features that will make doing applique on them a breeze if you know how to use them and have suitable materials.
We appreciate you reading this article to the end and hope we have addressed any questions you had. Contact us in the comment section below and leave your comments, suggestions, and questions.