How to Applique on Fleece

Follow this advice for perfect results every time.

By Steven Batts, Contributing Writer

August 28, 2012

Editor’s Note: We asked veteran embroiderer Steven Batts to share his appliqué process for creating the bold athletic sweat shirt featured on the cover of our Aug./Sept. 2012 issue. Read about the appliqué process and see the step-by-step tips to master the process in your own shop.

Appliqué on fleece, like any appliqué, is a fairly straightforward process. The two variances when compared to “normal” embroidery are the placement line in the design and getting the fabric cutout to fit inside that placement line. Other than that, it is an easy way to cover large areas on a sweat shirt or give a different look to an otherwise ordinary design.

If you are not familiar with appliqué, the process works like this: The design starts with a placement line that outlines the shape of the appliqué and then halts with a STOP code. A piece of fabric, ideally the same shape as the placement line, is placed inside the shape. When the machine is restarted, it tacks the fabric down and then continues sewing the rest of the design.

Fortunately, creating appliqué designs today is not as difficult as it was in previous years. Most embroidery programs can create an appliqué from a single shape. In the past, you had to create the running stitch placement line, insert the STOP code, add the tack down and finally the finishing stitches. Now, the program does all that for you. When dealing with more complex shapes and multiple appliqués, there are times when creating each part yourself makes sense. Often, however, what the computer generates for the appliqué works just fine.

There still are some principles that should be followed when doing appliqué on fleece sweat shirts. These really apply to large designs, in general, but they are particularly important on something like a sweat shirt. The first principle is to start in the center and work your way outward. This ensures any wrinkles that may get pushed up in the fabric end up on the outside of your design, not in the middle of it.

Secondly, when doing several pieces — such as letters — don’t go too far before tacking down and finishing off the letter. It is worth the little extra time it takes to do one letter at a time, if necessary, to make sure the design will line up with the appliqué fabric.

The challenge is that you are working with a large area. As the machine sews all over the front of the shirt, it increases the likelihood of stretching and pushing the fabric here and there. The result is that when you come back to the beginning and start tacking down the appliqué, it is less likely to line up correctly.

Once you have the design, getting the cutout is the trickier part of the process. However, this can be done in several ways. You can cut it out on the machine, make a template to cut out the fabric ahead of time, or you can use a service that creates appliqués for you and sends you the pre-cut material and corresponding design. Another option is to buy a fabric cutter to cut your appliqué. Your choice depends on how many pieces you have to produce and how often you do appliqué orders.

If you only have one or two pieces to do, you may just want to simply lay your fabric down before you start. When the design sews the placement line, it will tack down the fabric and stop. You then remove the hoop and clip the fabric as closely as possible to the placement line. Once this is done, place the hoop back on the machine and restart the design.

This method can be very time-consuming and tedious. A better way to get the fabric cutout is to make a template. This also allows you to create several pieces, instead of one at a time, on the machine. The process for doing this actually is pretty simple.

To create the template, hoop a piece of stabilizer (it doesn’t matter what kind). Next, tape a piece of card stock to it. I like using a manila folder because it is big and stiff enough. Then, unthread the needle and start the design. You may have to re-start the machine a few times or turn the thread detector off. Let the design sew the placement stitch. After it stops, remove the hoop and reset the design to the beginning.

Once you remove the folder from the hoop, cut out the shape by following the perforations caused by the needle holes. Then, place the cutout on the appliqué fabric and trace around it. You can make as many pieces as you need at one time. This works great if you have several pieces to appliqué.

Depending on the fabric you use, you may want to iron some type of heat sealant, such as Heat N Bond, onto the backside of the fabric. This makes it easier to deal with and keeps it from fraying. You can get Heat N Bond from nearly any fabric store. Another option is to use a product like Appliqué Wonder by Floriani. This irons onto the back, but then provides a peel-and-stick surface on the opposite side, eliminating the need for spray adhesive when sticking down your shape to the garment.

There are a few advantages in creating your own cutouts. Cost is the biggest. If you just have a few pieces, it is the most cost-effective way to produce the work. Other advantages are the flexibility and creativity you have regarding your fabric. You can use virtually any fabric for your appliqué.

If you are doing a lot of pieces or you need help with the design work, it often makes more sense to use a company that specializes in making appliqués. There are several companies, such as Dalco Athletic and Stahls’ ID Direct, that offer stock lettering and shapes that are customizable to your needs.

These companies stock pre-cut letter styles in certain sizes. They have templates for making names and shapes. Most of these are geared for school spiritwear and athletic team orders that fit fleecewear nicely. Using services like this often can give you a more professional look than you can get on your own by using their templates to create the logo for the school or team. The best part is that not only do they send you the pre-cut fabric, but they also send the design that corresponds with the cutout, saving you digitizing time.

Sewing appliqué onto fleece should be treated like any other design on the same type of fabric. Because of its stretchiness, you should use a cutaway stabilizer.

When you are working with large items like fleece sweat shirts, it is a good idea to hoop the item upside down. Rather than having the small neck opening around the sewing arm, it makes more sense to have the large opening at the bottom of the shirt. Otherwise, the neck could get stretched out.

The only other difference is if you normally use a topping on fleece, you will not want to do this with appliqué. The appliqué fabric will hold up the stitches nicely; plus, using topping is just too much of a hassle.

Once the garment is on the machine and the design is started, the cutout needs to be stuck inside the placement line. The simplest way to do this is to spray the back of the cutout with a spray adhesive. Be wary of the adhesive fumes, as they can be very bad for you.

Some people take their appliqués outside to spray them. Some put them in the bottom of the trash can to contain the fumes. I have even seen high-tech ventilated units that suck out the excess fumes. Personally, I use a couple of cardboard boxes taped together. I can call it my Spray Adhesive Containment Device (SACD). The key is just to do something to minimize your chances of inhaling the fumes.

Once the cutout is stuck inside the placement line, the design should pretty much sew like any other embroidery design. It really is a fairly simple process and can save a ton of time by covering a lot of space with fabric instead of stitches. Adding appliqué products to your lineup also can mean a ton of profits and expansion of your product line.

Steven Batts, a consultant with more than 20 years of experience in the embroidery industry, owns Righteous Threads, Greensboro, N.C., which offers digitizing, embroidery and machine maintenance services. Steven is an industry speaker and consultant. For more information or to comment on this article, email Steven at