Pointers for Appliqué

From adhesive to backing, use these tips to perfect the appliqué decorating process

By Alice Wolf, Contributing Writer

October 3, 2016

Appliqué may be a fancy-sounding word complete with an accent mark, but the process is nothing more than simply sewing a piece of fabric on top of another and adding a neat border of stitches.

The technique can be used to quickly and inexpensively fill a large area, produce a uniform appearance on many products, and adhere to the colors or fonts of a brand or institution. Appliqué adds texture and interest, helps personalize items and adds creativity. It also can be used on all types of apparel, caps, hats and totes.

Choose an Adhesive
The appliqué process varies slightly by embroidery machine and software, but the principle is the same. Put in its most general terms, if you are using a stock design file, open it and print the die line, which will show the design in crosshairs so that it can be synchronized with the embroidery machine. Place your appliqué fabric on top of a piece of heat seal. Then, spray the back side of the printed die line with adhesive, position it on top of the appliqué fabric and press down.

You’ve just created a “sandwich” consisting of the printed die line on top,  appliqué fabric in the middle and heat seal on the bottom. Cut out the shape of your appliqué, then discard the printed paper you used as a template.

Hoop the item to which the appliqué will be applied, along with a backing that is appropriate for the fabric. Sew an outline stitch onto your base fabric, indicating exactly where the appliqué should appear. Then, using an appliqué or regular steam iron, apply heat to the design and position the appliqué directly over the outline stitch. With the appliqué in place, tack it down around the edges with a loose tack-down stitch to hold it in place and then sew around the edges with a satin stitch.

If you are using a zigzag stitch around the edges instead of a satin stitch, you can skip the step of applying a loose tack-down stitch.

Perforated Perfection

There are times when a non-fabric material, such as a lightweight plastic, foil or film, may be used for an appliqué. If the material you use can be perforated by the needle as it creates the satin-stitch border around the design, there is no need to cut it out first; the needle will do this for you. The satin stitch along the design’s border will make it easy to tear away any excess material as long as there are decorative stitches of some sort within the appliqué design to keep it in place.

Backing Choices
The correct backing for your appliqué work is determined by the fabric to which you are applying the design. For example, Figure 1 (shown above) is placed on a tote bag, which can withstand a medium to lightweight tearaway backing. The large portion of the dog’s tan coat is a micro suede fabric that adds texture, as well as reduces stitch count by filling in large areas. Ideal for childrenswear, embroidery stitches give the dog personality, and the coat’s nap adds character and charm to the design.

A design more than 12 inches tall, Figure 2 is stitched on the back of a fleece vest. The detail of the woman’s face, hair and arms is complemented with green and red shaded fabric. The sun behind her is an appliqué, and the flowers and grass at her feet share space with her gown’s green fabric.

Figure 2

The appliqué fabrics were chosen to add texture, interest and dimension, and perhaps reduce an already-high stitch count. Because of the fleece’s stretchiness, a cutaway backing was used, as well as topping. To keep the flowers’ small stitches from sinking into the fleece’s pile, a water-soluble topping keeps the stitches elevated, even after the excess topping is removed.

Figure 3 is an example of appliqué on performancewear. The fabric’s stretchiness requires stabilization with a sturdy cutaway. In addition, since the flying skull design is placed on running shorts that are worn against the skin, a soft, thin cover-all is applied with heat after much of the cutaway is removed.

The skull also was done in StitchFoil so that if the person wearing the shorts were running along the side of a road at night, car headlights would cause the appliqué to shine,  adding visibility.

Figure 3

Alice Wolf is the marketing communications director for Madeira USA. She began doing marketing and public relations for the art industry in New York, then migrated north to Madeira’s New Hampshire headquarters. For more information or to comment on this article, email Alice at awolf@madeirausa.com.