Applique FAQ

What follows is some of the collected wisdom of QuiltNet, circa 1/94, with
some updates from 4/94. The major part of this FAQ is tips on appliquing
circles and smooth curves. The latter part is a few tips on dealing with
sharp points and corners. I asked a question involving Dresden plate
blocks, so you will see references to this design.

Original Post:
Does anyone have any good tips on getting that perfect applique circle?
I'll settle for pretty good, even. I plan to cut away the foundation fabric
in the middle so I could use a technique involving freezer paper. Or,
should I leave the foundation fabric in place for stability? Any tips on
applique blocks in general? This is my first one. Thank goodness I only
have four for a wallhanging - no king-sized quilts here :-) Andrea

I just finished some math exchange blocks that had five appliqued circles
on each of them. I had good luck following these steps.
1) Cut out a cardboard circle the size of the desired finished circle.
2) Put the circle to be appliqued face down on your ironing board.
3) Put the cardboard circle in the middle of the cloth and iron around the
edge of the cloth, forcing it to bend over the cardboard. Do this carefully
if you are using steam. I burned my fingers a few times and steam burns
really hurt! It might be better to see if you can get a good crease without
4) Take the cardboard circle out of the center of the cloth.
5) Baste the seam allowance down, trying to keep the curves smooth.
This is the most important step.
6) Applique your circle in place.
7) Remove the basting stitches.
Good luck. Betsy

Just this weekend I began reading a fantastic book (very small book, large
print) called "Invisible Applique" by Ami Simms. The book is great and her
technique is great. She gives you exercises to learn the process (quick and
easy exercises). You begin by appliqueing a 2 inch square, then a bib
shaped object to practice a convex curve I strongly recommend this book to
learn a great method of applique. When you have completed the exercises you
should be able to applique anything. Good luck. Donna

I have had the same problem with applique...
you piece your plate, then place it face down on a very, very, very
lightweight fabric, I used a gauze type, almost cheese cloth like muslin...
anyway you place right sides together, sew a 1/4 in seam around all the
spokes, by machine or my hand.. I did mine by hand because I thought they
would be truer, and you turn the whole thing inside out and press the
plate... You have to wet the edges of the plate where you are pressing
(according to the directions) and kind of roll the edge as you press to get
it perfect,.... but it does come out perfect. You can either applique the
"perfect plate" as is on a foundation or you can cut away some of the
"cheesecloth". I didn't cut mine away because it is so fine that it made no
extra bulk when quilting. Karen

I've recently had some very good results with starch and my applique - (we
won't discuss subsequent stitching.....) I have some strange shapes that
need to stay in the form drawn and after cutting out the fabric with some
allowance around a card board (cereal box) template, I use an old
paintbrush to put liquid starch around the edge of the template, I just
iron the seam allowance over the template then peel the fabric off the
template, pin it to the fabric then stitch away. I've tried several other
methods to include the freezer paper, but this method has given me the
"cleanest" easiest lines. Mary

I read a posting on rec.crafts.textiles.quilting (or whatever it's called)
that detailed a way to get PERFECT seams for applique. You sew interfacing
to the front side of the shape to be appliqued, cut a slit in the
interfacing, and turn the whole thing inside out. Then if you are concerned
about the extra bulk from the interfacing, you can cut it away near the
seam line. Use non-fusible, lightweight interfacing. Jean

One way to get good round edges on appliqued circles is to have a CARDBOARD
template of the finished size circle, and use it to press under the seam
allowances of the fabric pieces which have been sprayed with spray starch.
Some folks like to gather the edges of the circle in the seam allowance and
pull on the gathering thread to turn the edges under on this cardboard
template. Press, let dry and remove the cardboard and you'll have crisp
edges which hold while you applique them down. Good luck. Ann

Circles are about the easiest curved shape to finish perfectly.
Cut a circle out of tagboard, an old kleenex box, manila folder, or
anything else of a similar weight. Make that circle the size of your
finished fabric circle. Then cut out your fabric circles with roughly 1/4
to 1/2 inch seam allowance. Run a basting stitch close to the edge of your
fabric circle, lay your cardboard circle in the center (wrong side) then
draw your basting thread up so you gather your fabric right on the
cardboard. Then press the seam allowance with the cardboard in place. Use a
little starch to make a nice sharp edge, and press both sides of the
circle. You can then pull out the basting thread and lift out the cardboard
and your circle will keep its shape nicely.
Good luck! Your wall hanging sounds pretty! Kathryn

When I made a few Dresden plate blocks, I used a template for cutting the
'petals' that was fairly stiff but thin tagboard. When it was time to
applique the whole thing onto a background, I ironed the curves in first.
Turn the plate on its face on your ironing board. Cut the seam allowance
(carefully) as you would for any curved seam or applique. Slip the template
into position and hold it down while approaching the curved seam from the
outside with the iron. Just keep nudging the point of the iron up over the
seam from one sideseam to the other until that curve is nicely smoothed and
flattened into something that can be easily appliqued.
Some people would say forget the cutting and run a gathering stitch between
the edge of the petal and the seam line. Slip the template in and pull the
seam into even spaced gathers, then iron flat. This should work as well but
I haven't tried it. Carol

Run a basting stitch close to the edge of your fabric circle, lay your
cardboard circle in the center (wrong side) then draw your basting thread
up so you gather your fabric right on the cardboard.
I have used this method many times and it works great - but I did learn to
make as small basting stitches as possible and still be able to draw up the
thread. The idea is to make very small "pleats" inside the circle and then
the edge will curve in nice and smooth. When working with larger curves
such as a heart or Dresden plate block, the trick is to make small seem
allowances - about 1/8 or 3/16 of an inch. The smaller the seam allowance
on the curve, the smoother the curve. But don't get too small that you
don't have anything grab with the needle to tack down the applique.
I also use a dampened toothpick to assist in turning under the seam
allowances. In fact I couldn't do curves without one. I use the toothpick
to tuck under the seam allowance *and* to move the extra fabric on the
curve back under where I already stitched and this creates a smooth curve.

Since your circles are probably a few inches across, the gathering
technique should work out well. Just cut a cardboard circle the size you
want your fabric circle to be. Then run a gathering stitch in the seam
allowance of your fabric circle. Place the fabric circle over the piece of
cardboard and pull up the gathering thread. When you get it gathered over
the cardboard, press it with your iron. Then pull out the cardboard. You
can leave the gathering thread in the fabric circle when you applique it
down. If you don't plan to quilt inside the circle, you don't have to cut
away the base fabric behind it after it is appliqued (unless it is darker
and shows through).
The best way to get smooth curves on applique circles is with a freezer
paper method. Trace your circle directly onto the freezer paper, or better
yet, use a compass (remember those from math class? ;) to draw your
circles. These should be the finished diameter. Carefully cut out the
circles from the freezer paper, making sure the edges are smooth. Now iron
the circles onto your fabric (waxy side down). Eye-ball a 1/4" seam
allowance or use one of those 1/4" seam wheels. Cut out the fabric on the
seam allowance line. Fold the seam allowance over the freezer paper, making
sure the edge is smooth, and baste to the paper. Now pin the fabric/freezer
paper circle on your foundation and pin in place with sequin pins (1/2"
long pins).
For your stitch, the one I use that looks great (even for a beginner) is as

1. Come up from your foundation fabric and take a small (needle width size)
bite out of the edge of your applique fabric.
2. Go down through the same hole you came up, and come up about 1/16-1/8"
away taking another bite out of the edge of your applique fabric.
3. When you have about 3/4-1" left to applique, take out your basting
thread and, using tweezers to help, loosen and pull out your freezer paper.
Then continue sewing your applique. OR leave the freezer paper in and cut a
small slit on the back to pull your freezer paper through. You can also cut
away the foundation to a 1/4" seam allowance for ease of quilting in the
applique area.
You could use this same method for turning under the scalloped edge. Use
your pattern template to cut your freezer paper out, and iron it inside the
seam allowance, baste, and pin. Continue as above.
Have fun! Hope it works out. I have been very satisfied with this methods
for smooth curves and sharp points. Janet

What I usually do is cut out a piece of cardboard the exact size of your
circle. Then using this cardboard circle as your pattern draw this shape
onto the wrong side of your fabric. Cut out leaving 1/4" seam allowance.
Now, sew around your drawn line using a small basting stitch, put your
cardboard circle in the center and draw it up tight. Press with a steam
iron and then ease the cardboard circle out and tie off your threat. This
leaves a perfect circle to applique. Beverly

Please don't tell anyone I told you such a lazy, cowardly thing to do as
this. There are all kinds of factors that make this suggestion not a great
idea but it sure works in some circumstances. Take the lightest weight
fusible interfacing you can find, sew (I said SEW not not not fuse) it to
your Dresden plate with the right side of the plate and the fusible side of
the interfacing together. Clip the intersections between the crescents so
that when you turn this right side out they will cooperate. Now, cut a
small slit in the interfacing and turn the whole mess right side out.
Smooth the edges. Remember, you can't just iron this guy flat. You now have
an iron-on in the shape of a Dresden plate. You can fuse it to your
background and either machine or hand stitch around the edge to look like
you struggled and slaved to applique it just right.
This works nicely if you're not going to quilt heavily (by hand) through
the interfacing. It has the advantage over "Wonder-Under" or something like
that because it doesn't affect the fabric your block was made of. Please,
please, please try this out on something else before you do it with your
blocks. It works on sweatshirts.
I probably wouldn't suggest it for a quilt because the interfacing would
add some bulk but for a wall-hanging - no one is ever gonna feel it.
I use iron-on thin interfacing (the stuff that dissolves would be better).
It is absolutely terrific for shapes which include circles and curves as
you get a perfect line with no points or pleats. Even points are ok
provided the piece isn't too small. I have tried it for applique on a
miniature quilt, but the pieces were too small, and I had to use a
different method. Maybe I just needed practice (or patience) with the
fiddly bits.
I found that with the iron-on method (where you iron the piece onto your
background after sewing and turning, then slip stitch), it is a good idea
to applique from left to right with the piece below your needle, and to
make an effort not to catch the interfacing in your stitch. So you can curl
the edge of the piece over the interfacing with your stitch, and stop it
from showing. Then, when you have put the whole thing together and just
before you sandwich the layers, you carefully cut away the background and
the interfacing underneath your appliqued pieces, and this reduces the bulk
and helps the pieces sit better. Penny

Occasionally when you use the fusible interfacings, you end up with bubbles
after the fabric is laundered- I've found that this occurs when I haven't
tested the fusing temperature- I think it's because I didn't use enough
force and heat to really bond the pieces. Sometimes, you can get rid of the
bubbles by using a lot of force and the hottest iron that the piece can
handle. I find that they reappear every time it's laundered.
It's a good idea to test fuse a sample at various temps and durations.
Fuse, then try to peel the corner of the interfacing away- if it peels as a
unit, then you need more time and/or temp. It also helps to really push
down on the iron to apply a lot of force. I usually lower my ironing board
a couple of clicks so that I have better leverage.
If you are having this problem before you make your quilt sandwich, you can
try to cut away the backing fabric and tear the interfacing out from behind
the shape. You need to be sure that you have stitched the applique down
firmly before trying this. After a piece is quilted, I don't know what you
could try. Denise

I have never tried the water soluable interfacing, but I have used the
dryer sheets as a backing. I have only 1 suggestion, make sure that you
used dryer sheets are free of all fabric softener. I have approximately 50
hearts with spots (they look like oil) all over them. Someone suggested
removing the spots using a bar of handsoap, but there are just too many.
Just a warning, Georgette

I have used glue stick to get things to stay put while appliqueing and it
washes away just fine. There is also a product that is like very narrow
double sided tape that I have used and it also washes away without any
I just got a great new book called The Sampler Quilt by Diana Leone. It is
published by Leone Publications. It had really good step by step
instructions on how to do applique and how to applique curves without
points. The instructions were very clear and the photos were large and
there are lots of them. Good luck. Luanne

Applique Points

1. Several people suggested folding the triangle tip at the point, and then
folding first one side and then the other at the sewing line for applique.
I must admit I have seen this technique suggested before and STILL end up
with a bulky lump at the tip of the point. Maybe I am not trimming my seam
allowances small enough.

2. "Sew up to where the point is, and take 2 stitches in the same spot.
With the point of your scissors, fingernail, or needle, sweep all the
fabric down and push it against the seam you have just sewn, then sew down
that side."

3. Using fabric cut into a star point . . . "right sides were folded
together and then sewn with a 1/8" seam. The star tip was trimmed and then
turned right side. The point was made 'pointy' with one of those bamboo
point turners used for making collar points. The star needs to be pressed
in place -- the seam goes down the middle of the back of the star point."

4. By trial and error I found that reducing the seam allowance up to the
point works better than shortening the point. You still have to be careful
to not fray the end, but it did not fray as easily and the bulk was
significantly reduced.

I may be doing this the hard way but..... I trimmed the seam allowance to
bare minimum for about 1/4'" to 1/2" on each side of the point. On my
Christmas trees I found I was able to applique one side of the point using
the normal 3/16th seam allowance and then trimmed down the seam allowance I
has just appliquedwith a pair of small embroidery scissors. Then I only had
to deal with appliqueing with a small seamallowance on one side of the
point. I also found that folding the point seam allowance directly back
onpoint helped. After I applique up one side of the point, I lift the point
material up and folded the point allowance directly back under the point.

               - - - - - -   <---- cut here - higher cut than on
                   /  \            Amy's drawing
                   /  \
                  / /\ \
                 / /  \ \     <=== Narrowing seam allowance
                / /    \ \
               / /      \ \
             /  /        \  \
           /   /          \   \
          seam allowance

Hope this all makes sense. Any other ideas out there? Judy

Good luck -- I have seen technique #2 recommended by Elly - Andrea

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