Thursday, January 12, 2017

Machine Applique - Tools and Tips to Make the Job Easier - Part 1

By far, the biggest sellers in my pattern shops are my applique templates and mug rug patterns. Judging by the feedback I get from my customers, most of them use the machine applique method. I’ll admit, it’s my favorite way as well. When I first started designing them I used the hand applique technique, but once I discovered how fast these go together when using the sewing machine, I changed my method quickly! I’ve learned a lot during my four or so years of designing mug rugs. I’ve always known how to machine applique, but I’ve learned a lot of tricks and tips along the way that will give excellent results.

First and foremost, there is a difference between machine embroidery and machine applique. I get so many people write me and ask me if my appliques are, or can be formatted for their embroidery sewing machine. I have to tell them no and explain to them that the appliques are made up of fabric. Machine embroidery is getting so popular right now, I can understand how some may become confused. Most of my customers already know, but for those who may be new to sewing, I’ll explain. Machine applique is the process of stitching around appliques that are made up of fabric, where machine embroidery is when your entire design is made up of machine stitches. I know that a lot of my readers are seasoned sewers and crafters, but I like to help those that are new as well.

Before we begin, I think we should talk about pre-washing your fabric. If you are one that does this, you will want to be sure NOT to use fabric softener. If you do, it could prevent your adhesive to sticking to the back of your applique pieces.

Let's discuss some of the supplies that will help make your stitching easier. Next week we'll focus on tips and techniques. Lets get started!

If you plan on doing a lot of machine applique, I would suggest investing in an Open Toe Foot (photo above). I purchased mine for under $10 at Amazon. I’m telling you, this sewing machine foot will make ALL THE DIFFERENCE! Even if you have a clear, all purpose foot, you will not believe how much easier this will make your stitching. The area at the needle is completely open so you can see exactly where your stitches will go. This is especially handy when you are going around pieces where the colors are very similar or the same. Trust me, this will make your applique life so much easier.

When it comes to stabilizers, use what is easiest for you, just be sure you use something or your stitches will not be nice and even, and your fabric will more than likely pucker or bunch up. When I am placing my applique on items such as tote bags, aprons, or anything else that will not be quilted or backed with batting or fleece, I like to use one that you iron on, then tear away. When making my mug rugs, I just iron my fusible fleece to the back of my main fabric and it makes a nice stabilizer. There are so many different types and brands to choose from so pick one that you are comfortable using, and will give good results. If you are new to this, try a couple different kinds until you find one you like best.

You are going to want to use a paper backed fusible webbing on the wrong side of your applique pieces to keep them from shifting around on the background fabric when stitching down. I always use Heat N Bond LITE. Again, there are so many to choose from, and at some point I’ve tried them all, but this particular one is designed for stitching through. It holds nice and secure with the least amount of adhesive. I’ve made well over a thousand mug rugs and other applique projects, and I have never had a gummed up needle, or an applique piece that has come off. You can always get it for a great price at JoAnn’s with a 50% off coupon, or at Amazon. 

And while we are on the subject of the pattern pieces, it will make your tracing so much easier if you print your pattern pieces onto card stock. I always use this method because your pen will just glide around the edges!

If you plan on washing your item after it’s stitched, you will need to really secure your stitches on the backside. Either knot them, or use your lock stitch on your sewing machine at the beginning and ending of each line of stitching. To make it extra secure, add a tiny drop of washable fabric glue on the beginning and end of the row of stitching, on the backside of the project. I only do this when something will be washed. For my mug rug samples I never do this because I never wash them. They are used strictly for decoration. When making things such as tote bags, baby bibs, or aprons, I find this an important step.

It always helps to have a tiny pair of scissors with a tiny and sharp point when cutting your threads. You can get nice and close to the fabric with them.

Did you know that you can enlarge and reduce the size of you pattern pieces by changing the percentage of you printout? You may have purchased one of my mug rug patterns but want to use the applique on something else that is either bigger or smaller than my mug rug. This is so easy if you are using the Adobe Acrobat Reader. That is the PDF reader that most pattern designers recommend using because it’s so user friendly. It also makes it so easy to adjust the size of the printouts. It comes pre-installed on many computers, but if you don’t have it, you can download it free from the Adobe website. And since it’s Adobe, you can definitely trust the website an the download. 

While we are on the subject of PDF readers, NEVER print from the Internet viewers that open in your browser from the Internet. Always download your patterns to your computer and open them in the Adobe Acrobat Reader. The default Internet PDF readers seem to print horribly! You will even notice missing pieces in some of them. As for the other PDF readers, I’ve used some and they didn’t allow me to change the size of my printout, but I’m sure some other ones do. At least with Adobe, you have a dependable reader.

When I first started writing this post, I didn’t realize how long it would be, so I decided to break it up into two segments. Now that we’ve discussed our helpful supplies, next week we’ll focus on some tips and techniques!

Part 2 can be found HERE


  1. For a twelve inch wall hanging, what size pattern pieces would you suggest?

    1. It would depend on if you plan on having borders around the applique. For a 12" wall hanging, I would make sure to leave about an inch margin all the way around, so if you have no borders, no bigger than 10 inches. You can always send me an email and I can help you further.

  2. This sounds so helpful. As a non sewer, it is a foreign language to me. Hopefully someday I will be acquainted with it. :)


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