Today, I'm sharing my secrets for fusible applique. Fusible applique is fun and easy to do. When I started quilting in 2008, the first quilt I made was a traditional nine patch and rail, but the first quilt I actually finished was fusible applique. It was this "Girlfriends" quilt for my dear friend, Sue. The pieces are fused to the background and top-stitched using satin stitch.
I purchased the pattern before I ever learned to quilt. I had always wanted to learn, and it was my desire to do this quilt that really sealed the deal. With no idea how to do applique, I was really flying by the seat of my pants! Thanks to the women at a local quilt shop who offered coaching and support, I was able to finish the project. It was only the first of many applique quilts that I would make, and it seems there's always at least one on my list of works in progress.
There are many ways to do applique, and many products available, and so this tutorial shouldn't be seen as the only way to do it. It's the way I do it. Here are some of the quilts I've made using this method.
Butterfly Garden: The butterflies are affixed using fusible applique, and the designs on their wings are machine embroidered using a narrow satin stitch.
A Cat for All Seasons: This was the second applique quilt that I completed.
Checkerboard Flowers: This was a block of the month quilt. The applique pieces are pinked at the edges and then details have been machine embroidered onto them.
There are many ways to top-stitched fused applique pieces. This is only one way to do it. In this case, the edges have been pinked and the machine embroidered details serve as the top-stitching to hold them in place. I've stitched approximately 1/4-inch from the edges with the idea that the edges will "rag" when the quilt is washed for the first time, giving it a three-dimensional appearance.
Home is Where the Heart Is: Another block of the month, these pieces are top-stitched using the more conventional buttonhole stitch (or blanket stitch).
This next image shows the stitching detail for buttonhole stitch. I like the effect of this stitch, and it's the one I use most frequently.
A Kitten's Tale: This quilt combines the look of fusible applique and hand embroidery. The top-stitching for these applique pieces was done using a straight machine stitch very close to the edge. In this way, the stitching tends to disappear.
This next image shows the stitching detail.
There are other ways to do top-stitching as well, and you need only be limited by your imagination. For example, this is a quilt I'm still working on. This is a block from the Hello Sun quilt along project.
In this case, I've used a very short straight stitch and stitched around the edge of the applique three times in order to give it the appearance of a child's drawing. Of course, top-stitching is only the finishing stage of fusible applique. And I imagine you're wanting to see how it's done.
Fusible applique shouldn't be confused with "needleturn applique" which is defined on the Quilt University website as as a method of appliqué where the point of the needle turns under the seam allowance as you hand sew. Fusible applique is applique using fusible interfacing. You can iron the pieces of your appliqué to the surface of your quilt. Different weights are available and affect how stiff the finished product will be.
You'll need a few items to complete a piece using fusible applique. Of course, you'll need fabrics. You'll need something for your background, and you'll need different fabrics for your different applique pieces. And you'll need thread. I'll say more about that later.
Also, you'll need some sort of fusing medium. I like Thermoweb Heat 'n Bond Lite.
It's the only product I've ever used. It was recommended to me. I tried it and liked it. It's never given me a bit of trouble, and so I've never felt a need to try anything else. It is readily available at most fabric stores, and can be purchased in pre-cut rolls or by the yard. I prefer to purchase it by the bolt. I do a lot of applique, and this is the most economical way to purchase it.
Also, a good pair of applique scissors is highly recommended. Applique scissors have a curved or shielded blade so that you can snip without cutting your fabric. My favorites are these Galaxy brand scissors with the curved tip. They are spring-loaded and light weight.
Also, I have a shielded pair. The flat "shield" rests against and protects your fabric as you cut.
These are the Gingher brand.
When I first started doing applique, I was using my regular thread clippers to snip threads. Then I read a resource that warned me that it wasn't a matter of "if" I would cut my fabrics, it was only a matter of "when". Everyone has to decide for themselves, but that warning was enough for me to decide to invest in a pair of applique scissors. I would hate myself if I put a lot of work into a piece only to accidentally cut an unwanted hole in my fabrics. Ugh.
Finally, you're going to need some sort of light source for tracing out your applique templates. I have this Alvin ARTOGRAPH Lightracer II available from Amazon.
This is a relatively expensive way to do it, but again, I do a lot of applique, and so the cost was worth it to me. There are cheaper ways to do it. For example, you can tape your pattern to a window and use natural sunlight to trace your applique templates. Also, you can rig up an empty glass picture frame with some sort of light source below it and use that for your light box. Another easy less expensive and portable way to do it is to use one of these ArtBin Super Satchels.
Dividers inside can be removed. You can then insert a light source--a flashlight works well--close the lid and use that as your light box. You can probably think of other ways to create a light box for yourself. It's possible to trace your templates without using a light box, but your job will be easier and less frustrating if you design some sort of light source for yourself.
So that's about all you'll need other than a pattern or some idea about what you'd like to make. And with that, I say it's time to get to it! Here's how it's done.
The first thing you'll need to determine, whether you've made your own pattern or you're using a preprinted one, is whether the applique templates are reversed or not. Most patterns will say right on them whether you need to reverse your pieces or not.
On this pattern, the pieces have already been reversed. This is important because you will be ironing your fusing medium onto the wrong side of your fabric. That means that the pieces will need to be mirror images of the ones you'll see once you've fused them to your background fabric. If the pieces are NOT reversed, simply flip your pattern to the wrong side and trace the applique pieces that way. The lines will show up easily if you're using a light source of some kind.
Also, you'll notice that some of the pieces on the pattern above have some dotted lines. These dotted lines indicate that portion of the applique piece will be under another piece that will be fused over the top. (This will all make better sense in just a minute.)
I always start by drawing a template of my pattern using wax paper and a Sharpie. This will help you with placement of your applique pieces. The pieces will be applied in numerical order according to the way they are numbered on your pattern. (Don't forget to engage your brain, however. Sometimes the patterns are wrong.)
Simply trace all the lines from the pattern, including all the dotted lines, onto your wax paper template.
When it's complete, you'll have a pattern that looks just like your printed pattern, but it will be possible to see your fabric through the wax paper.
Now you're ready to work with your fusing medium. The "sticky" side (the side that will be ironed onto the fabric) has a waffle texture.
The paper side is smooth and will have the brand name stamped on it.
Place your pattern over your light source and then place the fusing medium paper side up over the top of the pattern. Then trace the pattern pieces in numerical order. Generally, I trace and fuse mine one at a time, but you may prefer to trace them all out at once. It's a good idea to number them as you go. Also, draw in the solid lines and dotted lines just as you see them on the pattern. This will make placement on your background fabric easier.
Here is the first piece of my pattern--the cat's body.
Next, you'll want to cut the piece out, but leave some excess around the traced line. You won't want to cut on that line until you've fused it to the fabric. Also, fusible applique will make your pieces stiff. If the piece is particularly large, as this one is, or if there are going to be multiple pieces fused on top of one another, I like to cut out the center of the fusing medium so that I can avoid some of that stiffness in my quilt. This is personal preference, and you can leave it as is if you like. You can retain the center piece and use it to trace other parts of the pattern.
Now you're ready to iron the fusing medium to the wrong side of your fabric. Keep in mind that you will be turning it over and fusing it to your background fabric once you've cut it out. Read the manufacturer's instructions for how long to hold the heat source over your fusing medium. Heat 'n Bond suggests 2-3 seconds for fusing the paper to the fabric.
Once the fusing medium has been ironed onto the fabric, you'll be ready to cut out the piece on the traced line. Give it a chance to cool before cutting.
When that is done, you can peel the paper from the fusing medium.
The glue will be left behind, and it will appear shiny on the surface of your fabric.
Now you can use your wax paper template to find the correct placement on your background fabric. My background for this piece was pieced together. The solid and dotted lines on the pattern indicate where the cat is place in relationship to the seam. Line up the template with the seam line.
Then place your cut applique piece under the wax paper and line up the solid and dotted lines.
When you're satisfied that the placement is correct. Remove the was paper template and set it aside.
Now you're ready to iron the applique piece onto the background fabric. Heat 'n Bond suggests around 8-10 seconds for this. I just count it out: one one thousand, two one thousand, three one thousand, etc.
Once that's done, you're ready to move on to the next pieces. There is no correct up or down to the fusing medium...only the right and wrong side, and so it is perfectly okay to trace your applique pieces upside down and sideways, however they fit on the fusing medium in order to stretch your use of it as much as possible. These next pieces are the Santa cat's boots.
Trace them as before, and cut them out leaving some extra around the edges until you have fused them to your fabric. Then cut around the traced line.
Now your wax paper template will become truly invaluable in getting the placement correct. Note that these pieces overlap the red cat slightly. The dotted lines indicate the bottom of the cat's legs because they are under the boots. The solid lines indicate placement of the boots. Tweezers are very helpful in getting the placement correct.
Continue on until you have fused all of the applique pieces to the background fabric.
Once all of the pieces have been fused down, you'll be ready to top-stitch them into place. This will prevent the edges from peeling up or fraying.
You can use whatever thread you prefer. I like to use rayon machine embroidery thread for my top thread. It has a nice sheen, and it is especially nice if you use a satin stitch for your top-stitching.
Of course, every sewing machine is different, but I prefer to use a cotton thread in the bobbin when I'm using a rayon thread. For a buttonhole stitch, I've found that rayon is too slick to use in both the needle and the bobbin. The two threads slip against one another and my tension isn't good. If I use cotton in the bobbin, the threads cling to one another better. You may have a different experience with your unique sewing machine, and so some experimentation is in order here. Decide which threads you like and use them. If you're using different threads, it's good to come close to a match in the color so that your bobbin thread isn't visible from the top.
Also, I use a top-stitching needle.
You can see in the image below that the top-stitching needle on the right has a larger eye than the universal needle on the left. This means fewer problems with thread breakage, especially if you're using metallic threads or other specialty threads. Again, you will need to experiment a little bit with this if you find yourself having troubles.
The color of thread you use is strictly up to you. I have used black or white exclusively regardless of the color of the fabric I'm using, and I have used threads that match each piece. Whichever you prefer is the correct choice. In this case, I'm matching my threads to the color of the fabric.
If you're using a buttonhole stitch or a satin stitch, here's a tip about how to start and end your line of stitching. You'll be clipping your threads right next to the fabric, and so you want them fastened down somehow. I like to start my line of stitching a few stitches from the edge of the applique piece. I'm doing a buttonhole stitch here, and so I take two straight stitches beginning a little bit from where I want my line of buttonhole stitches to begin. (It helps to hand crank the needle for this.)
In this next image, you can see that I've taken two straight stitches, then turned my fabric to begin my buttonhole stitch.
Next, I turn the fabric just slightly to accommodate the repositioning of the needle as it moves left and right.
You'll want most of the stitch on the applique piece with the straight line of stitching right next to the edge.
When you come to the end of the line, simply reset your machine to a straight stitch, turn your fabric and take two more straight stitches right over the top of your buttonhole stitch to finish it off.
Raise the needle, and clip your thread right next to the fabric.
You can see that those straight stitches you took at the beginning and the end are nearly invisible.
If you're stitching a piece where your line of stitching will completely encircle the piece, you can do the same thing. Begin with a couple of straight stitches.
Then begin your blanket stitch (or satin stitch). I've raised the presser foot here so that you can see where my needle and thread are.
Then continue stitching all the way around your applique piece and stitch right over the top of the straight stitches you started with.
Once your buttonhole stitch meets up with the beginning of the row, you can again switch back to straight stitch and take a couple of more stitches to end it off.
Here you can see that those straight stitches blend right into the buttonhole stitch and become invisible.
If you can't do this or don't like the look of it, you can always dab the ends of your threads with some Fray Check.
You can then decide to add embellishments, as I did for the cat's eyes and whiskers, or you can wait on that until you've quilted your finished quilt.
I hope you've found this tutorial helpful. If you have questions, please feel free to email me. You can find my email address in my right sidebar.