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Help! Honey Bear, How do I applique?

Kimberly Kellum

Hi Bears!  Are you brand new to embroidery?  If not, do you remember when you got your machine?  If you were anything like me you took it out and stared at it slightly afraid...okay a lot afraid and clueless where to start, but really wanting to dig right in to your first project?  For me it was applique and monogramming.  I'd been making children's clothes, and I thought it would make me more competitive selling them with appliques or personalization.  Fortunately I didn't make the mistake of stitching for the first time right on a dress that took HOURS to make.  While tempting, it's always a bad idea to start a new hobby on a good piece.  The first thing you need to do is familiarize yourself with your machine's controls.  Teach yourself to thread it.  You're going to have to do this OVER AND OVER while you're stitching so go ahead and practice that.  Once you've learned about the operation, you might feel ready to start a real project!   If applique has your interest, then read on, bear! We'll talk about the steps of applique and some of the important materials and supplies you'll need.  At this point,  I'm going to assume you have appropriate embroidery thread and bobbin thread for your machine. I'll also be showing you an applique project with a satin stitch finish.  It's important to note if you're working on a "raggy" applique, your trimming will be different. 

Here's a list of suggested items we'll look at: Item to applique, Stabilizer appropriate for your material type, fabric for the applique, curved or duckbill applique scissors, heat and bond lite, tape or clips if floating, iron/ironing board, and of course threads and bobbin thread. 

First, remember what I said about not stitching on a good piece.  Embroidery and applique take practice.  Grab an old t-shirt or some fabric scrap to stitch on.  It's a good idea to use a fabric close to what you ultimately want to stitch on.  Say you want to give an expectant mommy an adorable appliqued onesie,  try stitching that applique on an old t shirt first.  This will help you for a couple of reasons.  You'll be able to tell if you need to make changes to what types of stabilizer you want to use, and you can see how well the fabric holds up to the stitching. Scraps and testing are your friend, especially while learning.  If you are a minimalist and don't have old shirts, check thrift stores and yard sales. 

Stabilizer is the next very important thing you'll need.  Stabilizer does exactly what the name says.  It stabilizes your material to keep it from bunching, stretching, wiggling, etc.  There are many articles regarding stabilizer, so I suggest you search and research.  There will be stabilizers that are best suited for your particular item.  If you haven't joined a facebook group, please consider it.  There are people of all skill levels who are happy to make recommendations.  For applique, you'll hoop your stabilizer and either hoop or float your item. Hooping an item means you place it on your hoop and actually use the frame to keep the item taught during stitching.  Floating is another method of hooping in which you simply lay (or float) the shirt on top of the hooped stabilizer.  Many times the item will be sticky sprayed, clipped, or pinned to the stabilizer. 

Now, what exactly is applique?  Applique is placing fabric on top of the main project fabric and stitching it to the project fabric, in this case, I'm using vinyl to make an in the hoop Easter egg banner piece. In embroidery specifically, there will usually be a placement stitch, a tack down stitch, and some sort of decorative finishing stitch to go around the edges of your trimmed fabric pieces.  In this photo, the blue stitching in the shape of an egg shows where you will place your fabric to make the egg.   

applique tack down stitch

Stop your machine after this step and place fabric over the stitches.  It's a good idea to have a good bit left over so you can grip it to trim in the next step.  You'll lay your applique fabric over the placement stitch RIGHT side UP. 

Now, you're going to run what we call a tackdown stitch.  This is typically a repeat of the placement stitch, but it might be double, triple, or blanket stitch.  This step is important because it holds your fabric in place while the decorative stitches run.  This is where we'll talk about heat and bond lite (HNBL).  This is an iron on fabric treatment that will give stiffness to your applique fabric and will help it not fray inside the decorative stitching, but it also applies a layer of iron on adhesive to your fabric.  Some stitchers like to use a mini iron and iron applique pieces to activate the adhesive before the decorative stitches. You can prepare fabric with HNBL before you get started on your appliques.  I have a drawer or two with different colored HNBL treated fabrics that I check first when I'm appliqueing with fabric. This isn't mandatory, but it's helped me over the years, so I thought I would share.  If you're making a "raggy" applique, I don't suggest using HNBL, because this will not allow your edges to fray. 

Once your tackdown stitch is complete, you'll need to trim your applique fabric up as close to the stitches as you can. If you are making a "raggy" design, you need to leave a uniform amount of fabric around the tackdown stitch.  This will be the fabric that frays.   Curved scissors are a must in applique. There are many to choose from, so this is another good thing to research and get opinions on.  I personally use a small pair of curved scissors from Havel's which I purchase on Amazon. 

The picture below shows my applique trimmed.  This particular applique wasn't treated with HNBL and It bunched a little.  My trimming could use some work, too.  The closer you get to those stitches, the better your project will be because there won't be fabric hanging out of your finishing stitch.

It's okay to remove your hoop from your machine to work on trimming.  Just don't pull or push your stabilizer out of place, and be careful to return the hoop to the machine in the correct orientation. I would like to say I have a clean area for hooping and trimming.  This is what you SHOULD do, but I usually have to find a flat surface under out of place items to do my trimming.  Don't trim appliques in your lap or on other unstable surfaces.  You'll risk unhooping your item and your finishing stitches will not line up properly. 

Here you see the finishing stitch. In this case it is a satin stitch.  Can you see where I missed trimming closely?  I'll do better next time, but I wanted you to see how trimming can affect your outcome.  Now you know the basic steps of applique.  If you're doing a more intricate piece, you'll usually place and cut all your fabric pieces one at a time before any details or finishing stitches are done.  Placement, tackdown, trim, placement, tackdown, trim, etc until all the fabric is in place.  After that is complete, your applique might have a face or nose if you're doing an animal, or some fancy stitching inside flower petals.  Then you'll have a finishing stitch like this satin stitch over the cut edges of fabric. 

My best advice is test stitch and practice practice practice.  Don't be afraid of your machine, and use items on which you don't mind making mistakes.  You'll build your knowledge and your confidence in embroidery.  Stop and ask questions in groups if you have issues.  Don't force a project when you aren't "feeling" it.  Set it aside and work on something else. Keep your learning fun, and you'll learn so much more. You'll be creating lovely appliqued items in no time!  Did you know that most of the stuffies on this website are mostly applique? There's just one more step on the machine after your applique stitches. YES!  Now that you know how to applique, you can create impressive stuffie projects right on your machine! Check them out here!   Stuffies

Don't be afraid!  You're not doing surgery.  You're learning, and mistakes are just learning opportunities.  Now go start something beautiful! 


As always, you're welcome (and encouraged) to join our facebook group: Honey Bear Studio Designs for Embroidery and More we have lots of friendly bears who are willing to offer advice, and you can show off your work using Honey Bear Files.  Happy Stitching, Bears!  




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1 comment

  • Great tutorial for those who have never appliqued before.

    Tina Sitz

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