Today I’m going to show you how to applique fabric. It’s the sweater weather season. That time of the year we all love to dust off sweaters and pullovers and decorate our homes with seasonal throw pillows. What is more fun than a unique appliqued pullover that really reflects you or a cute seasonal pillow cover with matching applique? Or even an applique tote to gift to a special someone in your life. If that sounds like something you want to do, follow along for more information.
Guide on How to Applique Fabric
What is Applique?
The word applique means decorating or sewing & piecing together many pieces of fabric onto another fabric to form pictures/patterns. This technique uses a layering of fabric patches or trims to the base fabric and then securing them either using some form of glue or sewing them down to form a new pattern/design/image. A fabric collage, if you may!
Different Ways to Applique Fabric?
There are many different ways to applique fabric. There is machine applique, hand applique and fusible applique. There are also digitized embroidery machines that do the applique style embroidery for you, which has a lot more precise finish, but they need specific digitized patterns which makes it slightly limited and can become expensive over time. The applique technique is widely used in quilting and apparel crafting for personalization and customization. Today I am going to focus on how to applique fabric on a pullover, that is, on a knit or stretch fabric with knit fabric pieces.
Before I get into all the details, keep in mind, you do not have to go fancy to do applique. It can be as simple as adding a single patch of fabric that already has a print/design on it to a garment. If you are doing such an applique, and you want to keep it extremely simple, just use some disappearing glue to temporarily stick the applique piece to the main garment and then sew them down. I like to use Elmer’s purple glue stick for this purpose.
But if you want to do an involved applique, listed below are the supplies you need to start your applique project:
How to Applique Fabric on a Pullover
- Scissors – Sharp applique scissors would be handy for tight corners and smaller details.
- Heat n Bond – More details below
- Marker/ Pen – I like to use washable Crayola markers/Frixion pens when marking main fabric.
- Applique Fabric Scraps
- Main Fabric/clothing
- Image of your choice
- Needle & Thread
- Sewing Machine
Heat n Bond – There are different types of heat n Bond available in the market. Ultra-hold (Red – No sew), Lite (Purple – Sewable), Feather Lite (Blue – Sewable) , and Soft stretch (Yellow – Available in no sew and Lite) Be sure to choose a Sewable Heat N Bond.
This double-sided adhesive paper has a coarse side and a smooth paper backing side. You iron the coarse side onto the wrong side of the fabric pieces you are going to use for the applique. When ready you peel off the paper backing and place the side that has the glue on to the apparel and iron it set. If you used the ultra-hold adhesive, you might be able to skip the step to sew things down, but if it is a wearable item or a piece that will see a lot of higher traffic like a pillow cover, you are better off securing it by sewing it down for added safety.
The heat N bond is not an absolute necessity. Applique can be done without this adhesive interfacing. The interfacing just makes things infinitely easier to hold everything in place and eliminates distortion through stretching. And since we are working with stretch fabrics, I am using Soft Stretch for this project.
Steps to Applique
Applique Step 1: To get started with applique, the first thing you need to do is settle on a design or pattern for your applique. It can be anything you want it to be. It can be as simple as a basic shape like a heart or a star, or it can be as complicated as a bouquet of flowers or some character’s face. For the purpose of this tutorial, I am going to show you how I am appliqueing a mug of Hot Chocolate on to a pullover.
Applique Step 2: Once you have decided on the pattern, the image, and the details you are going to use, you go ahead and cut out all the applique fabric pieces. Especially the piece you are going to applique on, in this case, its the pullover’s front bodice. I use my projector to project the image onto the front bodice and resize it until the design matches the bodice in size.
Applique Step 3: Transfer the image onto the back of the interfacing. I am using the projector and I transfer the image details directly onto the back of the Heat n Bond. Since the Heat n Bond is applied to the back of the applique piece, make sure that you Mirror the image before you transfer them. If you are making a design that isn’t directional, you might be able to get away with it if you forget. But if it is an image where the sides matter, pay extra attention.
MIRROR the image before you transfer. In this case, I forgot to mirror the image before I transferred the details onto the Heat N Bond and I have the mug handle on the other side than when I initially tested the placement. Trace/transfer each of the design element pieces separately. In this case, the mug, snowflake, each of the marshmallows, and the hot chocolate. This is then cut into pieces and ironed onto the WRONG side of the corresponding fabric piece.
I generally try to trace the same fabric details close together so that I can cut them out as a chunk and iron on onto the back of that fabric scrap as one piece. This also cut down on the time to prep the pieces.
You can also iron on the Heat N Bond onto the back of the fabric you are using for applique first and then transfer the image details onto them. I prefer to work in the method mentioned in the previous paragraph so that I have better control of the size of pieces I need for that particular project as I am usually scrap-busting when I applique and it is harder to keep track of the cutouts for future uses.
Applique Step 4: Cut out each of the details and peel off the paper backing of the Heat N Bond. Using the steam setting of the iron, the details should be ironed onto the bodice, stacking the details when necessary. You can also use glue sticks instead of ironing the Heat N Bond to hold the pieces in place.
Applique Step 5: And finally sew to secure the pieces. If you have a free-motion quilting foot and know how to use it, use it to sew down the applique pieces. If you do not, don’t worry. On your sewing machine use your regular straight stitch or a zigzag stitch, taking care to go slow. Do not forget to backstitch at the beginning and end.
If you are appliqueing a basic shape like a star or a heart, start at one point and go around the design until you are back where you started. If it is a stacked design like this Mug of Hot Cocoa, there will be multiple passes and multiple colors involved.
And each of the design elements should be sewn down. Again, I prefer to stack and finish the design before sewing them down. But you can absolutely sew each detail down before you go ahead to the next.
If your applique includes smaller details that make it harder to sew down with the sewing machine, use a needle and embroidery floss to hand sew the details down. In the applique shown below, sewing down the berries was harder on the sewing machine, I had to hand-sew the berries to secure them.
Once everything is sewn on, give it a good press and you have completed your appliqueing. You can then go ahead and complete the construction of the project. There you have it, a cute and unique take on your home decor or little ones’ outfits.
There are a lot of amazing patterns in the shop that works great for an applique project. I have used the Hudson Hoodie for the Hot Chocolate applique and the Altitude Pullover without the pockets for the S’mores, Nativity Scene, and the Pine Cone Pullovers. Most pullovers can be used for statement Appliques like these. But you can also do more underrated appliques that tie the pattern together.
Amy recently shared a nightgown she made her daughter with appliqued details on the solid yoke of the dress. She cut out some of the smaller details on the main print, like the gingerbread snowflakes and gingerbread man, and added them to the yoke. It was pretty cute and easily added a fun detail to the dress.
I focused on appliqueing with Knit fabric here. Since Knit fabric does not often fray the edges can be left raw. Even if the interfacing is not used, it rarely frays. But if you are using a woven piece to do the applique, the risks are higher for the fraying. If you use interfacing the fraying can be limited, but it will still eventually fray.
A full-coverage satin stitch, a blanket stitch, or a zig-zag stitch has to be used to avoid the applique from coming apart. You can apply a fray check, but I haven’t used them yet. The other option is to fold it under to enclose the raw edge while sewing down the applique. This uses a different technique for appliqueing, similar to paper piecing. You will need to add ‘seam allowance’ to the details that you cut out to allow for folding under and sewing down.
If you are a visual learner, you can find a quick Tiktok on the steps to applique here and another one of me sewing the applique pieces down here. Hope I have inspired you to try your hands at applique this season.
Other Tutorials with Applique
Know that you know the basics of how to applique fabric, we have a few tutorials here that might help you put your new skills to work. Take a look.