Tuesday, October 6, 2009

A boring (for some) hand-applique tutorial...

I want to respond to an "anonymous" comment from Teresa in Illinois about the "glue-stick method "of doing hand applique (I didn't see an email posted for you).  I am a novice at this technique, but have gotten some really good results using it already on blocks from the "Civil War Bride Quilt."

I learned everything about this from my friend Mary Liz (ML), but hopefully she won't mind me passing along a very crude tutorial.  I've been doing hand-applique for years by another method.  I'm taking her class at the local quilt shop next week, where I hope to learn even more fussy little details.  Perhaps then I will work up a tutorial to add to this blog.  I'm finding the technique very liberating, and maybe others will as well.  I'm on a crusade to make the word "applique" cease to be a dirty word!

* freezer paper
* glue stick (there are MANY out there - "Elmer's Washable Glue-Stick-Disappearing Purple" - ML likes these because they aren't too sticky, they are cheap, easy to find, and the temporary purple color helps you see where you've glued.  There are more expensive ones, made by quilting folks like Fons and Porter, but the Elmer's works great for me.)
* toothpicks, a stiletto, or bamboo skewer(s)
* plastic square ruler, piece of template plastic, or piece of plexiglass (the glue washes off easily, won't hurt ruler)
* iron
* assorted scissors (paper, fabric, and small snips that are sharp to the point)
* Roxanne's Glue Baste (other washable glues may work)
* light box, or flip-up Ott Light and piece of glass or plexiglass
* needle and thread - use a slender, long, sharp needle like a straw needle and silk or cotton thread
1.  After tracing applique shape on the non-shiny surface of the freezer paper, cut the paper tracing out on your tracing line with paper scissors.  Iron this to the RIGHT side of the fabric (your applique won't be reversed with this method).  Using fabric scissors, cut out shape leaving a 1/8 inch allowance.  After cutting out, I press again to make sure the freezer paper is well-adhered to the fabric...I don't want it flopping around while I'm gluing.

2.   Snipping not quite to the paper, put little cuts in the glue-under allowance to ease inside curves or inside corners.  It's hard to see in this picture, but I made 2 little snips in the side inner curve of this pear.

3.  Working on your plastic ruler or piece of plastic, apply glue to a small area at a time, just on the edge.(I like to work from "snip to snip").  The disappearing purple color comes in handy here.  Make sure to replace glue stick cap after gluing...they dry out fast!  ("Click" on the picture below to enlarge so you can see the glue!)  Remember, you are gluing on the wrong side of the fabric - the right side has freezer paper stuck to it.  The paper will be your guide for turning under.
4.   Using a toothpick, stiletto, skewer or fingers, fold the allowance over to the wrong side, making tiny pleats when necessary, poking with implements or pressing with fingers to stick.  The glue allows you to pull up an area, if needed, to re-position.  I don't press really hard until I'm happy with my curve/side.

5.   When I get through with the shape, I turn it over on the work surface and press all the way around with my fingers.

6.   Important:  The pear shape that I used in the pictures above stands alone - no part of it is under another piece.  That means it was OK for me to glue under the allowance all the way around.  The edges that are tucked under other pieces remain not turned under.  Sometimes, when cutting out the shape, I allow a little more "allowance" for these not-turned-under edges.  If I am unit building, I can trim excess allowance away before adhering the unit to the background.

7.   After preparing all pieces, it's time to lay them out.  I use a light box, or my opened-up Ott light, laying on its back under a piece of plexiglass to facilitate this.  I lightly masking-tape my pattern to the clear surface, center my pressed, untrimmed background over it, lightly making-taped (ML likes to starch the background slightly), then peel off the freezer paper to the pieces and lay them out on the background.

8.   Because I sometimes cut away behind my hand-applique, I tend to build small units of the whole picture.  I like to use Roxanne's Glue Baste to layer pieces and adhere to the background for sewing.  It takes very little glue.  Like my buddy Ola would say, "dot, dot, not a lot."  By this she means, tiny little dots of glue, about the size of small pin heads, spaced out.  I usually put these tiny dots of glue on the glued-under allowance.  It holds REALLY well, and it is much easier to soak/wash out after stitching (before trimming up) if you have not over glued.

9.   Here is an example of how I build small units.  In this picture of a flower with leaves from one of my Civil War Bride blocks, first I would applique the purple center on the yellow flower, then, using the pattern as my guide, I would tuck the leaves under, secure each with 2-3 tiny dots of Roxanne's Glue Baste, allow to dry (it's fast!), then applique to the flower.  I trim the tucked-under leaf (raw edge), if necessary, then I move on to building the next "unit."
10.   I use silk thread for hand-applique once everything is lightly glued down...it is slippery thread (like sewing with human hair!), but I love the end result (the stitches melt into your work and are hard to detect).  If you use more traditional thread, match the color to the piece, not the background.

11.   After everything is stitched down, I soak the block in a small tub of cool water, agitating and replacing water now and then.  Be careful here if you might have a fabric that is not colorfast!  When I use a light background, I can usually see the white dots of glue baste throught the wet back.  I soak, hand agitate, and change water until I don't see the dots of glue anymore.  Then I roll the piece up in a small towel and squeeze (not wring!) to remove most of the water. Then I place a dry towel on my pressing surface, lay out my block right-side-down, smooth it out until it looks square, then press gently with a hot iron to mostly dry the block.

12.   Now I trim/square up my block.

Ta-da!!  Not bad, huh??  I felt a little awkward at first with this method, but after a little practice it gets less clumsy.

In stitches,
Teresa  :o)


  1. Teresa

    Thanks sew much for such a thorough description! I can't wait to try it. I ordered my CWBQ pattern yesterday.

    Sorry I posted anonymous but I don't have a blogger account. Thanks again

  2. sorry now I forgot to sign my last post

    Teresa / IL

  3. hi teresa,thanks a lot for the tutorial,it is not boring at all,happy stitching,susi

  4. I think you did a very nice tutorial on the method. Do you find the glue makes the edge stiff to stitch through?

  5. Yes, very nice. We have enough quilts now. Can you make me a sandwich?

    (just kidding. I love your quilts)

    -- Steve

  6. I've been using this method for a while now and it truly does work. I haven't done the dot dot to adhere my pieces but will try that next time. For my glue, I use acid-free along with it being washable so that if not all the glue gets washed out, the glue won't eat at the fabric. Great tutorial!


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