Monday, April 11, 2011

Glue stick applique, the tutorial: PART ONE...

FINALLY...the promised tutorial about how I do my applique projects.  My quilting friend MaryLiz (no blog) turned me onto Elmer's glue sticks for applique and now I am quite addicted!  I take it a little further by using a glue baste to secure things as I stitch (instead of pins), but I will talk about that in my next post.  This one is long enough already.

I am no expert at this, and I feel like I am still learning every time I do any quilty technique.  I have had much joy and success with this method and I hope you find it helpful.

I chose a block from one of Lori Smith's wonderful patterns, "Anna's Garden."  This block will 7 inches square when finished.  I chose a small, but rather simple block pattern to show how well this method works with little pieces.

Here are some of my favorite tools.  Freezer paper, pencil and paper scissors are used to trace and cut out the pattern.  Elmer's 'disappearing purple' school glue sticks, a stiletto, fabric scissors, re-purposed acrylic rulers, and tweezers are used to prep pieces. 

Freezer paper, for those not familiar with it's non-butcher purpose, is great for patterns.  You can write on the dull side and the shiny side will stick to fabric when applied with a hot iron.

I use the acrylic rulers and odd acrylic pieces to work on because they are washable. (And now some of those obscure rulers that seemed like a good idea at the time are finally being useful!)  It doesn't hurt the rulers and they wash up very easily in warm water.

I like to use tweezers to pick little things fingernails are short (for piano) and I have difficulty picking up tiny little pieces of paper or fabric. The tweezers are a God send!

Some people like to use toothpicks or bamboo skewers instead of a stiletto.  I like the weight of the stiletto and it washes easily to remove glue build-up at the tip.

First, using a pencil, I number every piece of the pattern I am tracing FROM.  I pay close attention to which pieces are layered so I can label the portions of the patterns that will go under something else.  This is very important.  I put little cross-hatch marks on the edges that will tuck under something else.  If I don't label my pattern to remind me, when cutting out pieces I'll cut the allowance too narrow.  (I think if you click on the picture below you can see some of these marks.  They will certainly be pictured more prominently in later pictures.)

Next, I carefully cut out my traced and numbered pattern pieces right on the traced line, not adding any turn under allowance to the paper pattern.

Next, I iron my pattern pieces to the RIGHT SIDE of the fabric, leaving at least a quarter inch space between pieces or at edge.  I press well because I want the paper to stay on until I am through with it!  (It can be re-ironed on, but that is a pain!) 

I am using some small repro scraps for this project...I don't throw much away!

Next, I cut out my pieces, allowing a "generous 1/8 inch" on regular edges and a "scant 1/4 inch" on the cross-hatched edges that are tucked under something else.  When in doubt, it is better to be generous on these turn under can always trim them smaller when you start gluing, if you need to.

I'm using a plain piece of acrylic for these pictures because I thought the writing on my old rulers might be distracting to the tutorial...excuse the glare when it creeps into a picture!  It is helpful to have the clear plastic surface on a dark color so you can see the white paper pattern later.

The dark fabric I used for this vase makes my next step hard to see in a picture, so I am showing you the back of the fabric.  On inside curves, I clip ALMOST to the paper pattern...stopping a couple of threads shy of the pattern (if this was a true corner, like the cleft in the top of a heart shape, I would clip right to the paper pattern).  For gradual curves, I don't make many clips, for "curvier" curves, I have to clip more.

I don't clip right to the paper pattern, because doing that makes it harder to get a smooth, unbroken curvy edge on the finished piece.

Now we are ready for glue!  I work right on the edge of the glue stick.

Glue LIGHTLY, right on the very edge of the WRONG side of the fabric.  The disappearing purple will show you where you have glued, but the tell tale purple doesn't hang out for will fade.  At first, just glue an inch or so at a time.  As you build up speed, you can practically glue the whole piece, then work your magic!

I'm right handed, so I use the stiletto in my right hand, folding over the glued edge on itself, using the pattern edge FROM THE OTHER SIDE as my guide.  I fold that edge over until I...just...see...the white edge. 

I don't completely stick down the place I started folding over because I have to blend where I end WHEN I GET BACK AROUND to where I started.  The glue is fairly doesn't dry super quick, but sort of quick.  You can sort of pull up the glued edge where you started, once getting back around to it, but it is so much easier if you leave yourself a little wiggle room.

The inside curves are fairly easy, rounded corners are a little just have to make little tucks, little pleats.  I never clip outside corners.  I poke things with my stiletto in my right hand, then push down and guide with my index finger/fingernail on my left hand.  Here I'm trying to do it with one hand and hold the camera with the other...

Now my husband has the you will truly see what a horrible photographer I really am by comparison...

Here I am (above) making clips in my curves.  Here you can see the inside edge of this flower, with the little cross-hatch marks that told me to trim a wider turn under allowance where the flower center will overlap. SPOILER ALERT:  That wider bit won't be turned under at all, but will support the piece that overlaps.

Now I apply the glue...since I am not gluing under the area where the next piece will overlap, that is an EXCELLENT place to start with the glue!

Then, I poke with the stiletto in one hand and mash to reinforce as I go with the index finger of the other hand.

As I go around the outside curve, I make little pleats to ease the fullness...big pleats would make the curve jerky and not completely rounded.  This is where the 1/8 inch turn under allowance is your friend!  Sometimes I trim even closer to keep things from getting too bulky on the back for the tighter curves.

Here I am demonstrating using the tweezers to pick things up and move them around.

Here I am clipping with my little scissors.

Applying glue...

This is a little more glue than I normally use...I wanted to make sure we got the picture before it disappeared!  The less glue you use, the easier the needle will stitch later.

Poke, press, poke, press...

Try a few pieces before tackling tiny circles.  They aren't hard, but shouldn't be your first choice with which to experiment.

You really can make a nice, flat circle this way.

Ta da!!!  Now all the pieces are glue stick prepped!  Tune in next time and we'll get everything glue basted and ready for hand stitching.

Now you can really see the "tuck under" allowances on the pattern edges that were cross-hatched.

Just a note about glue...Elmer's doesn't pay me to say that their glue is just is.  I've tried other glue sticks - even ones made for quilters.  Some are more sticky, the skinny ones aren't sturdy, the "quilter's" glue sticks are expensive, and I love the fact that this disappearing purple thing allows me to be a little forgetful.  I can see it!

This is part one...part two will follow tomorrow. 

In stitches,
Teresa  :o)


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Sorry i left the previous comment using the wrong Browser.
    what a great tutorial, i shall try it with the melons on my "Dear Jane"

  3. Will be bookmarking this for future reference...Thank you.

  4. I'd say you must have great dexteriorty along with lots of practice to get the circles so great. Thanks for the tutorial, I love trying new ways and sometimes I combine lots of techniques. The Elmers is great, it's basically a starch so safely washes out.

  5. Excellent tutorial. I use the Elmer's purple too - for what little applique I do. For all the reason's you listed. I look forward to the progress on this. Thank you for all the great photos - the visual really helps.

  6. Thank you. It's an excellent tutorial. I'm going to save it for future reference.

  7. What a wonderful tutorial Teresa!! Thank you for going through all this work to show how you applique. I've bookmarked this too so I can refer back to it. Now to remember to pick up a glue stick LOL.


  8. I have to try this method now. :)

  9. it is nice to see all the different ways that we who do applique do it! I occasionally have trouble with my freezer paper staying put until I am ready for it to come off - and sometimes it can be stubborn in coming off and has to be heated back up again - go figure.

  10. Thanks, i'have to try this method!

  11. Wow, thanks for all the pictures and getting it all written down for us. I am definately going to give it a try.
    Happy Stitching,

  12. Your blog is THE best I've ever read. i've had great difficulty pulling myself away. i've always wanted to try applique but was too intimidated to try till now. Your instructions and tips are incredibly helpful. I am in awe of your quilt with all tne houses. I wish it were a giant coffee table book I could lug around with me everywhere. So many wonderful details. Thanks for all your work and please keep blogging forever.
    Leslie Miller

  13. Thanks for the detailed tutorial. I do machine applique and love it but have always wanted to try hand applique. You have given many details and great pictures to help me start my adventure in hand applique. I will be bookmarking this page and referring to it often.

  14. What a wonderfully written tutorial - so clear but not overwhelming! I'm saving this one - can't wait for part 2!

  15. Thank you! As I work on my All around the Town pattern I am using a couple of different techniques for my pieces. I did something similar but instead of using a glue stick I used my elmer's white glue. It works great.
    Years ago I bought a book called 12 ways to applique, now I think we can change that to 20 ways or more!
    I was pretty amazed your circle was so smooth and round. Good job!

  16. Great blog today. I am going to try that method for sure. Thanks for posting.

  17. oh man! This post is awesome! Thank you so much for such great instructions and photos! I am just now wanting to do alot of applique and this method is a 'must do'. I'm eager to learn more and really appreciate all the time, effort and experience you are sharing!

  18. Great tutorial. I have been using the "starchy iron on" method, but find it tedious (and sometimes dangerous with the hot little iron). The method you describe seems easier and more portable than sitting by the hot iron. Will definitely try the "purple glue down" method as soon as I buy some purple glue.

    By-the-way, your husband is truly a great camera guy.

    Terry in So. Calif.

  19. This is very interesting - I put my freezer paper on the wrong side, then tack the seam allowance. I will have to see if I can get a similar glue to try your method.

  20. Great tutorial! It looks like a lot of prep~ but the end results are wonderful! Thanks!

  21. Interesting that you have the freezer paper on top. The way I learned using a glue stick had the freezer paper on the back side of the fabric. I will give your method a try.

    THANK YOU...LOL...ok, did I say THANK YOU?

    I have just recently started my first real applique quilt....something simple to start with...I am on block #5....the blocks are 20" large but few pieces. I have read a lot of different ways to do applique....but I may go tonight and try a block your way. I think it will be great!!

  23. Just what I needed Teresa, great tutorial when I'm starting "All About The Town". Thank you so much.

  24. Thanks, Teresa. It never hurts to learn a new method. You did a great job with the tutorial!

  25. Great tutorial! When I started my applique quilt, I didn't know there was an easier way than just turning the edge under as I went. This is the method I used toward the end, it worked best or I got better. Maybe both. :) The stiletto would have been a big help. Thanks for taking the time to post this.

  26. Just finished reading part 1 and 2.
    This glue technique is fascinating to me. I like the idea of the putting the arrow on the pieces. Why didn't I think of that? lol Learn something new everyday.
    thanks for sharing. I will be back to see more.

  27. Wow, what a wonderful tutorial. I have never tried it like this before....

  28. thank you for this detailed tutorial, sounds so logic and easy - I have to give it try, for shure! greetings from Germany Brigitte

  29. What a wonderful tutorial with lots of great photos, thanks for sharing.

  30. Terrific Tutorial! Thank you very much for sharing this info. Looking forward to the next one.

  31. I have never before finished a tutorial without saying "I wish they had shown .....". You are fantastic! I really feel I can tackle this Basket Quilt now because you took the time to teach me. Thank You

  32. Great tutorials - love to see how other people work and this is so clear and helpful :)

  33. Amei a ideia de usar a cola para virar a sobra de costura, vai ajudar muito obrigada!!!!

  34. Just found your site. Love your tutorials! I plan to return again and again. Thank you so much for sharing.

  35. I love the look of applique and am always looking for the "answer" to this mystery. I do have a question right out of the gate. When you cut your pieces from the fabric, why do you cut a generous 1/8 for the pieces you turn under and a generous scant 1/4 for the pieces that tuck under other pieces. You say you can cut the pieces that you turn under. Being a math major - to me a generous 1/8" is less than a generous scant 1/4". My math major is very old, but isn't 1/8" + 1/8" = 1/4. So a generous 1/8" and a scant 1/4" should be close to the same. Maybe this is where I have some of my problem. I took a class and having the perfectionistic tendency I do, I even tried to cut my seam allowance to as an exact 1/4" as I could and that gave me some wiggle room to trim if I needed to do so. Am I leaving too much seam allowance to turn my allowance to the back? I am the librarian for my local quilt guild for the second year. At our board meeting this week, it was announced that we are going to start having a new stitch group (no cost, no necessity to say you are going to show up) for hand stitching. It's for hand stitching - cotton and wool. The problem is that it starts at 5:15 and our meeting begins at 6:30. We meet at a church and our "library" is stored on two carts which have to wheeled to the meeting room and manned prior to the meeting, during intermission. Then we meet again the following Friday morning. I do not have to put the library back in the closet over night. I will not be able to participate in the stitch group this year. I have fibromyalgia and severe PTSD. I've been working with a therapist and she and I are starting the process of checking into a service dog for me. I've read that some people are able to discontinue some of their meds after getting a dog. My adult son is living with me (due to his needs not mine). It is helping me, though. I read that some service dogs - depending on the issue can be trained to go to every room in the house to find help for the person if there is an emergency. I have become very reclusive and do not even quilt any more. The past president of the guild showed up at my home this past week to check on me and took me to the board meeting. Folks knew something was wrong when I wasn't there to open the library even though my backup was there. One night this week my son came home from work and found three friends that I met at Grief Share in my house. They had rung the door bell and beat the door down because I wasn't answering the phone or responding to texts. These ladies are sisters I never had. We all lost loved ones about the same time. There are six of us who are very, very close. Four of us lost spouses and two lost mothers. I hope that perhaps we can correspond via email and I can learn to conquer applique. I know a lady at my LQS in amazing and I took a class from her and I felt overwhelmed. I want to say I agree with you to support your local quilt shops. I do order some things online but support my favorite local quilt shop. I try to buy many of the books for the library from them even though I could buy them cheaper online with free shipping. If we do not support them, they will not be there for us and colors are not true colors on monitors. I hope I have not been a burden with my note. I've just started on Part I of the method and want to give it a try. I truly believe that there are not chance meetings - I believe they are ordained by God for a reason. I pray that in some small way that I may be a blessing in your life. I found you by clicking on a link from Fabric Therapy. God's Riches Blessings to You. Susan

    susan.dietrich at cox dot net

  36. Oops - you are Fabric Therapy - I was also looking at the fabric shops.

  37. How generous of you to take the time and effort to share your method with us. I am so thankful and will be bookmarking these posts. So helpful to me, I cannot tell you. Giant thanks.

  38. Thank you so much! I never actually did turn under applique and needed to do it, or wanted to. Your tutorials are wonderful and easy to understand. Thanks again for sharing your talents.

  39. Hi from down under, Kind friend from the USA has bought me fabric glue when she visits, but I have never had Elmer's ..... today I found some in a warehouse and bought a pkt of 12. Look forward to using same when next appliquéing or working with hexagons. Love your easy to follow tutorial and look forward to more!!! Love to hear from other enthusiasts. Lyn (

  40. What a great tutorial! Thank you!

  41. Thanks for doing this tutorial Teresa.. it is excellent!!! I am excited to get a glue stick (purple disappearing if the store has that ) and give this a go!!!

  42. this method makes a perfect circle. I go to hardware store and purchases several different size (I'm not sure of their name) they are thin metal circles with a hole in the center, I do a running stitch around the fabric (at least 1/4 inch. put the circle metal thing in wrong side of fabric and pull the end of the thread (double the thread so it won't break) gently until the circle becomes perfect. no creases. now on the right side I spray or use q tip with liquid starch. Iron . next remove the disc thing and wah lah you have a perfect circle. (I would buy several of the same size and after gathering the thread you could lay out and iron many at a time. the metal circle gets really hot but it makes a perfect crease. they are really inexpensive.

  43. Thank you for sharing what you have learned through your hard work. It is easy to understand and hopefully to apply on my own. I really appreciate your generosity.

  44. Thanks for sharing. I learn more and more every day about the usefulness of Elmer's glue in sewing and quilting. This is yet another one! Great!!!

  45. I have discovered appliquick (I get it from It is a light weight fusible that I iron on the wrong side of the fabric, cut out the piece leaving a small turn under allowance, and use elmer's glue. I also got the tools from P3 designs. that help me hold the piece with one hand and do the turning with my right hand. I call them my Rod and my Staff. There is also a great tutorial on the subject. Have fun, Ladies!

  46. I use Apliquick tools and stabilizer but I’m commenting because I also use a dental type pick (but one not for in your mouth) which helps me with tight curves which would work well for you. If you want to know where I purchased the picks contact me at

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