Five Unconventional, Unprofessional, and Somewhat Provocative Tips for Perfect Hand Applique

I know, I come back to this too often, but I love hand applique.  Not only is it beautiful, but it’s portable (a must for a mom on the run), and it’s easy to put down, change a diaper, let the dog out, play a quick game of Hi Ho Cherry-O!, and pick back up…again, a must for a mom on the run.  So here are my five unconventional, unprofessional, and somewhat provocative tips for anyone who loves hand applique just half as much as I do.  Feel free to add to the list!

1.  Dangerously Sharp Scissors

When I first began my applique obsession, I was unaware of the importance of sharp scissors.  I was having an issue with my fabric fraying as I worked with it, but I chalked it up to either the quality of the material I was working with or my amateur status.  I happened one day to pick up a particularly sharp pair of scissors that for some reason I had not been using to that point, and was amazed by the difference.  A very sharp set of small scissors makes precise cuts in tiny spaces, and checks fraying almost completely.

2.  Silky Smooth Thread

Literally.  Silk thread is my favorite to use.  I know this is sometimes a controversial topic, and every quilter has their own preference, but mine is silk…end of discussion.

Bonus!  Did you know that thread has a grain? I didn’t!  You should thread your needle as it comes off the spool.  Your thread will slide much easier through your fabric and your little applique stitches will be even less noticeable!

3.  Start With A Plan

Before I begin any piece, I map the entire thing out.  I number the pieces in the order I’d like to sew them.  I also determine which pieces should be embroidered before being appliqued, and which pieces should be appliqued first.  I also make a quick map of the piece using a Sharpie and old sheet protectors.  Lay the map over your background fabric.  Slide the next piece to be appliqued between the two layers and line it up exactly under its drawn counterpart on the map.  As I move through the pieces I use this to make sure I am placing them in the exact position they need to be.

4.  The Knot

This knot will save you time, yes, but more importantly, it will save your sanity.  As I said in tip #2, I love silk thread, but it isn’t the easiest to work with.  It is so light that it’s very easy to pull your needle right off of it.  After about the third or fourth time you do this, you will understand the importance of this knot.  It’s small enough that it will not pull your fabric as you sew, and it will keep your thread through the eye of your needle, which is exactly where it belongs.

5.  A Skewer…As In A Kabob

(Yes, I saved this one for last so that you didn’t see that and immediately stop reading.) A kabob skewer is seriously the key to my hand applique success.  (I should note here that I am a traditional needle turn appliquer.  I use freezer paper to trace my pieces on the right side of my fabrics, then use those lines as guides for turning under my fabric.)  Sometimes that needle just lacks the “umph” that I need.  Sometimes I need to turn under just a tiny bit more and that needle just isn’t getting the job done.  Sometimes I’m creating a sharp point and I’m struggling to squeeze that seam allowance in that little space.  Enter the skewer.  It’s got a little more meat on its bones, but is still sharp enough and thin enough to get into small spaces.  It also is longer than a toothpick (which also works in a pinch) so it feels better in my hand and I have better control of where it goes and what it does.  And to be honest, giving it a little lick (just like you do when you can’t get that silky smooth thread through the tiny little eye of your needle) makes it even more effective.   I know, it is somewhat unorthodox and I probably just shocked quilters around the online world with such a provocative tip, but trust me, I saved the best for last.  It is my #1 must have applique tool.


Nikki, In Stitches

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2 Responses to Five Unconventional, Unprofessional, and Somewhat Provocative Tips for Perfect Hand Applique

  1. Chris says:

    Hi Nikki……

    My thoughts have turned to applique as well in recent weeks. It’s appeal for me right now is that it is mobile (especially during these hot days!). But (also, like you) my mind has turned to Christmas prep. Have you worked in wool applique much? I bought a small candle rug kit that is not only suitable to Christmas but winter and am going to give that a try to see where that goes.

    Have fun!

  2. Marcia says:

    How fun . . . I had never heard about “the knot” to hold the thread onto the needle. Thank you for sharing your tips!

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