How To Machine-Stitch Applique

Layout 1 These techniques and photos were first published in Colorful Quilts for Playful Kids by Janet Pittman.

When stitching appliqué pieces to a background, there are many stitch choices. You can use anything from an almost invisible to very decorative stitch.

A piece of sheet stabilizer is placed under the appliqué and should be removed after stitching. The stitch sample in this photo shows puckering on the left line of satin zigzag stitching where there was no stabilizer. Carefully tear or cut away stabilizer after stitching.

Stabilizing for machine stitching

If using fused appliqué and stitching with a fine zigzag or narrow satin zigzag stitch, I generally do not use stabilizer. In this situation there are two layers of fabric and the fusing glue acts as a stabilizer.
It is often necessary to stabilize appliqué shapes to prevent puckering when:
•    using stitches that make wide zigzags or swings of the needle
•    stitching a bias edge, such as circles
•    doing concentrated stitching in one area
•    stitching in an area with one thickness of fabric

Make a test sample using the stitching style and fabrics you will be working with to see if you need additional stabilizer.

Setting up for machine stitching and embellishing appliqué

You will use the same basic setup for all machine stitching appliqué. Many of the samples in this section are stitched with a contrasting thread to illustrate the stitches more clearly.

1.    Choose a needle that will work best for your fabric and thread combination. Use a smaller needle for finer fabrics, as well as monofilament and finer threads. A larger needle should be used for decorative threads and heavier fabrics. A specialty needle may be needed for some decorative threads. For most appliqué, I use a size 70 or 80 topstitch or sharp needle.
2.    Use an open-toe, embroidery, or appliqué presser foot
to clearly see the edges, curves, and points of the appliqué shapes as you stitch. All of these presser feet have a wide groove on the underside to accommodate
the buildup of thread.
3.    Use a bobbin thread that matches the weight of the top thread for easiest tension control. If changing the top thread color frequently or using a heavy, decorative stitch such as satin zigzag, it may be helpful to use a neutral color, very thin polyester bobbin-weight thread. This will not build up on the underside like a heavier thread. If you use a bobbin thread that is not the same weight as the top thread you may need to adjust the upper thread tension. The bobbin thread should not show through on the top of the appliqué. It is preferable if a small amount of top thread can be seen on the wrong side. This helps to create sharp zigs on the top.
4.    Make a test sample using the needle, thread, and fabric combination you will be working with for each project.
Test various stitches, widths, and lengths. After choosing the stitch combination you want to use, be sure to label the test sample with it. Although I suggest width and length settings under each stitch type, these will differ from machine to machine.

Stitch options

BLOG_StitchApp-ZigZag Fine Zigzag Stitch

Two types of zigzag stitches are used for machine appliqué. Fine zigzag stitches are narrow and slightly spaced apart. Satin zigzag stitches, which can be narrow, wide, or decorative, are spaced very close together. Both types of stitches can be used for fused appliqué, as well as turned edge appliqué.

Fine zigzag stitching is recommended for fusible-web-backed appliqué because the fused adhesive is already holding the fabric to the background. This stitching will hold the appliqué pieces in place for gentle washing and drying. When using a thread that matches the fabric this fine zigzag will almost disappear.

BLOG_StitchApp-Satin Satin Zigzag Stitch

Satin zigzag stitching is recommended for fusible-web-backed appliqué. The fused adhesive holds the appliqué fabric to the background, making it easy to stitch around. This stitching will hold the appliqué pieces in place for regular washing and drying. It makes a solid line of stitching that can be stitched in a variety of widths. The satin zigzag stitch is more decorative than the fine zigzag stitch because it makes a more solid line and when stitched in a contrasting value or color will stand out.

BLOG_StitchApp-Blanket Blanket Stitch

The blanket, or buttonhole, stitch can be used with fused edge or turned edge appliqué. The blanket stitch gives a crisp look to the edges of appliqué and is used to mimic broderie perse and other nostalgic appliqué such as Sunbonnet Sue.

BLOG_StitchApp-BlindHem Blind Hem – invisible machine stitch  

For invisible machine appliqué use the blind hem or vari-overlock stitch. Blind hem stitching is recommended for turned edge appliqué to give the look and feel of hand appliqué. Some stitchers use a very small blanket stitch with monofilament thread to achieve the hand-stitched appearance.

Beginning the Stitching

BLOG_StitchApp-Beg1 1. When beginning the stitch, bring the bobbin thread to the top. Take one stitch and pull on the top thread to bring the bobbin thread loop up. This will prevent a snarl or knot of thread on the back of your appliqué.


BLOG_StitchApp-Beg2 2. Pull on the loop of bobbin thread to pull the tail to the top. Take a few short locking stitches and start stitching.


Ending the Stitching

BLOG_StitchApp-End To end the stitching, take a few very short stitches to lock the threads. Pull stitching away from the needle and clip beginning and ending thread tails.

Note: The beginning and ending stitching is the same for all machine stitching in this section.


These techniques and photos were first published in Colorful Quilts for Playful Kids by Janet Pittman.



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