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Applique Tutorial: Needle-Turn and Freezer Paper

Summary

Appliqué can make your quilts come alive. Read this amazing tutorial on how to do needle-turn appliqué  and freezer paper appliqué. Share it with everyone!

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Applique Tutorial: Needle-Turn and Freezer Paper

Whether you're a beginner quilter or a more advanced quilter, most quilters will delve into the world of appliqué at some point in their quilting journey. Appliqué just seems to call to us quilters! Some folks just jump in feet first, treading water and figuring out the tricks all by themselves. Most quilters, though, are a bit intimidated by the idea of creating shapes and pictures out of fabric that aren't to be cut and seamed together! Classes are a big help, and quilters usually will find their own favorite appliqué technique after they've tried a few different ways.

Applique Tutorial: Needle-Turn and Freezer Paper

 

Listed below are two often used techniques in hand appliqué methods: Needle-turn Hand Appliqué and Freezer Paper Hand Appliqué. First, let's look over some basics that all appliqué techniques use – whether it's hand or machine appliqué.

  1. You will want to add about 1" around to all sides of the unfinished background block. This is because the background fabric often becomes wonky when you are appliquéing. You will then trim the block to size after you are finished with the appliqué.
  2. Appliqué shapes do not allow for a seam allowance. I'll write more on this later.
  3. To find the center of your background piece – simply fold your fabric piece in half and finger press the center fold firmly. Fold the fabric in half yet again, and finger press the center fold. Now open your block up to see that you have a 'plus-sign' in the middle of your square which is the center of your block.
  4. Obtaining a light box to use for appliqué projects is much easier than using a kitchen window! Use the light box to lightly trace your layout pattern onto the background fabric. I use a water erasable pen for this. But I also find that a fine-pointed fabric pencil works well too.
  5. You will always start working on the appliqué pieces that are at the 'back' layer of your design and work to the topmost layer. You do not need to appliqué those pieces of appliqué that will be covered (or overlapped) by another appliqué piece.

 

Needle-Turn Appliqué

This is often called the 'traditional' type of appliqué or the old-fashioned way to appliqué. I admit it is my personal favorite! I like needle-turn appliqué because there is very little prep time. I can grab a pattern; find some fabric, scrap template plastic, my container of colorful bobbins, my appliqué tools (needle-threader, appliqué pins, 4" scissor, and marking tools), and put them in a container to take wherever I go. This method is very portable. No fuss! I love sitting in the evening and doing my hand appliqué work while watching a favorite movie.

I use an appliqué needle in size 10 and a needle-threader. I also use pre-wound bobbins with different colors of thread that I bought in sets. Since we need to stitch each different appliqué shape with closely matched thread, why buy up many different spools of thread colors when you may only use a foot off of each one? Just an idea!

Hand-Applique-1220

 

  1. I find that template plastic is the easiest for me to use. Freezer paper is too flexible and distorts my appliqué shapes too easily – please note that this is just my opinion! And I can reuse my pieces of template by throwing them in a plastic bag and redrawing a new shape on an old piece to be cut out and used.
Hand-Applique-1221

 

  1. You will trace your appliqué shape onto a piece of template plastic. **Please note for ALL types of appliqué: check to see if the designer has mentioned that the appliqué shapes provided in the pattern need to be reversed or not! Use a thin permanent marker for tracing. Cut ON the drawn line.
  2. Depending on the color of the different fabrics being used, trace the template shape onto the FRONT of your fabric pieces with either a light chalk pencil (or white marker/pencil, or fine lead pencil, etc.) or a blue water-erasable marker (darker marker/pencil, etc.). Leave enough space between traced shapes to allow for approximately 316" seam allowances.
  3. Cut out the appliqué shapes adding a 316" seam allowance. Do this to all of the appliqué shapes you will need in all of the different fabrics being used.
Hand-Applique-1223

 

  1. Using a washable marker or a fine tip pencil trace the whole appliqué design onto the front of your background square.
Hand-Applique-1222

 

  1. You will first be working with the appliqué shape that is the deepest buried in the scene of your block. Ex: the furthest petal on the face of the flower. Place that appliqué shape where it belongs in the drawn pattern on the block and pin in place with a short appliqué pin. Don't fold and pre-pin the seam allowances down ahead of time! **You would actually be starting on Sunbonnet Sue's black shoes, but to allow for a more workable photo I am starting on Sue's dress.
  2. Make a quilter's knot on the end of your threaded needle. Take your finger and fold under about an inch of the seam allowance on your appliqué shape. Bring the needle up from below the background fabric and into the fold you just made in the seam allowance. Pull the thread up all the way and then put your needle back down into the background fabric almost in the same place where you came up.

 

  1. Now take a small 14" stitch from the back into the front again at the appliqué shape's seam allowance that you still have folded. Once the needle is on top of the fabric, pull the thread all the way up. Now using your needle and the thumb of your opposite hand turn under about 1" of the seam allowance in front of your stitches.
 

 

  1. Keep turning and stitching in this manner around the appliqué shape. You will need to do some seam allowance clipping at any curve that is concave (an inward curve). There are no special techniques to concave curves. Once clipped, the fabric will fold in nicely with your needle.
  2. You do not need to do any clipping on a convex curve (an outward curve like a mound).
  3. For outward points – stitch all the way to the drawn point on the fabric. Take an extra stitch at that point. Use your fine scissors to carefully trim a little fabric away from the seam allowance that will be tucked under and into that point. This will eliminate bulk. Continue stitching.

 

  1. For inside points – make a straight cut right into the "V" almost to the seam allowance. Turn under the seam allowances on both sides of the "V", but make sure to take one single stitch right at the deepest point of the "V" where the seam allowance was clipped.

 

  1. Continue to add the appliqué shapes to build up your design scene layer by layer. Remember that you don't have to stitch the areas of the appliqué shapes where they will be hidden behind another shape. Continue stitching in this manner until the appliqué block is complete!
  2. Give your appliquéd block a good press, and then square up the block to the correct size.

 

Freezer Paper Appliqué

Using freezer paper for hand appliqué is a favorite amongst many quilters. Just like needle-turn appliqué – it's all about accuracy. You want smooth curves and crisp points.

  1. You can purchase freezer paper sheets (812 x 11) from most quilt stores. Otherwise – you can purchase regular freezer paper on a roll at your local grocery store. Freezer paper from a grocery store will curl so you will need to flatten the paper prior to use.
  2. Trace the shapes of your appliqué onto the dull side of a sheet of freezer paper. *Check to see if the shapes need to be reversed!
  3. Now fuse that layer of freezer paper to another by ironing down the shiny side of the drawn on paper to the dull side of another. Do not iron on the shiny side of the freezer paper! This process may make the layered freezer papers stick to your ironing board, but can be peeled up easily. This thicker pair of freezer paper makes for a heavier tracing template to work with.
  4. Cut out all of your shapes of appliqué.
  5. Fuse the template shapes onto the BACK of your different fabric pieces with the shiny side of the freezer paper against the fabric. Leave enough space between traced shapes to allow for approximately 316" seam allowances.
  6. Cut out the appliqué shapes allowing for a 316" seam allowance.
  7. So far this process is very similar to needle-turn appliqué. This is where it differs. There's a couple of different techniques used here – use a small paintbrush to finely paint a little amount of starch on the seam allowances around each appliqué piece. This can be done by spraying a bit of starch into a small paper cup and dipping your paintbrush into the starch. You can also use a fine-tip fabric glue instead.

 

  1. With an iron around, press down all of the seam allowance edges to the freezer paper template. Clip curves where necessary. The seam allowances should follow the entire shape of the appliqué giving a crisp almost-finished look. Let the appliqué shape cool then remove the freezer paper template. Repress the shape. Note* You can reuse your template shapes several times!

 

  1. You will now be stitching using the same process as needle turn appliqué. Please refer to steps 7 through 12 for photos. You will first be working with the appliqué shape that is the deepest buried in the scene of your block. Ex: the furthest petal on the face of the flower. Place that appliqué shape where it belongs in the drawn pattern on the block and pin in place with a short appliqué pin. Some quilters also use a small dot of fabric glue to hold their appliqué shapes in place.
  2. Make a quilter's knot on the end of your threaded needle. Take your finger and fold under about an inch of the seam allowance on your appliqué shape. Bring the needle up from below the background fabric and into the fold you just made in the seam allowance. Pull the thread up all the way and then put your needle back down into the background fabric almost in the same place where you came up.
  3. Now take a small 14" stitch from the back into the front again at the appliqué shape's seam allowance that is folded. Repeat by putting the needle back down into the background then taking another 14" stitch. Continue stitching.
  4. Continue to add the appliqué shapes to build up your design scene. Remember that you don't have to stitch the areas of the appliqué shapes where they will be hidden behind another shape. Continue stitching in this manner until the appliqué block is complete!

 

  1. Give your appliquéd block a good press, and square the block up to the correct size.

 

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Glossary

Appliqué
Attaching individual pieces of fabric to a background to form a design.

Same As: Applique
Background Fabric
The fabric used as the background when placing Applique pieces.
Block
The basic unit of a quilt top, usually square but can be rectangular or other shapes. Blocks can be pieced, appliqued or plain.
Foot
Accessories that are available for sewing machines and are especially made for quilting.
Ironing
Moving a hot iron while it has contact with fabric. Often ironing can stretch and distort fabrics and seams. A better alternative is to press, where you just lay the hot iron down and lift straight up from the fabric.

See Also: Pressing
Press
Method of using an iron to press seams and blocks. This means simply pressing downwards on the seam with the iron from above and not moving the iron back and forth which can distort the block or seam.
Seam Allowance
The width of fabric left to the right of a sewn seam. In quilting this is traditionally 1/4 inch. For sewing garments it is usually 5/8 inch.
Sunbonnet Sue
An old, yet popular, applique design which originated in the 1920s-30s of a girl with a big sunbonnet hiding her face. "Sue" is still made in both traditional and modern looks.
Template
Pattern pieces made out of paper, cardboard, plastic or metal, giving you something to draw around so that you can accurately replicate any shape.
Author
Quilting Contessa
Quilting Contessa is a collection of various authors around the world that have submitted articles for the QuiltingHub 'How To' quilt wiki.  These are authors that do not write enough to have their own authorship, yet provide valuable content for the site.  If you wish to submit an article, contact us on QuiltingHub.
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