DIY Appliqué Tutorial

As promised in my DIY Star Wars Quilt post at the end of 2017, I am excited to (finally!) share my appliqué tutorial. I think this tutorial is perfect if: 1. You don’t have an embroidery machine that does appliqués; 2. You want an appliqué that isn’t available for purchase/you want to create something completely unique; or 3. You just enjoy the process of designing and sewing appliqués!

I’m going to show all the steps with the C-3PO block from my Star Wars quilt. I chose this one, because I think it was my favorite appliqué to make, and it easily illustrates the steps. I’ll be showing mine on a 12×12” quilt block, but you can do this process on any fabric or garment.

DIY Appliqué Tutorial by Sartorial Seamstress

First things first, below is a list of supplies you’ll need for your project:

  • Fabric and thread – I used 100% cotton fabrics for the quilt block, but you can use any fabric that can take a good ironing and isn’t too thick. I used black thread for my project, but you can use any color you like for the appliqué outline.
  • Fusible web – This will be used to bind the pieces of the appliqué together.
  • Scissors – I recommend having at least two pair handy: one for cutting fabric and the other for cutting paper. I also use a small pair of snips for cutting off all the threads left behind during the sewing process.
  • Paper and marking tools – Unless you are creating a very large appliqué, plain printer paper will work just fine. I like to have both a Sharpie and a pencil or pen.
  • Iron – A good iron is a must-have for this project.
  • Tape – I personally like double sided tape for this project, but most clear tapes or masking tape will work as well.
  • Cutting mat and rotary cutter – These items are both optional. I used mine to cut out a perfect square for the quilt block, but they can come in handy when cutting out your appliqué pieces as well.
  • Sewing machine – I’m guessing this one is pretty obvious, but you’ll need to have a machine that does a nice zig-zag stitch.

Now, onto the fun part!

Step 1

After deciding on your design for the appliqué, you will need to either draw the pattern or trace it from another pattern/source. For my Star Wars quilt, I drew each of the characters by hand. For C-3PO and any of the other symmetrical characters, I drew one side of the face then traced the other side. This ensured they were exactly the same. (Please excuse the crazy eyes on my initial sketch!)

DIY Appliqué Tutorial by Sartorial Seamstress

Step 2

Once you have your pattern sketched out and you are happy with how it looks, trace over it with a fine-tip marker, pen or Sharpie. This will be your primary reference piece for the project. After you have everything traced in a dark color, lay a second piece of paper over it and trace the design. This second piece of paper will be your working pattern. Do not skip this step, because if you are using more than one fabric in your appliqué, you will be cutting apart your working pattern.

Step 3

Your pattern will most likely have a base fabric, or one that is featured the most. This fabric will be your first layer. For me, this is my yellow cotton. Cut a piece of fusible web slightly larger than the size of your entire design and fuse it to the back of your base fabric. If you have never used fusible web before, it is basically fabric fusing magic. There will be a paper side, and a side with textured glue on it. The textured side will be the side touching the back of the fabric. You can iron right over the paper backing. I recommend cutting your fabric slightly larger than the fusible web. This way, when you iron, you don’t run the risk of getting the glue on your iron or ironing board.

Next, take your paper pattern and cut out your design along the outside outline.

DIY Appliqué Tutorial by Sartorial Seamstress

Step 4

Trace your paper pattern onto the the back of your fabric. The fusible web paper backing makes tracing a bit easier, especially if you use a piece of tape to hold your pattern down while you trace.

Cut out your pattern. You will now have your base appliqué piece.

***Remember: Since you are tracing the pattern on the back of the fabric, it will be reversed when you flip it right side around. Keep that in mind so you get your pieces facing the direction you want.

Step 5

Peel the paper backing off the appliqué and position it where you would like it to be on your fabric or garment. Once you are sure you have it where you want it, iron the appliqué. It will now be bonded to your fabric/garment. Woohoo!! You just laid the groundwork for the rest of your appliqué!

DIY Appliqué Tutorial by Sartorial Seamstress

I should stop here for a second to explain why we are building the appliqué in layers. If you took your pattern and cut out all the pieces individually and then just laid them together like a puzzle, chances are they wouldn’t match up perfectly. When you went to sew them down, some of the fabric/garment under the appliqué could show through. With the layering method, you won’t need to worry about the fabric/garment showing through, and everything will be neatly put together.

Step 6

Cut your paper pattern piece apart so that you have all the pieces for your next layer of fabric. My design only has two layers, so I am basically cutting out the rest of my pieces. If you have more than two layers of fabric, you will want to continue in this same manner. Basically, you always want to build in layers – your base layer covered the entire design, then move onto the fabric covering the second most area, and so on, until you get to the top layer.

DIY Appliqué Tutorial by Sartorial Seamstress

Now you see why you’ll want to have a reference pattern intact. It will help guide how all of the pieces should go together.

Step 7

Iron the fusible web to your second fabric – for me this is the gold cotton. Trace your pieces on the paper backing and cut out – remember, cutting on the back means the pieces will be reversed.

DIY Appliqué Tutorial by Sartorial Seamstress

Step 8

Peel the paper backing off the pieces and place them on top of the base piece. Make sure you are matching everything up. For pieces like the eyes on my C-3PO, I used a ruler to measure where to place them. Once everything is where you want it, iron them down. Part of my second layer included the black mouth. So, I followed the step above for that piece as well.

DIY Appliqué Tutorial by Sartorial Seamstress

The nose on C-3PO is just stitches. For this, I used a washable fabric marker to mark the placement. You can do the same for any detail stitches you would like to include on your appliqué.

Step 9

This is probably the most time-consuming step. Once all the pieces are ironed down, it is time to stitch around each piece. I used black thread for my appliqué, because I wanted a nice dark outline that would stand out. You can use whatever color thread you would like.

Depending on the size of your appliqué, you can play around with the width of your stitches. Since my pattern was pretty basic, with larger pieces, I chose a stitch width of four out of five. For the stitch length, I chose the smallest setting. You want the stitches to be as close together as possible.

You’ll want to stitch around every raw edge on the appliqué, taking care at sharp corners and on curves. It’s important to go slow with the stitching. The outline will most likely be highly visible, so you want to make sure it looks good.

DIY Appliqué Tutorial by Sartorial Seamstress

If your stitches get a little wonky, don’t panic! Usually, if you flip the project to the back side, you can easily use a seam ripper to pull out those stitches. Then, you can simply pick up where you left off.

Once you finish all the stitching, snip off any loose threads, give the appliqué a good press and step back to admire your work!

Some Helpful Tips

  • Take your time! I think this is a really fun and enjoyable process, but you want to make sure that you take your time with each step. In doing so, everything should go together easily.
  • If your base fabric is dark, and you are layering a very light-colored fabric over it, you can use the fusible web to first fuse two pieces of the lighter fabric together. These layers will now act as one fabric and will be less translucent.

Appliqués on Garments

I’ve used appliqués mostly for quilts, but I love the way they look on garments as well. I used this method on my Striped Tee with Leopard Appliqué and was crazy with the results. I followed the same steps as above, except this appliqué was just one layer. That blog post is linked above, if you would like more photos or details.

DIY Striped Tee with Leopard Appliqué – Detail

I hope you try out this appliqué method and enjoy it as much as I do. If you have any questions about this tutorial, please feel free to leave a comment or send me a note, via the contact page. I’ll be happy to answer any questions you have!

Until next time,

Happy Sewing!

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