Applique is used in sewing where you add smaller pieces of fabric on top of a larger one to create shapes and patterns. Many quilters have found tremendous success using applique techniques in their projects due to the ease with which they can create intricate designs from other materials.
If you already have some sewing or quilting skills, getting started with applique is quite simple, as long as you understand the basic principles and have the right materials to create your design.
Getting the right fabric for your applique project is very important since the wrong choice could leave you with lots of unnecessary work to do or a design that doesn’t meet your expectations.
So, what are the best fabrics for applique? You can use almost any fabric for applique, but there are some things you’ll want to consider, such as the purpose of your project, whether you need to use the same fabric for all parts of your project, if you want it to be machine washable, and more.
In this article, let’s learn about the world of applique and how to select the best material for your applique project.
What You Need For Applique
If you are wanting to get started working with applique, there are some essential tools, equipment, and materials that you will need before starting your project.
Sewing Machine (optional)
While it is entirely possible to do applique without a sewing machine, and you definitely don’t need one to get started, having a sewing machine can help you achieve even stitches and speed up the process significantly.
You can applique with a sewing machine, but a quilting or embroidery machine will work great too. If you are working with a machine, make sure that you can sew without using the feed-dogs, which makes it easier to create free-form designs.
If not, you can hand-sew the pieces, which will take longer but will work just fine.
Materials for Applique
Fabric to create your applique pieces and to use as the background fabric. We will dive more into fabric materials in a later section. You will need to cut your fabric into different designs before sewing these pieces on top of your background fabric. Alternatively, many craft stores also sell pre-cut applique pieces, which will work as well.
Interfacing acts as an additional layer of support to stiffen your applique pieces. There are many different types of interfacing (iron-on, tear-away, etc.), so you can choose one based on personal preference.
Note that if you are using iron-on interfacing, you will also need an iron to attach the interfacing to the applique piece.
Choosing Fabrics For applique
When it comes to the fabrics you will be using for your applique project; there are some aspects you will need to keep in mind.
The Right Weight
Applique is easiest when you work with a non-stretchy fabric that has medium weight or heavier.
Lightweight fabrics are often difficult to work with, especially if you’re layering fabric like in applique, so if you have a lightweight fabric (such as rayon), you should use a layer of interfacing to add weight to the fabric before sewing.
The patterns and colors of your background and applique fabrics are what make (or breaks) a design. You will want to choose patterns and colors that complement one another to highlight the shapes of the applique pieces and your stitches without clashing with one another or drowning each other out.
When choosing a background fabric, you should keep in mind that it is not the main focal point of your applique piece – you don’t want the background fabric to overwhelm the applique designs you are adding later.
Therefore, it’s best to use a plain fabric or a patterned fabric with small designs in a color scheme that will complement the applique fabric later on.
Your background and applique fabrics should work together in harmony, and the applique fabric will need to draw attention. When you choose fabrics for the applique pieces, you should pick a pattern in a color scheme that will stand out (but in a harmonious way) against your background.
You also need to pay attention to the care instructions for the fabrics that you are using – especially if you are using a few different types of fabrics in the same project.
Different types of fabric react differently when it’s put inside a washing machine or in the dryer. If one type of fabric shrinks in the dryer and the rest don’t, your applique piece will inevitably be distorted after washing.
This is why it’s important to choose a fabric that has similar care instructions when you applique, so it’s easier to take care of the finished product later.
Popular Fabric Options For Applique
While you can certainly applique with any fabrics or scrap fabrics you can find, there are certainly some types of fabrics that will work better than others. Let’s take a look at some popular fabrics for applique below.
Natural fabrics, especially cotton and linen, are durable and are great for creating applique projects. They are sturdy and strong enough to support decorative stitching, so appliqueing with these types of fabrics are not only easy, the stitches will look great after you are done.
Cotton fabric is known for its strength and versatility, so you know why it’s on top of our list here. One advantage of cotton is that it’s super easy to keep clean and is machine washable, and you can find cotton at a highly affordable price, which is a huge plus.
You can find 100% cotton fabric in a ton of fun colors and patterns for applique, such as the one we’ve linked here.
However, there are a few disadvantages to appliqueing with cotton, mainly because cotton can bleed and shrink in the wash, especially after the first wash.
If you are appliqueing with cotton, it is best to pre-wash the fabric before sewing; that way, you won’t risk the fabric shrinking or bleeding after you’ve finished the applique.
Linen is a lovely, environmentally friendly natural fiber that is great for plenty of purposes, including applique.
Linen is known to be very strong, durable, pill-resistant, and stain-resistant, and it becomes softer the more it is washed. Your creations will look great for a long time.
This linen bundle we’ve linked, for example, is great for applique.
However, linen is more expensive than cotton, so if you want to create a big piece of applique, the project will take a big toll on your wallet.
With linen, it’s also easier to find solid color pieces compared to patterns, which may limit your design.
3. Cotton Blend Fabrics
You do not need 100% cotton or 100% natural fabric for your applique project. Instead, blended fabrics will work just as well. With blended fabrics, you can combine the advantages of cotton and other types of fabrics while eliminating the disadvantages.
There are some types of cotton blend fabrics that will work well with applique, including cotton/linen blend and cotton/polyester blend fabric.
- Cotton/Linen Blend
Cotton/linen blend fabrics combine the strength and durability of both cotton and linen to create a strong, pill-resistant, stain-resistant fabric.
With this blend, you can reduce the expensive price point of linen while adding the advantages of cotton.
Compared to linen, you can usually find more fun patterns with cotton/linen blend fabrics.
However, this fabric, similar to linen, is very prone to wrinkle. When the fabric is new and hasn’t been washed a few times, it can feel rough to the touch and difficult to work with. However, this problem can be solved with a few washes to soften the fabric.
- Cotton/Polyester Blend
A cotton/polyester blend fabric combines the strengths of cotton and the durability of polyester. As mentioned above, cotton tends to shrink and bleed in the wash, and this blend improves the strength of the fabric significantly, so it won’t shrink or bleed as much compared to cotton.
This cotton blend fabric is also more affordable than cotton (which is already quite cheap compared to other natural fabrics). However, it does have some disadvantages of polyester, which we will mention below.
Synthetic and semi-synthetic fabrics are also great for applique projects, as long as the material is non-stretchy and sturdy enough to sew.
However, depending on the project, you may or may not want to work with these types of fabric.
Rayon is a lovely type of semi-synthetic fabric that is made from wood pulp.
This fabric is often known as a cheaper substitute to silk because it is very soft and smooth and very durable. It is machine-washable and moisture-absorbent, so it is quite easy to care for.
This fun patterned rayon fabric pictured to the right is a great addition to any applique design.
However, rayon is known to be very weak when it is wet, so you should not combine rayon with other types of fabric because it will be more difficult to care for.
Rayon is also treated with a lot of chemicals during its processing, so if you have sensitive skin, rayon may not be a great option to create applique pillows, blankets, or other items that may regularly touch your skin.
Polyester is probably the most popular type of synthetic fabric in the world, thanks to its affordability and superior quality.
This synthetic fabric is known to be very strong and low-maintenance. The fabric dries quickly and doesn’t shrink in the wash, so it’s great for applique.
However, as a synthetic fabric, polyester is not great if you are making anything that will be touching your skin, such as pillows and blankets.
The fabric can often stick to perspiring skin and does not feel breathable against the skin, capturing heat and can often feel uncomfortable after a while.
How To Applique
Appliqueing is actually a simple technique to take advantage of the patterns of the fabrics to create shapes and patterns for your piece. If you want to learn more, here are a few simple steps that you can experiment with to get started with applique.
Before you start the applique process, you should pre-wash all of your fabric pieces, let them dry completely, and iron them. Many types of fabric, especially natural fabric, can shrink in the washer or the dryer, so pre-washing the fabric will help you get rid of the shrinkage before getting started with your designs.
You need to make sure that your background fabric is stiff and sturdy enough to support the applique you are adding on later. This step is crucial if you are using a lightweight fabric as a background or if you are adding several layers of applique on top of the background fabric to create your pattern.
If your background fabric isn’t strong enough, the entire piece may be too flimsy to sew, and even if you can add the layers of applique, the piece may look distorted after sewing.
If you are making soft pieces, such as blankets or pillows, you can use an additional layer of fabric, heavy cotton, felt, or fleece as support. Since these layers will be hidden inside the piece, they can add a layer of support and structure, as well as add warmth to the piece.
If not, you can use interfacing (as mentioned above) and fuse this layer of interfacing with your background fabric. An additional layer of interfacing will stiffen your fabric, which will make it easier to sew and add more support to the applique pieces later on.
This is when you will need to sort your applique pieces and work on your pattern. Your background fabric and applique fabric should work together to create a complementary pattern for your piece.
You can cut your applique fabric to create different shapes too. You can be creative here and experiment with different designs to create a unique look for your piece.
Either before or cutting your applique fabrics (this really depends on your personal preference), you will need to add support to the applique pieces so that it’s easy to sew with them as well.
If you are adding decorative stitching on top of the applique fabrics, this step is even more important since the layer of support will make stitching easier too.
Similar to the background fabric, there are many ways that you can add support to the applique fabric. You can use an additional layer of fabric, interfacing, or starch to do this.
You will need to treat the raw edges of the cut applique fabric so that it doesn’t fray when sewing.
Many people use a fusible web or a satin stitch to seal the edges, but the turned edge technique (folding the raw edges inside and sealing it between the applique piece and the background fabric) often produces the most professional-looking result.
Place your applique pieces over your background fabric in the design that you want and use sewing pins to pin the pieces in place.
Note that this is the next-to-final step in this process, so you should make sure that you are satisfied with the design before permanently attaching the applique pieces.
Sew the applique pieces to your fabric. You can either hand-sew or use a sewing machine in this step.
During this process, you should continuously check to make sure that the applique pieces are placed flat on top of your fabric so that the piece won’t be lumpy when you are finished.
For sewing, you can either use invisible stitches to produce a seamless look or use straight stitches to go over the applique pieces to create more depth to your design.
For a visual tutorial, check out this helpful video from Treasurie on YouTube.
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