How To Applique A Quilt: A Simple Tutorial

Have you ever considered doing an applique quilt, but you’re not quite sure how to begin?

Or maybe you think you need some “next level skills” to create applique pieces. 

Say no more because, in this post, I will tell you all about applique and how to execute it.

My goal is to give you the tools and confidence to make beautiful applique pieces for your next quilt project.

What is Applique Quilting?

So, what exactly is applique quilting?

Applique will be a piece of fabric cut into the desired shape, whether it is hearts, letters, animals, or other designs that you then apply to your quilt top. The possibilities are, literally, endless when it comes to applique. It’s one of my favorite techniques to use to embellish or personalize a quilt.

Applique is a great option if you want a complex shape on a quilt top. For example, the quilt that I will be making for this tutorial has a deer silhouette applique. 

Trying to create that using patchwork or even paper piecing would have been difficult, and I wouldn’t get those beautiful curves and precise points for the antlers. But with applique, I was able to draw the silhouette by hand and create the perfect shape and size for this large centerpiece. More on that later.

What is the Best Stitch to Use for Applique?

When figuring out what stitch to use on your edges (if you DO choose to stitch your edges), it’s really going to come down to personal preference and how you want your finished product to look.

For example, if you want to add a name to a quilt, you probably want those edges to look professional, almost like an embroidery machine did it. This stitch is called a satin stitch, and you can achieve it with any machine that has a zig-zag stitch. 

It will take a little time and patience to get it “perfect,” but the finished product looks great, and those edges will withstand countless washes.

On the flip side, some people like that frayed look, so you could use permanent adhesive on the backs of your applique pieces (such as Heat n’ Bond in the red packaging) and not stitch your edges. You could also sew your pieces down just with a straight stitch about ⅛” from the edge. Then when you wash your quilt, those edges will fray nicely.

Another popular stitch used in applique is the blanket stitch, which can be done by hand, or some machines will have that stitch programmed. I’ve done this stitch a few times, and it works great to hold those edges down and adds a cute detail.

Before we jump into the quilt applique tutorial, I want to answer some other general questions about applique quilts:

Do you quilt before or after you applique?

Answer: I always quilt after I have applied my applique pieces. If you are going to stitch your applique by hand, you could quilt first and then apply your pieces at the end.

How do you finish applique edges?

Answer: I use either a satin stitch (zigzag) or a blanket stitch. These are my personal favorites.

Is there a “right” and a “wrong” way to do applique?

Answer: No! Find what works best for you. Quilting applique is an art form, and there are so many different ways to execute it. I would never say there is a “wrong” way to do it as long as your applique pieces are secure on your quilt.

Different Types of Applique For Quilts

There are several different types of applique. Here I will list and describe the most popular types of applique:

  • Needleturn Applique: This is the most delicate type of applique. You will cut your piece, including a seam allowance. Then hand stitch with a blind stitch onto your quilt top, turning the edges under the piece as you stitch, so there are no raw edges exposed. 
  • Raw Edge Applique: As the name implies, this type will have the raw edges exposed to give you a more frayed look to your finished piece.
  • Fused Applique: This is the type of applique I would suggest for beginner applique quilters. Also known as iron-on applique, you will use a fusible (iron-on) webbing or adhesive to attach your applique piece to your quilt top.
  • Machine Applique: Using your sewing machine, you will stitch down your edges using a satin stitch or blanket stitch.

Quilt Applique: Tools You Will Need

  • Fabric for your quilt top and your applique pieces
  • Paper and Pencil for drawing (if you are drawing your shape by hand)
  • Computer and Printer (if you are printing your shape)
  • Fusible Adhesive Paper (I always use Heat n’ Bond Lite)
  • Pen (for tracing onto the adhesive paper)
  • Regular sewing materials-sewing machine, thread, cutting board and rotary cutter (scissors), iron, and ironing board.

How To Applique On A Quilt

Step 1: Choose your applique piece.

If you do a search on google or Pinterest for whatever shape you are looking for plus the word outline, silhouette, or clipart after it, you can probably find what you need. You can then print it straight from your phone or computer if you have a home printer. 

I needed a huge deer silhouette for my example piece since the centerpiece I am working on is for a king-sized quilt. Obviously, clipart wouldn’t be large enough for that size, so I needed to draw it by hand.

Another great option, especially if you are doing lettering, is stencils. You can find all kinds of fonts and different decorative shapes and sizes that would look great as an applique piece on a quilt.

Step 2: Print or draw the piece.

Once you have your design chosen, now you can either print it, trace it, or draw it onto a piece of paper. I like to draw with a pencil first, so if I need to erase or tweak the image, I can easily. I will then go over the outline with a Sharpie marker so I have a bold line that I can see through the adhesive paper I will be tracing the image onto in my next step.

IMPORTANT: If you are doing lettering or an image that needs to be facing either right or left, keep in mind that you will need to trace the image in a mirror-image of the end result. To achieve this, I will flip my paper over that I have my image either drawn or printed on and trace the outline onto the back of the paper with a Sharpie.

When you trace it onto your paper, it will be facing the opposite way, which is what you want.

For example, I want my deer silhouette finished placement for it to be facing right. So I flipped my drawing paper and traced the image onto the back of the drawing paper, so the deer is facing left.

Step 3: Trace onto Heat n’ Bond Lite paper.

As you can see in the above photo, I have the deer facing left. The little bird sitting on my paper is just being used as a paperweight to hold the paper in place while I trace the image onto the adhesive paper.

This specific paper is great because you can stitch through the adhesive, and it won’t gum up your needle. If you want to stitch your edges, make sure you get the Lite version, not the original. The original Heat n’ Bond is a thicker adhesive and not meant for stitching.

Since I am using a different fabric for the antlers, I traced out the bust of the deer on one piece and the antlers on another piece.

Step 4: Cut out the shape from Heat n’ Bond paper.

If you are making smaller pieces, you could skip this step, but since I am making such large pieces, there will be a lot of “blank” space on the adhesive paper that wouldn’t be used, and I wouldn’t want it to go to waste, so I cut out my large pieces before I ironed them onto the fabric.

Also, I cut out the center of the piece for the deer bust so that piece wouldn’t be so stiff. You don’t have to worry about that if you are making smaller pieces, but since this deer is so large, I didn’t want to have a chunk of the quilt top to be overly stiff from the adhesive.

Step 5: Iron the fabric onto the adhesive paper.

When you iron your fabric to the adhesive paper, make sure you are ironing onto the wrong side of the fabric. Follow the instructions on the specific adhesive paper you choose to use.

Step 6: Cut out the shape from the fabric.

Cut out all your pieces and lay them out to make sure they are facing the right way and everything lines up the way it should. You can see now my deer is facing right in the photo below, which is how I wanted it to end up.

I also added a few detailed pieces, which I made the same way I made the large pieces with the adhesive paper.

Step 7: Iron onto the background fabric.

Before you iron your applique piece down, doubly make sure it is placed on your background fabric straight and exactly where you want it. I always lay out my pieces and pin them down to make sure everything looks right and stays in place when I bring it over to my ironing board.

Step 8: Stitch the edges.

Decide which stitch you would like to use, and then stitch down all the raw edges. For this project, I chose to use the satin stitch. 

Are you ready to applique your next quilt?

Applique is one of my favorite techniques, and I use it quite often in my projects. It brings your project to that “next level” without being extremely difficult or time-consuming. I hope this tutorial has helped you see applique isn’t as intimidating as it may seem.

What type of applique do you like to use? Any secret tips or tricks you want to share? Leave them in the comments below!


Miriam Ronne

About the author: Miriam Ronne is a lover of all things quilting and sewing. She is a self-taught quilter and is constantly learning and broadening her skill set to create one-of-a-kind quilts! When she's not behind her sewing machine you can find her playing with her fur babies or trying her hand at other crafty things.

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