What are the different types of appliqué?


Ailish Henderson shares her view on the world of embroidery - it's the Ailist!

Whether you are a textile beginner or a well practiced embroiderer, you will have heard the term appliqué. If you were wondering what the different types of appliqué are, I have the answer!

There are three main methods of appliqué: machine appliqué, hand appliqué and fused appliqué. There are different types of using these methods:

  • Smooth edge appliqué
  • Raw edge appliqué
  • Reverse appliqué
  • Decorative appliqué.

Appliqué means to apply one piece of fabric to another. Usually this is a fabric background with shapes of some sort applied on top. The aesthetic of appliqué is often developed further by using a variety of colours to contrast, for example a red shape placed on a green background. It can then be finished beautifully, special threads to add extra stitching, beading to embellish the shapes, the list goes on.

Appliqué can be used on many surfaces and can be a decorative way to finish off many objects such as cushions, scarves, bags and clothing. Most surfaces will be able to take appliqué in some form.

Methods of appliqué

There are many different types of appliqué and you may question which one to use. There are three main methods of applying appliqué, they are:

  • Machine appliqué
  • Hand appliqué
  • Fused appliqué

Machine appliqué

When a sewing machine is used to create the appliqué technique of stitching a piece of fabric to a background. You may choose to use one of the stitch variations possible on your particular model of machine to apply your top piece of fabric to the bottom layer. Popular stitches are zig zag stitch or a satin stitch.

Machine appliqué
Machine applique with hand dyed fabric and denim shapes

Hand appliqué

Hand appliqué is often chosen for quilting projects. Hand appliqué is when a shape is sewn onto a background layer with a needle and thread. It can be done in a basic or more decorative way, depending on your experience. One of the more traditional methods of hand sewn applique is the needle-turn method, which is where a needle is used to turn under the seam allowance while you sew the pieces to the fabric background. This creates a neat edge rather than a raw one. Using hand appliqué allows you to add a decorative finish to your projects and add a variety of patterns and shapes depending on the project being worked on. Added embellishments work well, such as beads and sequins to finish some projects

Hand appliqué
A close up on a hand appliqué flower head, with decorative stitching and metallic threads

Fused appliqué

If you are short on time or are less experienced, an iron-on adhesive such as a fusible web can be used. The fabric shapes you create can be fused to the background fabric using this medium and then if desired finishing stitches by hand or machine can be added.

Fused appliqué
A fused tree has been stuck onto this background

Types of appliqué

Then there are the different styles or types of appliqué, some can be done by hand and some on a sewing machine they are:

  • Smooth edge appliqué
  • Raw edge appliqué
  • Reverse appliqué
  • Decorative appliqué

Lets now explain each type:

Smooth edge appliqué

Using a sewing machine, the raw edges of the fabric which is being applied to the background can be tidied by stitching around the shape with a stitch chosen to leave a tidy finish which is smooth and neat to the observer. A zig-zag stitch stitched closely together works well.

Smooth edge appliqué
Smooth edge appliqué

Raw edge appliqué

This style works well for projects which will not be in constant use, as the raw edges are attached to the background fabric but not sewn over to create a seamless edge. The edges are left to fray. Smaller projects are ideal, such as greeting cards or wall mounted pieces. Items such as cushions or clothing need to have stronger more durable stitching, so this method is less successful. It can be done by hand or machine, so it is a variable method and can be moulded to the desired project.

Raw edge appliqué
A cake demonstrating raw edge appliqué

Multi-needle hoop appliqué

This method is more specialised and not as commonly used. It is a machine stitching technique and requires a multi needle sewing machine as well as an embroidery hoop. The machine used can be set up with different colour threads for each needed. Usually there are six needles used in a multi needle machine. Each section of your design will be accurately stitched and it creates beautiful results. It works well for quilting projects. This type of appliqué is of more interest to those who are advanced in their embroidery knowledge.

The type of sewing machine used to achieve this type of appliqué

Reverse appliqué

This really lives up to its name. Instead of sewing fabric shapes onto the top of a background layer, with this style you layer fabrics together and then stitch a pattern on top. Then you cut away parts of the fabric to reveal the shape and colour of the fabric below.

Reverse appliqué
Floral reverse appliqué

Decorative appliqué

This method is open to many variations and interpretations. It can be achieved using a machine or by hand. If you are using a sewing machine, you may use the different styles of stitching available on your model to make your piece aesthetically pleasing. Using hand embroidery, you can choose to experiment with the many different embroidery stitches available to learn – it depends on the project you are working on.

Decorative appliqué
Decorative appliqué can be as colourful or patterned as desired

The lowdown

There are many different appliqué choices and variations; so this is a technique which is best tried and tested. It is a fun technique, especially if you play with colour variations and fabric types. As you experiment, you will discover the types of appliqué which best suit you and your own personal embroidery projects.

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