The "A" Word, Simplified

Addy Harkavy (© 1997)

Appliqué is less frightening if we call it something else ...

Lots of quilters refer to appliqué as "the A word" because somewhere along the line they got the idea that they simply won't ever get good at the technique. Rubbish! Anyone who can blind stitch a binding can do competent hand appliqué, and even those who machine stitch their bindings and wouldn't dream of blind stitching can do it, too. So there!

While we're dispelling appliqué myths, I'd like to point out that some teachers insist that quilters learn to piece first; then they teach appliqué as an "advanced technique". Since appliqué is in no way related to piecing and has little in common with it, I find it hard to see where one has much of anything to do with the other. Sometimes when a student wants to do an appliqué project first, that's what I teach! So for all you new quilters who've been told, "kids, don't try this at home," forget the common wisdom and get with the appliqué program. You'll be glad you did.

So what is appliqué?

Since it's easier if we start with a definition, here's a good one from Laurene Sinema's neat book. Appliqué, Appliqué, Appliqué.
Appliqué: From the French work appliquer, which means "to put on or lay on; a cut-out decoration fastened to a large piece of material."

Good definition as far as it goes. But as Sinema observes and I agree, it doesn't begin to suggest the variety of ways in which it can be used.

Is there one right way to do appliqué?

Some teachers would have you believe that there are two ways to appliqué: their way, and the wrong way. Heck, there's no wrong way. If the result pleases your eye, then it works. If it doesn't please your eye, experiment until you find something that does.

What is reverse appliqué, and why are people so scared of it?

Reverse appliqué is nothing more than "upside down" appliqué. The shape you see when you look at the quilt is on the background; the top fabric is turned under to reveal the shape. The trick here, whether you use blind stitch or ladder stitch is to use a toothpick to turn under the edges of the top fabric, turning under about 1/2" ahead of your needle, except in tight spots.

Do I have to blind stitch, tack stitch, or ladder stitch?

Contrary to popular belief, there are lots of ways to hand stitch an appliqué piece to a background. If you press your edges under first, you can stitch down the appliqué piece with neat, small running stitches. Blanket stitch is acceptable, too, as is any stitch that will hold the appliqué piece tightly against the background.

Can I quilt within appliqué motifs?

Why not!

Neat Appliqué Stitches

You'll find schematics for Tack Stitch, Running Stitch, and Blanket Stitch in Sinema's book, Applique, Applique, Applique, and the Ladder stitch (which is my favorite) from Ami Simms' book, Invisible Applique. Simms' book is a lot less expensive, too.

 World Wide Quilting Page * Appliqué How-To