The Art of Darkness

Quilting: Applique

March 31st, 2008 by Cobwebs

Anatomy T-shirtWe’ve done patchwork and crazy quilts, so it’s on to appliqué. Appliqué is a two-dollar word for “applied,” and the idea is sort of similar to crazy quilting in that you’re sewing small pieces of fabric onto a larger background. The difference is that the larger piece is meant to be seen rather than just acting as a base. You can use the technique to make beautiful, complicated quilts, and also to do more unusual crafts such as the Anatomy T-shirt shown here (by Etsy seller takeahalliday).

The method is straightforward: Cut a shape out of fabric, turn under the raw edges, and stitch to the base. Mary Graham has a page which illustrates this, and Quilter’s Cache has a short tutorial.

Even though it’s possible to create insanely complicated effects with appliqué–any really difficult-looking quilt you see (like these astonishing Amish ones) are nearly always done this way–tackling an appliqué project doesn’t automatically mean that you’re going to sweat blood. If you’ve ever sewn your favorite band’s patch onto a jacket, you’ve done appliqué. Start with simple shapes that don’t have any unusual angles, and make sure that they don’t pucker when you stitch them down. As with other quilting techniques, start off with a small project so you don’t get discouraged.

Appliqué is much easier to do by hand than patchwork or crazy quilting, so it’s more portable; you can hand-stitch the pieces onto a quilt square or article of clothing while waiting in the dentist’s office or riding the train. And, like crazy quilting, you have a lot more leeway with fabric choices because you don’t have to worry as much about durability.

You can also cheat a little on the raw edges part, either by using fusible webbing on the appliqué backing or by using a zigzag machine stitch to sew the appliqué to the background. Beware, however, that the former may leave you with stray loose threads and the latter creates a very noticeable border around each piece, so if you’re doing something fiddly you’ll need to just grit your teeth and turn under all the seams.

Appliqué is admittedly more time-consuming and potentially way more difficult than patchwork or crazy quilting, but it will give you results that you can’t get any other way. There’s a Flickr pool devoted to appliqué quilts, which should give you some idea of the range of possibilities.

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