Hand Applique’

The word, “applique” simply means “apply” and refers to adhering or “applying” something, such as fabric or a decoration, to a larger surface.

I love, love, love to hand applique! I’m excited to share some of my tips and tricks of the process so that you can be successful!

For this tutorial, I’ll be working with a Grandmother’s Flower Garden flower, very much like the ones I made for my In The Garden quilt.

For hand applique, there are two basic types, prepared and non-prepared.

Some examples of prepared are:

Freezer Paper Applique –  A  fabric piece has been attached to a freezer paper pattern which holds its shape. This form of applique is done by hand.

Applique shapes, such as the Grandmother’s Flower Garden Flower, can be prepared using plastic templates. These templates hold the flower’s shape until you are ready to applique it. The plastic templates are then removed just before applying the flower to the background fabric.

Fusible Applique –  An iron-on adhesive is applied to the wrong side of the fabric. A shape is cut out, ironed onto the background fabric and stitched in place either by hand or by machine. The raw edges are most commonly secured using a zigzag stitch, a satin stitch, or, a blanket stitch.

Unprepared applique is usually called Needle-turn Applique because a shape is drawn onto a piece of fabric and cut out just before stitching to the background fabric. A needle is used to turn the raw edge of the fabric under as you go.

For this tutorial, I will be showing how to hand applique using a piece prepared with freezer paper.

Place the prepared piece in position on the background fabric. The wax is exposed on the back so you can press it with the iron, if you like, to temporarily hold it in place until you pin it.  I use tiny applique pins or beading pins. They are very short and very fine. Pinning waxed paper will buckle it somewhat. But, using tiny pins will minimize that.

Here, I have an applique pin next to a quilter’s pin, and a standard dressmaker’s pin, just to show you how tiny and fine they are.

I’m using red thread, just so you can see it better. I usually use a thread that is just a shade darker than the applique piece. I find that using a thread that’s a bit darker hides the stitches best. A lighter thread will reflect the light and highlight any mistakes. Also, I noticed that when I used a thread matching the background fabric, my appliqued piece looked “hairy”. Not the desired effect I wanted.

For applique, I use an Applique/Sharps needle and I use a tiny Quilter’s Knot on a single thread. The applique/sharps needle is just my personal preference.  Use a needle that is comfortable, easy to thread, and slips through the fabric easily.

I’ve placed it next to a quilter’s pin and a standard dressmaker’s pin for comparison.

Begin by bringing your needle up from the back, barely catching the edge of your applique piece. Notice that I did not start at a point.  I never start at a point. You’ll soon see why.

Pull the needle and thread all the way through and insert the needle just off of the edge where you brought up the thread.

Bring up the needle about 1/8 to 3/16″ away from the first stitch, again just catching the edge of the applique.

Sometimes the point may not be completely stuck to the waxed paper, or it may have come loose when handled. No worries. Simply use the point of your needle to tuck it back in place. You may need to hold it securely with your thumbnail until you get a stitch or two in it.

Continue stitching around the piece until you have about a 1″ opening left unstitched.

With your fingernail, loosen the open edge of the applique piece from the freezer paper.

Grasp the freezer paper pattern and gently remove it through the opening. You may need to wiggle it slightly to loosen the edges.

This is why I never start at a point. I want the points secured before I do any wiggling to remove the pattern.  A smooth or rounded side is very easy to tuck back under to continue stitching.

The pattern can be used many times before the wax is gone.

Use the needle to tuck the edges back under and continue stitching until it is completely secured.

When you have made the last stitch, turn the piece over to the back. Take a stitch inside the seam allowance and make a knot.

Slip the needle between the back ground and the applique.

Pull it through. Your thread tail is now hidden under the applique. Clip your thread.


I made this photo really big because I want you to see that even though I used red thread, you can barely see my stitches.

My leaf pattern is still in good shape to use again. It is a bit wrinkled, but, will straighten out when I press it to the next fabric.

Here is a heart prepared in the same manner as the leaf. Using this method, all of the tricky parts of the heart are held securely until I’m ready to stitch them in place.