The Fun of Machine Applique – the OLD Way!

Teaching young gals the skills of creative sewing recently ‘took me back’ to the good old skill of machine applique.  I thoroughly enjoyed ‘driving the machine’ around the fusible web-backed letters as I created this ‘Pool Party’ appliqued Beach Towel.  It is the project I came up with to teach the skill of machine applique in an upcoming ‘Pool Party’ spring break camp.  My mission is to teach  the skill of sewing instead of creating in my students an insatiable desire for an feature-laden automatic embroidery machine that they or their family can very likely not afford.

Here is a concise list of the things to do and understand to accomplish the ‘old’ skill of machine applique.

  • Prepare the fabric to be appliqued by tracing it IN REVERSE son paper-backed fusible web.  Yes – think about it, any non-symmetrical letter must be REVERSED before tracing on paper-backed fusible web because the fusible has to be on the WRONG side of the fabric.  You’ll do it wrong once, then quickly ‘get it’.  🙂


  • Stabilize the fabric on which the applique will be placed.  I love a heavy, even fusible variety of tear-away stabilizer for towels.
  • Using any sewing machine where the zig zag stitch can be adjusted in width and length, set the zigzag stitch with a width as desired.  Choose a VERY short length, so the zigzag stitch becomes VERY compact ‘ala’ Applique.   It is important to TEST the stitch – ALWAYS!  TOO short of a stitch length is not good either, so experiment!
  • Adjust the needle tension so that needle tension is low enough that the bobbin thread does NOT show on either side of the applique stitch.  See the photo below on the left where the tension is ‘balanced’, but the aqua bobbin thread is pulling to the topside.  On the right, I’ve set the needle tension all the way down to a 2 so that then the bobbin tension is ‘tighter in comparison’,  to the bobbin tension which gives a much prettier totally purple top thread stitch.  On the back side, you should see the top thread being exposed – then you know you probably have the tension adjusted correctly.  What ‘number’ the tension dial is at does NOT matter.
  •    
  • Use the proper presser foot with a ‘tunnel’ on the bottom to allow the build up of the applique stitch to feed under the foot.

This is the foot on the left.  (The cut-out at the  top of the feet is for the Pfaff Integrated Dual Feed).

  • Select a needle with a sharp point for applique work on woven fabrics.  Try a Denim or an Applique Needle.  You’ll find that the result will be a much ‘cleaner’, straighter edge to the applique stitch than if you used a Universal Needle.
  • To go around corners, always stop with the needle DOWN on the OUTSIDE of a corner to lift the presser foot and pivot.  This creates a nice corner.
  • The key to success is to STEP ON THE GAS yet to move the work smoothly, pivoting or curving gradually.  PRACTICE.
  • When working applique on a more complicated design with many parts, decide what is in the ‘background’ and which parts you want to appear closest.  I pulled out the ancient ‘Applique Folder’ from back in my shop days (1990-2003) and found this exercise that we taught for machine applique.  Note the numbering on the lines to indicate the order in which the work was decided to be accomplished.

 

flower applique stitch order

 

    • Finally, tear away the tear away stabilizer as shown.

  • After initially writing this post, I remembered a pillowcase project that Cindy Loosekamp taught my customers way back in Londa’s Sewing Etc. shop days in Champaign, IL.  She taught us to hold down the – and then the + keys to adjust the stitch width on our computerized Pfaff machines to create shape.  Not THAT is ‘painting with a needle’!  I distinctly remember when cleaning out my linen closet for the move from IL to TN, that I could not even consider taking this lovely cream pillowcase to the Goodwill.

There you have it, some simple ‘0ld time’ rules for applique.  I’m sure the girls will love adding this skill to their sewing techniques.  With all the new, 20-30 year old gals picking up sewing, and using simple sewing machines to do so, I hope this quick blog post will give them the techniques needed for success!

In fact, I had so much fun doing ‘old time’ machine applique, I think I’ll think up a project to utilize some of the simple yet whimsical art that I found in that old Machine Applique Folder!

 

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