How to appliqué on an embroidery machine

By on August 12th, 2019
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How to applique on an embroidery machine

I never anticipated that after I started making appliqué designs, people  start asking me how to use them. It all seems so simple to me now. But, I do remember when getting started that I, too, was perplexed about how to appliqué on an embroidery machine.

But, before we get TOOOOO deep here – let’s start with the basics.

What is appliqué?

Appliqué is the process of simply stitching down one piece of fabric on top of another one. It can be done by hand, on a regular sewing machine, or with an embroidery machine.

Typically the top appliqué fabric is secured to the bottom fabric using a satin stitch. This is simply a zig zag stitch with a very short stitch length so each zigzag sits right up against the previous one. The result is that there is no visible space between the stitches; it appears continuous. This is typically called a “satin stitch” finish and is the most common type of stitching done around the outside edge of the appliqué fabric. The benefit of a satin stitch finish is that it helps to keep the appliqué fabric from unraveling.

Free motion appliqué on a regular sewing machine

My first major appliqué project was a black duvet cover donned with colorful bold animals that I made for my college dorm room bed. (I know sounds a bit juvenile for college. I’m not sure what I was thinking.)

The technique I used to make this project was free-motion appliqué which means that the operator of the sewing machine must steer around all the outside edges of the appliqué fabric pieces. However, prior to stitching, the appliqué pieces must be pre-cut in the desired shape and fused onto the base fabric.

Fortunately, for this project, my friend, who has a signature illustration style, drew the animals on tracing paper. I then used these as a pattern to cut out all the animals. But, before I cut out the animals, I ironed on some Heat-N-Bond Lite on the back of the appliqué fabric, so that once I cut them out, I could fuse them in place on the top piece of the duvet.

Some of the animals had appliqué details on top of them so I had to first appliqué onto  my appliqué animals. Ugh! So much work.

Once I had all the animals cut out, with details appliquéd onto them,  I fused them onto the duvet top and started satin stitching around all the outsides of all the pieces. I did this on a regular sewing machine with the feed dogs down using the widest zig zag stitch and a very short stitch length.

That crazy duvet took FOREVER to make but certainly made a statement in my college dorm rooms.

One of my other favor free-motion appliqué project was my poppy dress, where I converted a boring, black strapless dress into a pretty crazy fashion statement. Once again, I used a free-motion appliqué technique to attach the poppies to the dress.

poppy appliqué dress

Appliqué on an embroidery machine

Now I do tons of appliqué on an embroidery machine. The only downside to appliqué on an embroidery machine is that you are limited to an appliqué the size of your embroidery hoop. But, it’s a heck-of-a-lot faster and more precise than free-motion appliqué. Here’s how to do it.

Materials needed to appliqué on an embroidery machine

  • Small piece of (PRE-WASHED) fabric for appliqué piece. Not too thin, not a fabric prone to unraveling. Most of the time I use quilting cotton broadcloth for appliqué pieces.  But, since it’s cotton, it shrinks. So always pre-wash the appliqué fabric.
  • Piece of Heat-N-Bond Lite the same size of the appliqué fabric piece.
  • Pre-washed garment or fabric on which you are attaching the appliqué.

Different types of appliqué files

There are primarily two different types of appliqué files, ones with a satin stitch finished edge and ones designed to have a raw edge

Appliqué designs with a satin stitch finished edge are the most common type of appliqué design. Some companies make appliqué designs with more of a beaded edge. It is still a finished edge albeit a bit more decorative than a standard satin stitch. I’m either case, the file is set up to stitch out in three different thread colors, which gives you the opportunity to take important steps between each round of stitching.

Step by step instructions for machine appliqué

Before getting started, fuse the Heat-n-Bond Lite onto the appliqué fabric, and peel away the backing.  Using ample steam helps fuse the Heat-n-Bond Lite onto the appliqué fabric.

Step 1: placement stitch line.

The machine stitches out an outline of where the appliqué fabric should be placed.

how to appliqué - step 1

Step 2: tack down stitching.

At this point, you should place down your appliqué fabric over the placement stitching.

how to appliqué - step 2

Then the machine stitches its next color to secure the appliqué fabric in place.

how to appliqué - step 3After this round of stitching is done, you need to remove the hoop from the machine and trim the appliqué fabric around the tack down stitching line. It’s essential that you use appliqué scissors for trimming to get as close to the stitching as possible without cutting a hole in your fabric.

how to appliqué - step 4

Some appliqué enthusiasts like to pre-cut the appliqué fabric before tacking it down. You can either do this by hand or use a Cricut machine to cut it out. (Personally this seems like extra work and requires too much precision, so I do not take his step. )

Step 3: final satin stitching.

Return the hoop to the machine and begin stitching. The final stitching will take the longest as the machine is creating a satin stitch all the way around the outside of the appliqué piece.

how to appliqué - step 5

Some appliqué designs are intended to have a raw, unfinished edge. (I actually often include a raw edge and a satin stitch version in the appliqué files I digitize and sell.) A knit (like t-shirt weight) material works well for these types of designs. In fact, I’ve used my husbands old t-shirts and Goodwill finds for some of my favorite appliqué projects.

Raw edge appliqué projects are even easier, as there are just 2 rounds of stitching: the placement stitching and a dense running stitch. I refer to this as a triple stitch because the machine stitches each stitch three times for a bolder, more defined line.

Appliqué project ideas

Over the years I have made tons of appliqué projects on my embroidery machine. In fact, a personalized, appliqué t-shirt or sweatshirt is usually my go-to gift for kid birthday gifts. (And either they all are lying to me but the kids LOVE them). Here are a few of my favorites to provide you with a bit of inspiration.

How to applique on an embroidery machine video

I have created a video to help you better understand my process of how to appliqué on an embroidery machine. In the following video you will see how I personalized a similar tunic. It’s cheap, it’s easy to do and kids will love it.  I hope this helps you on your appliqué journey.  Let me know how it goes!

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