Machine Applique

Applique means sewing down fabric shapes to a base/background layer, and can be done by hand or machine.

For all Machine Applique first affix the shapes to the base layer using bondaweb (heat activated adhesive).

Appli-quilting is applique and quilting at the same time. Fuse your applique shapes, then create the quilt sandwich before stitching the shapes down with your preferred applique method (see below).

Use 'Stitch n Tear' behind the base layer if not using the applique method as part of your quilting (appli-quilting). This stabiliser is removed on completion of the applique.

Types of Machine Applique

Satin Stitch Applique

010 (3)

Satin stitch is a small and compact version of a zigzag stitch.  Not all machines allow you to alter the length or width of the zigzag stitch setting so you will have to get familiar with what your machine can do.  If you have never satin stitched before I highly recommend you practise the following steps by drawing a variety of shapes onto fabric (2 layers) and sewing around them first.

Use scraps of fabric to achieve the desired size satin stitch by changing stitch length and width dials as follows:

    1. Attach the appropriate foot to your machine. You will need either a zigzag foot (often the foot attached to your machine when first purchased), a foot with a wide gap in it or an applique foot.


      L-R: Applique Foot; Zigzag Foot


2. Select the zig-zag stitch on your machine.


3. Identify the stitch length dial/button. Reduce the length* of the zigzag stitch until it is more compact. I prefer my satin stitch to have a little gap between each stitch, rather than looking like a solid line of stitching.


4. Next locate the zigzag width dial/button. Start reducing the zigzag width as you sew, until you have a satin stitch that is no more than 1/8” wide*. *Again the size you can achieve here depends on your machine.


Adjusting the width (left) and length (right)


5. When you have the desired satin stitch, make a note of the adjusted settings on your machine for future reference.


6. If you want the satin stitch to blend in with your fabrics then use a complimentary coloured thread. If you want the satin stitch to stand out as an edging, then use a contrasting coloured thread. However, be aware that contrasting threads are more obvious and less forgiving of mistakes and wobbles!



7. Starting with a central shape, place the piece under the needle. You will need to always be aware of what position your needle starts and finishes in e.g. left or right.  When sewing around the shape in a clockwise direction make sure your needle is in the right hand position (each time you start and stop) and is just skimming past the outer edge of the fabric.  Lower your presser foot.

002 (3)

Tip:        If your machine as a setting where the needle stays in the ‘down’ position each time you stop sewing, now is a good time to use it!

8. Slowly start to sew along the edge of the fabric, making sure the majority of the satin stitch is on the fabric, with the needle only just coming down the outside edge. If you sew too far inside the shape you will get lots of frayed threads showing.  If you sew too far beyond the outside edge you will see the background fabric through the stitches.

009 (3)

9. With curved shapes, continue sewing slowly around the curve until you reach the start again. Finish by sewing over the first few stitches.  For steep curves you may need to stop with your needle down in the right hand position, lift the presser foot and move the fabric round slightly.  Then put the presser foot back down and continue, repeating this action until you are on a more gentle curve where you move the fabric enough while still sewing.

10. For right-angles or obtuse (wide) angles, and sewing in a clockwise direction, come down to the corner, stopping with your needle down in the fabric & in the right hand position.

004 (3)

11. Lift the presser foot up and swivel the fabric round until you are aligned with the next edge you need to sew. Put the presser foot down and continue sewing.

005 (3)

12. For acute (narrow) angles, slowly reduce the width of the satin stitch as you progress into the point, turn and then slowly increase the stitch back up to normal setting as you sew away from the point.


Side by Side

Where the raw edges of 2 fabrics meet (not overlap), I recommend side by side satin stitch. This means each raw edge is satin stitched separately.



Blanket Stitch Applique

Blanket stitch can be sewn by hand or by machine if it has a blanket stitch option. Select the blanket stitch setting on your machine and adjust the size of the stitch to suit your project (similar to satin stitch).


This is an angular stitch made from right angles, so it doesn't suit all applique projects (i.e. shapes with sharp points and acute angles).

Free Motion Sketching / Raw Edge Applique

This type of applique is done as part of the quilting process (appli-quilting).

applique birthday present 003

For this technique you will need a Darning Foot (also called a Free Motion Embroidery foot):


You also need to remove the friction or 'bite' from your machine by either dropping the feed dogs on your machine (the jagged ‘teeth’ in the needle plate under your needle), reducing your stitch length to 0 or using a needle plate cover. Refer to your manual to find out if you can drop the feed dogs.

You may also need to reduce the tension on your machine to get the right results.

As with Satin Stitch applique I highly recommend practising this technique on fabric scraps.

  1. Attach the darning foot and either drop the feed dogs or adjust your stitch length to 0.
  2. Place the project under the needle. Draw up the bobbin thread through the top of the fabric by lowering the needle down into the fabric and then up again.  Pull on the threads until you have the bobbin thread through the top layer.
  3. With the needle down in the fabric just inside the edge of the piece you are appliqueing, start sewing around the inside edge. You will need a good bit of speed from your foot pedal, but your hands don’t need to move the fabric quickly.  Practise until you get the right balance between foot speed and hand movement - 'fast feet, slow hands!'.

NOTE:   Because there is no resistance with free motion sketching you don’t need to turn the fabric around clockwise.  Simply push it up and down, side to side as required. 

The stitches don’t have to be even or equally spaced. Sketch around your shape twice trying NOT to stay exactly on the first round of stitches so that you achieve a ‘sketched’ effect. You can even 'colour in' using this method.


Finish by sewing over the first few starting stitches.

Top Stitch Applique

This technique is one of the easiest & can be incorporated as part of your quilting.  You do not need a special foot or to adjust the tension.  As for regular quilting, increase the stitch length (3+ on modern machines).

Simply affix the shape to be appliqued and straight stitch close to the edges.

Step 6

Happy sewing!

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