How to Appliqué with Tricky Fabrics: Part 2

  • By: joleenllorence
  • Date: August 12, 2022
  • Time to read: 7 min.

In Part 1, I talked generally about how to deal with tricky fabrics: what kind of things you need to think about, and how. Here, in Part 2, I’ll give tips for dealing with specific tricky fabrics.

Firstly a quick reminder from Part 1. The three main things you need to consider when using different fabrics in appliqué are:

  1. Stabilise the background fabric
  2. Stabilise the appliqué fabric and treat the edges
  3. Attach the appliqué to the background, both temporarily and permanently

Here are the specific types of fabric I’ll look at:

  • fabrics that fray easily
  • stretchy fabrics
  • thick fabrics
  • thin or flimsy fabrics
  • embroidered/embellished fabrics
  • transparent fabrics
  • fabrics that can’t be ironed or pinned

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1. Appliquéing fabrics that fray easily

Examples:silk, satin, linen, organza, chiffon Organza Satin Silk
Problems:Edges that fray easily can come unravelled even under the stitching.
Solutions:For background fabrics that fray easily avoid cutting any underneath pieces away.Treat edges with fray check.Use fusible web to stabilise raw edges.Cover edges securely with satin stitch.Try one of the turned edge appliqué finishes.Where possible, avoid using these fabrics for small fiddly pieces.
Notes:See also: flimsy fabrics and transparent fabrics

2. Appliquéing with stretch fabrics

Examples:jersey, knits, lycra, dance-wear, fleece Jersey Fleece
Problems:A stretchy background fabric can get stretched and distorted so the finished item is pulled out of shape.A stretch appliqué shape can stretch and distort as you sew it, so the appliqué goes on either skewed, or unevenly.Using non-stretch appliqué shapes on a stretch background will prevent the background from stretching in those areas.If pieces are not secured well before sewing, they can shift and stretch as you sewPermanent stabilising methods reduce the stretchiness of the finished item.
Solutions:Does the finished item need to stretch? If so, use stretch fabrics for the appliqué and the background (matching stretchiness where possible). Also, any stabilising needs to be temporary so the pieces are held in place while you sew, but are free to stretch afterwards – wash-away stabiliser and starching are good options.. Use a stretch stitch to sew as well.To keep fabrics from stretching out of shape while you’re sewing, use spray starch liberally to stiffen everything, and then wash out afterwards.Attach pieces securely in place before sewing – go for temporary methods such as 505 spray that can be washed out afterwards and won’t interfere with the natural stretch.Iron-on stabiliser or a layer of fusible interfacing can stop pieces shifting, but the finished item will not stretch.Basting the pieces together before sewing tends not to stabilise enough, so for best results combine with starch or adhesive spray. Alternatively, baste the whole area of the appliqué piece, not just round the edges.
Notes:Remember to use a ballpoint or universal needle when sewing to prevent skipped stitches – go for a universal needle if you have a mixture of stretch and non-stretch fabrics.

3. Appliquéing with thick and bulky fabrics

Examples:fleece, faux fur, boiled wool, felt, leather Fleece Leather Faux Fur
Problems:It can be difficult to use fusible web, as it doesn’t adhere properly through the thickness.Thick fabrics can introduce a lot of bulk on layers.If the fabric tends to fray, then turned edges will be too bulky.It can be difficult to stitch over very thick edges.Small fiddly details tend to get lost on thicker fabrics.
Solutions:Thick background fabrics work well, but make sure thinner background fabrics have lots of extra support if you are adding thick layers on top.Avoid too much layering of thick pieces. Try cutting away underneath areas, or piecing rather than layering.It can be difficult getting fusible web to adhere properly – try ironing from the thinner fabric, turning it over and ironing from the back if necessary. Use it to temporarily hold pieces in place rather than for permanent attachment.Use glue, 505 spray, or basting to attach pieces before sewing.Try to avoid very fiddly or tiny details in thick fabrics as details get lost.To avoid thread nest problems on bulky edges use a wider, less dense stitch, or hand sew for an invisible stitch.
Notes:Thick fabrics work great as a background as they can support all kinds of other fabrics without too much worrying about stabilising.Many of these thick fabrics tend not to fray, which makes them easier to work with.

4. Appliquéing with thin or flimsy fabrics

Examples:organza, chiffon, silk Organza Embroidered and sequins
Problems:Thin background fabrics can’t take a lot of heavy appliqué, and too much on top can tear them.Applique layers can shift around a lot when cutting and sewing, and be difficult to hold in place.Glue or 505 spray can leak through fabrics and make a mess.
Solutions:Stabilise, stabilise, stabilise!Use spray starch to make the fabric crisp and manageable while working with itA double layer of fabric tends to work better than heavy, stiff cut away stabiliser, as it keeps some of the movement of the original fabric.Avoid adding too many layers to a thin background fabric.You can cut away some of the bulk of extra layers, but it will need stabilising – watch out especially for the parts with the stitching.Try layering a flimsy background fabric with a thicker more robust fabric first. Don’t use lots of heavy stitching as it can put too much strain on thin fabric.
Notes:See also transparent fabrics and fabrics that fray easily.

5. Appliquéing with embellished or embroidered fabrics

Examples:sequins, sparkles, embroidered and embellished fabrics Embroidered and sequins All-over sequins Embroidered cord
Problems:Heavily embroidered fabrics can be stiff to work with.Cutting the edges may make embroidery or embellishments unstable, for example losing sequins.Often ironing is not an option with these fabrics, so you can’t use fusible web or interfacing.
Solutions:To use embellished fabrics as a background, remove any embellishments from underneath the appliqué pieces first and add stabiliser if necessary.Avoid appliqué pieces with fiddly edge details as embellishments can distort edges, or get in the way.Remove any hard embellishments from cut edges, like sequins or beads.Cut pieces a bit bigger, so you can finish off any loose threads and prevent embellishments coming off, and then cut to size afterwards.Turned edge appliqué is a good way to finish off these edges.
Notes:Sequinned or sparkly fabrics are often also flimsy or transparent. Heavily embroidered fabrics may be bulky.

6. Appliquéing with transparent/see-through fabrics

Examples:organza, chiffon, net, lace, clear vinyl Lace Organza
Problems:You can’t use fusible web as it will show.Similarly, permanent stabilisers will show through.Lower layers will be visible through higher ones.If you use turned edge appliqué, the seam allowances will show through.
Solutions:Use basting to hold pieces in place; residue from glue may still be visible.If you still want to use turned edge appliqué, finish the edges neatly; although they will still be visible at least they won’t be unsightly.For fabrics that are partially see-through, like organzas, try layering appliqué pieces to make them more dense.Make a feature of the transparency, for example by layering different coloured organzas for effect.
Notes:The problems here are all to do with being able to see through layers of the fabric, so these fabrics are best used when this is the effect you’re after.See also: flimsy fabricsfabrics that fray easily and fabrics that can’t be ironed or pinned like clear vinyl.

7. Appliquéing with fabrics that can’t be ironed or pinned

Examples:oilcloth, vinyl, leather Oilcloth Leather
Problems:You can’t use fusible web or any iron-on stabiliser.You can’t use pins to hold things in place.You can’t baste pieces into position either, as the holes will show after you’ve removed the stitching.if appliqué stitching is too dense or close together it can perforate the fabric and tear.Stitches leave holes, so if you make a mistake it marks the pieces, and can weaken the background.
Solutions:The remaining options for temporarily attaching the appliqué shapes are using glue, or 505 spray: basting, pinning or fusible web won’t work here.For large pieces, you can use quilter’s binding clips, or clothes pegs or bulldog clips in the edges, but watch out for shifting of pieces as you sew.Avoid shapes that are too small or difficult to hold in place using these methods.Keep stitches long and open to minimise the perforation effect, and don’t sew through the same area too often – avoid too many layers. A long straight stitch works best.If you make a mistake, recut the appliqué pieces rather than trying to reuse them.Small stitching mistakes on the background can be covered by appliqué, but too many will weaken the background fabric even if they’re hidden. Either start over, or try adding extra stabiliser to this area – avoid stitching in weakened areas.
Notes:The main problem with these types of fabric are in attaching them to the background, but there’s nothing that makes them inherently bad choices for either background or appliqué fabrics.

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