In part 2 of our technique focus on needle turn appliqué, we are looking at the tools and top tips for this traditional technique. We caught up with appliqué experts, Karen Lewis and Kerry Green, who were happy to share their knowledge with us. Do also check out part one, where we talked about different methods for preparing and holding the appliqué fabric, in readiness for hand stitching it down.
When it comes to threads, Aurifil is always our number one choice, and for needle turn appliqué I recommend their ultra fine 80 weight thread. My personal color preference is the Dove (2600) as this colour blends so well with most fabrics, and it almost melts into the fabric as you stitch, making it virtually invisible.
If you prefer to stitch with a colored thread, match the thread to the applique fabric, not the background.
A Note on Needles
It’s also important to have the right needle, as it’s the needle that’s doing all the work, turning the fabric under, in preparation for stitching. Quilter Karen Lewis (@karenlewistexitles) loves the Sue Daley Milliners needles, and she says: “These needles are my favourite hand sewing needles and are beautiful to use. They are very sharp so easily stitch through layers of fabric. They are longer than some hand sewing needles, which I much prefer, and the big gold eye makes them easier to thread.” Karen loves these needles so much that she stocks them in her online shop, which you can find here.
Quilter and needle turn appliqué expert Kerry Green (@verykerryberry) told us about her favourite tool for this technique. She says, “For needle turn appliqué, I always have my Karen Kay Buckley Perfect Scissors (4” green) close to hand. They feature cushioned handles and a serrated blade that grips the fabric to the scissors for a precise cut – great for clipping close but not as far as the seam on a concave curve before sweeping them under with the side of your needle! The tips of the scissors are my go-to tool for pushing the seam allowance under on acute points. I recommend them to everybody!” Do head to Kerry’s Payhip store, where you can find her beautiful Moon Phase Appliqué PDF pattern, and more.
When cutting the seam allowance for needle-turn appliqué, make sure that it’s not too wide. Generally, a scant 1/4″ or 1/8″ works best, so that there is not too much fabric to turn under, which could make it bulky. Conversely, if the seam allowance is too narrow, then it’s more difficult to turn under and more likely to fray. Getting the right width is key to a neat finish.
When it comes to appliqué shapes, some are definitely more challenging than others! When you first start with this technique, keep it simple with a large shape and straight lines or gentle curves. Hearts are a good place to start!
As you get more experienced, you can attempt shapes with sharp points, concave and convex curves. For concave curves, you can mark narrow slits in the seam allowance to help ease the fabric and create a nice smooth line.
For near invisible stitches, use the 80 weight Aurifil thread, and keep your stitches small. Come up from the background fabric, take the needle into the edge of the appliqué motif, come out just a few millimetres along, and go back into the background fabric. The stitches should ‘melt’ into the fabric, making them disappear.
As with many things, practice makes perfect! The more you do it, the more it will become second nature. Soon you’ll be appliquéing motifs onto every piece of fabric you can find. 🙂
We hope you’ve enjoyed this two part series on needle-turn appliqué. We are so excited to share the 2022 project that features this technique very soon!