In this two part technique focus, we look at the different methods for needle turn appliqué and how you can approach it.

One of the projects we have coming up in 2022 features needle turn appliqué. It’s such a lovely technique, but it does require a bit of know-how and practice, so we’ve created a 2-part series to help you get started.

In this post, we’ll be looking at what we mean by needle turn appliqué and some of the different methods of applying the shapes to the background fabric, because, like many things, there is more than one way to do it! Next week, we shall be talking about needles, threads, and chatting to some appliqué experts, who will be sharing their top tips and favourite tools. We hope you’ll give this traditional technique a try!

The fabric used for this heart is from the Garden Life collection by Tilda

What is needle turn appliqué?

The word appliqué is a French word, meaning ‘to apply’ and it literally is that: applying fabric shapes onto larger pieces of fabric. You may also sometimes hear it referred to as ‘applied work’. Fabric can be applied either on top of the larger fabric or behind (which is known as reverse appliqué). Today we are going to focus on when the fabrics are applied on top of a larger fabric. The term needle-turn is exactly as it suggests – you turn the seam allowance under with the needle to give a lovely, neat finish.

One of the advantages of needle turn appliqué is that it’s very transportable, and a great project to pick up and put down. As it’s all done by hand, you can prepare everything in advance and then all you need is your fabrics and thread.

Holding the Fabric in Place

There are several options when it comes to temporarily holding the appliqué shapes to the background. Some quilters like to use large basting stitches to secure them down. The benefits of this method are that it’s very secure, there’s no sharp pins and it’s cost effective because you don’t need any special equipment, you can just use any thread you already have in your stash. The downside is that it’s more time consuming than other methods because it will take time to stitch the basting stitches, and once the appliqué is complete, the basting stitches need to be removed.

Another method is to use appliqué pins. These pins are smaller than regular pins, which allow you to use them on even very small applique shapes. Being shorter, the fabric is much less likely to get caught in them too. The glass heads make them easy to push into the fabric and remove as well. This method is quick and easy, but you do have to take care not to prick yourself or get the end of the pin caught on the fabric if you fold the appliqué up for storage or transportation. You do have to remove the pins when you’re finished, but this is much quicker than removing thread basting stitches.

Another option is applique glue. Roxanne’s Applique glue is designed for this, and with the long wand, it is very easy to apply just the smallest of dabs to the shapes to be applied. It’s really adhesive, so you don’t need to worry about things shifting round, and you can happily fold up your work without worrying about pins getting caught or the shapes falling off. The other advantage is you don’t have to remove pins or stitches. It doesn’t even need washing out because you’ve used such a small amount to start with. There is a cost implication with this, and if you’re out and about it may not be ideal to start getting the glue the out, but the beauty is you can do all your preparation before hand, then all your shapes are ready to be hand stitched down.

Outline or not to outline

Preparing the shapes can be done in different ways too. Some quilters like to draw around the template either with a silver marker or a removable marker and then cut out the shape ¼” away from the drawn line. They then use this line as a guide for turning, ensuring that the pen line is always tucked under with the seam, out of sight.

Another method is to pin a paper template to the fabric and cut ¼” seam all the way around the edge. Once you remove the template the shape can be applied to the background fabric and you can finger press a ¼” seam all the way round, to give the fabric a bit of ‘memory’ of where you want it to go, before stitching it down.

When researching this article, I discovered another method that I’d not heard of before, which is the method of choice for Japanese quilting master Atsuko Matsuyama. First you cut out the appliqué shapes without the seam allowance from freezer paper, then you iron them with the shiny/wax side down to the right side of the appliqué fabric. Cut all the way around with a ¼” inch seam allowance, then adhere the shape to the background fabric using your preferred method with the freezer paper still on. You can then use this paper as a guide when you turn the seam allowance under. Once you’ve stitched all the way around, you simply remove the freezer paper to finish.

I experimented with this method to turn under the seam allowances on the heart, and it worked a treat!  I’d definitely recommend giving it a go!

So that’s the templates prepared and applied to the fabric. Make sure the check out part 2, where we discuss top tips, tricks and tools for beautiful hand stitching!