Fusible Appliqué Techniques: A Demonstration

Fusible Applique Techniques, a Demonstration

Fusible Applique Techniques, a demonstration of Granola Girl's design "Cardinals in Aspens," from her book.

I enjoy doing fusible appliqué, but will admit to having been intimidated before I tried it. I was quickly hooked, and have since enjoyed teaching others how to master these fun and surprisingly simple techniques. This is one area of quilting where starting with the basics can really help. Anyone who has not yet tried fusible appliqué may find my gift bag tutorial from the post Fusible Appliqué: A Tutorial to be an easy, step-by-step starting point.

This post is a demonstration of techniques and tips, not a tutorial. We will walk through the process of making a fusible appliqué piece, looking at ways to approach each step. Like many aspects of quilting, there are several ways to do fusible appliqué, so feel free to play with it. The walk-through will end with a list of designers and resources to explore and find more inspiration.

Nature's Way book by Debbie Field

Thank you Debbie Field for letting me use a design from her "Nature's Way" book!

I want to take a minute to thank Debbie Field of Granola Girl Designs for giving me permission to use her Cardinals In Aspens design from the book Nature’s Way for the purposes of demonstration. If you are looking for the actual pattern, check her website, your fabric store, or email her for where to purchase the book. (Or click here to enter my giveaway through 1/10/2011, as Debbie has supplied three autographed copies of this great book!)

The road map for this walk-through:

  • How Will It Be Used? picking the design
  • Do I Get to Go Shopping? supplies and tools
  • So Many Fabric and Thread Choiceswe love that, don’t we!
  • But I Can’t Draw! tracing the design
  • And Now to the Funmaking your applique pieces
  • Sharpen Your Scissors… cutting out the pieces
  • Tweaking The Layout… diagrams can help, but adjustments make it yours
  • Daring to Fuse… make it stick
  • Secured by a Thread… to zigzag or not to zigzag
  • I Am Hooked! finding more designs and resources

How Will It Be Used? picking the design (click any photo to enlarge)

Appliqued Daffodil Table Runner.

Fusible applique can be used on many things, like this daffodil table runner.

The answer to this question will drive many of your choices. You may have fallen in love with a pattern, or have a really creative idea of your own. Think about how it will be applied. Are you making a bed quilt? A wall hanging? Perhaps a trim for a pillowcase, or a mug rug? Consider the size of the space where you wish to apply the appliqué. Be sure that the design you choose fits this space, or can easily be re-sized. Once you know what size item you are making, and how it will be used, you can use all or part of a purchased pattern, or create your own. Check the “I Am Hooked!” section below for pattern resources.

Fusible applique_tutorial and giveaway_pussy willow jacket

My first fusible appliqué project. This fun jacket features designs by Debbie Field of Granola Girl.

Considering making your own? Cookie cutters and children’s coloring books are good places to look for simple shapes. But you may be a fabulous artist! That said, if you are inclined to, try creating a piece from your own work. I would still recommend drawing it out, and making a template to trace your actual pieces from. In fusible appliqué, the final piece as shown on the quilt will be a reversed image of what you trace. If your design includes letters, reverse them before tracing. Anything goes, however I strongly recommend no bits or pieces under ¼ inch around for sanity’s sake.

To show you some techniques, I have chosen to make a 14 by 14 inch wall hanging, from the Nature’s Way book. Some of the things I discuss may not apply to the project of your choosing.

Do I Get to Go Shopping? supplies and tools (click any photo to enlarge)

Things you will need:

  • your selected pattern
  • a pencil (pens and markers can stain fabric)
  • fusing material such as Heat N Bond Lite® – one yard will do several projects
  • an iron and ironing board
  • a small, sharp scissors
  • access to a window or light box is very helpful when tracing some patterns
  • a sewing machine
  • selected fabric and thread
  • optional: a mini-iron
  • optional: a Teflon pressing sheet

You will probably need to go purchase the fusing material. There are several types available, but I am using Heat N Bond Lite® as it is inexpensive, very supple when finished, and made to hold lightly and let the finishing stitches secure it more firmly. For a wall hanging, a firmer material would work, but for clothing or bedding I recommend the lighter versions. If you have never used any fusible products before, the staff at the fabric store may have suggestions from their stock.

The mini-iron and Teflon sheet are totally optional. Why not make a couple of projects first, before deciding to invest in these items? If you make lots of fusible applique items, they may prove to be worthwhile investments. Most mini-irons run under $25.00, and the Teflon sheet for less than $10.00, a good use for a discount coupon!

So Many Fabric and Thread Choices… we love that, don’t we! (click any photo to enlarge)

Fusible Applique Demonstration, Tips and Techniques 4

My selected fabric tidbits for this project.

Fabric selection will probably be based on your preferences and your pattern. You can use nearly any lightweight fabric that can take an iron at silk or low settings. Homespuns are great on primitive designs, traditional calicoes are charming. Hand-dyes and mottles can be stunning, silver lame could make great snowflakes on a Christmas tree skirt. My preference would be to not mix them in one project however.

You will need the appropriate yardage for your background, but small amounts for most other fabrics. Scraps are great. Be sure all fabrics are washed, dried, and pressed, with no use of fabric softener or starch. The fusing material will not adhere correctly on treated fabric.

The Sunflower featured in my blog header was made using my own hand-dyed fabric for the petals, and a purchased batik for the center. Actually, all the petals were cut from one fabric, with care being taken to catch all of the color variations so each petal stands out.

For my project I have selected gradient for the leaves, and a ferny mottle for the tree branch.

For my projects I have selected gradient for the leaves, and a ferny mottle for the tree branch.

For my Cardinals in Apsens wall hanging, I opted for fabrics from Northcott’s Natures Palette, mottles with subtle ferns, leaves, or brush strokes. The texture of the mottle makes the tree branch and the cardinal wings very interesting. I decided to go with the green leaves of summer, but could have gone with the golden colors of fall. On a gift bag, I used calico and traditional fabrics for the same cardinal. The Pussy Willow jacket is all solids, and the Spring Daffodil Table Runner features hand-dyes on Kona. Feel free to ‘think outside the box’ on this—the cupcake gift bag featured on my Fusible Applique Tutorial could be very striking in wild prints.

Fusible Applique Demonstration, Tips and Techniques-cardinal in calico

This little red calico bird has a different look than the mottle. He will adorn a gift bag.

Before beginning, decide what thread you will be using, based on how much you want the stitching to contribute to the overall appearance of your item. Some people like to use an invisible thread on the top stitching, so only the fabric shows. You can also use thread the color of your background. I tend to use a thread tied to the color of each piece I am appliqueing. The center of the Sunflower uses a variegated thread. The calico cardinal is done all in black.

But I Can’t Draw! tracing the design (click any photo to enlarge)

Fusible Applique Demonstration, Tips and Techniques 1- Tracing the Design

Trace your design on to the fusing material paper side. You are tracing a reverse image of the finished product.

Patterns require only tracing, and some personal adjustments before fusing. Tracing is quite easy, but a little planning can conserve fabric, and make the next steps easier.

Before starting to trace, note which pattern pieces will be cut from each fabric. Trace the pieces for each color close together, but leave some space between each piece. In the scrap areas, make a note of which color each section is, and label your pieces. Sometimes I actually number them, and write the numbers on the pattern too for reference. For my demonstration, I chose to use three shades from a green gradient for the leaves, and labeled them S M or L for the leaf size. Just as when you are piecing a complex block, if you are interrupted or have to put your work aside for a while, you will appreciate the labels later.

Fusible Applique Demonstration, Tips and Techniques 2 -traced pieces

With my pieces traced in section by color, it is easy to fuse a set to my fabric.

Tracing starts by laying the Heat N Bond out on the pattern, with the paper side up and the fusing side against the pattern. If the pattern shows clearly through, you can simply trace away with a pencil. Strive for accuracy, but do not worry if you get off the line, just retrace. Very few people can trace and cut precisely on the lines, and most designs are just fine with a few wavers.

Check your pattern to see how many of each piece are required. My pattern asked for five large leaves, so I traced the example of a large leaf five times.

Commercial patterns for fusible appliqué are already reversed. The pattern in the book is a mirror image from what the finished piece will be on the quilted item. Sometimes, as in the case of the cardinals in this demonstration, only one cardinal pattern is given. The finished design requires two cardinals, facing in opposite directions, so the second cardinal will be traced in reverse.

The cardinal called for two bodies, but one had to be reversed. One way to do this is to put your original pattern up against a window or light box, then turn it over so the pattern is reversed. This works well if there is no print on the back side of the pattern. If there is print, or the pattern is not showing clearly through, I can suggest two strategies. First one is to copy the pattern on to plain paper, and trace from that (turning it over to reverse.) The second one would be to trace the pattern piece that needs to be reversed onto a scrap of paper, cut it out and turn it over, then trace around it.

If all this talk of reversing your pattern has you boggled, check your selected pattern. There may be no reversing required! But, if you need to reverse a piece, keep in mind that it is just matter of experimenting to see what way works best for you.

fusible applique cutaway for large pieces

Have a really large piece to applique? Click to see how to trim the fusing material

A special note, for large pieces: If your design has large pieces, say over three inches across, and you want to avoid the stiffness of the fusing agent under it, you can make an adjustment in your tracing here. Leaving a ¼ inch ring around the outside, trim out the middle of the pattern piece BEFORE you bond it to the color. If you are making a wall hanging, I would leave it all intact, but for a bed quilt, this makes a softer applique. Be careful not to distort your shape as you move to the next step.

And Now to the Funmaking your appliqué pieces (click any photo to enlarge)

Now that all your pattern pieces are traced out, cut the Heat N Bond into chunks by color. Lay it gently on the WRONG side of the selected fabric piece, paper side up, and cut the fabric slightly larger than the Heat N Bond.

Fusible Applique Demonstration, Tips and Techniques 5 - fused to fabric

My tracings are now fused to the wrong side of the selected fabrics and ready to cut.

Set the fabric piece right side down on your ironing board, then lay the fusible material on top, paper side up. Following the directions from the manufacturer of your selected fusible material, bond each set of pieces on to the appropriate color. For Heat N Bond Lite, you need to set your iron to NO steam, and SILK. It only takes a couple of seconds to bond. Repeat for each color selected.

Sharpen Your Scissors… cutting out the pieces (click any photo to enlarge)

Fusible Applique Demonstration, Tips and Techniques 6 - cutting it out

A small scissors can be very helpful when cutting out your applique pieces.

Cut each color set out, carefully sticking to the lines. A small scissors can be very helpful. Take care that you do not accidentally snip off a section of your piece while cutting! When cutting out my tree branch, I pulled each little twig forward so I could see it as I snipped.

Perfection is a nice idea, but little wavers that come while you are learning will just add personality to your work. If you are not going to get on with the final fusing now, pop your pieces in a zip lock bag.

Tweaking The Layout… diagrams can help, but adjustments make it yours (click any photo to enlarge)

Fusible Applique Demonstration, Tips and Techniques 7 - color test

A quick check of colors before final fusing can assure you that you will like your finished project.

Do a quick color check. Press your background fabric and spread it out. Set one piece of each color on it just to check your colors. If one shade of green that you picked suddenly looks way too yellow, take time to redo it. It is much easier to retrace and cut on a different piece of green now than it would be after you start to fuse your final piece.

Following the guide with your pattern, set your pieces out on the background to view the rough finish. Some pieces will curl and be a bit uncooperative. But this step is important in helping you decide on your ‘fusing order’. In your pattern, you may notice that some pieces overlap. Sometimes the amount of overlap is shown by dotted lines, but other times you have to estimate it.

Fusible Applique Demonstration, Tips and Techniques 8 - test your layout

I have laid out my pieces, paper intact, to plan the overlaps and layers. This helps me understand the order in which I should fuse my pieces.

Take a minute to think in layers. Which pieces form the base layer? They will be fused first. Then the second layer, and so on. The cardinal is a great example. There are four pieces for each bird. The body will be fused first, then the beak, the neck, and the wing. Leaves will probably look best with some overlapping, and you should refer to your pattern guide.

Decide which piece is your base or first piece. For my example it is the tree branch. While I had it laid out on the fabric I made a teeny little pencil mark under its base on the background. This helps me know where to fuse my first piece, but is an optional step.

When doing a really complex piece, I sometimes snap a digital photo as this point, in case I need to refer to it later. Remember, the pattern is only a guide. If you find a layout you like better, go for it.

Now that you have it laid out and are starting to see it take shape, it is time to remove the pieces and prepare for fusing. For a small project you may be able to slide a piece of paper under and set it to the side. But I generally like to set them over one by one, in the reverse order for fusing. Then the little leaves that will be the top layer on the finished project are on the bottom of my set-aside layout.

You many not need all this extra layout and thought, which is fine. Just keep the idea of layers in mind before beginning to fuse.

Daring to Fuse… make it stick (click any photo to enlarge)

Fusible Applique Demonstration, Tips and Techniques- fuse the first piece

Fuse the first piece in place.

Following the manufacturer’s instructions for heat and time, preheat your iron.

Peel the paper off the base piece and lay in place. Smooth it with your fingers. Once you are happy with its placement, fuse it in place with your iron. Do not linger, just a quick touch here.

Keeping your pattern guide and your layers in mind, peel the paper off the next piece and set in place, adjust if needed, then fuse.

You will need to repeat this step until you have all your pieces in place. I do not recommend trying to fuse multiple pieces at the same time, as small fabric bits can shift under your iron. As you work, keep referring to your pattern guide, and think about layers.

Fusible Applique - a mini iron and teflon sheet

A mini-iron and teflon pressing sheet can be helpful, but not required.

When your pattern is very intricate or requires many small pieces, like the Pussy Willow jacket, a mini-iron can be very helpful. These little irons have a tiny head that heats, and can touch the individual piece without heating the area around it. Even intricate designs can be done with a regular iron, but if you are doing large projects, consider a mini-iron. I was glad to have it when fusing the 200 little droplets of fabric that are the pussy willow fuzz!

While it is not required, sometimes it is easier to fuse a unit, say a cardinal, and then attach it to the final project. This is when a Teflon pressing sheet comes in handy. Peel and lightly press the bottom piece of the unit directly to the Teflon sheet. Then fuse each other piece in place, in the correct order. Let it cool, then you can peel the entire bird off the Teflon sheet, and fuse it to the finished quilt. You can actually do an entire design this way, if it fits, but larger pieces are trickier to move.

Fusible Applique Demonstration, Tips and Techniques-teflon sheet fusing for cardinal

Fusing the cardinal into one unit on a teflon sheet...

Fusible Applique Demonstration, Tips and Techniques - move the cardinal unit

...makes it easy to move and fuse in place.

If you make a mistake in fusing, do not just scrap the whole project. Perhaps another leaf could mask it, or some other adjustment. Perhaps you are the only one who will notice it anyway.

Secured by a Thread… to zigzag or not to zigzag (click any photo to enlarge)

Congratulations, you have completely fused your project! Time to secure it with stitching. This ensures that your hard work will last, and survive laundering. (If you are making a wall hanging or banner that will never be washed, and do not mind the stiffness, you could use Heat N Bond regular, not Lite, and skip stitching.)

Fusible Applique detail zig zag stitching

Detail shows the zigzag stitching, and the effect of layering the pieces.

I like both zigzag and straight stitching for projects, it is your preference. The Pussy Willow jacket is entirely stitched with a very narrow zigzag stitch. I have seen people use a tight zigzag for a satin stitch effect. Your machine may have other decorative stitches that you would like to use. Just make certain that they flow around tight bends and turns!

Straight stitching is faster, and secures well. When you have a stunning fabric, like in the Sunflower bag, you may want to use straight stitches and let the fabric shine through. Or perhaps your sewing machine only makes straight stitches. If you are expecting to launder the item often, a zigzag stitch may be more secure.

Fusible Applique Demonstration, Tips and Techniques- stitching the appliques

Stitching the applique pieces secured them fully.

You can vary the stitches on one design. Say you are doing a floral with leaves, a straight stitch on the leaves and a zigzag on the floral will make it pop. You can use the stitching to create veins on leaves or other details if you like.

If you are working with a homespun or other loosely woven fabric, I strongly recommend using a zigzag stitch.

It is time to stitch away, keeping those layers in mind. I tend to stitch the base layers first, then work my way up, so if my stitching lines cross another piece, the depth illusion holds. For my demonstration I am using a thread set tied to my color selections. I start and end each section with a locking stitch. I also find, when doing a straight stitch, that my zipper foot makes it easier to see where I need to stitch.

When you are through with the stitching on your appliqué, trim your threads and complete your piece as desired!

Frequently Asked Questions Answers to questions from readers, updated 3/22/2011.

Reversing Pattern Pieces? Question: I am confused at the idea of reversing. Is it always necessary? Only some patterns require any reversing, and then usually only a few pieces for that pattern. For example, a pattern may have three leaf sizes, like this pattern, but have you trace another set in reverse. This way the actual appliqué leaves will not look so ‘cookie-cutter’. It is very important in items like the birds here, where you want them to face different directions. Some patterns actually print both views, others conserve print space by asking you to reverse them.

Reversing Pattern Pieces. My pattern says it is already reversed for appliqué. How does this effect my tracing and cutting? This means that the entire pattern and all pieces should be traced exactly as shown, no need for you to reverse anything. The final product will be a mirror image of each pattern piece, exactly what you want! Nice of them to tell you, as it is the easiest way to trace!

Reversing Patterns I have made my own drawing for a fusible appliqué project. Do I have to reverse it? That depends on the pattern. For instance, the two projects in the appliqué gift bag post would work facing either direction, so there would be no need to reverse the pieces. To decide,try holding your pattern up to a mirror. If it looks just as good in the mirror as on the paper, I would not bother to reverse it. If not, you may only need to reverse some of it, depending upon your design. Somethings always need to be reversed, like letters or numbers.

I Am Hooked! finding more designs and resources

Types of fusible material include Wonder Under, Fusible Pellon, Sulky, and many others. Each has different requirements for heat and steam, be sure to follow the manufacturer’s directions for use and laundering.

There are hundreds of designers who offer great fusible appliqué patterns, and here are a few names to check out. If they do not have a link, try searching for them by name, or seeing what your local quilt shop has to offer. Listed in no particular order, do take a look at the fantastic variety of designs available.

Jan Patek Quilts Phil Beaver McKenna Ryan
Paris Bottman Debi Hubbs Toni Whitney Designs
Debbie Field Heather Soos Brenda Yirsa
Free Applique Patterns Cleo Mounday Heidi Pridemore
Needlesongs Janet Rice Bredin Amy Bradley
Bonnie Kaster Melanie Formway Chang June Colburn
Donna Poster Sundrop Designs Story Quilts
Morning Glory Designs

You can find many other tutorials and videos online showing different steps of fusible appliqué work. Here are a few.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zzSBmS178lA   super basic
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XBuCcYsPh9E&feature=related   a really ornate example

Fusible Applique Demonstration, Tips and Techniques- applique is finished

The finished fusible applique project, ready for borders and quilting.

Fusible Applique Demo - finished with borders, unquilted

And don't the borders add a lot to the pieces? Now, on to quilting!

Football and Free Motion Quilting, a finish

Free motion quilting while watching football may be hazardous to your stitching. But I finished a UFO!

I hope you are inspired to explore this fun method of appliqué and find many ways to use it in your quilting! – Mary

©2011, The Curious Quilter, thecuriousquilter.net, maryeoriginals.com.


About thecuriousquilter

Quilter, sewer, writer, gardener, mother, sister, friend, always learning, always curious.
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10 Responses to Fusible Appliqué Techniques: A Demonstration

  1. Pingback: Fusible Appliqué: A Tutorial, A Demo, and a Giveaway | The Curious Quilter

  2. Deborah in Atlanta says:

    Oh, Mary…thank you for such an excellent demonstration of fusible appliqué. I’m in the midst of making a wall hanging calendar quilt that my daughter wanted as a lap-sized quilt. I’ve been in a quandry for over a month trying to find out how to do the embellishments needed for the snowman arms, the umbrella handle, and the turkey legs because all of them in the wall hanging were made with three strands of embroidery floss. That definitely wouldn’t work since I’ve enlarged those 3″X5″ blocks to 8.5″X11″. This is EXACTLY what I’ve been looking for and I am thrilled beyond words!!! Thank you, thank you, thank you for your timely post. I’m so excited and can hardly wait to finish reading all my blogs so I can go and try some samples to see if this will work. Yippee!!!!

  3. Martin says:

    Hey, you must have gotten your computer fixed! Nice job, love the cheery little birds.

  4. Shelley C says:

    I was very glad to read this informative post! I get kind of timid thinking how I’m suppose to stitch the edges. This explained things very well. I hope to remember the tip using a zipper foot!

  5. Pingback: Congratulations to the Fusible Appliqué Giveaway Winners! | The Curious Quilter

  6. Pingback: Football and Free-Motion Quilting Together? Arghh! | The Curious Quilter

  7. mizunogirl says:

    Love the tutorial. Now, I just need to get brave. I have this idea to make a quilt depicting our little town’s bike paths, and the landmarks along the way. This technique is perfect for the little buildings and such. I just have to get brave. I’m wondering if I should just make big blocks , applique on them and then put it together, for easier work, rather than starting with one whole cloth…

    • How large of a quilt are you aiming for? If a bed quilt, I think it is always easier to work on blocks rather than whole cloth. Besides, if you mess one up (never!) it is easier to fix. You could put sashing between the blocks to represent pathways. A smaller wall hanging would be great with while cloth. Sounds like a great quilt idea!

  8. shirley boyce says:

    Best explanation I have found on the use of fusible applique. Thank you for preparing this page.

  9. Pingback: Welcome to Minnesota! | The Curious Quilter

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