Five tips for better appliqué (+ giveaway!)

From the moment I started quilting, I’ve adored appliqué. My first quilt included five hand-appliquéd hearts. I still recall those warped, wonky symbols of love (and not in a good way). But I didn’t care. It was my first appliqué experience, and I fell in love with the rhythm and unhurried pace of the technique.

I’ve gotten better over the years, mostly because I’ve read up. There are many appliqué artists to learn from, but one author who has helped me refine my technique is Susan Taylor Propst. She makes her home in Colorado now, but she spent ten years in England refining her skills. While there she completed City & Guilds in Patchwork and Quilting (City & Guilds is an organization that awards professional qualifications). She also received a Higher National Certificate in Textiles. Her achievements sound so romantic, don’t they? I love British flair.

Susan is known best for her quilting flower patterns. In her new book, Nature’s Beauty in Appliqué, she brings her artistry to items that can be displayed throughout your home—not only on the wall. (Let’s face it. If you put the work in, you want to show it off. Everywhere. Who’s with me?) See her gorgeous work at the bottom of this post.

Susan’s new book explains how to appliqué by hand, but she also shares fusible techniques if you have the need for speed. And there’s a special bonus for the speed-obsessed: If you love a project but don’t have time for appliqué, Susan’s included alternate projects that use fussy-cut motifs, preprinted panels, and other pretty fabrics in place of the appliqué. Each project does double duty. Nice touch.

I scoured Susan’s books and her site for a few of her smart appliqué tips.

1. Knotting your thread. "It’s best to use the thread as it comes off the spool, because it provides smoother stitching and less tangling. By threading the needle first, and then cutting the thread, you don’t lose track of which end should be knotted." (Who knew?!)

2. Silk vs. cotton thread. "I use cotton thread for two reasons. First, I like to have the thread match the fabric, and I use cotton fabric. Second, I am not convinced that silk is as durable as cotton (based on seeing old quilts where silk thread has disintegrated)."

3. Effect of lighting on color. "When I select fabric, I want the combinations to look good in all rooms, daylight or nighttime. I try to work during the day and pick what looks good in natural light; then I close the curtains and turn on the fluorescent light to make sure everything still looks good together."

4. Nip fraying in the bud. "A bit of glue can often keep your fabric from fraying. Use a pin or needle to apply a small amount to problem areas, such as sharp inside points. Or, use a washable glue stick to apply the glue to the back of the fabric. Apply it only within the seam allowances of your appliqués, because glue can change fabric appearance. The freezer paper on the back should prevent the glue from getting outside the seam allowance. Be a bit stingy with the glue though; if you apply too much, the fabric will become stiff and more difficult to manipulate. Allow the glue to dry before appliquéing."

5. Removing freezer paper. "Use tweezers to help remove freezer paper from behind appliqués. If the paper is really holding on, dab some water on the fabric. It will soften the paper so that it can be removed."

Thanks for the tips, Susan!

So, what’s your appliqué story? Do you prefer fast, fusible results or decelerated handwork? Do you have a smart appliqué tip to share? Leave your story in the comments and you could win a copy of the Nature’s Beauty in Appliqué eBook! We’ll choose a winner one week from today and let you know by email if you’ve won. (You can also purchase Susan’s book here, and if you do, you also get to download the eBook for free right away.) Good luck!

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Thanks to all who entered the drawing to win the Nature’s Beauty in Applique eBook! The randomly chosen winner is Connie, who said:

“I love all types of applique. Right now I’m doing a piece of wool applique. Any type of applique is a relaxing time. The projects shown are absolutely awesome, I would love to win the book."

Connie, we’ll email you a special coupon code for your free eBook. Congratulations!


Swan wall hanging. (Look at the shadow of that swan. Undeniably wall worthy.)


Iris Table Runner.


Tulip Place Mats. (A great beginner project.)


Hosta Cushion. (Look at the quilted ridges in those leaves!)


Campanula Neck Roll.


Daffodil Tote Bag.


Ivy Zippered Case.


Petunia Case.

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