Whilst I love applique I know many people don’t. It can be slow and fiddly but there are times in life that I need to slow down and sit with a needle and thread to think about things. The sewing machine is great for getting things done quickly and putting large pieces of fabric together but for small detailed work nothing beats a good needle and fine thread!
When sewing anything by hand it’s important to have the right tools, a poorly manufactured needle tugs and pulls through fabric.That’s no fun! If your needle is too big it makes large holes in the top layer and then the stitch becomes very visible. Thick thread sits on top of your work and screams out look at me… a thread that keeps snapping or tangling can really test your patience. So if you are not enjoying applique it may be time to try a new needle and thread.
When I first started to sew I had no idea what all the numbers and words meant on a needle packet or a spool of thread. Now I know what my favourites are and when to use them. I know that for applique I need fine thread and that usually means 50wt or higher. But not always, unfortunately thread manufacturers haven’t really agreed on a system for measuring thread weights so its important to feel the thread before you order it.
I like to match the colour of the thread to what I’m sewing on for example, for sewing a yellow circle onto a black background I choose yellow thread. I like using the finest thread possible so that whenever the stitches are visible they are barely there. For years I used Aurifil brand thread in a 50wt but recently I’ve started to use a polyester thread that looks like silk. I still use Aurifil for machine piecing and hand sewing but have switched to Superior Bottom Line Thread for hand applique.
This thread is usually used for the bottom thread of the sewing machine and comes pre wound on cardboard bobbins. I find I can get by with just a handful of neutral colours but one day I may splurge and buy a rainbow of them!
When I do need a particular colour I select from my super handy Prewound Masterpiece Threads Donut. It’s hard not to find the right colour here!
My favourite hand piecing and applique needle is a milliners/ straw size 11. I find it is long enough to help me with needle turn applique and holds many stitches for hand piecing. The small eye of the needle means it also doesn’t make big holes in your fabric and you only need a small knot to anchor the thread. Needles are fairly inexpensive so I encourage you to invest in a well manufactured needle! You are looking for a gentle taper from tip to eye, a needle free from burrs that may catch on fabric and a smooth polished eye that doesn’t shred your thread. A fine, straight and sharp needle is a joy to sew with. There’s lots of interesting information on the net if you want to know more about needles.
If you’ve tried to applique by hand and you really don’t think you will come to like it, don’t give up. There are some amazing things that can be done with a sewing machine these days. Michelle Hill is an Australian who has really perfected this technique and her classes are highly sought after. You can read through her basic instructions for machine applique in these instructions for a pattern published in Issue 38 of Quilter’s Companion.
What other tools will you need? Well it depends on how much applique you do. I like small sharp scissors, a wooden manicure stick to help turn fiddly points and some Dritz Fray Check in case I snip a little close to the seam and I’m worried about fraying. Some people like to use small applique pins but I’m not that bothered. If the pins really get in the way I tack my applique down with thread and snip that off later.
So there you go, that’s my tools for applique. Everyone has their favourites so go ahead and use what gives you the best results.
Read my previous post about applique for some tips and techniques.