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Art of Appliqué

A “Ready To Go” Appliqué Sewing Kit

By Neysa J. Powell, former TAS President

     How many times have you walked out the door for a place you knew you would have time to work on a little appliqué, but you didn’t have everything gathered together and ready to go?


    A small, compact, easy to carry appliqué kit is easy to assemble and have “ready to go” at a moments notice.  Once you have your kit assembled, keep it only for a travel kit.  Do not borrow items from it and they will always be there when you need them.  Always keep it in a handy place.  Nothing is more frustrating than trying to remember where you have “hidden” your travel kit. 


    When gathering your supplies for your kit, remember you are not packing it for the summer…only for a few hours here and there.  Although this list may seem like a lot of things to carry in a sewing kit, they are all quite small and do not take up a lot of space.  Chances are you do not use everything that is listed below; so carry only the items that you use when sewing.


Here are a few ideas of what to carry in your kit.


1.) The Kit…the container, case, or bag for all the necessary supplies

The size of kit you use will depend on how you work and what tools you use.  There are many types of sewing kits and travel bags in the market today from which quilters can choose.  Choose a case that will comfortably hold all your supplies.  If you work with many tools, you may want a case with compartments, zippered areas, or ribbons to attach some of your tools.


2.) Storage for needles and pins

    Needles and pins can be stored in several different ways.  One way is a notion called a Needle Safe.  This is a small case that opens up to two magnetized compartments which protects the needles and pins and stores them safely for travel.

    Another way to store needles and pins is to place them into a small piece of either felt, wool felt, or wool flannel.  Cut the piece in any shape or size you like…square, rectangle, heart, etc.  Pre-made needle-case books can be purchased from many fabric or quilt shops.  These usually have several “pages” of felt or flannel to separate needles and pins and a sturdy cover to keep the needles and pins protected when closed.

    Still another product to safely carry needles is the Clover Quilt Dome.  This notion allows you to carry up to 10 threaded needles.  The needles can be threaded while you are at home and have the proper lighting to thread them easily.  When you are ready to sew, simply pull out threaded needle, knot it, and sew.

    If you prefer to have an easy way to thread your needles while you are away, the Clover needle-threading cassette is a very handy tool.  This allows you to place up to 10 – 12 needles on the needle threader at one time.  When you are ready to thread a needle, all you have to do is place the thread through the wire threader and remove the needle from the cassette.


3.) Needles and Pins…carry two or three of each of the following

            Large quilting pins

            Silk pins

            ¾” glass head appliqué pins

Basting needles

            Appliqué needles

            Quilting needles


4.) Threads to match or blend with the appliqué pieces

    The number of colors of appliqué fabrics will determine how many colors of threads you will need to carry at any one time.  You may have need of only one or two colors for some projects and many colors for other projects.  A new notion on the market is called Bobbin Saver.  It is a small donut shaped organizer that will hold over twenty bobbins…metal or plastic.  By winding some of your appliqué threads onto bobbins you will be able to carry many more colors in a much smaller space.  The bobbins pop in and out of the Bobbin Saver very easily, yet it keeps them secure and in a way they will not unwind when not in use.


5.) Marking Tools

    Since this is a compact kit, carry only one or two marking pencils or pens.  For marking fabrics, a silver marking pencil and a black 001 Pigma Micron pen will be easily seen on most every fabric.  For marking either freezer paper or plastic templates, a fine line graphite pencil or fine line permanent marking pen will be all that is necessary.


6.) Scissors

    Carry a short, sharp to the point pair of fabric scissors and a pair of scissors that can be used on either paper or plastic.


7.) Other items for your kit

    Everyone is different in the way they sew and what they use to sew.  Some of the things you may want to carry are a good thimble, a fabric glue stick, bamboo toothpick, needle gripper, seam ripper, thread conditioner, beeswax, a needle threader, and a strawberry to plant the needles and pins as you work.  For those accustomed to working on a flat surface, a small patchwork board will come in very handy.  It will also give you a place to lay all of your tools while you are working.


8.) A secure way to carry the appliqué pieces

    This can be anything from a small zip lock plastic bag to a piece of felt or flannel that can be folded over to secure the pieces.  Never leave the appliqué pieces loose in the sewing kit.  Since many appliqué pieces are often very small, they could be dropped and lost.  Appliqué pieces are many times cut on the bias and if left loose or handled too often they may distort in size or shape or fray too much before you are ready to use them.



The Basic Appliqué Stitch


By Neysa J. Powell , former TAS President

    Although there are several different types of appliqué stitches, the stitch described here is one of the more traditional stitches for needleturn appliqué. It is a strong and durable stitch that performs well on all shapes of appliqué.


1.) Cut a length of thread approximately 15" long in a color that either matches or blends well with the appliqué fabric. Thread the needle and tie a quilter's knot at one end of the thread.

   The first appliqué stitch can be made in one of two ways. The thread can come up from behind the background fabric through to the marked line on the appliqué piece (in which case the knot will show from behind the block); or begin the stitch by slipping the knot between the folded seam allowance of the appliqué fabric (in which case the knot will be hidden inside the seam allowance). The seam allowance is the area of fabric from the marked "turning line" to the outer edge of the fabric.

    Typically, if you are right handed you will stitch from right to left; and if you are left handed, you will stitch from left to right. This is not a rule...but rather a guideline. There are always exceptions to this, so stitch in the direction in which you are more comfortable.


2.) Once the first stitch has been made and the needle is in the appliqué fabric you are ready to begin stitching. Place the needle directly off of the edge of the appliqué fabric ...keeping it even with the thread that is in the appliqué fabric and then insert it into the background fabric. The needle will move underneath the background fabric about 1/16". As the needle emerges from the background fabric pierce the edge of the appliqué piece by catching only two or three threads along the folded edge.

    Once again move the needle directly off of the appliqué fabric and back into the background fabric. Your needle will move under the background fabric and emerge about 1/16" away from the last stitch. Each time the needle emerges it will pick up two or three threads from the folded edge of the appliqué piece.


    After every two or three stitches, give the needle a very slight pull. As you are pulling the thread with the stitching hand, place either your finger or thumb of the opposite hand at the fold of the fabric, applying a small amount of pressure. This will keep the fabric from trying to pucker as you tighten the stitches. Do not pull hard enough to cause the fabric to ripple. Keeping the same amount of tension in each of the stitches will help to keep the stitched edge of the appliqué piece uniform, crisp, and clean.



A Brief History of Appliqué

By Millie Carter

The word “appliqué” comes from French meaning “applied, fastened to.”  It’s the past participle of the verb “appliquér”, to apply.  One dictionary definition of the word refers to “a decorative feature, as a sconce, applied to a surface.[1]  New World Dictionary of the American Language states “a decoration or trimming made of one material attached by sewing, gluing, etc. to another.”[2]  The word traveled with the French as they explored the world.  William the Conquer probably brought it to England in 1066; Napoleon took it to Egypt where appliquéing a design on tents was a long-established custom.

The word “quilt” comes to English via the Old French word “cuilte” which, in turn, is from the Latin “culcita.”  The Romans used a “culcita” as a mattress made from a sandwich of two fabric layers with a light padding in the middle.  The Japanese do the same thing with their “futon”.

Appliqué and patchwork have been known around the world and used in daily life for almost 2,500 years.  The oldest surviving example of patchwork is an Egyptian canopy quilt from 980 B.C.[3] Patchwork and appliqué were used in many cultures to create clothing, saddle blankets, tents, and other everyday items.  It wasn’t, of course, called appliqué but whatever word their language had for that type of work.

Until cloth (in particular cotton) became readily available, appliqué was not necessarily a part of patchwork or quilting but used and placed on different materials such as leather and canvas.  Designs appliquéd to everyday items were often symbols thought to be important as protection to the user, to identify families by their crests, or to depict familiar animals, flowers, and other things seen in everyday life.

Quilting and appliqué originated and were extensively used in and around Asia, spreading from there to Europe during the Crusades along the Silk Road.  Channel-quilted vests and jackets were found to be effective to deflect arrows in battle. Japanese ruler Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1537-1598) had a quilted cream-colored campaign vest with a stylized paulownia flower in bright red on the back.[4] 

The word “ruche” comes from Old French to describe the cork oak hives made to keep bees warm in winter and cool in summer.[5]  Appliqué enthusiasts know the word as a method of creating three-dimensional accents on appliqué quilts.

Different cultures developed different styles of quilting.  Whole cloth quilts, trapunto (Latin), and stripy quilts were popular in various countries.  Patchwork, quilting, and appliqué, as we know them today, are uniquely American.  The United States of America itself has a history unlike any other in the world.  Immigrants started arriving from England, Scotland, and Ireland, then other countries.  They brought the various arts and crafts they were familiar with.  Appliqué patterns were transferred from familiar designs onto cloth, as well as translating the new land’s flora and fauna onto quilts. 

Various regions of the United States created their own style of patchwork, quilting, and appliqué.  Several old patchwork and appliqué patterns were renamed or altered to show pride and support in emerging American politics and culture.  The Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) museum in Washington, DC, has outstanding appliqué quilts dating from the 1780s in their quilt collection. Examples of early American appliqué would be the boderie perse quilts of Virginia[6], and Baltimore albums of Maryland.[7] 

To see some of our members’ appliqué, please visit our Show and Share Page. For further history on appliqué and quilting in general, the website www.historyofquilts is very useful and interesting. 


[1] The Random House Dictionary of the English Language, (1967)

[2] New World Dictionary of the American Language, (1986)


[4] Japanese Quilts, Jill Liddell & Yuko Watanabe, 1985

[5] History of Food, Maguelonne Toussaint-Samat, 1987 (translated by Anthea Bell, 1992)

[6] First Flowerings:  Early Virginia Quilts, DAR Museum, Gloria Seaman Allen, Curator (1987)

[7] A Maryland Album: Quiltmaking Traditions 1634-1934 by Gloria Seaman Allen & Nancy Gibson Tuckhorn (1995)