Appliqué comes from the French word ‘appliquer’ meaning to ‘put on’ or ‘apply’ one piece of fabric to another, either by hand or machine. The raw edges of the pieces being applied can be turned under and sewn or simply covered with decorative stitching.
Appliqué has been around for thousands of years, all across the globe. It began as a useful way of repairing small holes and tears in clothing that was passed down over generations until it became a useful way of decorating textiles for a myriad of uses, from wrapping infants to shrouding the dead.
Traditional variations include bonded appliqué, broderie perse, cut away or reverse appliqué, shadow appliqué, fabric collage and Mola work. It’s worth finding out more about each of these.
Very recently, appliqué has had a massive revival as the boundaries of these older techniques have been stretched to encompass experiments with colour and texture, layering and overlaying and incorporating a range of materials such as jewellery or metal, with new and exciting results. Contemporary appliqué has now come to be regarded as an art form in its own right and it forms a huge part of surface decoration in modern textile design.
But what does that have to do with EPP? Well, it’s this: There are some simple and easy appliqué techniques you can use to aid or enhance your EPP work. I think of appliqué as a near relative that it’s fun to visit from time to time, for a bit of fun.
1. A group of shapes that have been used to complete a pattern in English Paper Piecing can be appliquéd onto a larger fabric background, rather than adding more pieces to form a quilt. For example you could appliqué this ring of pieced hexagons onto a cotton carrier bag, or a row of smaller ones onto a pillow case . This technique works well when you want to try out individual blocks or designs and finish them quickly, and when you are not ready to try something larger.
2. If you want to give your shapes a slightly raised look you could appliqué, say, a single hexagon flower in the centre of each patchwork square in a mini quilt. Appliquéing them on will allow the flowers to pop forward because they sit a little proud of their background. If you like, you could even stuff the flowers with washable wadding. In this cot quilt ‘Pastel Bows’, I appliquéd on the centre of each bow and stuffed it.
3. Paper inserts inside shapes to be appliquéd give the shapes body and keep corners sharp and neat.
After your fabric shapes are completed and pressed, the papers can be removed and the shape easily stitched to a background fabric without losing its definition.
4. EPP shapes have edges that are already turned under, making it easy to hand appliqué using invisible stitches.
5. Appliqué is a way of adding complementary colours, fabrics and designs to embellish what could otherwise be rather plain. In this quilt pattern ‘Over the Orchard’ by Kajsa Wikman (from the book ‘Quilts Baby!’ by Linda Kopp), you can see that without the appliqué in the centre panels, it wouldn’t have nearly as much personality.
I am part way through making a version of this quilt which I have called, ‘Over the Hills’. The edges are done and I have hills, groups of conifers, a farm cottage and some birds ready to add to the various centre sections. Just the appliqués to sew down and it will be ready to assemble and be quilted. Here it is in progress:
6. Appliqué can be used as a means of adding a border (or multiple borders) to your finished quilt top or if you want to enlarge a small quilt, to display inside a larger picture frame for example. When I put the binding on the ‘Dog Log’ below, I found that the folded edge sliced off a piece of each of the images at the sides. I have now unpicked the binding to appliqué a narrow border onto all four sides. These will butt up against the squares with the images without any overlapping and allow them to be seen clearly. Then I will re-attach the binding to the new border.
7. Appliqué is a perfect way to create a pictorial quilt. Appliquéd shapes don’t have to be geometrical because you are not piecing them together. This means you can use any shape you like. This mini quilt ‘Down in the Glen’ shows how you can use appliqué on a patched background.
I always use paper shapes inside my appliqué in true EPP style because I find the paper acts as a stabiliser but you can make shapes without papers. If you do use papers, don’t forget to remove them before you sew your shapes down! Otherwise you end up with a crackly project that you can’t wash (yes, I have done that on more than one occasion!). You can use a fine stabiliser like Pellon and leave it in if you don’t plan to wash your work, or you can use wash-away appliqué sheets in place of papers but they are thicker and I find them harder to work with.
8. Here, a ” A Song of Eggs and Feathers’, shows the focus is entirely on the appliqué rather than part of an overall design. Pictorial elements have been applied to square of printed cotton rather than a patched background.Each separate piece of the birds has been made using a paper shape wrapped with cloth before stitching it down and embroidering over it. This is more exacting than patchwork but also more fun.
‘Murmuration’ (below) is a mini quilt that I am working on at the moment, where I have taken a fabric print that I love and added a little appliqué to suggest dusk in Scotland with a sky full of birds.
The border is pieced but I have appliquéd on the cottage, the smoke from the chimney, the hill and the fence using paper inserts that were removed after pressing. I have starting adding some embroidery but there will be more to come and of course the hand quilting and binding.
If you are a patchworker or English Paper Piecer, have you given appliqué a try?
till next time…
(PS – apologies for using photos from earlier blog posts but I don’t make things fast enough to be able to show you new things as examples.)