Machine Applique Can Be Beautiful and Durable

Hi everybody.  The subject recently came up about how to sew stitched raw-edge applique so it can be washed and used without a fraying edge.  I have used these appliques for years now and have found that there are ways to minimize or even eliminate fraying regardless of the stitch I use for the edge.

Canterbury silk. All the appliques in the central block are silk and stitched with narrow matching lightweight thread using a blanket stitch.

First of all, one needs to consider the fabric.  If you are using a relatively loosely woven cotton, it probably would be best to turn the edge even if you are machine stitching it or use a satin stitch with a fray edge treatment, such as fray check if you machine stitch it down.  Most current day high quality quilting cottons, however, are tightly woven enough to withstand a raw-edge applique treatment if the stitching is properly set up and the washing is done on a gentle cycle or by hand.

Night on the Bayou. The big cyprus trees are turned edge, machine stitched and the remaining appliques are fused raw edge. All the applique stitching was machine blanket stitched.

I use a light fusible web to tack down my appliques that usually washes away.  I have also used a simple wash away glue stick and it works too with the right stitch settings.  So for blanket stitch:

  • Set the stitch narrow with a short length.  I use about 1.7 width by 1.5 length on my Bernina 880 plus for most quilting cotton.
  • I move the needle as far to the right as possible.
  • I use an open toed embroidery foot 20D
  • I engage the dual feed to make it really even, but if you don’t have such, stitch at a slow even speed
  • Run the edge of the applique up close to the inside right toe of the foot so that the straight stitch runs close to the edge of the applique in the background and the swing left to right stitch goes into the applique
  • Turn the applique as it curves so the swing left-right stitch points to the center of the circle or roundish shape
  • When turning at a sharp angle, stop as close to the end as possible, preferably with the needle to the right in the background.  Then turn, and begin the stitch pattern by hitting the restart pattern button if your machine has one. This makes a pretty point and seals the sharp shape of the applique down with thread. Don’t fret if you miss it a bit, just get it as close to this ideal as you can.
  • When quilting this type of applique you may wish to use a matching light weight thread or monopoly to blend into the background, or a heavier thread in a dark gray stitched close to the edge to make a shadow-like appearance. It all depends on how you want the end result, so do a test first.

If you do all of this, the result is usually a straight stitch running close to the cut edge of the applique on the background and the left-right stitches close enough together that they help to prevent fraying.  Use this stitch with matching thread when you want your edges to blend into the applique more. If you want the blanket stitch to stand out, see if your machine has a double blanket stitch.  The double blanket stitch is beautiful and pretty completely seals the edges but stands out.

If you are using wool felt appliques, you can use wider and longer blanket stitches and possibly a 12 weight wool thread for a very hand-appliqued look.  You are likely not to wash these items, but felt does not fray in any event.

If you decide you would rather use a satin stitched edge it requires careful even stitching and points and corners require care because this stitch can look fairly amateurish with wiggles and bumpy corners and poorly stitched points. I really prefer to do this by first digitizing it in my Bernina software and then stitch in-the-hoop appliques because it gives a much more professional finish than is easy to achieve otherwise.  However, I have been successful at stitching this with first a narrower satin stitch around the applique and follow that with a slightly wider stitch over the original stitch.  This gives a nicer smoother look.  Use this stitch when you want your edges to stand out.

Detail from Summer Melody, in which all the butterflies are appliqued with narrow satin stitch.

Then there is the time you actually want a little fraying to add to the character of the applique.  For this, I just use a straight stitch close to the edge of the applique in a matching thread.

Regardless of the applique you use, when you wash these quilts use gentle cycle or wash by hand and dry flat and they will last for many years.

Sew happy everyone!  Have fun in your studio and don’t fear the applique.