Friday, 3 June 2016

Two stitches I use for hand appliqué

I have a piece of hand appliqué which I have been working on for about three months (off and on), as I just feel too bored to do it for more than three days in a row)). As I took it out for another round, it got me thinking about the stitches used for hand appliqué, and I decided to run a small comparison and share it with you.

First of all I must register my frustration with a lack of clear and unambiguous names for hand stitches in English))) I had to choose the names which seem most recognizable.

When I do hand appliqué I mostly use the blind stitch (aka ladder stitch or slipstitch), however, in this current project (working title - "Beach extravaganza") I faced a problem - the background fabric was too large to handle conveniently, so I quickly switched to the more traditional appliqué stitch (I find that it doesn't have any special name in books and tutorials on appliqué, but to those who are familiar with clothes making it may be known as hemming stitch or fell stitch). It's a tiny and almost invisible version of the diagonal stitch.

So, here is a little comparative study of the two stitches for anyone facing a similar choice. And I have to stress that I use them both with appliqué pieces that already have their edges turned under with the help of freezer paper and/or starch or any other method, so the edge that you see is actually a fold.

So, let's look at each of the stitches closely:

Ladder Stitch (Slipstitch, Blind Stitch)

I find it easier to make when holding the background fabric with appliqué element pinned to it in my left hand, with the fingers below the fabric and the thumb above. This means that this stitch is best used for appliqué on a separate block or a small project (or the edge of a large one, as I did for this comparison).

Tie a knot on your thread and slip the needle from the wrong to the right side of fabric, so that it comes out in the background fabric but right next to the appliqué edge. Insert the needle into the fold (this is why it's good to hold the whole thing so that you can see the "profile" of your appliqué element) and move it inside there for 2-3mm (1/8 in), then bring it out of the appliqué and right into the background, move  it 2-3mm (1/8 in) underneath the fabric and bring it back up. That's one stitch that is done in one movement (with practice you can make several stitches without pulling the needle out).
ladder stitch

If you stick your needle right into the fold of the appliqué piece, no stitching will be visible on the right side (that's why it's called blind stitch, after all), the piece will look like it's just lying atop the background.

An applique element made with ladder (blind) stitch

Any minor disturbances in the fabric will disappear after pressing, and even further after quilting.
Here is a detail from one of my previous quilts, Waltz of the Flowers, with blind-stitch appliqué. You can see the line of quilting around the tulip, but not really any stitches that attach it to the background (except at the inner corners where I put extra stitches to prevent fraying).

An applique element made with the blind stitch, after quilting

There is one point, though, to consider about the blind stitch: it actually is a variation of the running stitch, which is widely known to be the least durable of all hand stitches. So, if you only quilt around your appliqué design, as I mostly do, you appliqué element is hanging by a thread, as it were, and there is a theoretical possibility that the stitching may get torn when handling the quilt. It hasn't happened to mine yet, but they are not yet that old (although the one above is on the bed of a four-year-old, which means no scruples in handling))). If anyone has any practical experience with that, please share in the comments.

Appliqué Stitch (Hemming Stitch, Diagonal Stitch)

The advantage of the hemming stitch in hand appliqué is that it can be done on the table, with your both hands on top of the fabric, which may be the decisive point when your background is over a meter square, as mine is in this case.

Tie a knot and slip your needle underneath the fabric (you'll only need to get underneath for the beginning and the end of your stitching), bring it out in the background fabric, but right next to the appliqué edge. Make a tiny stitch into the appliqué piece, perpendicular to its edge, catching just a couple of threads, feel your needle touch the table and slide it along the table surface for 2-3mm (1/8 in), then bring it back up, right next to the appliqué piece edge. In this method, I think, it's impossible to make more that one stitch in a go.

applique stitch

If you really manage to catch only a couple of threads, all you'll see on the right side is a row of tiny dots, which have their own charm and are for some people the definitive feature of hand appliqué. However, that also means your thread must match the appliqué color really well.

applique stitch

And here is another piece from the same project to showcase the dots))) If you step back a meter or two, you won't see them at all.

applique stitch

Being twice as dense and not as straight as the blind stitch, the appliqué stitch is more durable (after all, it's a variation of the diagonal or the whipstitch), though if your quilt is destined to peacefully hang on the wall that might not be an important consideration.

Summing up

So, here are they are side by side, can you spot the difference?

two hand appliqué stitches

And the back...

two hand appliqué stitches

And to sum it all up:

two appliqué stitches

For those who have born with me thus far, a sneak peak of the company these two starfish guys are keeping:

Sea creatures hand appliqué

So, this is my take on two stitches for invisible hand appliqué, both of which work great. It would be really interesting to hear what stitches you prefer for hand appliqué and what you call them. Please share your experiences and your thoughts on this))

I am linking this post to Off the Wall Friday


  1. Good post! After seeing your handstitching here, it makes sense why your quilting is so good! I must admit, this is all still new to me, and I've done little. What I have done is the ladder stitch. I really don't like seeing the whipstitch, and I've heard the same about the durability of the blind stitch. Sometimes I think there are better stitches for certain shapes, but consistency is probably the ticket above all within one element.

    Not much help, Lena, but sitting here in admiration of your fine work.

    Julie @ Pink Doxies

  2. Interesting reading! It looks like I myself make the appliqué stitch, but from the back fabric to the top fabric, while you go from the top fabric to the back fabric. :-)
    Thank you for participating to my Fabric, Thread and Yarn link party. Have a good day!

    1. Thank you France, I think I know what you mean, but I'd like to have a closer look at your appliqué work to make sure ))

  3. You do beautiful work! Thank you for the tutorial ��

  4. Thanks for visiting me, Lena, so I could find your beautiful blog. This post was so interesting and informative and the sneak peak looks quite promising :-)

    1. Thanks Amalia, I'm glad you found it informative. And the appliquéing is nearing its end finally))


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...