Tutorial: My Applique Stitch


  • Snowflakes freezer paper shapes
  • iron & pressing surface
  • waste thread (for basting)
  • Aurifil 50 wt cotton thread (for applique)
  • fine, sharp needles such as John James #11 sharps
  • wooden toothpick (optional)
  • thimble (optional)
  • Seam ripper
  • small, sharp scissors
  • Rotary cutter, 4″ square ruler or similar, and mat
  • Wet-erase marker

In my previous post, I talked about preparing shapes and background squares for applique.


I almost always choose to applique with the paper template still inside the shape, so this tutorial uses that method.  I find that this gives the smoothest curves, and the sharpest points, and if something was not basted quite right you still have the template there and can easily adjust as you go.


Place your prepared orange peel where you want to stitch it down. I have folded my background squares in half diagonally and pressed lightly to mark a crease. Use that line as a guide and center your shape on the square with the points touching the diagonal line.  It doesn’t have to be absolutely perfect because you are trimming it down later, but do the best you can.  There are many ways to temporarily attach the shape to the background while you applique, such as special pins or glue, but what I do is thread baste. I use any old waste thread and just make a few stitches around the shape, through all layers of fabric and paper. I like thread basting because it’s very secure, there’s no pins for your stitching thread to get caught on, and I already have all the supplies I need right here.


I use Aurifil 50wt cotton thread for applique. Here’s why: cotton thread is more flexible than synthetic and it sinks into the fabric better. 50wt is a very fine thread which also helps to make an invisible stitch. And I like Aurifil because it is strong for its thickness. There are other good threads I am sure, but Aurifil is what I always use. As far as color, it’s best to choose a thread that matches your applique, second best would be to match your background, but what I actually do is keep white, black, 3 shades of grey from light to dark, and one beige on hand and I choose which one of those neutrals blends best with the fabrics I am using. Only if, say, I was appliqueing an entire quilt of red flowers would I bother to go buy a spool of red thread.


I have formerly recommended Roxanne’s #10 sharps as my favorite needle and it is very good, but lately I’ve been using John James #11 sharps, which are just a bit finer and more flexible than Roxanne. I am in love with that extra flexibility. Either needle would be a good choice, and if you can’t find either of those, look for one that is thin, and sharp.

Thread a 15” length of thread on your needle, and tie a knot on the end that you just clipped off the spool. This helps to manage the twist of the thread for the sewing motion that you will be making.

Here’s a quick primer on my favorite knot:

IMG_5972Thread your needle and hold the end that was closest to the spool next to the point of your needle.

IMG_5978Pinch the loose end of your thread with your dominant hand, and wrap the thread 3-4 times around the needle.

IMG_5980Now pinch those wraps with your non-dominant hand.

IMG_5982And pull the needle through, keeping a tight hold on the wraps, until the thread is the whole way through.

IMG_5984Now there is a nice little knot at the correct end of your thread.

And now, the applique stitch!


Pick up your prepared shape and hold the work so that you are looking straight down at the fold. From the back of the work, insert the point of your needle, about 1/8” inside the shape and go through the background, through the seam allowance, and then allow it to slide along the paper template until the needle exits on the underside of the fold, in between your prepared shape and your background.

IMG_5988Now holding your needle parallel to the edge of the shape, insert the needle into the background fabric, at almost the same point where you the last stitch came out of the fold but a few threads inside the shape. Travel 1/8” on the backside, then angle your needle so it comes back through the background,


through the seam allowance, slides along the paper, and exits again on the underside of the fold. That is the basic stitch you will repeat until the shape is done or you are out of thread.

Here’s what the thread path looks like:




When you get to a corner, stitch right up until 1/16” (or a few threads’ worth) before the corner.

IMG_5993Now, use your needle or a wooden toothpick to grab the little flap of seam allowance and tuck it under.



Insert needle into the background and come back up about 1/16″ on the other side of the point (do not stitch through the extra flap) and start stitching again.

I don’t take a stitch right in the point because I find that stitch is almost impossible to hide, and the point is not going to go anywhere anyway if it’s well anchored on both sides.

Finish appliqueing the rest of the way around the shape.  From the side you can barely see the tiny stitches:

IMG_6002And from the top you can’t see them at all:


End with a knot:

IMG_6003_1Wrap the thread twice around the needle, close to the fabric.

IMG_6005_1Pull needle through the wraps, keeping tension with your non-dominant hand so the point where the threads twist is right next to the fabric.

IMG_6006_1Hold that twist down with your fingernail while you pull the thread the rest of the way through.



Once you have appliqued the shape down, you will need to remove the paper. I use a sharp seam ripper to slit the fabric. If I am worried about stability, I might not cut away any background fabric, just slit it to pull out the paper.

IMG_6010_1Usually, though, I will cut away the background at the inner edge of the seam allowance.

IMG_6009_1 Use your seam ripper to cut and remove the long basting stitches that held the shape to the background.

IMG_6012_1Then, from the front, use the seam ripper to just pop each of the visible small basting stitches.


From the back, use the point of the seam ripper to dislodge the paper shape and remove from the work.  No need to remove any basting threads that you can’t see on the front.

Now to trim the blocks:

We need to trim these down to the finished size plus .5″ for seam allowances.  So for these 2.5″ orange peels, we need to trim down to 3″.


On the top of your square ruler, mark the 3″ lines with a wet-erase marker.  Center a crisp paper template with the points lined up with the diagonal line.  The shape should just skim all the .25″ lines.  Trace around the template with your marker.

Now use this as a guide to trim:


Center your orange peel inside the marked lines, make sure you are at least filling out the entire 3″ square, and then trim the first two sides.

IMG_6030_1Now spin the block, line up the freshly cut sides with the 3″ lines, and trim the remaining two sides.

When it is time to sew these together, be sure to set your machine for a scant 1/4 ” seam, and your shapes will just barely kiss at the corners.

A final tip: don’t iron these blocks to death. Because there is a gathered seam allowance inside, you can get some ugly creases if you try to make it really flat. I put a thick white bath towel on my ironing board and press from the back, to preserve the lovely dimension of the applique.

I hope this tutorial is clear enough to get you started!  Please comment or email me if you have any questions, either now or later as you go along!

Friday I’ll be posting some ideas for arranging your Orange Peel shapes!

See you then,


8 thoughts on “Tutorial: My Applique Stitch

  1. You posted this at 7:34 Jess??? HA! No wonder you were almost late to the concert! 🙂 Did you do this while driving? You’re worse than Bonnie and I sometimes!

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