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Beginner Applique – Prepping the Pieces

OK, kiddos… Here we go with MY way of preparing my pieces to be appliqued to the background. None of this is anything I thought up and I apologize to all the different quilters from whom I took ideas for not remembering which one suggested which portion. I guess learning is like patchwork – you take the pieces that fit together best, and make a quilt! But, since I have the blog, I thought this was the best way to show my Quilters Corner Club beginning applique swap “Mentos” how I do the prep for blanket stitch applique. Needle turn, machine applique and all those other methods will have to wait for a different month’s swap. For August, we’re doing blanket/buttonhole stitching by hand.

First, I printed out the page that Carmen posted in the files. Next, I turned it over, and traced over the lines from the back – this reverses the pieces. I used a sharpie – it makes dark enough lines to see through one layer of freezer paper without having to drag out my light box. After the sharpie lines are good and dry, I pressed that piece of freezer paper to another, with a fairly hot iron – plastic side down on both. Yes, the bottom one stuck to my ironing board – but just a little, and it peeled right off.

After you peel the two layers loose from your ironing surface, cut out your templates carefully. You want really smooth edges, and you want to cut right along the lines.

Next you press the templates onto the back of the fabric you have chosen to use for each piece. I try to place the templates where they are on the BIAS of the fabric. It makes it much easier to turn the edges up smoothly. I also mark a letter on each piece on the layout sheet, and marked each template with that letter. This isn’t super important if you are only working on a piece with 4 templates, but if you are prepping all the templates for all the pieces in a whole block, you’ll be glad you did. And now that I’m looking at the picture, I would also draw a line underneath the A and the D – when I print, mine look a lot alike and anything you can do to minimize confusing yourself later is something you will be glad you did (or sorry you didn’t do, as the case may be!)


Here’s the pieces for one apple, all pressed onto the back of the fabric, waiting to be cut out. Remember to leave your scant quarter inch seam allowance when you cut.


Here’s what they look like, after cutting but before turning the edges over. Notice, on Piece A and Piece B, I left a little “tab” – this fabric won’t get turned to the back of the template, because it will be covered by one or more of the other pieces.

Next step is to get out your liquid starch and pour a little in the lid of the bottle, or some other small container/lid. If you have spray starch, spray some into the lid. I couldn’t find my paint brushes, so I used a cotton swab. Dip it in the stach, and “paint” the seam allowance. You can pick it up, and use your fingers to smooth it over the edge of the freezer paper template – and sometimes, it’ll stay. Press it into place (or coax it into place) with the tip of a hot iron. I found a tool similar to a stiletto to hold the seam allowance down while I eased the tip of the iron over to press it down. Other handy things to remember – I have one of those things that is a pressing board on one side, and a cutting board on the other. I pressed a piece of freezer paper over part of the pressing surface, to minimize the mess I made on my ironing surface while “painting” the starch onto the seam allowances. Then I laid a scrap piece of muslin over top of that. It made clean up a snap.


I don’t know how well you can see it, but the seam allowance on the right half of the apple has been pressed down. The full strength starch makes it almost like paper when you get it pressed dry. The left hand side has not been turned up yet.


This picture shows the whole seam allowance pressed up. There is a little spot about 10 o’clock where I trimmed the seam allowance a little too narrow. This is NOT a good idea – it makes it hard to turn up, and it may not stay in place as well, when stitched down.


Here, I am peeling the fabric away from the freezer paper. See, the edge really is turned back, and pretty much pops right back into place, after I reached underneath it to pull the freezer paper loose. Keep going til you get the whole thing out. If you are making more than one of these shapes, you can re-use the template.


Here is the apple applique, all turned under, and pressed. It’s ready to have glue stick dabbed onto the seam allowance, and be positioned onto the background fabric. But that’s going to have to wait for another lesson. I’ve got to finish the leaves and stem.


Here’s the apple from the front. If you look at the top, there’s the “tab” where I didn’t turn under the seam allowance. Just to the right of that, where the edge isn’t as crisp looking as the rest, is the spot where I didn’t leave enough seam allowance. It just never did smooth out to suit me, so I likely won’t use this one. I thought I’d include my mistake, to show you that this isn’t rocket science or brain surgery – if you mess up, you likely haven’t done any permanent damage – and may even be able to wet it down, press it dry, and re-cut a different shape from it.


And here’s all of the pieces, ready for glue basting into position on the background fabric. The hardest part is the points on the leaves – those can be a little tricky. I usually turn the point up flat over the point of the template, sorta mitering the edges, then press in from one side of the point, then the other – but it was also the hardest thing to get a picture of – and none of those pictures came out where you could really see it. May I recommend that you watch this video of Beth Ferrier at Kaye Woods’ website? She does an excellent job of showing how to fold “miter” the points on the leaves. She uses a glue stick to turn back her edges, and that’s always an option but it works better if you are going to sew with the freezer paper left in, and that doesn’t work too well when you’re sewing them by hand.

I’ll end this “lesson” with these important things to remember, and go get my background fabric ready:

1) Place the templates on the bias of the fabric, whenever possible.

2) A double layer of freezer paper makes crisper edges, when you use this method. There is more substance to the edge against which you are pressing your fabric. When I first started using this method, I used a single layer. I saw/heard someone (I wish I remembered who) suggest using a double layer, and it made all the difference in the world, and I’ve never gone back to singles.

3) Trim your seam allowances evenly. You don’t want to leave more than 1/4″ because it adds unwanted bulk to your project, and is hard to press flat. You don’t want to cut too much under 3/16″ because it is hard to get the seam allowance turned back smoothly, and may not stay turned under well after you stitch it into place.

4) Proper preparation of your applique pieces makes the rest of the job much easier. After this step, the rest is like stitching the pieces of one of those big-piece jigsaw puzzles we all had as kids into place. You remember the ones – they had a board that had the outline of the pieces? You knew exactly where to put them because someone made sure they just “fit.” That someone is you when you are preparing your applique pieces.

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July 15, 2007 - Posted by | Quilting and Hobbies (wishing I had 'spare' time)


  1. What a wonderful tutorial. Thanks for showing all the pictures. I’ve done freezer paper applique before, but, yours looks a lot neater.

    Comment by Julie | July 29, 2007 | Reply

  2. Great directions, easy to understand. Pictures a Plus.
    I’m new to applique. Thanks for the info.

    You are quite welcome! I am grateful to know that it helped!

    Comment by Frances | February 17, 2008 | Reply

  3. I found this very helpful. I’ve started a Nursery Rhyme appliqué quilt and have never appliquéd before. Maybe I should have started with something a bit easier. In any event this cleared up a few of my questions, thank you.

    Comment by Maria van Ulsen | October 13, 2011 | Reply

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