Sunday, 17 April 2011

How to reverse appliqué

Appliqué is the act of cutting out something in fabric and sewing it onto a fabric background. Reverse appliqué involves creating a sandwich of fabric layers and then cutting through them to reveal the fabric underneath. It's like the difference between wearing your underpants over your trousers and wearing two pairs of trousers but cutting an underpants shaped hole out of the top one. With me so far?

I like reverse appliqué better than the regular stuff because in general it's more stable- with appliqué you're trying to hold down a fiddly bit of fabric while you sew it in place. Reverse appliqué also creates a thick hardwearing piece of fabric sandwich, which is a great surface for quilts, bags and cushion covers. Here's how to do it.

You will need:

  • 2 or more layers of fabric. For your first project, 2 is easiest. The best fabric to work with from experience is medium weight cotton/poly-cotton because it's thin enough to make it easy to cut but doesn't stretch or slip out of place. Felt is another good choice because it doesn't fray.
  • a seam ripper
  • sharp scissors
  • a sewing machine that has an adjustable zig-zag stitch.

Assemble your sandwich using two similar sized pieces of fabric. The bottom fabric can be slightly smaller than the top layer, but you don't want too much of a difference because it makes life difficult. Mark out your design using tailors chalk or water soluble marker and then tack a grid across your design. The grid of stitches holds the whole sandwich in place and prevents the layers from moving independently. 
Set your sewing machine to a loose zig-zag and carefully round your design. Start from as close to the middle as you can and work your way out. Here I started on the left side of the S, completed the S and then worked the I starting from the right side.

Now take a seam ripper (un-picker, mean pointy thing) and carefully poke a hole through the top fabric layer. Be very careful not to damage the lower layer. You want to create a tear large enough to get the point of your scissors into.

Now take your scissors- small and sharp ones are best, such as hairdressing or embroidery scissors- and start to cut round the inside of the stitching as close as you can get to the stitches.

After that, you should have something that looks like this:

You can leave the design like this if you have chosen a non-fraying fabric like felt, or if you feel it looks neat enough. I'm going to neaten up the edges, so for this you need to set your sewing machine to a satin stitch or a tighter zig-zag stitch and work your way round the exposed raw edge.

This is my finished piece. It puckered a little (doesn't look as bad in real life) because the design I chose was very curved and I rushed the satin stitch stage. And also because I'm just a bit out of practice.

Here's a few more I've done recently:
As you can see, I'm not a typographer. Letters are really not my strong suit.

A few years ago I made this bitching union jack flag cushion cover using the same technique though. Straight lines are much muuuuuch easier than curves.

Reverse appliqué is a bit wasteful really because of all the layers you cut away, but you can always appliqué the cut aways onto something else.

And well, that's it really. You can use as many layers as you want as long as you plan your design out. The most I've used was four because after that it gets more and more difficult to neatly cut through the layers. The finished pieces look good in art quilts or wall hangings.

Good luck! x

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