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Great tips for applique

Yesterday on the blog Kate from Horris & Deedle shared some FREE applique templates* and today she’s going to share her tips for bringing your applique to the next level!  So over to you Kate . . .

*Find yesterday’s blog post with the free templates HERE.

Applique Tips with Kate from Horris & Deedle-01

I’m a real fan of dessert and I have to say that when I eat out my sweet tooth isn’t easily satisfied. The base product, be it a tart, cake, pudding etc has to be quality but it needs to be enhanced by lots of contrast- contrast in textures, flavours, temperatures…..I know you’re hearing me. Think of a cold piece of apple pie, soggy- bottomed pastry, soggy apple and some vanilla ice-cream. You could take it or leave it really. But then think of some perfectly crisp shortcrust pastry, warm, soft apple on the inside, the slightest sprinkling of cinnamon and sugar on the top and a pie that is so fresh and hot it almost burns the roof of your mouth on a Winter’s night. Team it with just a smidge of creamy cold vanilla ice-cream and you’re onto a winner. So it is with appliques…..contrast is the key.

I’m a bit of an applique addict and over the years of my addiction I’ve discovered a few tips on how to take something from ’almost there’ to a unique original.

Here are the best ways I know to add interest to an applique.

  1. Variety and Contrast

Choose fabrics which contrast well with each other and with the background material. Appliques which have too much of the same colour will look drab and it will be hard to distinguish features. Your fabrics should be a mixture of patterned and plain fabrics to allow some features to stand out and others to drop into the background.

Miss Bunny applique by Horris & Deedle   Mr Frog applique by Horris & Deedle

With Miss Bunny here I chose a plain dusty lilac for the majority of her body. Because the t-shirt is patterned the plain fabric stands out from the t-shirt and also gives somewhere for the eye to rest. Also, because of the busy-ness of the actual t-shirt itself I kept the tummy patch and ear inserts plain and only used the simple pink spots for the cheeks and bow.

With Mister Frog here, his striped tummy adds a good point of interest because the t-shirt background is dark and plain allowing him to almost jump off the shirt (sorry for the dad’s joke).

  1. Add Layers

Layers are another way to add a lot of interest to your creature. You can do it by adding different textured fabrics like felt or corduroy and by using lace/ribbons/buttons etc. Also, you can add layers by making features three dimensional. Miss Bunny’s bow is good example of this.

In the t-shirt below I made fabric fish scales which were only sewn onto the t-shirt on one edge of each scale . Together with the bubble buttons and the pom pom ribbon this little fish came together really well.

Fish scale applique   Butterfly applique by Horris & Deedle modelled


For these butterfly wings, I cut some coloured strips of fabric on the bias to stop it fraying, gathered the strips and then sewed them on in the shape of the wings.

Appliques by Horris & Deedle

These icy-pole t-shirts really came to life with the variety of small coloured buttons on the middle icy-pole.

Adding the ribbons to the side of the camera for the neck strap, as well as for the view finder make this camera t-shirt so much character.  I used the camera applique template from the Adventure Flags pattern by Swoodson Says from Issue 10 for the camera base.



Another great way to layers is to vary your stitches. Using a combination of machine ziz-zag/ free motion and hand stitching all helps to add interest.

I use free motion applique mainly when using knitted fabrics or when sewing on small or curved areas.

For larger straight lines on woven fabrics a zig-zag stitch prevents lots of fraying on the edges when it goes through the wash.

  1. Tell a Story

You don’t have to tell a whole novel on a t-shirt but adding one or two things can make it a whole lot more interesting.

Appliques by Horris & Deedle

With these icy pole t-shirts I took a bite out of the choc-mint ones because those are my favourites.

Mr Frog applique by Horris & Deedle

Mr Frog here is trying to catch a fly. His eyes are looking up, his tongue is out and we can actually see the fly too. When I first started making this t-shirt the fly wasn’t there. I showed it to my kids and asked them what they thought. After politely telling me that they liked it, each of them said in one way or another, “that yellow thing on the side of his mouth looks weird.” I gathered that the fact that it was his tongue wasn’t obvious enough so I added the little fly. I didn’t know how to draw a simple fly but while I was reading Georgie her bedtime book one night I saw a good one to copy.

adding interest to applique with horris & deedle

Which brings me to my last point.

  1. Be on the look out.

Look out for simple drawings and motifs in books, on signs, in brochures or anywhere else.  Think about how they would look in certain colours and fabrics and if you think it will be a winner then go for it.

Bear applique by horris and deedle modelled

Finally, a few tips about the sewing.

It’s a good idea to put some light-weight iron on interfacing on the inside of the t-shirt. It makes the knit fabric so much more stable when you sew the applique on. It also helps to prevent annoying thread breakages.

As I mentioned before, knit fabrics are great for raw edge or free motion applique as they don’t fray. You don’t want your free-motion applique to look neat, otherwise it will inevitably show up flaws and mistakes. If it was cooking we’d say we were going for rustic.

Appliques by Horris & Deedle

This bird has been sewn on using free motion. I sew over each area two or three times so that it looks like I wasn’t trying to get the edging perfect, a bit like when you sketch something with a pencil. The fabric in this is all woven fabric but it has survived through the wash quite well because there are no long straight edges.

Frog applique by Horris & Deedle modelled

Here’s my little model styling his new clothes. And yes, those are the Fox Shoes from the Wild Things Baby Shoes pattern in the latest One Thimble by Big Little Patterns.


Wild Things Baby Shoes sewn by Horris & Deedle

They are not nearly as fiddly to sew as you might think. The instructions are fantastic and the cuteness factor is off the scale. Unlike most baby shoes, they are easy to get on and actually stay on his feet.

We would love to see any of your applique critters or any other OT sewing on the One Thimble Sewing Enthusiasts Facebook Page.

Thanks for reading along,


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