If I were to do appliqué by hand (and I don’t think I’ll be doing much more of it, ever, but I’ve done my fair share), here are a few things I try to keep in mind to make the task easier:
- Good lighting! Yes, you’ve heard this from me before, but I just can’t say it enough. Use a bright task light, and aim it toward your work opposite the hand you’re stitching with. In other words, if you’re stitching with your right hand sit the light a bit to the left side of your work to eliminate shadows from your working hand falling on the fabric.
- Prepare your fabrics properly. Fabrics that have been pre-washed are easier to work with, especially for something fussy like needle-turn appliqué. The seam allowances will turn under easier if the fabrics have been pre-washed to remove the sizing and finishing chemicals.
- Use a good brand of very fine needles. Try hand appliqué needles and straw or milliners needles to see which you like best. Hand appliqué needles are shorter, and straw or milliners needles are longer but both kinds are very fine and have small eyes. I use the straw needles, since I have monster long nails that I refuse to be without, and the shorter needles tend to disappear.
- Those small eyes on the needles mean using a needle threader. I don’t always need one, since if I cut the thread end at an angle I can usually thread the needle with no problem, but I keep one handy just in case. I’m sure that someday soon, my eyes won’t handle it anymore, and I’ll need that needle threader all the time! 🙂
- Use silk thread. The one thing that improved my hand appliqué beyond measure was switching to silk thread. What a difference! The silk thread is so fine that it glides through the fabric, you have fewer knots and tangles, and your stitches sink down into the weave of the fabric so they are nearly invisible. Yes, it’s more expensive, but when I think of all the different colors of thread you need to buy to match fabrics when you are using cotton threads to appliqué, and then remember that you only need about five or six different colors of silk (because of how well it blends and those disappearing stitches!) I think we can just not worry about how much the silk thread costs.
So there you have it, my top tips for hand appliqué success. If I’ve missed anything you think is critical, do leave a comment to add to the list!