Thursday, November 6, 2014

TUTORIAL: Back basting applique

I am not an expert when it comes to applique but I enjoy doing it and I think that sometimes just a little bit of applique can add so much to a quilt. There are lots of different ways of doing applique and each has its own place. One of the methods I like is back basting applique. There are small applique blocks in Gardens of a King quilt that lend themselves perfectly to back basting applique.

So what is back basting applique? Simply put you baste your applique fabric to the background but you baste it from the wrong side. Once it is basted you do needle turn applique that is surprisingly easy!

The first step is to draw the shape on the wrong side of your background fabric. I will use a fleur de lis shape. I place my design on a light box or tape it to a window. I place my fabric over the pattern  with the wrong facing side up and I trace the shape with a fabric safe marker that makes a fine line. I like to use a mechanical pencil or a Frixion pen.

Cut a piece of applique fabric that is large enough to cover the entire shape.

I place the the applique fabric on the right side of my background fabric and hold it up to the light to make sure that it is correctly positioned which means that the applique fabric extends beyond my drawing on all sides. Depending on the size of the applique I may place a few pins to hold it in place. I then take a needle and thread and run basting stitches on the lines.

I turn the fabric over and on the right side I draw on the lines of the basting thread with a fabric safe marking tool. I like to use my mechanical pencil or a Frixion pen. If you use a pencil be sure that you can see the line but you don't want it do dark that it will show after the applique is finished. A chalk pencil would work equally well. Use the marking tool you have in your tool box that you like and that works for you!

Trim the excess fabric leaving a narrow seam allowance. I like to leave somewhere between 1/8" and 1/4". If there are inner points or curves you will need to clip them to make it easy to turn the seam allowance. In fact I like to clip all the way around the shape. I find that it makes turning the seam allowance much easier. I do not clip right to the line; I stop a few threads short of the line because I can always clip more but I can't clip less!

Now it is time to applique. Remove a few basting stitches and tuck the seam allowance under on the drawn line with the tip of your needle. Stitch until you reach the point where you need to remove another couple of basting stitches. Continue in this manner until the applique is completed removing only a basting stitch or two at a time. I like to use Superior's The Bottom Line thread for my applique. A soft taupe colour seems to work on virtually all colours!

This is the fleur de lis from the front.

This is the fleur de lis from the wrong side. When I press the piece all of the Frixion pen marks will disappear!

This method works well for simple shapes like the fleur de lis but it is even better for more complex, layered designs and small pieces! As with any applique work you have to give thought to the order of sewing pieces. For example in the picture below I stitched cherries before the stems because the stems sit on top of the cherries. The leaves were stitched before the branches. I'll often write the order of sewing pieces on the wrong side of the fabric so I know what to do next. I marked all of the leaves and most of the cherries as "1" because there were stems and branches that had to go on top of them. I back basted all of the pieces marked "1" at the same time and then I appliqued them in place. At the bottom of the picture you can see there is a cherry that is on top of another so the top cherry was marked "2". I continue numbering all of the shapes in this way. The back basted piece in the picture is the last stem that I need to applique and then the piece will be finished.

HELPFUL TIP: One of the tools I keep in my sewing kit is an orange stick (just below the scissors in the picture). It is great for turning applique edges especially if there is an inner point or inner curve to be turned. The wood just grabs the fabric and tucks it neatly into place! And it does it the first time so if the seam allowance is narrow there is little or no fraying. A needle is slippery so if I have to poke the fabric a few times it might start to fray and that will make the applique more difficult!

An important consideration is if your pattern is oriented the way it should look when it's finished your will need to create a reverse image for tracing on the wrong side of the background fabric. If you just trace it onto the wrong side of your fabric the final applique will be a mirror image of the pattern. To eliminate this problem I trace my pattern on the wrong side of the pattern with a fine Sharpie marker and that is what I use to trace the design on the wrong side of my fabric. Problem solved! Another option is to use your printer to print a mirror image.

I hope you enjoyed this little tutorial! Until I post again, happy sewing!
Karen H


  1. What a great toot!! Love it...thank YOU!

  2. Looking good Karen! I think I recognize that Cherry Block! Instead of an orange stick, I use a round toothpick to turn small seams. Works pretty well, but when my hubs uses them all, they are sometimes hard to find. I will have to try an orange stick since they are easily found!

  3. I have been wondering what "back basted" applique was, I think I'm going to have to try this method. Thanks for the great toot!

  4. Thank you Karen! I heard about this technique, but did not know, how it works.
    Have a nice day-Ha en fin dag!
    Greetings from cold Norway.

  5. Thanks for taking the time to write this tutorial. You're great at being so thorough in your explanations and yet keeping it simple.

  6. I agree this is a great technique. I like to use hand quilting thread and let mine mellow overnight after basting as it makes turning easier and I usually don't draw on the seam line. It really came in handy on the curved handles on my vases I did earlier this summer keeps everything in place and flat!

  7. Great back basting tutorial Karen -- thank you for sharing it. I've never done applique this way. I guess I should give it a go! Take care, Karen

  8. I just did a brief presentation to my guild about this technique last night! I've been using it for a couple of years now, and I love it.

  9. Fantastic tute !!! Thanks a lot...i love it

  10. Great tutorial. I use this method too.

  11. I have not tried this technique, but now you have shown it so clearly, I am keen to try. I printed off an applique design yesterday and was going to buy some plastic to trace the shapes off, then starch the fabric round them. It struck me as a good method, but very slow, so what you showed appeals to me impatient nature LOL
    I shall report back with my progress :-D

  12. Thanks for sharing the tutorial. It is definitely a technique that I would like to try.

  13. Great tutorial. Now if only I can remember your hints when I go to do an applique. I have been having a terrible time lately trying to applique simple shapes. I'm always in a hurry, so I think that is the biggest problem with my techniques. :)

  14. OK, I'm ready to start the center of Garden of the King today, thanks so much for this helpful tutorial!

  15. OK, reread this tutorial. Its really well written. Many thanks Karen!

  16. A great tutorial! Very well written. Thanks for your effort.