What Stitches Are Used For Appliqué?


Ailish Henderson shares her view on the world of embroidery - it's the Ailist!

In a previous post I have discussed the different types of appliqué. Now I want to dive a bit deeper and explain the types of stitches which are used for this technique for both machine and hand appliqué – then you can have a go yourself!

The two most popular machine appliqué stitches are the Zigzag stitch (also known as the satin stitch) and the Buttonhole or Blanket stitch. For hand appliqué, Buttonhole stitch and Appliqué stitch are most common.

These stitches have specific benefits for reinforcing appliqué work and so I’ll go into them in a little more detail.

Popular Stitches for Machine Appliqué 

Zigzag Stitch

A Zigzag is a more sturdy stitch than the average as it provides more thread contact than a straight stitch would in the same space. It can also be used to prevent fraying, so if you want to have a smoother finish on your appliqué piece then this one will work well.

Zigzag stitches can also be decorative, so it not only works practically to hold down your design, it can become a part of the visual appeal as well. For this piece below, I used scraps of denim, gingham and other remnants. the contrasting zig zag stitch in blue works well to showcase how the pieces have been appliqued down. If you are trying this yourself, don’t feel you have to copy anything colour wise – I am sure you have your own inspiring ideas!!

zig zag stitching holds down this applique piece, by machine not hand.
Machined zig zag stitch can add extra colour and decoration as well as smoothing frayed edges
Zig zag stitching by machine the ailist
Decorative Zig zag stitching by machine

The example above shows a variety of zig zag stitching. This is more decorative, so it shows how many options there are – plenty of choice for you!

Buttonhole Stitch

Buttonhole stitch is a variation of the blanket stitch. It is the stitch used in making buttonholes – no surprise there – but that is not the only use of this versatile stitch. It is often confused with a closely done blanket stitch, but it is different to the trained eye.

Depending on your sewing machine, you may find more than one buttonhole stitch option, possibly up to five! Play with the various stitch width and length settings to find the right look for the piece of fabric you are working with.

I really like it as a stitch, as you can make it personal to you and it can be either really neat and tidy or done in a bold big manner.

The Ailist applique stitches
Machined buttonhole stitch in metallic thread

Popular stitches for hand appliqué 

Appliqué stitch

The traditionally used applique stitch is worked from under the appliqué pieces. You have to use a single thread on the needle. You do not want the thread to be too conspicuous. The whole point is for the appliqué to stand out with the stitches unseen.

Instead of showing you the “correct” way to do it, I have decided to show you a piece of my own work which it is not meant to look like! The whole idea as I said is to make the work not the stitches stand out, however I decided to go a bit bold here – I chose to make the stitches stand out!

Instead of showing the stitches, they are to be hidden – so it will not look like this!

Buttonhole stitch

The hand embroidered version of buttonhole stitch may lack the precision of the machine version but it can be highly decorative and is a popular choice for more rustic pieces. I always feel that hand embroidery gives more of a personality to the piece, the makers stamp. There are many variations, you may choose to use one or a few within your appliqué piece.

button hole stitch example
Hand embroidered buttonhole stitch can be very decorative

The lowdown

Reflecting back on this as a technique, the stitches chosen appliqué can be both practical and decorative. It doesn’t have to lack your personality and it doesn’t need to be boring. To make it more unusual, you can do the stitches in a different colour to make them stand out, or you can hide them the best you can, using careful neat stitching.

It is possible to applique by hand and by machine – this is down to personal choice, there is no black and white right or wrong. Personally, I love to hand stitch as much as possible, yet you may love to use a machine!

Remember that the two most popular machine appliqué stitches are the zig zag stitch (also known as the satin stitch) and the buttonhole stitch (also known as the blanket stitch). For hand appliqué buttonhole stitch and appliqué stitch are most common. Whatever you choose to use, have some fun and play with your ideas. Don’t forget to get in touch and show us what you have been up to 😉

People also ask….

What are decorative stitches?

Decorative stitches are stitches which can be sewn just like regular stitches. They are generally wider than regular stitches, yet they do more than simply work as a practical option. They have the added bonus of looking aesthetically pleasing, often being used to finish edges of fabric or embellish a plain item.

decorative stitches example
Examples of decorative stitches

What is an appliqué stitch?

Appliqué stitch is the stitch used to appliqué. Examples include satin stitch and buttonhole stitch.

Buttonhole stitch examples

What supplies do I need to appliqué?

  • Fabric scraps in your chosen colours for your appliqué shapes.
  • A base fabric to place your fabric shapes into.
  • A template to cut out your shapes.
  • A fusible web iron on fabric to place on the bottom of your shapes to stick to the base fabric you are using is an option.
  • A pen
  • Scissors
  • Flat surface
  • Embroidery needle and thread or sewing machine.

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