4 Tips to improve your Reverse Applique

Last weekend, I worked on this reverse applique Celtic knot.

Orange and Blue Celtic knot
Orange and Blue Celtic knot

I learned several lessons along the way, and I’d like to share them with you.

1. Use good-quality fabric for the background.

I used an inexpensive, lightweight cotton muslin for the background because it’s what I happened to have on hand. This was mistake number one. The muslin was lighter than the fabric I used for the applique, and it tended to ravel. I recommend using a background fabric as heavy as (if not heavier) the applique fabric.

2. Match thread to the background, not to the applique.

I used a thread that matched the applique fabric to stitch the fabric to the underside of the background, and to zig-zag along the cut edges. Since I wasn’t going for a solid zig-zagged Satin Stitch,  the edges of the shapes took on a “fuzzy” look because of the background fabric showing through. If the thread had matched the background instead of the applique, the edges of the shapes would look better.

3. Ensure a reasonable amount of stitching along the cut edges.

Most of the articles and tutorials I read about reverse applique called for cutting away the background fabric relatively close to the stitched lines. They did not touch on the concept of finishing the edges, but left them raw.

I decided to try zig-zagging the raw edges.

Since I also decided to trim the excess fabric from the back (also not mentioned in the articles and tutorials), I was left with an area the width of the zig-zag holding front to back (and vice versa). Coupled with a thin, ravelly background (see point #1 above), the seams gave way.

A decorative stitch came to the rescue.

Consider the two columns of stitching below.

Plain Zig-Zag vs. Decorative Zig-Zag
Plain Zig-Zag vs. Decorative Zig-Zag

The two columns of stitching are the same width and length, but the decorative stitch on the right encompasses three stitches between the “zig” and the “zag,” whereas the usual zig-zag encompasses only two. The decorative stitch allows me to enclose the raw edges on the front as well as giving me enough stability to safely trim the excess fabric from the back.

4. Don’t be afraid to start over.

As I said, last weekend, I worked on a reverse applique Celtic knot. I had problems along the way, and I worked on ways to rectify my mistakes.

It was far easier to start fresh with better background fabric, matching thread, and stabilizing stitches than to continue as I had.

I felt less frustrated and dissatisfied with my attempts. With an improved mood, I feel the current results are much better (photos to come).

Have you ever found this to be true?

2 thoughts on “4 Tips to improve your Reverse Applique

  1. Great post. I have done some applique where I hand stitched around the area. It was time consuming but I didn’t want threads showing. After stitching, I cut the backing away and was very happy with the results.
    As you’ve said, it’s okay to start over. We all learn from trial and error.
    Hope you had a great weekend!!

    1. Thank you, Rhonda, I had a great weekend!! I went to a production of “Macbeth” on Saturday evening; I worked on one of the pieces that needed trimming. I went to a spa on Sunday afternoon; I worked on more trimming as I sat in the sun by the pool. Today, I’m taking two pieces to work: one to hang in my cubicle, the other to trim during lunch.

      I considered needle-turning, but felt “time is of the essence.” The decorative stitch along the raw edges gives a lacy, filigree look, and I don’t mind the loose threads (photos to come).

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