How To Applique a Leaf

I’m offering up this tutorial of sorts to demonstrate how I do needle-turn applique.

I’m using a leaf as my example.

Someday I’ll show you how I make perfectly round circles, but I’ll have to get my act together a little lot more first.

Before we begin, let me state for the record that there is way more than one way to skin a cat (as my grandma used to always say) so keep in mind that this is just the way I do it, and there are many, many other methods out there, so don’t take this tutorial too seriously.

Quilting is fun . . .

Applique is not a bad word.

Oh, and you’ll have to excuse my horrible photography. (I need a new camera, and lessons on how to use it.)

Here we go . . .

In preparation for the applique, in this case, where precise placement is desirable, I’ve traced my design onto my background fabric, so you’ll see my pencil markings. In other instances where the placement is not so important, I don’t bother to mark. I mean, why do more work than you have to?

Since I have lots of leaves to make, I made my template out of template plastic. If I’m only going to use the template once or twice, then I just use plain paper or freezer paper and throw it away after my pieces are cut. But this quilt is going to have about a quintillion leaves, all alike, so I need my template to be able to withstand all the tracing.

I trace around my template onto the right side of the fabric using a marking pencil that will show up.

On this red, I used a Clover Fine White Marking Pen. The marks from this pen disappear when the piece is pressed.

If I needed something dark that would show up on a light fabric, I would have used a silver Roxanne’s marking pencil or something else. I have a whole stockpile of marking pencils of different kinds. Don’t be shy — go ahead and admit that you do, too.

After I trace around my template, I cut out the leaf 3/8″ – 1/4″ outside the drawn line.

Then I position the leaf on my background fabric and pin it in place. I use 1/2″ sequin pins because they don’t get in my way or catch my thread as easily while I’m stitching.

And speaking of thread, you should use thread that matches the piece you’re appliqueing down, not your background fabric. When I have an exceptionally “busy” or multi-colored piece of fabric, and it’s hard to choose what color, then I use a neutral gray.

Oh, and I use Applique Sharps, size 12, as my preferred needle.

So, go ahead and thread your needle and we’ll move on to the actual stitching part . . .

For a leaf, I like to begin about 2/3 of the way down one side, so that I can work toward the point comfortably, and I don’t have to start and stop directly on the point.

Here’s where the term “needle-turn” comes from. Use your needle to turn the edge of the piece under to the marked line. In other words, you’re turning under everything outside the marked line.

Hold it in place with your thumb, and bring your needle up from the back side, through the background fabric and barely catch the folded edge of the leaf.

Now, put your needle back down through the background fabric only, just underneath where you brought it up . . . move over about 1/16″ on the back side, and push it back up through the background fabric and again, barely catch the folded edge of the leaf.

Continue making stitches in this way until you get to the tip of the leaf, and bring your needle and thread up exactly on the point of the leaf.

Turn the piece and push the fabric under the tip of the leaf, again holding it in place with your thumb . . .

Finish the stitch right in the point . . .

. . . and begin making stitches down the other side. It helps if you take your stitches closer together as you near the point and leave the point (in other words, make your stitches smaller than 1/16″ near the point on both sides).

Do the other point the same way: Take a stitch exactly in the point, push the seam allowance under on the opposite side, and continue down the side of the leaf.

When you get back to the place where you started, push your needle down through the background fabric to the back . . .

. . . pull the thread through, and take several little tacking stitches in the background fabric behind the leaf to secure the thread.

Remove your pins, and there you have it, your perfect little leaf!

Repeat as necessary . . . in this case, for my quilt, about a quintillion more times! And yes, I fully intend to show you my quilt when it’s finished . . . in a few years.

Published in: on October 4, 2011 at 7:29 pm  Comments (6)  

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6 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Fun! I haven’t appliquéd anything in years, so this is a great refresher for me. Looking forward to seeing more!

  2. Beautiful applique. I’m sure that’s the way my grandmother did it–and it’s how I do it–on the rare occasions I get to do it. Good to see the sharing!

  3. You make it look so easy!

  4. What cha makin’, eh?

    Curious, Canadian minds NEED to know!



  5. Well done — both the tutorial and your little leaf! Only a quintillion more to go, huh? Should be fun! LOL! 🙂

  6. You are so good at this. wow. Nice tutorial, too. I will likely be late on my block. Very sorry. This month has been hell, and I knew it would be. But it was worse than I thought.

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