This tutorial covers raw edge Applique. Next week, I will cover turned edge machine applique with invisible thread, often called invisible machine applique.

With all machine applique, there are three steps.

  1. Preparing the applique piece
  2. Providing the first fix of it on the background fabric
  3. Sewing it in place

Let look at all three steps for raw edge applique pieces we are going to sew in place.

Preparing the Raw Edges Pieces

The applique pieces are fixed temporarily onto the background. Their edges are raw and unbound, hence the name. Raw edge applique is the simplest and quickest way to create an applique pattern with fabric. The pieces can be as small and intricate as you can cut them out, and there is the minimum of preparation needed.

Prepare the pieces by tracing the applique piece’s outline onto a glue webbing – this is most commonly Bondaweb or Steam-a-Seam Lite 2. I have found Bondaweb most suited to single large applique pieces ( for example, the Beginners Applique Hearts quilt); however, for more detailed work (for example, the Phoenix Quilt Panels), the extra investment in Steam-a-Seam Lite 2 is worth it. With Steam-a-Seam Lite, two-layered applique pieces will temporarily stick together, which is useful when you need to reposition.

For Bondaweb, you will trace on the smooth side of the paper, and for Steam-a-Seam Lite 2, it is on the gridded side. The outline traced will be the mirror image of the final applique pieced. For example, if tracing an alphabet, you should trace the mirror image to the last appliqué piece is the right way around.

Once traced and roughly cut out, place the pieces on the reverse of the applique fabric. It is here you can choose a particular part of a fabric pattern to use. This placement is called fussy cutting and can be great fun and completely alter the eventual look of your applique panel.

If using Bondaweb, you would use a dry iron to press the cut out glue web onto the wrong side of your fabric. The rough side of the Bondaweb should be face down on top of the wrong side of the material.

If using Steam-a-Steam Lite 2, peel the blank paper sided away from the back of the sheet. Discard the blank paper and press the shape, glue side down onto the wrong side of the fabric.

Next, trim around the traced outline to provide you with a perfect sized pieced in either case.

Providing the First Fix

A first fix refers to bonding the applique piece to the background fabric before sewing. If this vital step is missed, the applique piece will move and bunch when sewn. For raw edge applique, you have already done the hard work. You are now able to place the applique pieces onto the background.

For Bondaweb, removed the backing paper and ironed the fabric down. The applique piece will be right side facing you.

For Steam-a-Seam Lite 2, remove the gridded paper and press the fabric piece by hand onto the background. If you have other parts to add to the panel, you can do this now and then once everything is in perfect position, seal it with a dry, hot iron.

Sewing In Place

We are now all set for sewing our applique pieces. Let’s look at the stitches best suited for this job!

Which Stitch

Traditionally many people use a blanket stitch. These are Applique stitches 1-10 and 12 and 13 in the picture below on my machine. If your machine is like mine with lots of stitches, the ‘M’ means the stitch will fall on either side of the normal needle position. An ‘R’ means that the needle moves to the right, and that is where the straight stitches fall.

Using a blanket stitch, I use the position R and line up the raw edge of my fabric with the needle position to the right. This means that the straight stitches of the blanket stitch fall directly on top of the raw edge and the long stitch extends over the applique piece. For machines that don’t have a blanket stitch, an over-edging stitch (Utility Stitch 14 below) is very similar. A zig-zag stitch is also a good applique stitch option. In this case, I would use the M option (Utility Stitch 8) and line up my raw edge in the middle of the stitch area of the foot. The stitch will then cross equally on either side of the raw edge. I often use a straight stitch (Utility Stitch 1) for tiny pieces which need hold down, and a stitch with any width would look messy.


Decorative stitches are not suitable for applique. Any stitch with a medium to long pattern length will look messy at the corners. It will be evident that the pattern is stopped and restarted at the corners. However, I often use a decorative stitch to embellish the applique after being secured onto the backing fabric.


Once you have chosen a stitch, wind a full bobbin and thread up the machine. The thread will be most noticeable. If using a cotton thread, I would suggest nothing thicker than a 50w cotton. Some variegated cotton threads are 40w, and they can look bulky. I tend to use polyester thread – either Glide or Isacord. It has a beautiful sheen and a perfect thickness.

With the stitch and thread chosen, now is the time to practise some stitches to decide on the length and width you want to use. Take time to decide what works best for you. I use a blanket stitch of width 3 and length 1 or a zig-zag stitch of width 3 and length 0.8.

Starting Sewing

If you have a clear applique foot, then use it, otherwise use your regular zig-zag foot. Pick a corner to start on. If sewing a circle, start at the bottom. Bring up the bobbin thread to the top of your work, just like you do when quilting or drawing the bobbin thread up from the bobbin case. Pull both top and bottom threads to the back of your machine foot to stop the bobbin thread from showing through on your first stitch. If there is even a hint of it showing, you can thread it through to the back of your work with an easy threading needle once you have finished sewing.

Sew stitches with width (blanket, overcasting, zig-zag) across the raw edge to seal it. Sewing the edges in a straight line is easy, but the corners are trickier. We want to avoid corners with stitches pointing out in all directions.

Mastering the Corners

When you reach a corner, reset your stitch pattern. Let me explain why. For any stitch other than a zig-zag, the pattern will be complex. My blanket stitch is forward-backward-forward-stitch into middle-stitch back to edge-forward-backward-forward-forward-backward-forward-stitch into the middle – stitch back to the edge, and so on. This complexity means that I can never be sure which stitch is coming next when I turn a corner, so the easiest thing to do is restart the stitch sequence. Some machines have a rest button. For others, all you need to do when you come to a corner is to pivot around and reset the stitch by moving off your stitch (let’s say it is pattern 11) onto another design (let’s say number 12) and then back to your original stitch. This will reset the stitch back to its starting point – which is always a stitch forward and never a stitch backwards.

If you are using a zig-zag stitch as long as you pivot with the need in the applique piece (no on the backing fabric), it will be fine. By pivoting with the needle in the applique piece, the next stitch will be outwards over the edge of the material. Have a go and test it out.

Common Problems

Skipped stitches are a frequent problem with applique. They are most often caused by the needle getting sticky. If not wholly set, the web glue can leave a residue on the needle as it pierces through the bond. I find this most often with Steam-a-Seam Lite 2 rather than Bondaweb. Should this happen? Please turn off the machine and carefully wipe the needle with a cotton work pad with a bit of nail varnish remover on it or even a damp soapy cloth. Both will do the trick. I find nail varnish remover better as it evaporates and doesn’t leave the needle wet.

The only other problems I have encountered have been the bobbin and upper thread being different weights or thicknesses.

Coming Next …..

I hope you have found this helpful. Keep an eye out for the next instalment when we will be using invisible thread!