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Applique t-shirt project

How to sew an applique t-shirt

Applique is one of those things that looks more daunting than it really is.  Once you’ve tried it one time I guarantee you will be doing it again.  I decided to make my son some applique t-shirts because a plain t-shirt and a fat quarter of fabric works out a lot cheaper that most printed tops, especially character ones.  Plus they end up with something really unique.

Don’t just stop at t-shirts, you can use the same method to add applique to adult clothing, trousers, skirts, shirts, bags, cushions etc.


Plain t-shirt – I bought a 3 pack from Peacocks for around £7.

Fabric to applique onto the t-shirt – I used Makower fabrics for both t-shirts.

Bondaweb or similar adhesive – I used Heat n Bond

Thread – contrasting if you want the stitching to stand out, similiar colour if you want it to blend in. I used Gutermann sew all thread.

An iron

Applique mat (useful but not compulsory).

How to applique fabric using Bondaweb

Start off by choosing your fabric and t-shirt. Cut the shapes you want from your fabric and place them on the t-shirt to make sure they fit ok.

Place the fabric pieces on top of the sheet of Bondaweb and cut around them.  You want the paper side away from the fabric and the side with glue on (this side will feel a little rougher than the paper side) touching the back of your fabric.  When doing difficult shapes it’s easier to just cut a square around it and trim the excess off after ironing.

How to use Bondaweb

Iron over the fabric a few times melting the glue on the Bondaweb so it sticks to the back of your fabric.  I use an applique mat here as it prevents any glue getting stuck on your iron, you could just use a scrap of fabric or tea towel to do the same thing.  Applique mats are kind of plasticy so the glue peels off easily.

Applique techniques

Once it has cooled trim any paper from around the edges and then gently peel the paper off the back.  You should then have a shiny back to your fabric like in the picture above, this is the glue on your fabric.

Beginner's guide to applique on clothing

Choose where you want to place the fabric on the t-shirt, then iron it on and allow to cool.  This will effectively glue the fabric into place.

Best stitches for applique

Before stitching on the t-shirt use some scraps and experiment with the stitches until you find the one you want.  Most machines will let you change the width and spacing of the stitches.  I used ladder stitch but you can also use satin stitch, zig zag stitch, some machines even have a dedicated applique stitch.

How to sew applique with a sewing machine

Stitch around your applique shapes, go slowly, especially when stitching curves.  When you get to the corner leave the needle in the fabric, lift the sewing machine foot and pivot the fabric to stitch along the next edge. 

When sewing curves (like the picture below) you need to keep slowly turning the fabric as you sew.  If it’s a sharp curve you may need to stop, leaving the needle in the fabric, lift the sewing machine foot and turn the fabric a little to keep it going the right way.

How to use applique in dressmaking

There you have it, an appliqued t-shirt!  there’s no limit to the range of t-shirts you could make by adding applique to them. Not just for children but for adults too. 

Free project for applique t-shirts