Bias strip appliqué
Lots of appliqué designs feature fine curved fabric strips, e.g flower stems and the easiest way to create these is with bias-cut fabric but there are a few different methods available to prepare these for appliqué and then sew them by hand or by machine to your background.
Preparing bias strips
Before cutting and creating bias tape, it helps to starch your chosen fabric lightly. I prefer a non-aerosol, plant based starch to make the fabric stable but not crispy.
To cut your strip, place the straight edge of your quilt ruler at a 45-degree angle to the selvedge of your fabric to create a diagonal line following the fabric bias and use a rotary cuter along the edge. Once the first 45-degree cut is established, then align the straight edge of your ruler with the diagonal edge of the fabric and to cut strips to the widths required. Strips can be joined together diagonally with seam pressed open if needed.
Using a bias tape maker.
Bias tape makers are small metal gadgets specially designed to create single fold bias tape of different widths. Each bias tape maker will make tape to a single width so if you’ll need a range of makers to produce tape of assorted widths. Each bias tape maker will advise on fabric cutting width, it’s usually on the packaging so keep it safe! Cut a strip of fabric at the advised width for the tape maker and an inch or so longer than you’ll think you need.
Trim the starting end of the strip to 45 degrees – this make it easier to feed into the tape maker. Insert into the tape maker wrong side upwards. It needs to go right up to the tip; use a pin in the gap underneath to ease the fabric through.
Move to a pressing surface with your iron ready at a medium heat. Steam is optional, it can distort the fabric and burn your fingers so my preference is a dry iron. As the fabric strip starts to emerge from the tape maker tip, place the iron over it and use the bias maker handle to pull it smoothly along the fabric strip as your iron presses the folded tape.
Tip from The Sewing Directory – We have a step by step tutorial to using a bias tape maker here.
Using a creasing tool and quilt ruler.
For this method it’s easiest if your strips are at least 3/4” wide.
Place the strip wrong side uppermost on a cutting mat. Use a quilt ruler and place it a scant 1/4” over the long edge on one side of the strip. Take a Hera marker, creasing tool or a smooth bladed butter knife and push it along the quilt ruler edge with moderate pressure to create a fold line in the fabric. Repeat on the opposite long edge. The seam allowances on these edges will now naturally turn. They can also be lightly pressed with an iron.
Stitching Down Bias Strips
The ends of bias strips are often covered, e.g. for stems, ends can lie underneath a flower or leaf so allow sufficient length on the strip so that there is at least 1/4” under the shape covering it. Otherwise ends can be turned but it does create a lot of bulk in a small space.
Machine Stitching bias tape appliqué
There are two options for machine stitching bias strips.
Method one: either, glue baste, hand baste or pin in place so that the raw edges are folded inwards and then stitch close to the edge on both sides- an edge stitching/ stitch-in-the-ditch foot is excellent for this task!
Method two: this method works well for creating organic, flowing bias tape lines. Place the prepared bias tape right side placed downwards on the background fabric and with the seam allowance folds opened out. Pin in place with the pins pointing upwards. The next step will be to sew down one of the seam lines along the fold and then flip the bias tape over tucking the other long edge in so check now that the fabric is where you want it to be! Sew down one of the seam lines- I choose the inner seam line for this curve- then press the bias tape over the seam.
Tuck the remaining edge in place and sew down by hand (see below) or machine.
It is also possible to overlap and cross strips with this technique which looks very effective for flower stems.
Hand Stitching bias tape appliqué
Before your bias strips are stitched down, choose a method to hold them in place. They can be glue basted, pinned (appliqué pins are shorter and less likely to catch if you’re hand sewing) or hand basted/tacked into place. To hand sew, cut a length of fine thread – elbow tip to longest finger is a good measure- and knot the end. Match the thread colour to the bias strip fabric rather than the background.
Start at one end of the strip. Slide the needle through the back of the folded edge of the strip and direct it to the wrong side of the seam line so the knot is hidden. Insert the needle into the background against the folded edge and opposite where the thread came out.
Angle the needle point upwards so it travels a little way under the wrong side of the background fabric and comes out to catch the folded edge of the appliqué approximately 1/8”-1/4″ further along and then continue. Every few stitches, gently pull the thread away from the fabric edge and the stitches should almost disappear. Check the detailed tutorial here for further reference.
To finish sewing, take your needle to the wrong side of the background fabric covered by the strip and sew a couple of stitches through the background fabric only, passing the needle through the thread loop to make a small knot.
Quick Turn Appliqué with Lightweight Non-Fusible Interfacing
Preparing for interfacing appliqué
For this technique you will need some lightweight non-fusible interfacing without stretch. The papery, non woven, sew-in, lightweight interfacing works best. It also helps to use pinking shears for trimming. This method works well for medium-to-large simple shapes with gentle curves. Smaller and narrow shapes can be tricky to turn through so consider other methods such as needle turn or raw edge appliqué for those.
On the wrong side of your appliqué fabric, draw around your appliqué shape (with no seam allowance added). Roughly cut out your shape leaving at least 1/2” extra fabric all around. Place the appliqué fabric right sides together with the lightweight interfacing. Pin together and with the fabric side uppermost, stitch on the drawn line letting your stitches run over at the start and end to secure. This stitching needs to be smooth as it creates the edge of your finished shape.
For smaller shapes, use smaller stitches. Cut your your shape using pinking shears approximately 1/8” -1/4” away from the seam line. If you don’t have pinking shears, trim with sharp scissors and snip into the small seam allowance frequently with sharp scissors taking care to stop just before the stitches. The pinking shears/snips help produce smoother curves.
For inner curves, add snips as well as using the pinking shears. For inner points, as on the inner points of a flower use scissors to snip all the way to the seam. For outer points, trim the seam allowance closely making it very narrow at the point.
Once trimmed, if any seam threads have been snipped, resew that seam section. Then turn the shape to the interfacing side and carefully pull the interfacing away from the fabric so it’s a single layer. Using scissors, make a slit in the interfacing centre, then another to make a cross shape. You can cut into these a little further if needed but don’t cut closer than 3/8” to the seam line.
Carefully turn the shape through the opening, rolling the seams with your fingers to smooth the edges. A narrow tool with a rounded end like a crochet hook is useful for turning the curves and corners out. Carefully press the shape on the fabric side using a dry iron making sure any interfacing is tucked under to the reverse side as it will melt with the iron’s heat!
Stitching Down Quick Turn Appliqué
Use pins to place interfaced quick turn appliqué onto your background fabric. You can then stitch your shape on by hand using the needle-turn technique as with the bias cut stems, or stitch around the edge of the shape by machine using a shallow, small zig zag stitch.
On my machine I used a stitch length of 3 and a stitch width of 3. Make sure the machine foot is suitable for a zig zag stitch, some machines have an appliqué foot. Check where your needle falls on each side of the stitch to enclose the edge neatly with the swing of the needle.
It is also possible to use very fine thread; I used Aurifil 80wt (normally recommended for hand sewn appliqué) as the top thread with 50wt thread in the bobbin. Invisible filament thread is also an option with a standard cotton or polyester thread in the bobbin. For this sort of machine sewn appliqué, it’s easiest to secure the threads by hand on the wrong side. A narrow blind hem stitch also works for this method if your machine has that setting. Another option is to sew close to the shape edge with a straight stitch all around the shape.