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Needle Turn Applique for Beginners. Quilting & Patchwork Tutorial

Needle Turn Applique for Beginners. Quilting & Patchwork Tutorial
Using needle turn appliqué, you can make quilts with curves and organic shapes that you wouldn’t be able to piece on a machine.

Needle turn appliqué is a technique in which you cut a shaped piece of fabric and sew it to a background piece of fabric. You hand stitch the design and use your needle to turn the seam allowance under the design as you sew.

How do you do it? Part 1 - The Tools

 There are quite a few ways you can accomplish needleturn applique, the way I show it here is the way I found to be the easiest for me.

The first step then, is to assemble your tools. Apart from your pattern, fabric background, and fabrics for the applique, you will also need:


Applique Thread
I love to use Rasant thread. I use it for all my hand applique as well as anything I do on my sewing machine, both piecing and quilting. I have tried other threads in the past but find that nothing matches up to this one. It comes in 1000m rolls which go a very long way. Rasant is a poly cotton mix and doesn't tangle as easily as other threads can when on the needle.


It is so handy to have a lot of bobbins filled with as many colours as you like, these can sit next to you as you stitch and you can easily match your threads to the fabric you are about to sew. I attempt to use the exact thread colour to the fabric I am using. If the fabric is a multicolour then I find the light tan colour is a good one.


Applique Needles, 3/4 inch Pins and Thimble


These Piecemakers applique needles are beautiful to use, very fine and small (size 12) for all those tiny applique stitches you need to make.

I use these 3/4 inch pins to hold my applique onto the background fabric (instead of tacking it on). I sit my magnetic pin holder next to me to place pins onto quickly as I am stitching around my applique shape.


A thimble is a must have for your middle finger to push the needle into the applique. Make sure you get the right size thimble for your finger, nothing worse than having it fall off every time you move it, or red rings around your finger from wearing it too tight!

Sharp Scissors, Pencils, Freezer Paper and Rubbish Thingy!

Sharp scissors are a very important tool in your applique, they are used for cutting around the fabric shapes, the smaller scissors for cutting into the curves of your applique and for cutting your threads. You will also need some paper scissors for cutting around the freezer paper shapes (never use the good sewing scissors on paper!!!).


White washaway pencils (and a lead pencil for the very light fabrics) are needed to trace around the applique shape before attaching it to your background. Try not to drop them on the floor as this breaks the leads (something I do a lot!!!). An enclosed pencil sharpener is handy to have nearby as you do go through a lot of lead.


Freezer paper is what I use to cut out the applique templates, I will show how it is used in the next.


I have my Rubbish Thingy sitting beside me at all times for all the tiny thread ends, clipped fabric bits and used freezer paper shapes


Light Box
The last tool you will need is a light box for tracing your applique pattern onto your background fabric. This is where I do it a little differently from the Piece O' Cake girls. They use a vinyl overlay (which would be more accurate), however I find tracing the outline onto the fabric then placing the applique pieces over that outline seems to work for me.

Needleturn Applique Part 2 - The Preparation

 I must say that I am certainly no expert at this at all, however I am very passionate about applique (and all things quilting for that matter!!!), so it's just fun to talk about it!! The wonderful Janet at Quiltsalott has been showcasing her needleturn method, check her out she makes incredible applique. That is the thing I love about 'hanging out' with other quilters, we can all learn so much from each other.

Ok, so to the preparation of my applique. The first thing I start with is tracing the applique shapes onto both the freezer paper and the background fabric.


As I said previously you will need a light box (or window, or open door of oven with a light underneath and glad wrap over the door to cover the baked in grease....think creatively if you don't actually own a lightbox!!!), to trace onto the fabric.

Once you have traced your shapes onto the freezer paper (matt side of paper, not the shiny side) cut them out. I also find if I have a lot of similar shapes that numbering them can help at this stage.


The next step can take some time....choosing the fabrics for each piece of applique!! Once you have chosen the fabric, iron the freezer paper shapes (shiny side down) onto the right side (or top) of the fabric.


Then cut around the fabric shapes leaving around 1/8 inch of fabric around the freezer paper edge. I usually do just over 1/8 inch and I don't measure it, just guesstimate it!!


With a white pencil trace around the edges of the freezer paper, onto the fabric. If you are using a very light fabric, use a lead pencil. Once you have drawn around all the edges, pull the freezer paper off. If you are doing multiple shapes that are the same, ie circles, you can use the freezer paper shape a few times, it will re-iron onto the next fabric.


This next step is probably the MOST IMPORTANT step of all....the finger pressing!!


I finger press along the drawn line of each applique shape. Cotton fabric has a memory, which means that once you have put a crease on the edge of your applique shape, when you come to turn the edge under with your needle it will fall very easily into place for you.

 It will also make the applique pieces sit beautifully and flatly on your background fabric. It may seem a little tedious to press around the edges of each shape with your fingers, but I found it made a huge difference for me when I began to use this method.


You can see in the pic above how the fabric edge will naturally want to turn under where it has been finger pressed.

Next and last step in the preparation of your applique piece is to pin it to your background fabric, ready to stitch. I line up my shape with the traced shape and pin it into position. These tiny pins are great to work with (although very easy to lose down the back of the lounge!!!), and don't tend to snag your thread very often at all.


All pinned down and ready to go! Needleturn applique does take some time to prepare before you even get to the stitching stage, so I don't like to think of all the work ahead. Instead I imagine I'm on an applique journey, and each stage of the journey is an enjoyable one.

 I think my favourite part of the journey is cutting out the fabric shapes because this is when you really start to play with the colours that will make up your finished piece. There is nothing better than knowing you have a spare 1/2 hour or so, to sit down with a steaming cuppa by your side, and work on part of your applique journey...you may be suprised at how much you get done.

Needleturn Applique Part 3 - The Stitching!

When I first decided to give needleturn applique a go, I was rather overawed by it and wondered if I could ever master it. Initially I found it was fiddly and felt a little unnatural and cumbersome, but with some practise I realised it actually wasn't as hard as I was fearing.

About a year after I began to applique I attended an applique class....I would highly recommend this if you are starting out, it really did take my applique to another level.

I thought I would show you the method of needleturn I use on this little fella...


To begin with you need to work out which pieces of applique will need to be stitched first, that is, if you have any pieces that will need to be layered. Using this bird for example, his back wing needed to be stitched first as well as the vine leading up to the birds beak.


then the body, then the front wing.


When beginning to stitch, send your needle from the back of your fabric, through to the front. The very talented Janet from Quiltsalott has done a wonderful tutorial on how to begin and end threads in your applique. Her tute is so thorough and clear I didn't want to repeat it here, rather to urge you to check it out for yourself!


I work from right to left taking tiny stitches...poke the needle down into the fabric directly behind where your thread has come up, then bring it back up again a small way along. Catch a little bit of the fabric on the edge of the applique shape, pull the thread through, then repeat the step.


Using the flat of your needle (not the tip), push the fabric gently downwards to fold it under. This is where finger pressing comes into its own...as you push the edge under the fabric will naturally fold to where it has been pressed making the needleturn a very easy step.

Using your left thumb and forefinger to hold the folded edge down as you work will be a big help too. As you stitch around pull the 3/4 inch pins out as you come to them.


As you stitch around your shape don't make any cuts into the curves until you are near them and ready to stitch them. When you do cut into the curves, simply cut up to the drawn line (not over it).


In curves like this I generally make 3 cuts - 1 directly in the middle of the curve and one on either side of that. As I stitch around the curve I then turn under the fabric between each cut, one at a time using my thumb to give the edge a press as I go. I find turning under bit by bit stops a lot of fraying and turns the edges under very nicely.



When it comes to stitching points, these are even easier! Cut off the tip of the triangle...this will mean there is less bulk when you turn the fabric under.


Stitch up to the point of your drawn outline.


Turn under the corner with your needle, I usually do it in two tucks. Once the fabric is tucked under the point nicely, tug the thread gently outwards to make the point sit flat.


Put a stitch directly into the end of the point, then keep stitching around the shape, cutting into the curves as you get to them.

Remember as you are layering your shapes, any parts of the applique that will be covered by a top layer will not need to be stitched. For example in the pic below the top wing will cover this area I have left unstitched.


This is what the applique will look like from the back. Small stitches with no starting and finishing knots showing


So that's about it! Thank you for coming on this long needleturn ride with me.

Needle Turn Applique for Beginners. Quilting & Patchwork Tutorial


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