A few people have expressed an interest in how I recently went about creating three animal themed appliqués. So here is a little insight into my very limited appliqué experience to give a bit of context, finishing with some of the steps I took to make my favourite piece to date; that Rhino sweater.
(I am pretty inexperienced in appliqué work and am certainly still learning as I go. Would love to hear any tips you have to share to! I love to learn!)
How I started.
Up until recently my efforts at appliqué have been intermittent and very modest. A polar bear made an appearance on a cosy sweater. A snail and a ladybird became best friends, a space alien landed and a lion roared. I’ve added little fish to quite a few makes; from tops to toys; jumping out of water to hiding behind a penguin or an octopus. I’ve adorned necklines with a sun and then a flower.
Bondaweb is your friend.
In the springtime of last year I discovered the wonders of Bondaweb – essentially a fine layer of iron on glue that fuses two layers of fabric together. I was introduced to it by Deirdre Osborne, if you haven’t already discovered her stunning work go and check her out here on Instagram. She’s an amazing creator of delightful children’s clothes with the coolest appliqués full of inventive humour. I love seeing all her posts when they pop up on Facebook and Instagram. As well as the inspiring designs she comes up with, and beautiful combinations of fabrics, colours and patterns, she was also very generous in giving some tips when I enquired about her creations/methods sometime last year. (I can’t remember exactly when and the interaction is now lost in the world of a zillion Facebook posts.)
She suggested the use of Bondaweb (Deirdre may have suggested a different brand, but this is what I can get easily here in Dublin). It’s an appliqué game changer! It makes the sewing them so straightforward!
I have found that it has more than a few benefits:
1) It sticks the layers of fabric together so they can’t slip about when sewing. This includes holding the cut edges in place allowing you to sew closely to the edge with confidence;
2) It stabilises the fabric quite a bit, eliminating some of the stretch. This might not always be a positive but it certainly helps you to sew them with a normal straight stitch on your sewing machine. I’ve not yet had to worry about the stitches ripping. This does mean you’ve lost some of the stretch of your main fabric, but there is still plenty of give in it. I haven’t yet had a problem;
3) It makes it easier to cut your appliqué pieces out with accuracy. Because the fabric has been stabilised it can now be cut much more easily and correctly – without pulling it out of shape as you cut.
Deirdre also suggested the use of cotton interlock fabric as a good medium for appliqué. It is a lovely soft, flat fabric that, most importantly doesn’t fray. Nor does it curl up much at the edges, even after plenty of washes. I’ve yet to find a local (or even Europe based) supplier of a wide range of cotton interlock but Elvelyckan Design has a small, but beautiful selection of interlock shades, and this is what I have used where the colours work for me. In the absence of the right shades have used French terry, which has worked just fine too. Of course you can use whatever fabric you like; different fabrics bring their own texture and life!
If you really want to read a clear tutorial on applique from someone who knows her stuff go read Deirdre’s post on her blog here. It is so very clear, not like this muddling exploration!!
A Snail, a Ladybird and a Lion.
Last summer a spot of pattern testing for Misusu Patterns had me sewing pockets onto Piper Tank Tops which forced me to practice some topstitching. This in turn gave me the confidence to make a very special appliqué patch…
Based on a gorgeous drawing of a ladybird holding hands with a snail drawn by No.1’s first ever school friend, I made a special Piper Tank top for that same friend (modelled here by No.1 before we handed it over to his charmed buddy).
This was the trickiest appliqué I had attempted with lots of little pieces. Without a doubt the use of bondaweb made it feasible.
Most of the appliqués I have done have been based on my own drawings. The exceptions being the lovely hand-holding pair above and this miniature feisty lion below.
A few years ago I purchased Soledad Bravi’s “the noisy book” for No.2 and it is loved in this house. All three children have thoroughy enjoyed it and I really love how the phonetically spelled sounds really make sense/sound right as you read them aloud.
Inspired by the illustrations I was delighted to make this little gift for a friend of mine who was then pregnant with a baby boy. But you know what? Small fiddly appliqués are tricky!
A Whale of a Time!!
So, a few weeks ago the real appliqué fun started for me!! I’d had this idea floating around in my head for months… About six months ago I reckon, while doing some drawing with the children I was asked to draw a whale. This is what appeared and to my surprise it was a pretty good looking humpback whale! The tale fluke wasn’t quite right but I stuck it on the fridge thinking that it could make a cool appliqué.
A couple of weeks ago Fiona Murphy (a super sewist I who’s makes I look forward to spying on Facebook and Instagram; see her gorgeous stuff here!!) posted a really cute little appliqué of a dog on a sweater that sparked my imagination again! Being part of a sewing community really is a wonderful side of Facebook – there are some super sewing groups out there. I love the inspiration, encouragement and comradery found within!
I found the whale sketch under a pile of other drawings hanging off the fridge, googled “humpback whales” and worked on getting the shape a bit more life like. I don’t feel under pressure for it to be perfect, but there is something satisfying about getting the overall form feeling right. I also knew I wanted the tail sticking up out of the water, so needed to move things around a little.
Part of the plan in my head for this was to crack out my Bobbinhood screen-printing kit and print a silver/golden moon and stars in the sky. (I bought it for myself from my husband for my birthday back in August and have yet to use it!) In the end I decided that the pink and grey contrasted so well against each other that I didn’t need the gold/silver paint. An idea I will save for another project!
I kept the pink theme running through and cut out a few little inquisitive fish to have a chat with the whale. I like how the little fish give scale to the enormous whale, echo the reflection of the setting sun, and help balance the overall design.
My favourite part of this project are the little lines of stitching that give an impression of the textured lower jaw of the humpback. And that little eye that I imagine is looking back at those little fish.
I was concerned that No.1 would react against the pink colour in the t-shirt, but he didn’t comment on it at all – just said “Oh Wow! Not bad! Mama you invented something – a jumper with no sleeves!” Ha ha ha!!
Narwhal for No.2
My middle man is an animal lover, and is particularly fond of “swimmers”, so he immediately requested a top of his own. We decided on a narwhal and I got to work.
What I like about drawing of any kind is that it makes you really look closely at what you are drawing and notice those defining features/shapes/colours/textures/details. Narwhals have a pretty simple form. They have that defining tusk and a particular shaped tail fin. They can be quite mottled in colour so I added some little pieces of fabric to try and represent this.
With the whale top I colour blocked it simply with just a dividing seam across the chest. This time round I got a little more adventurous and added some curved colour blocking to try and represent the rolling seas. This took quite a while for me to figure out as I had never done it before – but it worked! Success!
A narwhal would seem more than a little lost without some ice, so this fellow is looking out across the sea to some distant icebergs. And here are the little nosy fish again!
Appliqué in Action! Rhino Style!
My littlest wanted in on the fun and she loves visiting the rhinos in Dublin Zoo; next appliqué decided!! This time round I took some photos of the process. I couldn’t possibly call it a tutorial, but it might be interesting to some!
For the Rhino I used google to find some pictures to sketch from. Those days I spent copying pictures of dolphins and butterflies from Encyclopaedia Britannica are paying off! I traced over the sketches a good few times to get the shape right and then to even out the lines.
Once I was happy with the main rhino image I cut out the sweater pattern. I used the Misusu Patterns’ Jolie Sweater pattern again. I loved the shape of it on my skinny mister No.2 and couldn’t wait to make one for my littlest, lengthening it a little to give it a bit more coverage for winter wear.
I used the size and shape of the front main panel to figure out and get the scale of the appliqué correct. I lay the early sketches over it to check the scale. When I had the sweater fabric cut out I checked it again, remembering to allow for the seam allowances.
When I had the size and position of the rhino right I did one final trace so that I could safely cut out the shape and not lose the original for reuse.
I cut off the pieces that would be separate; the two horns and the back ear, leaving an extra couple of mm on the main panel at the horns which would sit over it. When I cut out the fabric horns I added the couple of mm back in at the bottom so that they were the correct length and would overlap with the main piece. For the ear piece it was the opposite as it sits under the main panel. I cut along the drawing line then added the extra onto the ear for overlapping.
It would be easier to just trace the individual pieces separately adding the overlap extra where needed. Noted for next time!!
I ironed all the rhino parts onto the sweater front (above) and then copied the lines onto the rhino (below) using water soluble marker. I just eyeballed where the lines should go, but there is probably a way to use transfer papers of some kind to get them in the right place.
My sewing machine came with this foot on it and I use it almost all the time. I really like that it has a clear plastic part in the middle which allows me to see where I am stitching.
When I stitch along the edge of the applique parts I keep the edge of the fabric in the middle of the clear part to the right of the needle and this gives me a nice even 1.5/2mm spacing to the edge.
Bit by bit I follow the blue lines around. For the sake of neatness I don’t backstitch at the start or finish of each line. Instead I leave enough thread on at each end so that I could sew the ends through to the back of the fabric and then sew them into the back neatly to secure the threads. It is a bit time consuming though, I wonder if there is a faster way to do it while keeping it neat?
You can see here in the ear I went off course a bit. Perfection is far from important. As long as the stitches don’t wander way, way off I’m happy leave it just how it turns out.
I got distracted from taking photos as I worked at this point. Too caught up making some final decisions/changes of mind…
Next I ironed on the three dark grey pieces of interlock for the nose, eye and ear, and stitched them.
I had cut out the little bird a little too big so had to trim it down and then when I went to place it on the rhino’s front horn it didn’t look right. No. 1 suggested it should go on the rhino’s back, and he was absolutely right! I probably should have positioned it a little closer to centre though.
I had intended using the orange fabric for the bottom waistband and light grey ribbing for the neck band, but when I had the rhino finished he was a little lost looking. So I used the same yellow French terry that I used for the Oxpecker bird to make some grass for the rhino to stand on. This then led to another change of plan; to use matching yellow ribbing for the bottom waist band and the neckband.
I think the grass is very effective, the colours all tying together beautifully, and I’m delighted with the overall result!
Wow, that was a long post. I need an editor!! Well done if you read all the way to the end and thank you for your interest!! I’d love to hear your thoughts so please feel free to leave a comment! And please pass on any tips of your own!!
I’m still very new to this sewing lark, and especially appliqué, but I am really enjoying adding another layer of texture and colour to the clothes I make. I wonder what animal to add next?