A Patchwork of Possibilities: Exploring Types of Appliqué Embroidery

Kris Daub
Published by Kris Daub | Senior Editor
Last updated: December 18, 2023
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Appliqué embroidery involves layering and attaching smaller fabric shapes onto a larger background fabric to create designs and patterns. The appliquéd pieces add visual interest, texture, and dimension. There are many techniques – here we’ll explore the most popular categories.

Fused Appliqué

This extremely versatile technique uses fusible interfacing webs to adhere fabric shapes. Once fused, edges can be finished with machine stitching like a close satin stitch or with decorative threads for additional embellishment. Fused appliqué is quick and allows ample room for creativity in choosing stabilizers, fabrics with different properties, and specialty machine feet to complement the design elements like cording or couching.


  • Play with different decorative stitches and specialty threads
  • Consider machine feet like cording, couching for embellishment options
  • Mix colors, patterns, textures for unique effects
  • Stabilizer choice impacts drape and finish

Needle-Turn Appliqué

The dimensional quality of hand appliqué can be mimicked using a needle and thread. Tiny stitches are taken along the fabric edge, with the needle piercing just the edge to secure pieces. With careful stitch placement mimicking traditional hand appliqué, fused pieces achieve charming texture. Many machines offer specialty “hand look” stitches which help create dimension while allowing precision and speed of machine work.


  • Use lightweight threads and small stitches
  • Match thread color to background or appliqué
  • Blind hem stitch works well for hand look
  • Maintain medium speed for control around shapes

Raw Edge Appliqué

For smaller embellishments with a handmade look, raw edge appliqué uses only simple straight stitches closely around the shape edges to hold them in place. The raw, unfinished edges take on a natural, rustic appearance as the fabric frays with needlework. This unfussy approach works wonderfully for making impact with small patches of color and creativity without tricky steps.


  • Allow frays for organic look or zigzag edge finishes
  • Shines for smaller embellishments like ornaments
  • Avoid trimming and embrace imperfection
  • Provides high impact with little effort

Reverse Appliqué

By working in the opposite direction, reverse appliqué achieves stunning dimension and texture. Layers of fabric are arranged first, then portions of the top layers are cut away to reveal peaks of the lower layers. Designs emerge sculpturally from this subtractive process. Lighting plays on these shapes to intensify shadow and color contrasts. The illusion of depth is equally dramatic displayed vertically on walls or in fiber art hangings as in quilts.


  • Experiment with fabric types and colors
  • Considers lightweight sheers for intense effects
  • Cut shapes strategically for dramatic reveals
  • Impacts walls, hangings, quilts equally

Machine Embroidery Appliqué

Digitizing software allows specialty machine stitches for efficient appliqué embroidery. Placement stitches tack layers down strategically; trims are made, then decorative edging like satin stitches or blanket stitches finish shapes. This preparation means large quilt blocks and medallions, pillows, bags and other projects with big appliqué areas become manageable. Experiment with edge treatments to complement quilting designs or stand dramatically against negative space.


  • Digitize own shapes or use machine built-ins
  • Adjust placement stitches as needed
  • Play with decorative edging stitches
  • Great for large quilt blocks and medallions


This survey of techniques reveals appliqué’s patching possibilities. Layering all kinds of fabrics using these fundamental methods, then enhancing with thoughtful stitches, offers avenues for wonderfully unique personalized projects. Textural interest need not be limited to standard quilting cottons – try wool, silk, felt, even non-traditional media like vinyl for modern appeal. Applique opens up many dimensions. Simply fuse, flip and stitch up creative potential.