Applique is the art of cutting out shapes from fabric and sewing them onto a larger piece of fabric to make a design or scene. Some of the most intricate and valuable quilts ever made, such as Baltimore Album quilts, have been made with applique. Beginners to the method can start by appliqueing one square with simple designs, then use it as a framed piece or add other squares to combine for a quilt top.
Decide on your applique pattern. Find a pattern with a few simple shapes or use one shape repeated a number of times, perhaps in different colors. You may make one large square or a number of smaller squares, depending on how you would like your quilt to look.
Cut out a large square of background fabric, 1/2-inch larger in each direction than the finished size you desire. If you want a 12-inch square, make the background fabric 12.5 inches in each direction.
Lay out your fabric for the applique piece with the right side up. Lay the pattern piece on the fabric and draw around it with a pencil. This will be your stitching line.
Cut out the applique so that you have about 1/4-inch extra around the piece past the stitching line. This measurement does not have to be exact, but try to keep it close to 1/4 inch.
Fold under the edge of the applique piece so that it folds toward the wrong side of the fabric. Fold and finger press along the stitching line.
Lay the finger-pressed applique piece where desired on the background fabric and pin it in place.
Thread a needle with cotton sewing thread that matches the applique piece. Tie a knot in one end of the thread and use only a single thread to sew. Take one stitch near the applique piece, and tug the thread sharply to pop the knot to the back of the background fabric.
Take a small stitch in the stitching line of the applique piece and then push the needle directly into and through the background fabric. The needle should now be on the back side of the fabric. Bring the needle back up about 1/4-inch away from where it went down. The needle should come up directly below the applique piece stitching line. Bring the needle up through the background and into the applique piece.
Take another small stitch in the applique piece along the stitching line and stitch it down to the background fabric. Continue along the line until you have completed stitching down the applique piece. Tie a knot in the thread and pop it to the back of the background fabric.
Turn the piece of background fabric over when you have finished appliqueing pieces onto it. Cut a slit in the background fabric in the center of each applique area, being careful not to cut the applique piece. Begin at this slit and cut away the background fabric that is enclosed by the applique stitches, leaving 1/4 inch around for a seam allowance.
Fold and press the background fabric across and then up and down, to create a cross in the folds. This will help in placing applique pieces evenly on the surface, without their ending up crooked.