Using Appliques

Simple star patch applique.

Using appliques is a quick and easy process that can add tremendous detail and elegance to many types of projects. With a wide range of materials available in nearly any theme, anyone can learn to use appliques to enhance their crafting techniques.

About Appliques

The term applique comes from the French verb "appliquer" or "to lay on top of." Applique layering techniques have been used for centuries for a wide range of purposes, including embellishing traveling tents and equipment, adorning ceremonial robes, and creating more intricate fashions. The most widespread use of the technique was to attach delicate, hand-knitted lace to more robust fabrics as a decoration, but over time the practice has been adapted to suit many different types of materials and a much wider range of projects.

Today's appliques come in several varieties:

  • Fabric appliques may be lace or heavily adorned patches, often using beads, sequins, or intricate embroidery. Choosing fabric appliques allows crafters to add exquisite detail to their projects, even if they do not have the skills to create the embellishments themselves. Fabric designs may be sew-on or iron-on for crafters' convenience.
  • Wood appliques come both finished and unfinished to suit different crafting needs. Simple shapes, letters, and themed items are available, as well as dimensional pieces such as decorative accents and dowels that can be applied to a number of different projects.
  • Foam appliques are quick and easy to use for colorful, wacky projects. Practicing with foam is a great way to become accustomed with how to design and structure an applique project using less expensive materials.
  • Paper appliques are often backed with wallpaper adhesives to be used as artwork or accents to paper and wood projects. Simple paper appliques can be made from die cuts, gift wrap, or any paper shape.

Each different material boasts a startling range of shapes, colors, and patterns. You can find everything from simple letters and geometric shapes to holiday, sports, school, hobby, and career themes. Regardless of the overall theme of your project, there is sure to be a suitable applique to coordinate with the motif.

Tips for Using Appliques

When attaching an applique to a project, there is more skill and consideration involved than simply layering different materials. For stunning projects using appliques, consider the following tips:

  • Choose complimentary materials to keep the project tied to a central theme. Foam appliques on wooden cabinets or fabric appliques on a foam album cover tend to look mismatched and out of place.
  • Coordinate the applique with the overall appearance of the project for the best effect. An intricate applique will be lost in a busy project, whereas applying it to a plainer surface will highlight the embellishment.
  • Attach the applique carefully using the recommended techniques for proper bonding. Especially for clothing or other practical projects, be sure the applique is securely mounted along all edges to withstand daily stress and use.
  • Be sure the supporting material can adequately hold the applique. A heavily beaded embellishment should not be attached to a loosely knitted sweater or scarf, for example, because the weight of the applique will distort the underlying fabric.
  • Layer multiple appliques for a deeper textured effect. Using more than one accent in a location gives the project more depth and intricacy, but be sure each layer is firmly attached.
  • Add more accents to plain appliques for greater personalization and flair. Adding beads, sequins, or special stitching to an applique makes the finished project even more outstanding.

Project Ideas


The uses for appliques are nearly unlimited. Popular project ideas include:

  • Clothing embellishments for jeans, t-shirts, jackets, scarves, formal gowns, shoes, and other garments
  • Distinctive fabric accents for table runners, table cloths, book bags, purses, quilts, curtains, or luggage
  • Adding personalization to favorite toys such as blocks, stuffed animals, or even a toy chest
  • Embellishing wooden objects including cabinets, staircase columns, picture frames, bedposts, or baseboards
  • Using appliques framed or mounted as detailed artwork by themselves, particularly for wallpaper with coordinating patterns

Where to Find Appliques

Appliques of various materials and levels of intricacy can be found in many locations, including local sewing departments, craft stores, and specialty stores. Seamstresses or other artisans may be willing to make specialized appliques. In addition, old fabrics can easily be cut and trimmed to create unique patches and embellishments. Free applique patterns are also available from many sources for crafters who want to create their own designs.

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