In Stitches: Choosing the Best Stitches for Machine Appliqué

Detail of red and white machine applique

When it comes to machine appliqué, award-winning quilter Linda Pumphrey loves to experiment. Sure, she has go-to stitches like anyone else, but stepping outside of her comfort zone and trying new machine appliqué stitches is part of her process—and part of the fun. In both Mountain Mist Historical Quilts and Red & White Quilting, Linda used a variety of machine appliqué stitches to achieve the best results for each quilt and block.

Here, Linda shares some of her favorite stitches as well as tips for choosing a thread color to showcase your appliqué—and hide any imperfections.


Choosing the Right Stich for Machine Appliqué

When it comes to machine appliqué, we quilters have some all-time favorite stitches, such as satin stitch, straight stitch, blanket stitch, and a small zigzag stitch. Different stitches can help give a basic quilt block a new look. Here are some of my favorites.

Linda prefers using a double blanket stitch for machine appliqué.

Linda prefers using a double blanket stitch for machine appliqué.

Double Blanket Stitch

My go-to stitch for machine appliqué is the double blanket stitch, which takes two stitches on the horizontal and two on the vertical portion of the stitch. Some of my quilter friends have even made up a dance to demonstrate the motion that the sewing machine needle travels when making this stitch.

I love using a double blanket stitch rather than a single blanket stitch because it adds “oomph” to the stitches without being overly bold. For a double blanket stitch, my preferred setting is 2 width and 2.5 for the length.

Linda used a star stitch (also known as a popcorn stitch or daisy stitch) on the Eight of Hearts and Paper Cut blocks in Red & White Quilting.

Linda used a star stitch (also known as a popcorn stitch or daisy stitch) on the Eight of Hearts and Paper Cut blocks in Red & White Quilting.

Star Stitch

To give your block a lacey look, try using a star stitch—or popcorn stitch as I’ve sometimes heard it called. (My Baby Lock sewing machine manual calls it a daisy stitch.) I used this stitch on the Eight of Hearts and Paper Cut blocks in Red & White Quilting. On my machine, I set the width to 2 and the length to 2.5.

Linda used a hemstitch to appliqué around the edges of the flowers in her in Iris bed Quilt in Mountain Mist Historical Quilts.

Linda used a hemstitch to appliqué around the edges of the flowers in her Iris Bed Quilt in Mountain Mist Historical Quilts.

Hemstitch

For shapes that butt up together, I like to use a hemstitch. It has horizontal stitches on both the left and right side of the vertical stitch, which remind me of railroad tracks. Run the vertical stitch down the middle of the two shapes, so the horizontal stitches appliqué the edges of both shapes in one pass.

The hemstich adds a charming detail to the Tulip Bowl blocks.

The hemstich adds a charming detail to the Tulip Bowl blocks.

I used this stitch to great effect on both the Iris Bed Quilt and the Tulip Bowl Quilt in Mountain Mist Historical Quilts.

Rick-rack stitch quilt block by Linda Pumphrey.

Rick-rack stitch quilt block by Linda Pumphrey.

Rick-Rack Stitch

For a really fun, bold look, try the rick-rack stitch. I love using this playful stitch on baby quilts to add extra personality to the pattern.

Choosing the Perfect Thread Color for Machine Applique

Thread color is another important aspect to consider when using machine appliqué. If you are not quite confident in your skills, try these tips.

  • When using a blanket stitch, you want the vertical stitch to be just on the outside edge of the shape. If you find that your appliqué stitches tend to drift onto the appliqué shape as you work around it, match the color of your thread to the predominant color in the applique fabric. If your stitches tend to drift onto the background fabric, use a thread color that matches the background fabric. By matching your thread color to the fabric where your needle tends to wander, any mistakes will become less noticeable.
  • Use a bold, decorative stitch when you don’t need to worry about lining up your needle with the edge of the shape. Two wonderful examples of decorative stitches include the star stitch and the rick-rack stitch.
  • If you want the stitching to be a design element in the overall look of the quilt, use a thread color that contrasts with the appliqué and background fabric.

Every brand and type of sewing machine has at least some fun basic decorative stitches to try. Most of the time we get in the habit of only using a couple. My advice, jump outside of your comfort zone and try different decorative stitches to turn your machine-appliqué into an adventure.


For more quilting tips and projects from Linda Pumphrey, pick up a copy of Mountain Mist Historical Quilts and Red & White Quilting today.

Happy Quilting,
Jodi

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