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Appliques 101 {without an embroidery machine}

My fancy little embroidery machine can do some pretty smooth appliques. But this RAINY weekend and week I decided to be creative & try my hand at my own little creations on my new sewing machine. If you are a perfectionist this style may not suit you. It’s not going to look like a “machine applique” but it will be cute and won’t require an expensive machine to accomplish.

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • Wonder Under or a comparable product like Heat ‘n Bond LITE both can be found at Hancocks or JoAnns and both are an adhesive webbing {think giant sheets of Stitch Witch} with paper on one side that peels off. Both can be bought by the yard. 1/2 a yard will get you A LOT of appliques!
  • A tearaway stabilizer like Tear-Easy which can also be found at JoAnns or Hancocks and is probably right by the Wonder Under… this will go under your shirt to stabilize your zig-zag stitches. It might be a little pricey, if you can find a tear-away stabilizer on a bolt w/ the Wonder Under it’s a LOT cheaper by the yard. It’s also great to have around… I stabilize all my button holes with it! Just make sure it’s a “tear away”.
  • Thread in coordinating colors of your fabric scraps
  • Buttons will make great wheels or eyes! {SOMEONE please do an OWL and show me!}
  • fabric scraps
  • iron
  • sewing machine with a zigzag stitch— I’m not sure there’s such thing as a sewing machine without zig zag so if you have a sewing machine you’re in business!

First make sure you wash and dry your shirt, blanket, towel, or whatever you are appliqueing. The cute little kimono shirt JM had on with the train came in a 2 pack from Target {Circo brand with all the onesies {of course I can’t find it online} they were 2 for $7.99}. Thanks, cousin Melissa… we used our gift card to secure these little precious numbers!

While you’re washing & drying your garment, I recommend you browse through clip art for images. The train I made up in my mind, the camper I found here and thought of MommaSissy & Courtney and their wild RV adventure! Here’s my “inspiration” for the RV!

Next, you’ll want to cut out your design on paper and make a stencil/template of it. You will want to keep in mind that your design will be “mirror imaged” when you iron it on your garment. Also keep the scale in mind… the long sleeve tee is a 3t and the design is about 3.5″ x 3.5″. The train below is closer to 2″ x 1.5″!

Iron the Wonder Under to the wrong side of your scraps. Leaving the paper on one side. You will peel the paper off and iron the cut out shapes to your shirt when you’re ready. Once your scraps are all “secured” with the Wonder Under trace your designs onto the paper backing of the Wonder Under on your scraps. Like this {sorry, poor pict quality}…

And then cut out all your shapes. In my case I cut out the RV body, the windows, door, bumper & hitch.

And then peel away the paper backing and iron them on your shirt. The Wonder Under is an important step because it will prevent your fabric from fraying & it holds it in perfect position while you zigzag… no pins needed here!!

Cut a square of your tear-away stabilizer and put it under your shirt where you’ve ironed your applique on. Before you start your zig zag stitches be sure to practice & stabilize your practice stitches too! **If you’re really new to sewing or new to your machine you may want to practice your entire applique on a scrap before trying it on your shirt! I don’t want anyone cussing me!**

My machine is computerized and I set my width on 1.8 and my length on .5. You’ll also want to double check and make sure you’ve pulled the shirt completely away under your design. You’d be really sad if you sewed your shirt shut. Be sure your zig zag goes through your applique fabric and over the edge of your fabric into your t-shirt when you zig & zag. This will keep it from fraying. You can do it tight or loose… which ever you prefer. The train {pictured below} I did looser {longer stitches} than on the camper.

You’ll see in this picture where I started & stopped w/ the door…

You can tie a knot here and trim away threads. Or if your machine has a locking stitch… lock the end and cut without knotting… make sense?

Corners are hard to turn. You’ll see on the windows I did the panes first then the sides and then the tops. I didn’t attempt to turn those tiny corners. Rounded corners {like the top of the camper} are easier to turn if you don’t go super slow… so move at a steady pace as you feed it through your machine! You can see mine are less than perfect! I always love it when y’all show me what you do… so if you try this please email me or comment and add a link if you post pictures on your blog!!! Happy appliqueing!! Now I’m going to sleep on this, make sure I didn’t forget anything & post in the morning!

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  • erika
    August 27, 2008 at 4:49 am

    DARBY! That is the CUTEST shirt and train 'thing' (what do you call that?) I have ever seen! And YES, it is so "Mommasissy & Courtney" – do you make them in an adult small? I love a long-sleeved tee. You are soooo talented. You should sell these too… seriously – in game day colors. Okay, coffee needs to be chugged and I gotta get back to my seond home (the office). I LOVE YOU!

  • beki
    August 27, 2008 at 5:48 am

    Oh my goodness, that’s adorable!

  • megan
    August 27, 2008 at 6:21 am

    you have an amazing talent!

  • MIMI
    August 27, 2008 at 6:23 am

    WHAT a great idea! Love the adorable appliques and without the machine! Thanks for sharing…….got to get busy and get those creative juices going! You are an inspiration, DARBY!

    In Joy,

  • Courtney
    August 27, 2008 at 6:59 am

    Now, if that trailer had about 3 dressers, 1 pair of skis, a set of lockers, 1 harvest basket, and 4 very spastic people…it would be a cookie cutting image πŸ™‚

    These are too cute Darby. You are so very talented with sewing and I love to see you feed that creativity. As my machine still sits in the closet…..

    One day I’m coming to you for lessons!

  • Dr. Erin and Mr. Heath
    August 27, 2008 at 7:23 am

    I’ve been stalking your blog and your adorable little family for awhile. These are the cutest little shirts! My sister made some owl “applique” cardigans for Urban Outfitters and used a similar technique (along with button eyes!) and I’ll try to find you a pic…they would be to DIE for on a little onsie!

  • Jessica
    August 27, 2008 at 7:32 am

    I love that! I second that you should sell these too… I really haven’t sewed much at all (a baby blanket with my mom instructing me how), but I’m determined to borrow my mom’s sewing machine and try out an owl! I’ll send pictures if it turns out πŸ™‚

  • lauramatthews
    August 27, 2008 at 8:30 am

    I know you’ve said you don’t have time…but YOU SHOULD SELL THESE! I have THE hardest time finding cute tees for my toddler boy that aren’t crazy expensive!!!!!

  • Tara McClendon
    August 27, 2008 at 9:14 am

    Love the camper! So cute!! I did an owl…I’ll email you a picture….

  • The LaBouffs
    August 27, 2008 at 10:04 am

    I wouldn’t have thought about using clip art! They turned out super cute and maybe I’ll just have to try it out on some onesies for the girls! Thanks for the great ideas!

  • Dianne
    August 27, 2008 at 11:18 am

    Darby, you are so talented! I just can’t believe this is the way you rest. God bless you!

  • Jade
    August 27, 2008 at 11:34 am

    Very cute! I always forget to use Wonder Under and wonder (ha!) what happened when it all bunches up and shifts around. πŸ˜‰

  • Jessica
    August 27, 2008 at 1:01 pm

    Quick question! I went to Target to try to find some cheap basic white shirts (size 24mo-2T) and couldn’t find anything except 24 mo onesies – no shirts. You used a long sleeved t-shirt though, right? Did you get it there recently? Maybe I should look at Wal-Mart? I just want some cheap solid colored shirts to try…

  • Darby
    August 27, 2008 at 1:26 pm

    The white long sleeve shirt was from last winter… sorry, should have clarified. The “kimono/side snap” shirt I got last week. I’m assuming they don’t have any long sleeve shirts in yet. I know Walmart had some short sleeved t-shirts that were plain without a pocket. They were their Granimals brand and really cheep! Good luck!!

  • Carly
    August 27, 2008 at 1:33 pm

    As always, precious! Im all for you selling these in both kiddy and adult sizes! You amaze me:)

  • margaret
    August 27, 2008 at 1:47 pm

    darby, i’ve been a blog stalker for a while now and just love your blog. i actually just attempted my own applique (without an embroidery machine) last week. here’s my blog: http://www.thecrawfordfour.blogspot.com

    you may have to scroll down a bit back to aug 22. you can tell the curves didn’t come out very well – but how often does my 19-month-old hold still long enough for anyone to tell? πŸ˜‰

    the only thing i did differently from you is that i traced my shape onto the heat n’ bond before ironing it onto my applique fabric and cut a bit around the shape. once i ironed it onto the applique material, i cut exactly on the lines and i have the exact shape!! i LOVE heat n’ bond. i’ve also used this on some superhero capes i made for the kids. too cute. i bet your girls would love them. check them out under “marge’s projects”.

    sorry for such a long comment. thank you for all your inspiration – sewing, your faith, being a mommy…. you always make me smile!


  • Jessica
    August 27, 2008 at 1:55 pm

    thanks for the info! πŸ™‚ I’ll have to go check out wal-mart – I would be fine with a short sleeve t-shirt (it doesn’t get cold for a while here, as you know), but target only had onesies… I’ll send pictures if I make an owl this weekend πŸ™‚

  • Anonymous
    August 27, 2008 at 2:32 pm

    Ok that is bizarre! Darby I was etsy-ing pumpkin tshirts (at the same exact time you were blogging) to get inspired and decided to make my own but could not figure out the stabilizer thing. You are a genious. Martha Pullen move over. I cant wait to see what you do if Gustav hits!

  • Anonymous
    August 28, 2008 at 6:50 pm

    You are amazingly talented!!!! I knew you would find a creative use for the Target gift card!!! So precious … just as your sweet family is. Mackenzie still talks about how snuggly John Martin was.

    (cousin) Melissa

  • Household6
    August 29, 2008 at 9:04 pm


    Any recommendations on places to find good templates? Did you draw yours?? I haven’t appliqued in years but I’m going to give it a try this weekend!!


  • Household6
    August 30, 2008 at 4:44 am

    I just reread your post…and found where you mentioned the clip art….oops sorry!! I was really tired last night.

    My email address is lifeinoz@yahoo.com. Did you get my email about the strollers? I do need to blog soon…I’m a little overwhelmed with school starting and unpacking! YIKES!


  • Household6
    August 30, 2008 at 4:45 am

    P.S. I saw your other post from yesterday before you erased it…it was really good!

  • The Honea Bees
    November 22, 2008 at 1:26 pm

    Check out my holiday ones…thanks for the inspiration!

  • The Rauths
    February 6, 2009 at 3:55 pm

    I’m going to try this. i have a really silly request…i’d love to see how you do your buttons. i’ve been experimenting and still don’t think i have the “perfect” method…ie kid/dad proof.

  • kelley
    May 9, 2009 at 8:14 am

    Darby, this is adorable! Turned out better than my first attempt! I was wondering if it is possible to use a thicker thread (like embroidery thread) with a regular machine. Do you know? I was trying to do something besides a zigzag and want a heavier line.

  • Kelly
    July 24, 2010 at 12:02 pm

    Hey Darby! I have recently come across your blog and I love it! You are such a talented girl and very inspiring! I am just learning how to sew and this applique tutorial is very exciting and I can’t wait to try. What website do you go to for clip art? I am wanting to find some good cute clip art to do on little t-shirts for my 2 boys. Any suggestions?? Thanks so much for your help!

  • Susan
    March 22, 2011 at 11:02 pm

    Nice applique! Just wanted to add a tip that I recently learned… You can take a paper coffee filter, iron it flat and use it as a tearaway stabilizer. Haven’t tried it yet, but am curious!

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  • Sheila Hendee
    August 6, 2014 at 12:42 am

    Dear Darby, I have been viewing (& admiring) both your webside & your beautiful family for MONTHS now. And although I am probably not the traditional visitor to your site………..since my children, Robert age 34 him & his wife Ashley are in the ministry @ at Christian church in Layton,UT are now grown. They have two wonderful sons, Cameron (9) & D.J. (Derek James) (5). D.J is a special needs child with autism (who LOVES trains) i am blessed with three (3) PRECIOUS GRANDCHILDRN. My daughter, Sarah has our precious Melody (who will be (8) at this months end (and loves anything girlishIi.e. fairies,princesses I am planning on ordering clothing for all of them closer to Christmas.
    I have been wondering if you would consider selling your works of art in adult sizes for both me, my husband, Craig. We have had a retail store for 30 YEARS in Colorado, in Estes Park…which is right at the base of the Rocky Mountains. There could be dozens of possibilities of what you could place on your items that would sell very WELL here. Not only for their uniqueness, but also for the amazing quality of work. It is obvious that love goes into every single piece. One type we would be MOST interested in would be shirts with matryoska dolls (aka nesting dolls) We have been selling these hand-painted works of art in our shop for the entire 30 years. They are all made in Russia. Hand-Painted of course. If this is a possibility (I HOPE & PRAY IT IS). I could send you some. Anything you create would be appreciated & I’m hopeful you might consider us. We would be immensely honered. Just contact us via my emails, my husbands, craig hendee@aol.com or by telephones B) The Golden Leaf Gallery, Inc. 970)586-2808 or H)970)586-3228 or both cell phones (Craig) 970)215-6056 or me (Sheila) 970)443-4246. Your friends in Christ, Craig & Sheila Hendee GOD BLESS YOUR WORK & YOUR FAMILY

  • Sheila Hendee
    August 6, 2014 at 12:45 am

    P.S. Darby….so sorry for the insanely long comment.