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Skillshare instructor Vida Vazquez likes to think of applique as painting with fabric. The more she appliques her own clothing, the less interested she is in wearing mass-produced clothes that aren’t totally unique to her. 

Why not liven up your wardrobe and express your creativity through this fun fabric craft? All you need are some sewing essentials and your creativity.

What Is Applique?

jean jacket
An applique denim jacket by Skillshare instructor Valda Vazquez.

Applique (pronounced ah-plee-KAY) is a sewing technique in which smaller pieces of fabric are sewn onto a larger piece of fabric—like clothing or bags—to create an image or pattern. Pictures, letters, words, and abstract designs are all possible with applique. It’s a fun and individual way of upcycling old clothing or bringing flair to a basic tee or pair of jeans. It also allows you to extend the life of older pieces of clothing and recycle scraps from other projects. You don’t need to buy a new item every time you want a new look if you learn the art of applique.

Create Environmentally Sustainable Fashion

Sewing and Upcycling: Make Your Clothing Unique Using Applique 

Materials Needed for Clothing Applique

sewing machine
A sewing machine is useful when doing applique for clothing, but not essential.

You can applique by hand with a needle and thread, or on a sewing machine if you have one. Here are the other items you’ll need:

  • An piece of clothing to work on (a newer item is fine, but one of the main attractions of applique is upcycling an old piece)
  • Sharp fabric scissors
  • Paper and pencil
  • Regular scissors for cutting paper
  • Sewing pins
  • Scrap fabric (non-stretchy)

How to Applique Clothing in 6 Steps

Step 1: Gather Inspiration

Search Pinterest for inspiration for applique for clothing.

When thinking about applique patterns for clothing, making a mood board is a good idea before you start playing with fabric. Vazquez recommends browsing Pinterest for ideas and asking yourself questions like:

  • Who are your favorite artists?
  • What colors do you like or make you happiest?
  • Which are your favorite fashion decades?
  • Which clothing brands are your favorite?
  • What in nature inspires you?

Step 2: Choose Your Materials

shirts
A plain old shirt is an ideal canvas for applique.

An ideal piece of clothing to use as a canvas for applique is something that you’ve had for a while but still fits you and is in good condition. A plain color or a simple pattern (like the striped t-shirt above) is also best as your applique design will show up better than on something that’s already busy with patterns. Avoid clothing that’s too stretchy; a regular t-shirt is fine, but skip polyester or spandex garments.

For the applique fabrics, you’ll likely find lots of options at home, from an old piece of clothing that is damaged but that you still like the pattern of, to a hand towel or piece of bed sheet. Felt is an especially good fabric as it comes in bright colors, is easy to manage, and doesn’t cost too much.

Before progressing to the next steps, iron out both your garment and the fabric pieces to get rid of any wrinkles.

Step 3: Plan Your Design

drawing shirt
Sketch ideas for applique patterns for clothing on paper first.

Sketch some ideas onto paper, referring to your mood board. This doesn’t need to be a masterpiece of fashion design! Just some basic shapes and motifs will do. Think about the placement of the applique design on the garment, and which colors you’ll use for each part of the design.

You don’t have to sew figurative pictures if you don’t want to. Abstract patterns work well, as do names and letters, especially when you’re learning to applique patterns for children’s clothing.

applique words
Applique patterns for children’s clothing with letters.

Step 4: Make Paper Templates

drawing
Draw templates on paper and cut them out.

After planning your design, create paper templates of each component of the design. These pieces should be the size you want the final pieces to be on your garment, as you’ll be using them as templates for cutting out the pieces of fabric. 

Step 5: Transfer the Design onto Fabric

cut out
Pin the paper templates onto fabric and then cut them out.

Next, pin the paper template pieces onto the applique fabric and cut them out. Lay all the pieces out onto the garment to check that you like the way they look. If you need to make any adjustments to the sizes or shapes, now is the time to do so. Once you’re happy with the pieces and their placement, pin them down.

Step 6: Sew the Applique Pieces onto the Garment

Sew the pieces onto your garment.

Sew the applique pieces onto the garment, being careful to leave a small margin around the edge. This process is faster on a sewing machine but can be done just as well by hand.

Create Environmentally Sustainable Fashion

Sewing and Upcycling: Make Your Clothing Unique Using Applique