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What is Appliqué?

Mary McMahon
By
Updated Jan 31, 2024
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Appliqué is a crafting technique in which pieces of material are mounted to another base material. It is often used in quilting to create bright and distinctive designs, and it may also be used to dress up clothing, or make unusual placemats and potholders. This is a very old art form, and examples that are hundreds of years old can be seen in museums all over the world. It is also a craft that is very easy to learn, although it can take a long time to become a master of the art.

The word comes from the French appliquer, which means “to apply.” To create appliqué, artists start with a base, which may consist of a solid piece of fabric or many pieces sewn together, as in the case of a quilt. Shapes are cut from other textiles and sewn or glued onto the base; it is also possible to make it with ribbons, cords, sequins, beads, and other materials. Depending on whether the design is ornamental or functional, the applied material may be firmly attached or more loosely glued or sewn.

Embroidery may also be used in appliqué, sometimes to attach the pieces being mounted and sometimes as a supplement to the design, to create more texture and a more distinctive pattern. Many Latin American artworks are also embroidered, for example, and they may also include multiple layers of material for a more lush, textural design. Ornate handmade items can be very expensive, because of the immense amount of time involved.

In addition to traditional textiles, some crafters also make reverse appliqué. In this case, layers of fabric are sewn together and the top layers are cut away, so that the lower layers show through. This technique may be combined with regular methods to make it more dynamic, and it is very common in quilting. The borders may be embroidered for additional emphasis or tucked under and sewn in with matching thread for a more seamless look.

It is possible to do this craft with a sewing machine, in addition to making it by hand. Other crafters use fusible binding or glue, eschewing sewing altogether unless the sewing is in the form of decorative embroidery. Some crafters also like to play with paper in addition to textiles, and in some cases, a paper mockup of a textile design may be made before embarking on the final project. Paperwork appliqué can also be an interesting and fun project for young crafters, as long as their use of the scissors is supervised.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGeek researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon975210 — On Oct 25, 2014

I would just like to say this is not detailed and I would love more. But all in all, it's very interesting and I love it. Thank you for spreading this knowledge. --Happy person

By anon155300 — On Feb 23, 2011

I sort of get it now, better than most websites at explaining at least.

By anon124799 — On Nov 07, 2010

I had to write an essay on applique for my textiles homework and i sort of get it now but I'm still a bit confusing.

By anon117402 — On Oct 10, 2010

this is an amazing thing, i hate textiles and we also had to write out an essay which is totally boring but hopefully i will get a good mark, plus this totally explains how to do applique!

By anon82177 — On May 04, 2010

how do you do applique?

By anon80755 — On Apr 28, 2010

I had a textile essay to write about how i am going to design my applique work, and at first, i was confused as i didn't know how to explain it. However, i could design it, but not explain it by words. I had no option but to copy and paste so I did and my teacher did not know so i got an A*!

I love you guys! Mwah!

By anon79984 — On Apr 25, 2010

Totally clear and understandable.

By anon64989 — On Feb 10, 2010

i still don't get what applique is?

By anon23881 — On Jan 04, 2009

This article is really good! It helped me understand what applique is! Thank you!!

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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