August 29, 2008

How about a method of appliqué that gives super-accurate results, yet uses no glue, no starch, no freezer paper, no fusible web, no fusible interfacing, no vinyl or tracing paper. Just fabric, needle and thread, scissors, and a marking implement. Pretty cool, huh?

I promised awhile ago that I would write more about the back-basting, aka no-template preparation for hand appliqué. It’s really quite ingenious and is now my favorite way to work by hand. As I was stitching a Heart in Hand block today I took some pictures along the way to show how it works.

Use a reversed pattern for this method. Start by marking the reversed pattern on the back of the background fabric. I use the blue water-erasable pen. You can also use a marking pencil.

Rough-cut a hunk of the appliqué fabric that’s bigger than what you’ll need. Lay it in place on the front.

Pin the fabrics together. On the back, baste the two fabrics together with a small running stitch, exactly on the drawn line. Use a thick or fuzzy thread for this and a big honking needle. I use a size 7 cotton darner.

Baste all the way around the shape. This is what it looks like on the front.

Now trim the fabric to the shape of the motif, leaving your preferred turn-under margin outside the basting.

Clip and remove a section of basting stitches. In this freed-up area, start turning and stitching. Keep clipping and removing the basting a few stitches ahead of your appliqué. The thick needle and heavy basting thread leave behind temporary perforations that help the fabric turn along the stitching line. I use a size 10 milliner needle and DMC 50-weight cotton machine embroidery thread for appliqué,

Continue all the way around. Don’t press the block yet.

Hmm, not bad. A benefit of this method is that you can flip the block over to see how you’re doing. The marking serves as a built-in stitching guide!

Repeat the same process for the heart.

Once the block is completed, remove the markings from the back. I dip a Q-tip in water and stroke it along the lines. Let the block air-dry and check to make sure none of the blue has reappeared. (If so, just wet it again.)

After all the marks are gone and the block has air-dried, give it a quick press. All done!

I have really come to love this method, since it gets me on the sofa stitching a lot quicker instead of fiddling around with freezer paper templates at the ironing board. I hope you enjoy it too. Like anything new, it takes practice, so give it a whirl and then another. If you’re stalling because you don’t have the right needle or the perfect thread, well then there’s a kit available over at Quilt Puppy that has pattern, instructions, fabrics, both needles, and both threads all in it, to give you a jump start on becoming introduced to the method.

Until next time,
Quilt Puppy Publications & Designs


28 Responses to “Back-basting hand appliqué”

  1. betsye on August 29th, 2008 5:26 pm

    Wow! Can’t wait to give this a try!

  2. admin on August 29th, 2008 6:37 pm

    betsye, let us know how it goes!

    Thanks! Kay

  3. Sunnie on September 2nd, 2008 6:17 am

    I’ve used the blue wash-out pen for years and it’s great…but I would still want to rinse the entire block in plain, cool water to be sure all the ink is gone.
    This is a wonderful technique for applique.

    Congrats on the book…will be watching for it’s release!!!

  4. admin on September 2nd, 2008 6:31 am

    Sunnie, thanks so much for that advice. For me, sometimes it all goes away the first time. Others, I’m chasing blue as it migrates outwards and reappears later. Dunking the whole block would probably be faster, not to mention surer :).

    Thanks for your nice words about my book.


  5. Margaret on September 4th, 2008 4:19 pm

    Thanks for a new way of needleturn applique. I have struggled with it for ages and usually do buttonhole applique. Will certainly be trying your method.
    Margaret in OZ

  6. belinda on September 23rd, 2008 7:55 am

    This looks like a great technique! I have recently done some applique and I really like it. I have a project right now I’m considering appliqueing pumpkins onto. So you just push the fabric under and up to your stitch line..right? I will go try a practice piece. I also started hand quilting as well…people say I’m crazy with all the machine quilters available…but..I kinda like the dip and dot affect of hand quilting. Thanks for sharing all your ideas with the masses!

  7. Kay on September 23rd, 2008 8:01 am

    Hey belinda!

    Okay so back-basting is actually a way of prepping for hand appliqué. The actual stitching is a whole ‘nother ball of wax. There are tips and tricks for getting smooth curves, pointy points, and sharp notches. Try clicking on some of the categories here for some more information on stitching.

    Welcome to appliqué! And don’t listen to those folks who say hand-quilting is crazy. That is such a turnaround from just a few years ago. Do what you love.


  8. Gloria McCullough on February 23rd, 2009 6:26 am

    I purchased your book to learn more about back-basting. I had heard of it but never tried it until I saw your tutorial and now I love it. I have a question. Many patterns do not supply a placement pattern, only the templates to trace. How do you create the placement pattern in that case? I have thought of photocopying (or tracing) the templates, cutting them out, and creating a placement pattern by gluing them to a sheet of paper in what seems to be the correct placement. Even if it wasn’t exactly like the original, at least each of your blocks would be consistant using the pattern you created. As a second (but more complicated) method, you could place the template page over a light box and move it around to be able to trace each template in the proper placement. I am sure you must have an easier way.



  9. Kay on February 23rd, 2009 6:47 am

    Hi Gloria! I just replied to your comment over on the Quilt Puppy Show & Tell Center and my thought was just as you describe in strategy #1, creating your own master pattern from the shapes.

    I can’t think of an easier way! I always provide a master pattern for my appliqué designs and I consider it pretty crucial!

    HTH, glad you’re loving the back-basting,

  10. Joan on June 27th, 2009 8:25 am


    I started back-basting this year and love the technique. Any ideas on doing it on a black background? Do you know of a good marking pencil that won’t rub off before the work is completed?


  11. Kay on June 27th, 2009 8:31 am

    Hi Joan! So glad you’ve found back-basting. What I recommend in my book for dark backgrounds is to use tailor’s wax-free tracing paper and a tracing wheel or stylus to transfer the pattern to the wrong side of the background fabric. Give it a whirl and let us know how it goes for you!


  12. Jennifer on July 6th, 2009 12:33 am

    Hello Kay,
    I had never heard of Back Basting until it was mentioned as a discussion topic on Downunderbaltimoreladies so I’m glad now to know how to do it.I have been converted to needleturn for several years now, thanks to Dianne Johnston from Queensland but will try this out and see how I go. many thanks, jennifer in cold, miserable Christchurch NZ

  13. kathy murry on October 24th, 2009 9:07 am

    I’ve used this method for some time now and I mark the shapes on the back with just a plain mechanical pencil. It doesn’t show through and doesn’t need to be removed before you can press it, and makes a nice crisp precise line.

  14. betsy on December 19th, 2009 4:31 am

    this is great. I am going to try this on my next applique quilt

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  17. dee fox on October 29th, 2010 5:16 pm

    You are my hero , I have been delaying starting a applique project, mainly due to lack of patiences, I have none! Yes I know you are wondering how I became a quilter w/ no patiences? Simple I don’t follow patterns, I make my own as I go usually. But I fell in love w/ baltimore quilts and would love to give applique a honest try and your method is going to help alot. thank-you so much.

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  19. Victoria on March 5th, 2011 7:43 am

    Kay, I’ve read aabout this numerous times, but this is the first time it’s made sense. Thanks! (And yes, I am an experienced, advanced appliquer.) I do BAQs and realistic flower quilts, most of which are queen or king sized.
    This will make my work so much easier.
    Definately you are the hero!!!
    Thank you again. V

  20. Kay on March 7th, 2011 12:06 pm

    Dee and Victoria, you are so welcome! Glad you found the information helpful.

    :) Kay

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  22. Barbara Niemann on July 13th, 2011 6:46 am

    I’ve been appliqueing for years, have heard of this method but never tried it before. It is wonderful! No more hassle, no more tracing, no more freezer paper! I’ll never do it any other way. Thank you so much!!!

  23. Kay on July 13th, 2011 7:21 am

    I’m with you sister!! Welcome to back-basting, Barbara.

  24. Michelle on August 3rd, 2012 4:44 am

    Hi and thank you for this tutorial – I am new to needle turn and think I will give back basting a go. One question – what do you do if you get a few layers of fabric building up? Is there any way you can trim excess so quilting is still easy to do?

    Any help much appreciated for the nooby :)
    Christchurch, NZ

  25. admin on August 8th, 2012 7:13 am

    Hi Michelle! Back-basting is based on the premise that the background fabric will still be there throughout the appliquéing of the block, so that you can use the drawn lines as guides. If you’re machine quilting, then extra layers are not an issue. For hand quilting, what I do is quilt as well as I can through the thicker parts… usually I can manage it if I go slowly, and sometimes I won’t even worry about going through all the layers, as long as there’s enough other quilting in the project.

    Cheers, K.

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