April 27, 2011

Thanks everybody for the great suggestions for appliqué topics! I’ve got ’em all down on my list.

I love this from Sharon Decker!

I spent years not doing the “A” word. Why, because I didn’t realize there was more than one method. Once I learned backbasting, I became a convert. I now tell people who are either afraid of applique or haven’t even tried it that they just need to find the method that works for them. “One size does not fit all.” I don’t think people really understand how many methods there are and they just need encouragement to find what works for them.

Right on sister! You’re preaching to the choir!

Most of the questions were about hand appliqué, in fact a whopping 76%!

The easiest way to start is with things I’ve already written about. (Reminder, there are a bunch of categories in the left-hand sidebar. Click on any one of them and it’ll bring up anything that’s been posted having to do with that topic.)

MaryB wrote:

“I would like to know more about back basting. Right now I use glue basting but some times it’s not always convenient to take glue with you.”

Back in August 2008 I posted a photo tutorial of back-basting. Instead of just linking to it, I thought I’d repeat it here, adding in a few new comments in blue to address some of the back-basting questions.


Back-Basting Photo tutorial

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?

Clairellen wrote:

“I must be missing something, as I am hearing such wonderful things about back-basting applique, and how it converts you forever from previous methods, but when I tried it (twice so far), it seemed bulky and hard to handle. So a detailed photo-enhanced tutorial would be terrific.”

No glue, no starch, no freezer paper, no fusibles, no overlays, just fabric and thread… what could be less bulky? I hope the following visuals will help you refine your strategies. Give it another whirl!

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.


Kat wrote:

“Backbasting…I have heard such wonderful things about it but I find that when I clip the basting thread and it is suppose to turn under so beautifully, my holes just disappear and I am left trying to figure out where to turn under! It seems that I can’t get the fabric to behave…like a stubborn child. I don’t find my points nearly as neat as with other methods…. it would be easier to do back basting if I could see what I was doing!”

Kat, is it possible that you’re removing the basting too far ahead of where you’re stitching? Try taking out the least amount of basting possible each time. And, the more you practice, the more you know how much to turn under. You’ll develop an appliquér’s sense of it. Also, here’s a tip… I can’t remember where I saw this, but I did see someone suggest that you could run a chalk marker over the basting stitches before starting to sew. That way, when the basting stitches are removed, there’s a dotted line left on the turn line. Lastly, see the next point in the tutorial. :)

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.


Christy B. wrote:

“I would like to know more about back-basting curves. I love the method for vines and leaves, but have a lot of trouble getting smooth curves for rose petals, etc.”

Christy, back-basting is actually a preparation method. The ‘smooth curves’ aspect comes along in the stitching part, which is just like traditional needle-turn. The culprit in chunky curves is the turning allowance and how it’s acting underneath the appliqué edge once it’s turned. First, make sure your turning allowance is not too wide. A quarter of an inch is actually too much. Trim to about 3/16″ of an inch, and distribute the bulk of the turning allowance smoothly underneath as you stitch. Make sure it’s not pleated up on itself under there.

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!


FYI, back-basting is written up and illustrated in my books Teapots 2 to Appliqué, Easy Appliqué Blocks, and Inspired by Tradition, all available at Amazon and my website, By Kay Mackenzie.

Until next time,
By Kay Mackenzie


14 Responses to “Back-basting redux”

  1. Barb Rohrmayr on April 27th, 2011 10:23 am

    I,too, have tried back basting and become frustrated. I kept losing the turn line. I appreciate your suggestion of a chalk line to keep track of the mysterious stitch line and cutting a tinier seam allowance. Thanks for all the help you give us.

  2. Betsy on April 27th, 2011 1:05 pm

    Kay, thanks to you this has been the only way I applique since i read your technique last summer.

  3. Christy B. on April 28th, 2011 1:54 am

    Thank you, Kay! It’s 3:00 in the morning, and I’m so anxious to try curves again that I think I might do so right now! lol Very helpful post. I appreciate it!

  4. MaryB on April 28th, 2011 1:06 pm

    Thanks for responding to our questions. I have a wedding in Florida this weekend (Yeah)and when I get back I’m going to try this right away.

  5. Donna on April 29th, 2011 4:31 am

    Now THIS has me excited! Beautifully done tutorial – thanks you so much!

  6. BetsyE on April 29th, 2011 7:41 am

    I just learned backbasting a few months ago, and totally love it! To those that say they lose the line, I find that it really helps if my fabrics are prewashed, and if I’m using a large enough needle & thread, so the holes are very definite. Thanks Kay for sharing! I actually like applique now!

  7. Tamara on May 2nd, 2011 5:31 am

    Thank you for the great advice…

  8. jil on May 5th, 2011 8:20 pm

    Immaculate applique!! I’d love to achieve results like that, thanks for taking the time to share. Much appreciated.

  9. Eileen Keane on June 6th, 2011 5:51 pm

    What weight thread do you recommend for back basting?
    Thank you

  10. Kay on June 6th, 2011 6:14 pm

    Hi Eileen! Whatever thick or fuzzy thread you might have around. You can also use hand quilting thread. I’ve used that Star thread on the big spools and also Silk Finish, which is a three-ply thread.

  11. Cynthia Ayers on June 9th, 2011 7:27 pm

    Hi Kay,
    I met you in the hallway at schoolhouse in Salt Lake and you gave me a postcard with your new book on it. I ordered the book for my store but sold it before I really had a chance to look at it. Another copy is on the way. (One at a time in our little bitty town’s quilt shop) I am going on a road trip tomorrow so I will take some backbasting with me to try. Can’t wait to get to it. I enjoy other methods of applique but hate the prep work. Thanks for the great tutorial!

  12. Kay on June 9th, 2011 7:33 pm

    Hi Cynthia! Thank you so much for ordering the book for your shop! That’s very cool. Let us know how you do with back-basting.

  13. Smooth curves : All About Applique on July 20th, 2011 11:45 am

    […] wrote a little bit about this in the Back Basting Redux post. I’ll repeat that bit […]

  14. Lynne on September 18th, 2011 3:40 pm

    A friend put me on to the idea of doing your back basteing stitch on the sewing machine. I find that the holes created by the sewing machine needle are much easier to see and there is almost a fold formed to be turned under. Works a treat for me.