July 8, 2009

I wrote this article awhile ago. I couldn’t get a magazine interested in it, so
I publish it for you here, because I think it’s quite an interesting proposition. This was before I learned back-basting.

Hand vs. Machine Appliqué: A Timed Experiment
by Kay Mackenzie

For quite a long time I was a hand appliquér only. But when I started designing appliqué patterns for publication, I turned to machine appliqué as a speedier way of creating second and third examples of the designs. After all, machine appliqué is a lot faster, right?

Somewhere along the way I became curious about how much time I was actually saving. I decided to conduct a personal timed study to compare a hand method and a machine method. I used a block from A Spin in the Garden, a pattern I was designing.

The spinning vine block in the middle
is the one I used.

I’ll begin by briefly describing the two methods I compared:

Traditional needle-turn using bias tape maker, freezer-paper templates, and a tracing-paper placement overlay.
Raw edge, small machine blanket stitch using paper-backed fusible web and a tracing-paper placement overlay.

I used the same block and the same fabrics for both methods. I did not time the initial steps that were common to both methods, including selecting fabrics, cutting background squares, finding my glasses, gathering all materials, supplies, and notions, numbering the shapes in placement sequence, and assigning the colors on the pattern.

After organizing my thoughts and the projects, I set to work, watching the clock and recording the time for each step. I did one method all the way through, then the other. Here are my results.

HAND Minutes MACHINE Minutes
Trace pattern quickly onto tracing paper to make placement overlay. 2 Trace pattern carefully onto tracing paper with a heavy marker to make placement overlay, also serves as reversed pattern. 5
Using front of pattern, trace a freezer-paper template for each shape except vine. Cut out templates precisely on drawn lines. 8 Using reversed pattern, trace a fusible-web template for each shape, including vine. Cut out templates roughly outside drawn lines. Cut away centers of flower and leaf templates. 14
Iron templates onto right side of assigned fabrics. 4 Iron templates onto wrong side of assigned fabrics. 7
Cut out shapes, leaving a turn-under margin outside template. Clip notches. 6 Cut out shapes on drawn line. 8
Make vine using bias tape maker. Apply thin strip of fusible to back of vine. Trace vine placement onto background fabric. 6
Clean and oil sewing machine, change presser foot, insert new needle. Wind bobbin for each thread color. Adjust blanket-stitch setting, test stitching. 8
Fuse vine in place. Stitch vine. Then, one shape at a time, using placement overlay, remove templates and place, baste, stitch using thread to match each shape. 160 All at once, using placement overlay, remove paper backing and place, fuse, stitch using thread to match each shape (all of one color is stitched before changing thread). Pull thread tails to the back, knot, and bury. 91
TOTAL 3 hours 6 min 2 hours 13 min





Click either block for a close-up.

It was interesting to note that the pre-stitching phase took longer for machine appliqué than for hand appliqué. Cutting out the centers of the fusible web templates is not applicable for freezer-paper templates, and ironing time for fusible web templates is longer than for freezer-paper templates. For hand appliqué, I didn’t need to set up my machine, and I could trace the overlay quickly and with less care, since it was for placement purposes only.

The time savings for machine appliqué showed up in the last stage, where the shapes were placed, secured, and stitched. The grand total difference in time represented about a 30% overall time savings for machine appliqué.

There’s a lot to think about when looking at these time results. You may be faster or slower at any of these steps than I am. There are many ways to appliqué, and you may use differing techniques that are slower or faster within either hand or machine methods.

Also worth noting is that when I first took up machine appliqué, I don’t think I saved any time at all, because I made a lot of mistakes. Forgetting to reverse the pattern, neglecting to remove the centers of the templates, having the fusible come apart from the paper backing before I had a chance to use it, fusing to the right side of the fabric (force of habit from hand appliqué), and probably a few other embarrassing ways to get things wrong — mistakes in machine appliqué are not a time saver! Now I am comfortable and practiced at both methods, and the times noted in this experiment refer to a “clean run.”

Time, of course, is not the only factor for choosing one method over another. Personal enjoyment, skill level, preference for appearance, portability, appropriateness for the chosen project, type of sewing machine, these things and more can come into play when choosing an appliqué method.

I’m so glad I decided to conduct this personal timed study. Now I have learned that when either method is equally appropriate for my project, and time is the deciding factor, I’ll be saving almost a third by using machine appliqué.

-the end-

I’d love to hear what you think about this! Did I save as much time as you thought I would?

Quilt Puppy Publications & Designs


16 Responses to “Hand vs. Machine Appliqué: A Timed Experiment”

  1. Robin Gold on July 8th, 2009 9:22 am

    Hi Kay,
    Wow — very interesting! Thank you for posting it. I much prefer hand applique, but there are times I wonder whether I could get a lot more done if I used a machine, so this is really helpful to think about.

  2. Alba on July 8th, 2009 3:17 pm

    That’s a really interesting experiment. I was bit surprised that there wasn’t more of a difference between the two methods. I too prefer hand-working and although I plan to try machine applique, the benefits of being portable outweighs the small time advantage of machine work.

  3. Mary on Lake Pulaski on July 8th, 2009 6:52 pm

    Great information Kay! I’m sure it can vary a lot person to person, but this is a consideration to make.

  4. Penny on July 9th, 2009 1:32 am

    Thank you, Kay, for doing exactly what I’ve been wondering for some time now :) I do needleturn applique and machine applique – I also sometimes do pre-prep of applique pieces as for machine stitching but instead I hand stitch them – I’ve often wondered what exactly takes more time; but really I think I’ve come to enjoy the look of both styles of applique and will use one or the other depending on style.

  5. Maria Hrabovsky on July 9th, 2009 5:48 am

    What an interesting article, Kay!

    I am very surprised that it wasn’t accepted by a magazine. They missed out on article that would have interested most quilters.

    I enjoy hand work but tend to applique by machine because of time limits. However, I rarely use the fusible method because of sensitivities. I trace my pattern and sew from the back the way we do for paper piecing, then trim the fabric and when all is done, use a decorative or satin stitch to cover the raw edges and the stitching lines.

    Now we need a test like yours to see whether it or fusing is faster. :-)

    Thank you for such an enjoyable and informative read!


  6. annie smith on July 9th, 2009 6:19 pm

    Thanks for article, Kay! It was very insightful and interesting.

    Hope you’re having a great summer!!

  7. Lindi on July 9th, 2009 8:28 pm

    Kay, I found this very interesting and surprising. I thought the machine would be much faster. I think I might try the machine if I’m doing something with really big pieces, but for smaller pieces I’ll stick with the handwork. Thanks for sharing.

  8. Victoria M on July 17th, 2009 12:43 pm

    Your article is SO interesting. I used to hand applique, but now do machine applique exclusively because I think it’s faster. Sometimes, however, it seems to take longer than I think it should, so I have been wondering just exactly how much faster it is than the hand work. I was pleased to read of your 30% time difference. I wasn’t surprised that the difference wasn’t greater. I’d never thought about the set-up time differences, but that makes sense. I do find that it takes me quite a while to stitch patterns with lots of small pieces. I’ve been using a satin stitch but now think I’ll change to a zigzag or to a buttonhole stitch since I recently bought a new and better sewing machine.

    Thanks so much for your insightful article.

  9. Patricia Strelitz on August 4th, 2009 1:24 pm

    I am very interested in your article as I have been browsing sites for info on machine applique. Your article has given me hope that with some practise I will perhaps be able to create some nice work. Why I want to try machine applique is because I want to satin stitch around letters and numbers for a baby’s quilt – as I think this is the best way to make sure they do not come off or fray when washed.

  10. Kay on August 4th, 2009 1:38 pm

    Go for it Patricia!!


  11. Eileen Keane on August 7th, 2009 10:32 am

    Thank you for the great article! I’m all over the map when it comes to applique. I’d like to try machine, but I like the portability of hand work.
    How does one decide what the project calls for? Hand or machine applique?

  12. Patty Jacobsen on August 11th, 2009 5:51 am

    Thank you for the wonderful article. I am very new to quilting and never have done any applique. I am making a baby quilt and have sewed interfacing to each applique and did not realize that I should remove the interface. I am wondering if I could hand sew some of the appliques that are more difficult (like a duck, teddy bear and flower) and machine applique the easier shapes, (heart, star). is it ok to mix methods? Thanks, Patty

  13. Kay on August 11th, 2009 10:27 am

    Hi Patty! This article refers to fusible web, not fusible interfacing. I did a photo tutorial on fusible-interfacing appliqué over on my Show & Tell Center that you might find of interest. Here’s the link:


    Sure it’s okay to mix methods! That is, depending on the intended use of the quilt. If you’re doing a masterpiece hand appliqué piece that’s going into judged shows, then probably not so much. For your own pleasure or for a baby quilt, why not? You will not be hauled away to jail by the appliqué police. However, my own thinking would be to hand appliqué the easier shapes and machine appliqué the more difficult ones if you’re going to do both.

    Whatever you decide to do, learn a few different methods and put them in your bag of tricks. Then pull out the one you like the most or suits your project best!


  14. Joanna on November 13th, 2010 7:12 am

    What a fascinating experiment! I have always wondered about this, and now I don’t have to do my own experiment because you’ve already done it! I think the extra time for the hand applique is well worth it – it looks so much nicer than the machine applique. Plus, in my case, with 3 kids running around, it’s easier to pick up and put down hand applique at a moment’s notice.

    Thanks for the experiment!

  15. Vivian on June 6th, 2011 3:53 am

    I am so glad you posted this! I am new to hand applique and am really starting to love it but had done machine applique up until now because I thought it was faster and easier. I usually do my machine applique with the same prepared edges I use for hand applique (and use invisible thread for a hand look) so my time values maybe a little different.

    I think your assessment is true to the fact that machine saves time in the stitching department but the prep time is less for hand (depending on the methods you stitch with). I also find that I limit using machine for simpler shapes — designs with intricate curves are far more easily accomplished using hand methods.

    Really gives me something to think about when planning future projects!

  16. Kerryn on October 29th, 2013 3:08 pm

    l am so glad that you posted this and even more so that l found it. I am looking at starting to appligue and wasn’t sure if l wanted to do this by hand (which l would of thought was slower) but my preferred method or by machine which l thought would have been quicker. Now l know which way l will do it which is also more portable.

    Many thanks for this article