How I Machine Quilt Hand Applique



One of the questions I am asked most often by my students is if I trapunto my applique.  The reason this always comes up in class is because my applique looks as though it has a firm ‘stuffed’ appearance.  The answer is no, I do not trapunto the applique and the look lies in the way I machine quilt my quilts.  Through experience machine quilting complex hand applique quilts, I have learned how to achieve the look I prefer and what I think really accentuates the applique and puts it in its best textural light.

I will illustrate the general idea with the photos, but it is much better demonstrated in person obviously.

First off I use a wool batting.  Ever since Diane Gaudynski recommended wool batting to domestic machine quilting and longarm enthusiasts, I have used it.  She was so right about how wonderfully “fluffy” it is and how well it enhances the machine quilting.  As a bonus, it is also perfect for enhancing hand applique too.  There are many brands now which include Matilda’s, Quilter’s Dream Wool, Hobb’s, etc., 



I should back up and add an important point.  I am speaking of intricate layered applique here, which means the largest area of any one applique piece is usually no larger than 1.5″-2.0″ across in more than one direction. 

I do not quilt around the applique prior to the background fill step.  This tends to flatten out the applique and then eliminates that all important ‘poof’ that builds up and fills behind the applique piece.  This ‘poof’ that forms during the background fill process will then get worked into the background fill area instead of behind the applique robbing the applique of that stuffed effect.  Like I said, better demonstrated in person. 



I background fill up to the edges of my applique pieces and then hug the outside edges of the applique with some outline quilting.  This pushes and traps that ‘poof’ under the applique area giving it that raised, trapunto-like effect.  Filling firmly the area behind the applique.




After all of the quilting has been done, I go back into the interior of the layered applique pieces and with Superior’s MonoPoly thread, quilting around the individual layered edges of the applique.  This creates an even firmer effect and removes any “droop” (think applique belly fat) and/or tension wrinkling from the applique. 

As with everything, there is a no size fits all.  I thought I would share the technique I use with my applique since this is a question I get a lot.  Now back to quilting my quilt…….




all content ©2009 Sandra Leichner all rights reserved

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

About Sandra

I am an Author, Designer, Illustrator and a major international award winning quilt artisan. I love working with fabrics and threads and they have become my medium of choice.

20 thoughts on “How I Machine Quilt Hand Applique

  1. I would have never thought of that ! Thanks ! I do need to get some wool batt too 🙂
    It is amazing how that puffs !!!!

  2. Thanks very much for the instruction! I had been doing it the other way around, too (outlining, then background fill). Are you pleased with the way Superior’s MonoPoly behaves? Do you have to do a fair amount of machine adjustment with that thread?

    Awesome blog!

  3. Thanks so much for the great tutorial. I would never have done it this way but I’m looking forward to trying it. I haven’t tried the wool batting yet either but it’s on my list of “things to get”.

  4. The wool batting not only makes the quilting look better but it has a better drape as well even when you quilt it within an inch of its life. There are so many positives to using the wool batts. Another great bonus? The edges aren’t distorted out of shape so bad after the quilting is done so squaring up is minimal if at all! The little extra price is worth it.

  5. I stumbled on to this after doing the reverse one time. Just keep in mind the size of your applique. If it is a large piece, you may have to outline stitch BEFORE the background fill. Smaller applique pieces, i.e., Baltimore Album, works best with this. 🙂

  6. It is like bread baking in the oven! Also if you are someone who cuts away from the back of your applique (I don’t recommend but some do) it will help to fill in that ‘divet’ you create in doing so.

  7. You should see the shocked faces when I reply to this question to a room full of appliquers on how I do this. I can actually see the moment the light bulb turns on! Then the smiles. I love it. 🙂

  8. At a quilt show I attended recently (a small, local show) I noticed many quilts that I wondered why they would go to all the work of hand applique and then machine quilt it, when it didn’t seem to enhance the applique at all. (And I’m not a handwork snob, I’ve hand pieced and machine quilted projects.) The applique work seemed to literally fall flat.

    But YOUR work, now that’s a different story. I’ve sent this link to at least a half dozen friends and have posted the link in my blog. Terrific stuff!

  9. I treat the embroidery elements exactly as though they are applique elements. I hug the edges of the embroidery and outline as I do the background fill. You have to go slow and also keep an eye out that your open toe foot doesn’t catch the embroidery while you are quilting. Raising the presser foot pressure helps there too as in the bead post I wrote. I will try and take some photos and do a post on that in the near future.

  10. when you did that yellow embroidery on this piece, did you do it after the quilt was sandwiched ? going thru all the layers? Is that why it looks a bit puffy already ? or is that from the applique ?

    It is hard to tell in the picture what is making it look puffed up even before you have quilted it .

  11. The embroidery is done BEFORE quilting and after I do the applique. In this case, each layer of the ‘frosting’ was appliqued and then I did the embroidery detail (the gold between each layer of the frosting). This is done to the top as I complete the applique.

    When I machine quilt, this is where I will go in after all of the main quilting (motifs and background fill) are done and then I would (for example this frosting) and outline each layer of the frosting with the MonoPoly invisible thread quilting. I try not to quilt over the top of the embroidery, but if I do here and there, no biggie, the thread is invisible! 🙂

    In this picture, I have yet to go in and do that final interior applique quilting around each layer of frosting etc., with the MonoPoly. I still have another border to quilt yet before I can go in and do the applique detail quilting.

    Did that make sense Boop?

  12. addendum to Boop:

    It is also looking a bit poofed (in the before pic) because I have background filled up to it as well shoving some poof into it. But notice how wrinkly it is? The outline quilting will tighten it all up behind it.

  13. That’s what order I thought you did , Sandy . It just looked different in the picture I think. The frosting looks great BTW !!! 🙂

    I can’t wait to see this done !!!

  14. In the brands of invisible thread I have used for quilting, the results appear sort of shiny to me. Is Superior MonoPoly the same?

  15. Holly,

    Not as much as the others I have used, but yes, there can be a shine. However, the stitching line (quilting) usually gets buried within the indentation from the poofing of the applique and rarely shows. Did that make sense?

    With intricate applique, I have found no other way to “match” the thread to all of the colors within the layered applique elements. Remember you have to adjust your approach from the common large applique, such as most designs in magazines and commericial patterns with maybe one overlap, to applique elements that may be made up of several pieces that could change colors several times within a half an inch of each other.

    The shine that could appear here and there is much less obvious than several pileups of stops and starts of various colored threads within the applique.

    The added bonus of the MonoPoly for me is it withstands the iron and doesn’t melt or turn brittle. So for now this is my best option. But I do wish there was an invisible thread that didn’t shine.

Comments are closed.