Vinyl Overlay: Looking Over My Shoulder

There were many questions over the vinyl overlay method so I thought I would break it down step by step as I was working.  Hopefully it will seem as though you are looking over my shoulder as I work.


I am ready to add more pieces to applique.  If you look at where I have marked the photo,  I will line up my vinyl overlay’s horizontal and vertical marks to these marks on my background.  Originally I folded the background fabric into quarters; Then I mark outside of the block’s finished borders with a pencil ‘hash’ mark indicated by the circles.  They failed to show up well enough in this photo.


I have placed the vinyl overlay over the background now.  I will start lining it up with the background fabric by first matching the center marks and pin.


I will continue to line up by matching the outside horizontal hash marks and pin on each side.  I am also checking that the horizontal placement lines on my overlay follow the fold marks on my background fabric.


Now I will do the same for the vertical placement marks.



Because this is a smaller design, I will also pin the corners.


I will also add extra pins within areas of the overlay for added security for when I remove pins later to place applique pieces. I will add more than these, but you get the idea. 


Now I am ready to start placing my applique pieces in the appropriate position.  I have marked around my templates and cut my seam allowance.  I keep the freezer paper on until the last moment so I know what number it is and I don’t get confused.  I will peel the template off before I place it under the overlay.


Now I will un-pin a section of the overlay (this is why I added more securing pins) and slip my piece under the overlay and position.  I use a six inch (15.24cm) long and very thin skewer to move my pieces into position under the overlay.  It is much harder to do if I use my hands and fingers.  They are too clumsy.  The skewer makes it a breeze and provides easy and accurate placement. 


Once the piece is aligned properly under the overlay, I peel back the unpinned portion and GENTLY with a feather touch of my fingertips so I do not shift the piece, pin it down to the background.


 The piece is now pinned in place securely.


Next I lay my overlay back over and re-check the placement with my hash marks lined up again.  If all looks good, I move on to the next piece.  If not, I will un-pin and adjust the position.


 I have adjusted my overlay securing pins again so I can peel back this portion of my overlay to place and pin the next applique piece.


 Once again, check that after pinning, the piece lines up correctly.


 Once my pieces for this round are pinned in place, I can remove the overlay and start stitching. When these pieces are finished being stitched down, I will prepare the next set of pieces (that I can stitch without problems) and go back to my overlay and go through the same steps.

My blog host server has had some major downloading issues, especially today.  It only has taken me six hours to create this post.  Ask me if I am grumpy.


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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.

49 thoughts on “Vinyl Overlay: Looking Over My Shoulder

  1. Thank you for taking the time and effort to show us this technique. I really appreciate it.

  2. I’ve used this method for years and find it to be so much simpler and more accurate than all the other methods I’ve tried. I’m always happy to see other people using it.

    I just discovered you a coupel of weeks ago and love your work… really, LOVE it.

  3. I am learning so much from you! I recently purchased some of your patterns and have started picking the fabric for the first one, or two–well I love them all! These tips are fantastic!

  4. Thank you for the tutorial. I think one of my major problems is I over cut on my appliques and then they don’t match the original, I need to watch my seam lines.


  5. Sandra – thank you so very much for the detailed explanation. I am a visual learner and this was just perfect. I truly appreciate the time and effort you have put into creating this tutorial.

  6. wow, Sandra, this post required a lot of work on your part… THANKS. Very clear information. When are you going to make that DVD??? 🙂

  7. I really like this method! I wish I had started with the vinyl overlay with a quilt that I’m making as I’ve made a couple of mistakes with fabric not being cut quite right. I’m going to make it now so I avoid more mistakes! Thanks for all of the great photos and explanation.
    Laura T

  8. Sandra thank you for explaining how you do this, your time and effort is appreciated. Your work is absolutely stunning, the detail is incredible. I only wish I could purchase your patterns, do you have any plans to make them available to those of us outside the USA and Canada?

    Angela in Australia

  9. Thank you so much for another wonderful lesson. I also use an overlay but always had trouble matching up. That was my biggest problem. Now instead of being frustrated I will use that skewer ( which I use for piecing).

  10. Sandra,
    As always, your blogs are so helpful. I’m sorry it was such a stuggle from the technology end. I’ve used this method but I haven’t used as many pins to keep the overlay in place and as a result I don’t always have perfect placement of pieces. With these suggestions I think I’m going to have a much better result. Thank you SO much for your willingness to share.

  11. So, I am cranky at your website too – would not load up sometimes yesterday – just so you know – not like I am at work and shouldn’t be there anyway….. And you have talked this backbaster into giving the vinyl another try on the goldfinch block.
    Thanks for the details.

  12. Thank you for the detailed lesson. You really are a fantastic teacher, we are so lucky that you take the time and effort to share and encourage the love of hand applique and embroidery.

  13. Thanks for taking the time to show us your method. I have used the vinyl overlay method, but not for anything super small. I am going to start the wren block and this should help me get the placement correct. I especially like the skewer idea. I can see that helping in so many ways.

  14. Okay miss grumpy stitcher …. THANK YOU for the detail … I would never have thought of using so many pins to hold down the applique piece before stitching … and I also thank you for the “visual” lesson. Yeah, I agree … you do need to make a DVD … you are a gifted teacher ; I can’t travel to California to take your class but this blog has been so encouraging that I went out yesterday and purchased some “former furniture plastic cover-up” LOL … hope I have as much success as you do using this method. I’m looking forward to starting your little Wren Block, he’s so cute. So again, go take a break from the technology side of this and enjoy a cup of tea from appreciated fans.

  15. Sorry Sandra, entirely self-taught ‘newbee’ question alert: when you buy your vinyl, how do you store it so it doesn’t get funky fold marks/kinks in it? I think that was one reason I abandoned my only attempt to use the stuff. I got it home and couldn’t quash it back flat. When you use applique pins, do you have trouble with your thread getting caught on them when you’re stitching? I failed miserably at trying to figure out what that really awesome ‘branch’ fabric is. These pictures show that green with the brown and it’s beautiful.

  16. Great tutorial Sandy . I have always used that metod , but not always suceesfully . I can alway count on learning something from you . I now realize that two pins will not stop a piece from shifting .

    Thank You !

  17. Hi Sandy!
    I just checked your site and found the expanded version of overlay tutorials. Yippee! Thank you, and I’m sorry you’re grumpy. Matter of fact, I’m grumpy today too……Anyway, I’m just wondering what you use to trace your freezer paper pieces? I see it’s white, but I don’t know what your favorite marker is.

  18. Angela,

    I am working on the international option. I have just sent one international and I am waiting to see how it all goes. I will probably just have international requests emailed and then send out a Paypal invoice. It is the shipping amounts/times and customs forms that I am trying to straighten out.

  19. Sara, that skewer makes a HUGE HUGE difference. I had issues before I had that little light bulb moment. Instead of my relatively large hand wrestling with the overlay and trying to position that little piece of fabric and just knocking things out of whack, I am only using a long and thin instrument to gently guide the piece into position. I think of it as applique surgical precision! 😉

    There is very little disturbance to the overlay so I am not constantly knocking it out of position while trying to line everything up.

  20. Tammy, my host has been getting hammered with massive cyber attacks between 11am-2pm PST (no harm to my site or their servers other than bogging them down to an almost non-existent crawl). Today was a little bit better so I hope they have it under control.

    Yeah, I am leading you away from backbasting? It is another technique for the toolbox but may cause frustration with small intricate applique.

  21. Karen,

    I buy what is left on the roll at my Joann’s which lasts me a long time and it is nicely rolled on an upholstery roll. The ladies at the Joann’s cutting tables must groan when they see that stuff coming to be cut, especially the amount I buy!

    The reason I use the Clover pins is the thread comes off those slick “teardrops” easily if it does get caught. Any pins with a fancy head or nail top (like the Iris pins) are much more difficult to deal with. The other thing I really like about these pins is they pierce the fabric like butter and that means I don’t have to worry about a shift as I push the pin through the applique piece.

    I am still looking for the name and maker of that fabric. I shall persevere!

  22. Carol,

    I use Pat Campbell’s white chalk pencils. I used to use Roxann’s but switched to these because they seem to hold up better and mark smoother. It amy be my imagination though. I do have one of those sew line, but I am not really jazzed with it. So far I stick with Pat Campbell’s.

  23. Zenobia I am glad it was helpful. It is amazing how much “easier” it is to applique and raise your skill level if you know the tricks!

  24. Debbie, I always say “what you cut is what you sew”. Accurately cut, accurately mark and you r life will be a whoooooole lot easier when it comes to applque. When you get this small, it is crucial!

  25. Thanks Janet! I think I have tried every other method and when I tried this one, hands down I would not be able to create the designs I have without it. I covet my vinyl. Not as much as my threads, but it is high on the list.

  26. Thank you for all the trouble you have gone to. You are so generous with your informationa nd your replies.

  27. Sandra, thank you for the light bulb moment about the pins!! When I was taught the overlay method, I learned to use 2 pins at the top and one in each quadrant. I always have so much shifting. Thanks also for the skewer!! I have a stiletto-that should do the trick.
    How many pieces do you place at a time? One more thing; the numbers on your freezer paper templates are typed. How did you manage that? Are you making a freezer paper copy of your pattern?

  28. Eileen,

    It depends. I usually keep it to around 6-10 dependent on size and if there is any overlap. If I put too many on, then the pins stick my hands as I scrunch up the block to applique. Ouch!

    I design my patterns on the computer with illustrator and then also create freezer paper templates from that pattern. Most of my design work is now done on the computer. Appliquers really like pre-printed freezer paper templates so I started crating them to go with my patterns. No more tracing patterns for the templates and they match!

    I use the templates first to make sure everything goes together as it should. They are time consuming to create (more so than the original pattern) but I can’t work without them now. Another way I have removed some of the tedium and time of preparation.

  29. Wendy,

    I mean this sincerely, you have done a superb job. You have zoomed forward and skipped over the beginnig skill level and moved on straight to intermediate. Not bad for a starting attempt! (understatment)

    I wouldn’t be embarassed at all, I would be crowing–loudly. 😀

  30. Sandra, This has nothing to do with vinyl or applique but has to do with your chosen background fabric. I found a couple of yards of the antique script by Lakehouse or so I thought. I received the order but mine looks a little on the yellow side. Did Lakehouse do this in a different colorway or is yours also the same and just doesn’t show up that way on the monitor? Any info will be appreciated. Thanks. Charlotte

  31. Charlotte,

    There was only one colorway other than a black script on white, so yours is correct and the background is golden (yellowish) taupe with a medium taupe script. Lucky you for finding some of it! 🙂

  32. Grumpy…I think not…I can’t believe the time you take to share..we all thank you.

  33. If you do not see your comment here, I had a problem when I tried to fix the loading issue of the site. It kind of crashed, No it did crash. 🙁 Anyway all comments were wiped away from earlier today. I just want you to know your comments haven’t been banned.

    I am going to yell “uncle” and beg my computer engineer husband for help.

  34. Oh Boop? I was in the process of reading your comment before everything blew up on me.

    ABSOLUTELY you can use colored pencil to add the “green tinge” to the white-ish fabric!!! Of course it all depends on the hue of white, but a good prismacolor for a crisp white would be PC#1005 ‘Limepeel’. I used that one in very small shadow areas. Just be careful and not add too much color or you will have green flowers that fade into the leaves.

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