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Get Great Results with Raw-Edge or Reverse Appliqué

If you think you need a laser bridge machine to create raw-edge and reverse appliqués on various substrates, think again. These techniques can be achieved easily with a standard embroidery machine.

September 11, 2013

By Deborah Jones, Contributing Writer

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Any embroiderer can duplicate the trendy looks of raw-edge and reverse appliqué (shown) with a standard embroidery machine. These techniques are actually easy and don't require the precision needed for the precut or cut-as-you-go methods.
  HOW TO: Get Great Results with Raw-Edge or Reverse Appliqué

The word “appliqué” is derived from the French term for “applied.” As a decorating technique, appliqué has been popular for centuries — and was particularly useful for mending clothes and presenting a bold image, such as those on flags or banners. Recently, it has enjoyed a long run of popularity, particularly in reverse and distressed treatments on ready-to-wear clothing.

By now, you’ve no doubt seen specialized embroidery machines equipped with lasers that burn away fabric cleanly and precisely to create raw-edge and reverse appliqués on sweat shirts, jackets and more. These machines reduce time and labor, as well as simplify the process, but any embroiderer can duplicate these trendy looks with a standard embroidery machine. These techniques actually are easy and don’t require the precision needed for the precut or cut-as-you-go methods. Plus, some expensive consumable supplies can be eliminated with the raw-edge and reverse appliqué methods.

Even with these benefits, there’s another that’s even more appealing. Raw-edge and reverse appliqué methods practically have a success guarantee. Even novice embroiderers will be successful on their first attempts with these methods.

Sound appealing? Regardless of your equipment type, here are the steps to create exciting and highly marketable appliqués.

Materials You'll Need
Like conventional appliqué, many different fabric types can be used for raw-edge and reverse appliqué. However, unlike the traditional method, it usually isn’t necessary — or even desirable — to treat the fabric before using it as an appliqué. You also don’t usually need to hold appliqué fabric to the host fabric with embroidery spray adhesive.

When creating conventional appliqué, apply a fusible product to the reverse side of the material. This fusible coating prevents raveling of the material during handling and allows the completed appliqué to be permanently heat sealed to the host fabric after stitching.

When creating raw-edge appliqué, it’s highly desirable for the edge of the appliqué fabric to ravel, resulting in a softer, distressed appearance. When creating reverse appliqué, a fused backing could be uncomfortable to the wearer because the appliqué material is actually beneath the host fabric and next to the skin. So, in both techniques, plain, unbacked fabric is used for the appliqué.

Selecting Appliqué Fabric
Although specialty materials may be showy for other appliqué methods, some can be uncomfortable when worn next to the skin, as in the reverse appliqué technique. Others could crumple and wrinkle when used without backing for the raw-edge technique. For this reason, I tend to select polyester/cotton blends.

Depending on the host item, I have used other materials. For example, I made a raw-edge appliqué of a dog’s head on a denim jacket using wool felt. I also like cotton flannel for either of these appliqué techniques. Flannel is available in a variety of prints and patterns, all of which are great for appliqué.

When using any pattern for appliqué, it’s best to “audition” the proposed material for proper scale of the print or pattern. To test for suitability, print the appliqué design or stitch it onto a file folder or similar material. Cut out the areas that will be occupied by fabric. Place the proposed fabric beneath the cut-out to evaluate whether it is suitable for your needs.

The Raw-Edge Appliqué Process
Performing raw-edge appliqué is very simple and can be done with any machine — even a sewing machine. That’s because no satin stitched border is required. In many instances, the stitch type securing the appliqué is a simple running stitch. There may be more than one layer of running stitches, or even a variation of a running stitch — such as a bean or triple stitch.

Here’s how it’s done, in three easy steps:

1. Make a target stitch that shows where the fabric will be laid on top of the host fabric. Alternatively, hoop the entire appliqué material on top of the host fabric.
2. With fabric in place, restart the machine to apply a holding stitch of almost any running stitch type.
3. Remove the hoop and cut the fabric outside the stitching line. The distance depends somewhat on the appliqué material being used, but it is usually between 1⁄8-inch and 1⁄4-inch.

Although it’s hard to believe, that’s all there is to this remarkably simple process — other than wearing and enjoying the appliquéd item. Also, washing and wearing only enhances the appearance of the appliqué, giving the fabric edges the desired distressed look.

If you don’t want to wash the item before delivery, use a suede brush or fingernail brush to rough up the edges of the fabric on the margin outside the stitching. Just remember not to be too aggressive in this process or you could damage the host fabric.

The Reverse Appliqué Process
One of the best host materials for the reverse appliqué technique is sweat shirt fleece. It curls back against the stitching line, giving a predictable and pleasing result.

Here’s how it’s done:

1. Hoop the host fabric with the appliqué fabric hooped beneath, in the same way as you would hoop a cutaway stabilizer. The appliqué fabric should be caught in all edges of the hoop.
2. Stitch the holding stitches of the appliqué.
3. Remove the hoop from the machine and unhoop the material. Trim away the host fabric from the outside of the letters or design, being careful that you leave the host fabric on the negative space inside letters and objects. Trim the excess appliqué fabric from the reverse side of the host fabric.

Even though investing in a laser bridge machine that can be connected to an embroidery machine is a popular option for appliqué, following the steps mentioned above can yield comparable results — without the huge price tag.

Deborah Jones is a commercial and home embroiderer with more than 30 years experience in the computerized embroidery field. She runs and regularly speaks at Imprinted Sportswear Shows (ISS). For more information or to comment on this article, e-mail Deborah at

Hear Deborah speak on apparel decorating topics at the 2012 Imprinted Sportswear Shows (ISS). Reduced workshop and seminar rates are available if you pre-register:

Raw-Edge Design Considerations

There are a few simple guidelines to keep in mind when creating designs or lettering for the raw-edge technique.

First, the scale of the design elements must be large enough to work using this technique. Because you will be adding 1/8-inch to 1/4-inch on all edges of the objects, they must be large enough to absorb this addition without substantially altering the design’s appearance.

Next, beware of small openings in your designs, and enlarge them if possible. This is particularly important on lettering because the openings in certain characters, like “A” and “R,” could be almost completely covered with the fabric even after trimming.

You may be able to adapt conventional appliqué designs to the raw-edge technique by omitting the final zigzag or satin stitch borders. Print a proposed design and sketch in the fabric allowance to determine suitability before applying to a garment. Because the technique is so quick and easy, you may even stitch a sample proof before continuing to the actual project.

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