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Tips & Techniques for Choosing Appliqué Fabric

Always audition fabrics against your background fabric. When fabric shopping, take along your background fabric and flower photos for color reference. Match your photos and lay your potential flower fabric on your background and step back. Is there enough contrast, does the fabric sparkle, look luminescent or is it dull? Use a cut-out of your appliqué shapes in Mylar or paper to frame and audition appliqué fabric.

Look for appliqué fabrics:

  • With drops or streaks of white; these give the illusion of light.
  • With watercolor like washes in different values and overlapping colors.
  • Fabrics that suggest a line or curve that can be used to shade or emphasize petals or leaves.
  • Study the scale of the color shifts in your fabric. Use your appliqué cut-out to isolate spots.
  • Look at big prints; often large scale flower prints will have useful shaded petals.
  • Check both sides of fabrics. Some have lighter values that show through on the wrong side.

     Good fabrics for Appliqué:

  • Batiks come in endless colors, especially bright jewel tones. They are tightly woven, do not fray, and are ideal for all applique methods.
  • Tie-dyed batiks: the ties create gentle circles and radiating lines, often leaving streaks of white.
  • Look for batiks that have enough contrast; many read solid from a distance.
  • Fossil Fern by Benartex. Splashes of white and different values of the same color are the right scale for small flowers.
  • Flower Mart Series by Benartex. Large scale flower prints
  • I love hand-dyes, but find most do not have enough contrast or white for small flowers. However, marbleized fabrics are great for butterfly wings and fish.

       Background Fabrics:

Test your background fabrics first before committing to a big project. Run a threaded sashiko needle through the fabric and see if it pulls through easily. Most batiks for example, are too tightly woven; however, some batiks are fine for backgrounds.

  • Essex Black, MIdnight & Navy by Kaufman Fabrics

             55% cotton/45% linen blend

             Has a looser weave, lovely hand, great for sashiko as well as combined with appliqué.

  •  Kona Cotton Indigo, Black or Midnight by Kaufman Fabrics. Very sturdy and high quality cotton. tighter weave, more difficult to pull Sashiko thread through it .
  • Moda Marbles by United Notions/Moda Light weight, easy to pull sashiko thread through it.
  • Japanese indigo. If dyed with true indigo, wash it first! For Sashiko only, look for a loose weave indigo. The looser the weave, the more stitches you can gang up on your needle. However, a very loose weave will not hold appliqué well.

When fussy cutting;

  • From what direction is the light shining on your flower? Studying photographs can help determine the direction or you can make up a "rule of thumb". For example, lotus flowers look as if they are lit from the center, so cut petals with light centers and darker tips.

 Contrast between petals is very important to make the flower look 3-dimensional. Generally, the petals are lighter in the foreground and darker in the background. Audition your fabric petals on a design wall. Step back. Do the petals look layered or do they all have the same value? Note that overlapping petals that are not sewn down will appear to have more contrast because they cast shadows.

  • Experiment! It is OK to waste a bit of fabric to get it "just right".
Applique templates cut out of Mylar creates auditioning windows
Large Flower print & flowers and ballerina skirts(!) Great for white flowers with purple  shadowing
Batik Florals used for Orchids and Hibiscus
Streaked batiks for cutting directional petals and leaves
Tie dyed and sun printed batiks; great for Hibiscus and Anthurium
Cotton prints with streaks of different color values