Appliqué is a simple way to elevate your sewing projects and add customizations without fiddling with pattern alterations.

We recently shared some lovely appliqué inspiration here on the blog. This week, we made a Phoebe dress with delicate floral appliqués.

Read on to see how the appliqué motif is created and applied, and learn some helpful tips and tricks if you want to add a similar appliqué to your garment.


  • Appliqué fabric
  • A finished or nearly-finished garment
  • Iron-on adhesive
  • All-purpose polyester thread in a matching color (match the color of your motif, not your garment)
  • Tweezers
  • Sharp scissors
  • Fine pins

Preparing the Appliqué Motif

1) Cut one piece of your appliqué fabric a few inches larger than your design. Cut one piece of iron-on adhesive that is the same size as the appliqué fabric piece.

2) Align the iron-on adhesive paper and appliqué fabric, with the textured, adhesive side of the paper and the wrong side of the fabric together. Press with a dry iron on high heat.

3) Cut your design out with a sharp pair of scissors. Some prefer specialty appliqué scissors with double-pointed blades to allow you to cut sharp angles and tight corners. A sharp pair of small scissors will work just fine.

As you can see, my motif has negative space within it. Cut away those little bits so that the garment’s fabric peeks through. When sewing, these raw edges should be sewn down as well.

4) Peel away the adhesive paper. Use tweezers to peel away the paper from difficult areas, such as points and fragile sections of the motif.

Placing the Motif

1) Place the garment on a hanger or a dress form to decide what appliqué placement looks best. Move the motif around, and try changing the direction or angle before settling on a final placement.

On this Phoebe dress, the floral motif fits perfectly at the shoulder, aside from the wandering daisy and leaf that extend into the neckline.

2) After deciding on a motif placement, cut away any unwanted sections and pin the motif to the garment.

Attaching the Motif

1) Secure the motif to the garment by pressing from the right side with a dry iron on high heat.

To avoid bubbling, start from the top of the motif and work your way down. Place a tailor’s ham under the garment if the motif is shaped in any way. This will help the motif and garment retain the intended shaping.

2) Sewing very close to the edge, stitch all the way around the appliqué motif.  Backstitch at the beginning and end of stitching and clip threads. If your design has additional negative space within the motif, stitch along those edges as well.

After washing the garment, the motif fabric will fray up to the stitch line.

Tips for Sewing Motifs

  • Use an edgestitch foot to maintain a consistent distance between the raw edge and stitching. Align the edge guide of the foot with the raw edge of the appliqué while sewing. Then, move the needle position over a few notches to either the right or left to set the stitching distance.
  • If your machine has a needle-up or needle-down setting, set your machine to stop with the needle down whenever you stop sewing. This will speed up your sewing because there will be no need to use your fly wheel for pivoting. You may go one step further and attach a knee lift to your machine to free up your hands for easier maneuvering of the fabric.
  • Change the stitch length. A smaller stitch length will help you sew the tight corners and points of the motif evenly.
  • Looking for more appliqué techniques? Read this Modern Appliqué article to learn hand appliqué and other machine appliqué techniques.

All of the fabrics used for this tutorial can be purchased from Bolt Fabrics, including the stunning vintage-inspired floral barkcloth used for the appliqué motifs.