Free Motion Quilting

Basic Steps to Quilting Appliqué

Usually, I talk about all the texture free motion quilting adds to a quilt, but when applique has already added an extra layer of dimension, what is the role of the quilting? Furthermore, how do you decide what motifs to use-- and where-- and whether the applique itself needs some quilting? Join me as I take you through some basic steps to get started!

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Basic Steps to Quilting Appliqué with HollyAnne Knight of String & Story

I recently quilting two large appliqué quilts for a long arming client, and, I admit, I was pretty intimidated to get started! Appliqué just felt so different compared to working with just piecing. With piecing, if I want to ignore the seamlines, I just do, it’s no big deal, the quilt looks cool, and everyone is happy. But with appliqué, there’s this added dimension, and those are NOT lines you should just quilt over willy nilly. Karen spent a lot of time creating those gorgeous shapes, and I was going to treat them with great respect. I created a simple, step by step method to quilt these quilts, and if you’re experimenting with quilting appliqué, I hope it helps you get started!

Note Bene: I quilted these on my longarm, but everything I discuss in this blog will work on your domestic machine, too!

Making a Quilting Plan

If you’ve listened to me talk about quilting for a hot second, then you know that this is actually the hardest part. We make all of our decisions on paper before we begin stitching. Let me walk you through how I did this for appliqué quilts:

  1. Choose your background motif. Start by deciding what you want in all that negative space .Whatever you choose, make sure you enjoy quilting it and feel confident doing so. I can guarantee there’s more background than you think! Common choices include: meanders, swirls, pebbles, paisleys, and feather meanders (you know, if you’re feeling fancy!)

  2. Stitch around the appliqué. This is the question I’ve received half a dozen times already. You may not draw it on your quilting plan, but you’ll want to stitch about 1/8 of an inch around all appliqué shapes. I did this at the end of each block because that’s how it made sense to my brain. And, most surprisingly to me, I freehanded this. I simply put the edge of my quilting foot right on the appliqué and traced. I thought I would want a ruler, but that was too many things. I only used a ruler where the appliqué was straight, and I wanted my stitching lines to be very straight too. If your quilt has sashing, consider also stitching in the ditch around each block to help the sashing “pop.”

  3. Design your sashing/ cornerstones. If you have a quilt that uses lots of prints, try to let the designs of the fabric suggestive sashing and border quilting. It will keep the quilt from getting too busy and make your life a lot easier. I used the rope design in the sashing of one quilt and simply traced it. Otherwise, use your judgement about what will look best. When in doubt, wishbones and ribbon candy are my go-tos

  4. Design your borders. Again, if the fabric can inform this, awesome! Otherwise, I recommend feathers or switchbacks because I’m an “all in or super simple” kind of girl!

Note Bene: I know I haven’t mentioned the appliqué itself yet. Hang tight!


As you might image, quilting at this point is as simple as following the plan. Or, that is at least 90% of the execution. We do, of course, need to consider the appliqué, though. You can either quilt the appliqué after you do the background of each block, or you can do it all at once before you tackle the sashing— it’s up to you. Regardless, I used two rules of thumb: 1) I only stitched ON the appliqué if it was the same size as or larger than my palm (about 3 inches in diameter). Anything smaller will be secured with the SID around it. and 2) I kept it as simple as possible (lots of simple outlining, a little bit of ruler work where the fabric looked like basket weave, and a couple of feather wreaths). Less is more— let the appliqué shine!

Note Bene: You’ll have lots of threads to bury. Just a heads up.

After stitching the appliqué, carry on with your quilting plan! Before you know it, you’ll have stunning finished quilts!

Quilts pictured were designed by Dawn Ronningen and pieced by Karen Beigh.