Hand sewing is my happy place, time I can relax and take it slow. At one point I never thought I would say that, unconvinced that I would enjoy what seemed like laborious and quaint methods. Yet here I am, about to show you how I appliqué my hand sewn English Paper Piecing (epp) by hand. So if you're thinking to yourself 'it's not for me' or 'I am not about to do more hand sewing', let me assure you I have felt the same way and encourage you to at least read through this post...

I'm excited to be able to share my hand stitching as a contributor to the Kingfisher Stitch-Along, co-hosted by my talented friends Rachel at Stitched in Color and Jodi at Tales of Cloth! Of course if you've been joining in there's plenty of hand sewing taking place; if you haven't heard already we are sewing along to make the Kingfisher Quilt - to get all the info and schedule click here.


Before we pick up a needle and thread there is some basic prep to do. These are the little steps that make the process smoother and lay the foundation for neat blocks.


Stabilise your background fabric - i.e. the diamonds for the Kingfisher quilt. There are a number of ways to do this; you could use a tear away / soluble stabiliser or light weight interfacing. Personally I don't think this is necessary and is extra cost and faff but if you prefer to stitch on a stiffer fabric then they are a good option. 
My preference is to use starch (well technically starch alternative, I currently use Best Press). It is easier to stitch on fabric with a bit of body and starch helps reduce fraying and stretching. Ideally you want to starch your fabric before cutting but if you've already cut your diamonds just give them a little spritz and press!

The result is less floppy fabric that is easier to handle and you can appliqué on individual diamonds without worry of the fabric fraying or distorting. Of course you still need to handle the diamonds gently but that's simple when your hexie flowers are secured (more on that shortly!).

Another option would be to sew all the diamonds together (making the quilt top) and then begin the appliqué. For me this would be slightly too cumbersome. It's likely that while I'm stitching I would be tempted to grip the fabric as I hold the top or squash it out of the way, thereby crinkling it and that means more ironing! If you are using very delicate fabric or fabric that frays very easily for your background though this method might be worthwhile.

As you are ready to appliqué fold a background diamond in half and lightly press (you can finger press) to create a crease to centre your flower on.


Begin by removing the papers and give your epp a press, making sure the edges are neat and crisp. I find pressing from the back and then the front keeps the seams in place. 

Now you want to secure your epp to the background fabric. There are several options; glue pen, fusible web, 505 temporary glue spray or pins. Each come with their own pluses and minuses. Fusible web isn't generally repositionable so you need to work fast and be accurate, it's also a little tougher to stitch through. 505 spray is a bit messy for a small project like this but if you're happy with it go for it, I would be mindful not to use too much as it can make your needle tacky. Pins are a simple option, though they can prick and get in the way. I find that my projects move around unless I use lots of pins so I tend not to. For me glue is the quickest and most effective way to keep the epp in place. I use a fabric glue pen, it's repositionable if I'm not happy but holds the epp in place.
Whichever method you chose, try not to get too close to the edge of the epp - you may want to lift the edges slightly, get the tip of your needle under or manipulate them as you stitch and you can't do that if it's stuck down!

You can see here that I've used glue in the centre and along the inner seams, enough to hold it in place (I used more than I needed so the glue would show up for the picture!).

Align your flower with the crease on the background diamond and secure in place.


Everything is in place so we can start stitching! I have used three different stitches to show you options for hand appliqué. These are my favourites but of course there are many different decorative stitches that could be used.

For my first flower I have used ladder stitch (AKA invisible / blind / slip stitch) that I often use for appliqué. Unlike a more traditional appliqué stitch, where you catch the fabric and use a coordinating thread because it is visible, ladder stitch means I can use a neutral thread and you can barely see the stitches. I sew binding in the same way so I'm very comfortable using this stitch and it is nice and strong (as three kids and countless washed quilts can testify!). This post by Olena demonstrates both stitches really well if you haven't tried them.
I use Aurifil 80wt thread for this type of appliqué stitch, it's fine and lovely to sew with. I also like to use the Black Gold Appliqué Needles by Clover. This combination is a dream and produces beautiful stitches that you can't see! I will say that whatever stitches you choose to do, it's always worth trying out different threads and needles to find the ones that give you the best result and that you love to stitch with.

For the second flower I did a running stitch, which is super easy and also looks like hand quilting! I recommend using perle cotton, Aurifil 28 or 12wt or similar to get that big stitch quilting look. Keep your stitches close to the edge of the epp so that the fabric doesn't catch or fold back easily, like a top stitch.

This was stitched with Finca perle #12 in colour 1072 that I got in a recent haul from Patchfinders. It's a beautiful warm golden brown, perhaps not an obvious colour choice for this flower but one that will work well in the scheme of the whole quilt. Also I like mixing things up and not being too coordinated.

The final hand appliqué stitch I've used is a blanket stitch. Wonderfully traditional, it adds a gorgeous texture. Again I would suggest using a thicker thread to achieve that stand out handmade look. For this one I used hand dyed House of Embroidery perle thead #8 in 86 coral. It works beautifully with the Brownstones print from Leah Duncan's Gramercy collection.

Although it's relatively simple, blanket stitch can be a little tricky when it comes to the outer corners of the flower. If the thread isn't sitting nicely, I just do a little extra stitch over the thread running along the edge to hold it in place. It really isn't noticeable when it's all finished.

I hope this has given you a little inspiration to have a go at hand appliqué! The first two flowers took less time to appliqué than it did to epp the hexies together, the blanket stitch takes a little longer but the result is so pretty!

I'm not averse to mixing up methods and different stitches in my quilts. I plan on doing some by hand and probably some by machine. Variety is the spice of quilts! If you would like to know how to machine appliqué your flowers head over to Bonjour Quilts to read her Kingfisher Stitch-Along post.

If you have any other hand appliqué stitches or methods you like to use, please let us know in a comment below. It's nice to hear how you stitch and may help others doing the Stitch-Along!