Comparison of raw and turned-edge appliqué

A comparison of raw and turned edge applique methods for machine applique: which one is best for you?

Pressing on with my appliqué series, today I want to look at different ways of finishing the edges.

So far I’ve talked mostly about the fusible web method of appliqué but there are times when you might want or need something different.

Since I’m not an expert on some of these (mostly I stick to the fusible web method) I’m going to link to some tutorials on how to do them, and concentrate instead on comparing them. Specifically:

  • How easy they are to do?
  • How long do they take?
  • Which aspects are tricky?
  • Generally, when would they work well?

Note: I’m concentrating here on techniques for machine appliqué. You can use these with hand sewing as well if you wish; in that case, the third method below is based on the more traditional needle-turn appliqué.

I’ll start by describing each type briefly and linking to tutorials elsewhere. Many of these tutorials talk explicitly about appliqué on quilts, but the methods will work for appliqué on any other material as well – just remember to use stabiliser underneath when stitching.

I then used each method with the same appliqué template (my free kite appliqué template). I timed how long each one took so you can compare the methods on how time consuming they are, plus the finished look.

Fused edge appliqué

This is a raw edge appliqué method, which makes it one of the simplest. There are many tutorials on the internet; I covered it in my introductory post in this series on how to appliqué with fusible web.

The edges of the appliqué shape are secured to some extent by the fusible web, although with lots of washing they will eventually start to fray. How much, will depend on the fabric you’ve used; this experiment on frayed appliqué edges for quilting cottons shows very little fraying after a few washes. A satin stitch will help cover raw edges, although it can give a stiff and heavy feel.

Raw appliqué with fused edges

Time taken:

  • Preparation: 9 mins
  • Stitching: 4 mins
  • finishing: 0 mins
  • TOTAL: 13 mins

Notes & Tips

This is a quick and easy method, and thus is the most commonly encountered for machine appliqué. The fusible web means you can take some time to position the pieces correctly and then once you iron them in place they won’t move while you stitch. As long as you trace and cut carefully in the first place, even fiddly pieces should fit together properly.

To avoid stiffness, you can apply the fusible web just to the edges of your appliqué shape, although it does tend to get less stiff after washing.

Advantages

  • Easy and quick to do
  • Works well with a wide range fabrics
  • Great for fabrics that don’t fray
  • Avoids adding bulk to thick fabrics
  • Gives a nice flat finish, so works well with multiple layers of appliqué.

Disadvantages

  • Multiple layers of fusible web can make the appliqué quite stiff
  • Edges can fray, especially with certain fabrics and lots of washing or moderate to heavy use.
  • Even using satin stitch, you can get stray threads poking through.

Frayed edge appliqué

This is another raw edge appliqué method, where you deliberately allow or encourage the edges to fray.

You can just use the fused edge method as above and allow the edges to fray naturally, but since the fusible web will fuse the edges to some extent you may want to omit it encourage fraying.

Raw appliqué with frayed edge.

Time taken:

  • Preparation: 6 mins
  • Stitching: 4 mins
  • Finishing: 7 mins (fraying the edges)
  • TOTAL: 17 mins

Notes & Tips

The amount of fraying you get depends on the weave of the fabric as well as the fibres.

Silk or satin have very unstable unravelly edges, which may cause too much fraying, although combining with fusible web as above can restrict this. Avoid washing these to make it last longer.

For fabrics such as cotton and linen, you may find that using the fusible web makes it too difficult to fray the edges. Instead you can hold pieces in place with small offcuts of fusible web in the centre, temporary adhesive such as 505 spray, a dab of glue stick, hand basting or pins.

I used fusible web offcuts, but found that some of the pieces shifted slightly as I was sewing. This might also be a problem with using pins, so if I were doing it again I’d probably use 505 spray. Hand basting would work well but obviously take longer.

Some edges may need encouragement to fray, especially on bias cut edges. Washing the appliquéd shape will encourage fraying. Alternatively you could use a pin to pull out some threads on the edges (this is what I did, taking around 7 minutes to go right round the edges) , or snip the edges slightly.

Advantages

  • Quick and easy to do
  • Has the same advantages as fused edge applique
  • The frayed edge deliberately turns one of the disadvantages of raw edges to a positive

Disdvantages

  • The shabby chic look is not for everyone
  • The frayed edges blurs the outline of the shape, so it’s not so good for intricate shapes which require good definition.

Turned edge appliqué

The previous two methods leave the edges raw. These next two turn under the edges so they are finished, which avoids problems with frayed edges.

This first method just turns under a small seam allowance all the way round the edge of the appliqué shape. It is basically the traditional needle turn appliqué used in hand-sewing, but with the finishing done by machine. Adapting a method designed for hand-sewing means that it is quite fiddly.

The tricky bit is getting a narrow hem turned under round an irregular shape, and then held in position long enough to stitch it down. I found this link that gives several different approaches to turned edge appliqué helpful.

Turned edge appliqué: seam allowance clipped and glued under

I traced the shapes onto freezer paper and ironed them onto the back of the fabric. I then cut out the shapes leaving a 1/4in seam allowance all round. I then used a glue stick to fold over the clipped allowances.

Turned applique, with edges turned under all round.

Time taken:

  • Preparation: 17 mins
  • Stitching: 17 mins
  • finishing: 7 mins (removing paper)
  • TOTAL: 41 mins

Notes & Tips

This was extremely fiddly to do, and I wasn’t entirely happy with the result. Even using a glue stick to hold the turned edges in place didn’t seem to stick them well enough to sew easily, and I got glue on my fingers and occasionally on the front of the fabric as well. This is a method more commonly used with hand sewing, and I think it’s better suited there. I spend quite a lot of time trying to tweak the edges into place as I sewed around them, but some of them are still a little jagged.

I was also disappointed with my points – if I were doing this for real, I think I’d start over and use a different method.. This is partly to do with the appliqué design I was using – the kite segments have lots of sharp points which were very difficult to turn neatly.

Finally, the method I used suggested that I cut into the back of the appliqué to remove the paper pieces – maybe it was the stitch I used, but I couldn’t get them out neatly and ended up abandoning it.

I had a few problems getting the pieces to fit together neatly, but found that if I went slowly and eased the turned edges with a pin as I sewed I could tweak it to get them to fit together.

This would have been easier for a nice regular shape with straight edges – the curves and sharp points are what caused most of the problems. Unless you’re hand-sewing, it’s better for larger shapes, as those curves and points become easier to manipulate and any inaccuracies will show up less.

Advantages

  • This gives a neat finish with no raw edges
  • If hand-sewing you have completely control
  • If you use invisible thread and an unobtrusive stitch you can have almost invisible stitching (again, this is even more effective for hand-sewing)
  • It washes well

Disadvantages

  • This is clearly a lot more time-consuming, and fiddly work.
  • If you’re sewing by machine the turned edges can sometimes shift and come untucked as you sew, so you need to go very slowly to catch them.
  • Sharp points are particularly difficult to get neat.
  • Turned edges can cause difficulties with bulky fabrics – there are two layers of fabric at the edges.
  • It can be difficult to get pieces to fit together properly, as errors can arise both in cutting and in the process of folding under.
  • In some places where the edges have been clipped and not turned under exactly, you can get the odd stray thread.

Fully turned appliqué

This is a second method for getting finished edges. It doesn’t seem to have a separate name – both this method and the previous one are generally referred to as turned edge appliqué – but I felt it was sufficiently different with different advantages and disadvantages to be treated as a separate method, so I’m calling it ‘fully turned appliqué’.

This tutorial has some good tips for working with this method, although you’ll notice that her example is using a much larger quilting template than I used. Or here’s a detailed video tutorial if you prefer more visual instructions.

Sew appliqué right sides together, cut a slit and turn through.

Instead of just turning under the edges all round, the whole appliqué shape is sewn right sides together with a backing (I’ve seen both interfacing and thin cottons suggested). Clip the curves and points, make a slit in the backing and turn right side out.

Turned edge appliqué, with pieces fully lined and turned.

Time taken:

  • Preparation: 32 mins
  • Stitching: 13 mins
  • finishing: 0 mins
  • TOTAL: 45 mins

Notes & Tips

Again, finished edges is more time consuming than raw edges, but I found this much easier than turning under the seam allowance in the previous method. Because the shape is sewn to a backing, this means that the seam allowances is stitched in place in this first step, so you don’t need to worry about raw edges coming loose when you are attaching the appliqué to the background fabric.

However, once again because of the very sharp points on my appliqué design, I ran into problems with the points again. Even clipping as severely as I could without cutting through the stitching gave me lumpy points, and in a couple of places I had threads poking through and had to seal the point with Fray Check. The bulk of my time was spent in clipping and turning and pressing.

I also had problems getting my pieces to fit together neatly. This is partly an accuracy issue – tiny errors in tracing get magnified after sewing and turning – but it’s also, I think, a side-effect of the fact that the finished pieces come out slightly smaller than for the other methods – I lost a little extra fabric in that seam allowance that made it harder to fit the pieces together.

Advantages

  • This gives a neat finish with no raw edges.
  • If you use invisible thread and an unobtrusive stitch you can have almost invisible stitching.
  • It’s less fiddly than the turned edge method.
  • It washes well.

Disadvantages

  • Again, it is more time-consuming than raw edge appliqué.
  • Turned edges can cause difficulties with bulky fabrics – there are four layers of fabric/backing at the edges.
  • The backing adds extra bulk to the appliqué (you can cut away the centre to reduce bulk but there’s still extra fabric at the edges).
  • Sharp points are difficult to get neat – there’s a lot of excess fabric here, even if you clip back ruthlessly.
  • It can be difficult to get pieces to fit together properly.
  • You may find that the backing can show slightly on some edges.

Conclusions

edges-4x4

For pure speed, the raw edge appliqué methods win every time. The frayed edge is something of a stylistic choice – it’s the quickest by a small margin if you leave the edges to fray naturally, although fraying them deliberately adds a little time.

For items that will take a lot of wear and expect a lot of washing, a turned edge method will be more durable, unless you’re using a non-fray fabric.

Both turned edge methods are more time-consuming (taking roughly three times as long as the fused method) and require more accuracy. Of the two, if you’re prepared to sew the appliqué on by hand the first gives you more control and will give a neater result. Otherwise, if you’re using the sewing machine I think the fully turned appliqué method is the easier of the two and gives slightly more consistent results.

For large and relatively simple shapes, the fully turned appliqué method gives a clean well-finished result. However, if you have small or complicated shapes you may find it difficult to sew and turn accurately enough. The problems with my points arise mainly from the scale – if I were doing this at say four times the size, you wouldn’t notice those points so much.

So, like many things, the best method depends on what you’re after. Here’s my final summary:

Best for speed: fused/frayed edge
Best for long-lasting: fully turned edge
Best for inexperienced sewer: fused edge
Best for professional finish: fully turned edge
Best for hand-sewing: needle-turn (turned edge)
Best for small complicated pieces: fused edge

Can you suggest any other categories?

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