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What Is Reverse Applique?

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  • Written By: Anna B. Smith
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 04 December 2016
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Reverse applique is a sewing technique in which a top layer of fabric is cut away in the shape of a design where two or more fabrics have been stitched together. The finished edges around the revealed pattern may be turned under and sewn into place by hand, or left exposed for a raw look. This type of stitching may be completed for a wide variety of projects using many different types of materials.

Traditional applique involves hand or machine stitching a piece of fabric cut in a design onto the front of a project. The edges of the fabric design are turned under by hand and the thread is hidden beneath them as the pieces are stitched together. When attaching the design by machine, the edges remain raw and the thread is exposed, often in the form of an embroidery stitch, such as a satin stitch or zig zag stitch.

Unlike traditional methods, reverse applique stitches the design to the wrong side - the side without printing - of the fabric. The right side of the design fabric is sewn against the wrong side of the background fabric. Once stitching has been completed, the background fabric is cut away inside the stitched lines to reveal the design fabric beneath.

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This type of stitching may be completed on any type of material in a wide variety of projects. Depending on the materials used and the finished look the seamstress desires, the edges may be left unfinished. When adding a reverse applique design to a quilting project, the raw edges of the background fabric are typically turned under and sewn into place by hand. A hidden slip stitch may be used, similar to that used in traditional applique, in which the raw edge is folded under and the thread is hidden between the two layers of fabric. The edges may remain unfinished when adding this type of design to clothing, as jersey typically does not fray and creates a unique rolled edge effect around the edge of the design when washed.

Any shape or pattern may be used to complete a reverse applique project. It is often easier to stitch designs that do not feature a large number of sharp points or edges. This allows the sewing machine to maneuver easily around the edges of the pattern without creating numerous turns that can pull at both the fabric and the needle.

Some reverse applique projects require the use of multiple layers of fabric. These layers are often stitched together using wide basting stitches to stabilize the pieces that may be cut away later. The design is then layered over the top fabric and stitched into place using thread that matches that fabric. The seamstress then follows detailed instructions regarding how deep to cut each layer of fabric according to the pattern. The finished design then reveals multiple colors crisscrossing together in an intricate design.

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