Reverse applique lets you add interest and texture to your sewing projects. The fabric is placed at the back of the design and then the top is cut away to reveal the fabric underneath. The advantage of doing a reverse applique over a regular applique is that it has a chunkier, more textured and homemade feel.
What is Reverse Applique
Reverse applique is a fabric manipulation method where designs are cut out of the top layer of fabric and then layers are added underneath. This gives a textured and layered look to the applique. Use reverse applique on clothing, home decor and even use it to disguise rips in jeans.
Regular applique, in contrast, has the shapes stitched on top of the backing fabric instead of underneath.
All applique can be done with either a sewing machine or by hand stitching.
Full Article on Regular Applique - How to Applique
Fabrics for Reverse Applique
COTTON - The best fabrics for reverse applique are tightly woven cotton fabrics like quilting cotton.
STRETCH - Stretch fabric like jersey that is a little thicker is great to use for the main fabric. You can put woven fabric behind it. I often see designers use stretch fabric reverse applique with a hand stitch around it.
LACE - Lace inserts can be used for the underneath fabric to add a dramatic flair.
PATTERNS - Fabric design and color are a personal taste but small patterns and textures tend to look the best. I have done my samples with a plain fabric on top and then a batik underneath. Medium-weight fabrics are easiest to use for reverse applique.
INTERFACING - Double-sided interfacing gives some stiffness to the design enabling it to hold its shape better and stopping it from fraying at the edges. Interfacing will stop puckering and strange ripples appearing in your design. One-sided interfacing can also be used if you are happy to do a little extra basting to hold the fabric in place.
Reverse Applique Methods
There are 3 ways you can do a reverse applique
- Raw Edges
- Folded Edges
- Easy Method for Stretch
How to Reverse Applique - Raw Edges
Leaving the edges raw works amazingly for t-shirt fabrics and other non-fraying fabrics. This is the quickest method to reverse applique since you don’ t need to turn any of the edges over. If you have a fabric that frays then you may create a shabby-chic look.
Step 1 - Reverse Applique Template
Create your template from paper. There are many designs online or you can create your own. Reverse applique lends itself to simpler designs like this heart.
Step 2 - Interfacing
Rough-cut a piece of fabric and interfacing at least 1 inch (2.5cm) larger than your template.
If you are doing large areas with lots of reverse appliques (for example a lot of leaves or flowers) it may make more sense to just cut one large piece of fabric and interfacing for the underside of the whole area rather than lots of small pieces.
Press the interfacing on the wrong side of the background fabric where your design will be placed.
Step 3 - Cutting
Draw the design on the interfacing and cut it out. If you are using double-sided interfacing, this will be on the paper
I usually fold the center of the design, make a snip and then cut outwards. Use nice sharp scissors so you have a clean edge. The great thing about using double-sided interfacing is that it stops the edges fraying.
Step 4 - Attach the Fabric
Remove the backing paper from the double-sided interfacing.
Place the fabric scrap underneath your main fabric making sure it is centered so all edges will be caught in the next step.
Press the fabric to the interfacing.
If you used single-sided interfacing you will just place the fabric underneath and hold it in place with pins. You may need to hand baste the edges with a long length running stitch that you can remove at the end.
Here is how the front looks.
Step 5 - Stitch
Stitch around your marked shape on the outside fabric. This can be either by machine or hand stitch.
See the section further down in this tutorial with all the stitches you can use.
Step 6 - Finishing
If you used one-sided interfacing, you can cut away some of the excess fabric at the back. For double-sided interfacing, the back fabric will be stuck down so you can't cut around it.
How to Reverse Applique - Folded Edges
What I like about using folded edges for reverse applique is that it lifts the design further giving it a 3-dimensional look. It is best suited to simpler patterns without too many sharp corners.
Like the raw edge method, you can use one-sided or double-sided interfacing. Double is by far the easiest in my opinion.
Step 1 - Cutting
Cut the interfacing approximately 1 inch (2.5cm) larger than your template.
Cut a piece of scrap fabric the same size. This scrap of fabric will become your underneath layer.
Step 2 - Interfacing
Trace the template on the interfacing and cut out the shape. If you are using double-sided interfacing then draw on the paper side.
Fuse your interfacing on the back of the main fabric, centered where you wish to have the cut-out.
Then trace inside your shape with a ¼ inch (6mm) seam allowance.
Step 3 - Cutting and Folding
Cut this inside shape out of the main fabric.
Clip the curves and corners up to the template line.
Press the seam allowance to the inside along the template line. I started doing this on the back and then flipped the fabric over to make sure all the clipped edges were tucked inside.
Step 4 - Attach the Fabric
Put your main fabric right side up and place your underneath fabric behind it. Make sure all the edges are going to be caught it.
For double-sided interfacing, remove the backing paper and press the scrap fabric on the back. You may need to tidy up from the front and make sure all the clipped edges are caught in.
For one-sided interfacing just pin the backing fabric in place. For the best results do a quick basting stitch to hold everything in place. For my heart, I found it a little difficult just using pins.
When I first did this sample, I thought that my heart shape looked a little rough but once I added stitching you couldn't really tell as it all blended in. So even if you are a perfectionist don't worry too much if the curved outline looks a little choppy.
Step 5 - Stitch
Topstitch around the edge of the fabric with a sewing machine or by hand.
See the section on stitch types for reverse applique for some idea.
How to Reverse Applique - Stretch Fabric
Here is an easy technique for stretch fabric and other fabrics that don't fray on the edges.
Step 1 - Cutting
Rough cut a scrap of fabric 1 inch (2.5m) larger than your template.
Pin it in place at the back of your main fabric. It should be the wrong side down at the back.
Step 2 - Stitch
On the right side of your outside fabric, trace around the template with a removable pen or tailor's chalk. Stitch around the marking either by hand or machine.
Step 3 - Cutting
From the front, separate the top layer from the underneath layer. Make a little snip and then cut away the fabric at the front a short way from the stitching. Just make sure you don't accidentally cut the backing fabric.
Reverse Applique - Stitches Used
Regardless of whether you use the raw edge or folded edge method, you will need to stitch around the edge to hold the background fabric on. Here are some common stitches to use.
On all my samples I have used a contrast stitch so you could see it easily but you may wish to have a seamless finish and use a matching thread. I think the hand stitches look nice contrasting but the machine stitching would have looked better matching and blending. You may disagree 🙂
I have broken the next section into machine stitches and hand stitches.
Reverse Applique -Machine Stitches
Machine - Straight Topstitch
A straight stitch can be used on any technique. If you use it on the raw edges you need to expect that some fraying will occur.
Stitch close to the edge with a medium length straight stitch slowly sewing around any curves.
Machine - Zig-Zag
When I think of applique I usually associate it with a zig-zag or satin stitch. Zig-zag can be solid or spaced out according to your personal taste.
Here is my experiment with different stitch lengths and widths.
Further Reading - Zig Zag Stitch
Machine - Blanket Stitch
Some machines have a decorative stitch that looks like a blanket stitch. My machine didn't have this so I wasn't able to do a sample for you. Experiment with fancy stitches and see what kind of unique look you can come up with.
Reverse Applique - Hand Stitches
When hand stitching a reverse applique, it can help to use an embroidery hoop to hold the fabric tight and to prevent any wrinkles. For larger areas, you can move a smaller hoop around.
Hand - Running Stitch
Running stitch is the easiest stitch you can sew. Go up-down-up-down and repeat! The stitches can be small and even or larger and uneven.
Further Reading - How to do Running Stitch
Hand - Backstitch
Backstitch gives a nice solid line to your reverse applique. It takes a little longer than the running stitch but it is still easy. Make your stitches small for the strongest result.
Further Reading - How to do Backstitch (Includes video)
Hand - Blanket Stitch
Blanket stitch can be used with the raw edge method since it has a cord running around the edge which will protect the fabric from fraying.
When starting, bring the needle up at the edge of the underneath layer (green). Then put the needle through from about ⅛ to ¼ inch (3mm-6mm) back from the edge and put the thread under the tip of the needle.
Further Reading - How to do Blanket Stitch (Includes video)
Reverse Applique in Layers
In all the samples above I have used just one layer of reverse applique. You can add further depth by repeating the process on one or two more layers. Make an endless tunnel!
How to Reverse Applique - In Conclusion
So now you know how to do reverse applique you can embellish all kinds of clothing in your cupboard. This technique is especially trendy on t-shirts and for disguising holes in denim.