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If you’ve always used solid cotton as your go-to fabric for applique, then you’re missing out on some really fun machine applique fabric choices!
While possibly the most common and “best” fabric for applique is a sturdy, woven cotton fabric with a compatible applique backing, go ahead and take a peek around your fabric stash.
You’ll likely find some unique fabrics and materials that will also work great for applique! Picking an off-the-beaten-path fabric can create dimension, add texture, and really improve the appearance of finished embroidery.
While I applique most often with my embroidery machine, these applique fabric options will work with a sewing machine as well.
Let’s get started with some fun applique material options!
Quick Tips for Applique
While most fabrics will work great for applique, here are a few things to consider before starting to stitch.
First, check the care instructions for the fabric, making sure the fabric will work with your intended use. Also, prewash all applique fabrics that are machine washable.
Consider a backing for your applique fabric such as lightweight interfacing or HeatnBond Lite. This backing will keep the edges from fraying, increase fabric stability, and keep the applique looking fresh after machine washing. (For more tips about backings, check out how to applique with an embroidery machine.)
Make sure your embroidery blank (base fabric) and applique fabric are compatible. Using a lightweight base fabric and bulky applique fabric, for instance, will not produce great results!
Applique fabrics can be more easily trimmed in the hoop with duckbill applique scissors or even double-curved embroidery scissors. Have a plan to trim your fabric well after the tackdown stitch or trim it to size before starting to applique. (This is one of the ways a Cricut and embroidery machine can work together. And, a fun way to use freezer paper in sewing.)
Unique Applique Fabric Options
I love pictures, so I made the quick sampler above from 24 different fabrics and materials I had around my sewing room.
This was stitched quickly on my embroidery machine without any backing to the applique fabric, with half-hearted trimming, the same needle for everything, and no water-soluble stabilizer on fluffy fabrics. So, some of the samples aren’t 100% quality, and I’m fully aware of that. But, it should still give you plenty of visible inspiration!
Also, all of these applique samples are with satin stitching. Just think of all the fun possibilities and combinations if you consider reverse applique, raw-edge applique, or even dimensional applique.
The first two rows of fabrics for applique include:
- Leather or faux leather (here are some tips for embroidering with leather. You could also use suede or faux suede.)
- Neoprene scuba fabric (adds a nice depth and is fun and squishy.)
- An old book page (read more about the process in how to embroider on cardstock!)
- Lace fabric (this will be difficult to use a backing on, so temporary adhesive spray like Odif 505 should hold it still during the applique process. I used stretch lace, but lace with no stretch will be easier to work with. You could place this over another piece of fabric that you’re appliqueing as well.)
- Burlap (here are some tips for embroidering on burlap. This is also difficult to use a backing with. I trimmed my square before embroidering, and it didn’t work out so great. I’d recommend trimming after a tack-down stitch rather than cutting to size first.
- Sequin fabric (got mine from Fabric Wholesale Direct! This worked out way better than I expected given my arbitrary combination of settings and materials. I’d recommend choosing needles and following some of the tips in this article for the best set-up, though.)
The next fun options for applique fabric include:
- Stretch knit (the mermaid print was from JOANN and is very shiny. There are many different types of knit fabric that will work great for applique.)
- An old pair of PJ pants that I repurposed and had this scrap fabric leftover from
- Outdoor Ottertex canvas (it’s difficult to tell, but this was waterproof camouflage canvas.)
- Chiffon (this was a lightweight, sheer fabric with a fun print.)
- Clear vinyl (you can actually applique with any color of vinyl, but one of the fun things about clear vinyl is you can stick sequins or other materials underneath before completing the outside satin stitch.)
Here are even more options!
- Wool (this is polyester wool that was scrap fabric from a golden pea coat I sewed.)
- Ripstop (this was Ottertex ripstop, but I can’t remember if it was nylon or polyester. Nonetheless, it’s really fun!)
- Gold lame (this was very delicate, so I’d definitely recommend a backing. But, be careful with heat!)
- Minky (while a little ridiculous on such a small scale, Minky is really fun to use when doing larger applique for baby projects!)
- Linen (Not my best trimming, but linen also works great for applique. I bet it’d make a good raw-edge applique.)
- Fleece (Add fluffy fabrics like this to mimic animal fur and so much more.)
Now, here’s one last portion of my sampler.
- Felt (plain old craft felt is as easy as it gets. Easy to trim, stable, and a quick way to add a new feel to an applique.)
- Velvet (I highly recommend water-soluble topping for this one, and make sure to trim after the tack down stitch before doing the satin stitch. You’ll get fewer edge fluffies that way.)
- Denim (this is dark-wash denim, but using any color of denim can add a fun touch to an applique project. I’m thinking of using something like this for the Go Western Week outfit for my daughters this year. If you do a frayed edge applique, I bet this would look pretty cool!)
- Organza (the shimmery ones are especially fun. Use them over another piece of appliqued fabric for an even different look.)
- Satin (take care with fraying at the edges. You could also use silk for a more luxurious look.)
- Fluffy fabric (this gem was from Hobby Lobby and used on a backside of a quilt. I also used with when embroidering a beanie heart applique.)
Other Fabrics and Materials Not Pictured That Would Be Fun
Here’s just a list of other items I’ve had brewing in my mind lately as options for unique applique fabrics.
- Beaded fabric
- Sheet music (just think of the options here!)
- Brown paper bags
- Brocade or Jacquard
- Chalkboard fabric
- Terrycloth fabric or even an old towel
- Mesh fabric, tulle, or even netting (might be tricky, but not impossible, I’d think. Plus, you could layer them over solid fabrics for added effect.)
- Sweater knit fabric (or even a small piece of crochet or hand knitting)
As you can see, the possibilities are almost endless! I’ve got my creative juices flowing, and I’m so excited to make some new project ideas with these new materials. (While you’re here, check out some great places to find free applique embroidery designs to get started with.)
What types of fabric do you like to use for applique?