10 tips for invisible machine applique

I’m back for another great week of quilting tips. This is the last week of review for the Husqvarna Viking Sapphire 930 and we’re going to explore the world of applique. In doing so, here are 10 tips for invisible machine applique that can be very useful in quilting projects.

Buying a new sewing machine is a confusing task. The first thing I’d do is compile a list of tasks that I want my sewing machine to perform and then check out those tasks against the features of available sewing machines in my price range.

One of the tasks that is pretty close to the top of my list is the applique capabilities of the sewing machine. Let’s just say that the Husqvarna Viking Sapphire 930 passed ALL the tests with flying colors. There’s nothing that you can’t applique with the Sapphire 930. Let me rephrase that – there’s nothing that you can’t applique with amazing results with the Sapphire 930.

Let’s have a look and see what you can do.

Husqvarna Viking Sapphire 930

Today’s focus will be on an applique style that I call invisible applique using the zig zag stitch. Tomorrow, I’ll walk you through some tips on satin stitching, then we’ll have a look at some blanket stitch tips and lastly a couple of wild cards. You’ll have to wait for that.

Number 1 – Choose the appropriate stitch

When one is deciding on the applique method, you have to think of the desired look of the finished piece. I choose the invisible applique stitch when I want the look of hand stitching, but don’t have the time to do all that stitching by hand. I wouldn’t do this technique on a project that had a lot of complex pieces. I like to turn the edges of the applique shapes under to do the invisible applique stitch and the more complex the pieces are, I find that I have better control doing the stitching by hand. I’m not saying it can’t be done by machine, because anything is possible – it just requires a tad more skill.

Having said that – when I do invisible applique by sewing machine – I choose to use an elongated zig zag stitch. I turn the edges of my applique under by using starch.

Sample of invisible applique stitched on the Sapphire 930

If you look really really closely at the picture above, you can see that it’s stitched down and if you still don’t believe me, below is a picture of the underside where you can really see the stitching.

The underside of the sample of machine invisible applique

If you’re not familiar with the starch method of turning the edges under, here’s a link to my tutorial on prepping applique pieces using the starch method.

The one thing to keep in mind about applique is that there are no rules. There are always guidelines that people (including me) prepare for you. Those guidelines are made based on hours and hours of failure – okay, failure is a harsh word. How about hours and hours of experimenting and having fun? Yes – that sounds much better. However, there are times when one bends their own guidelines for the sake of time.

In the example below, I was teaching a jacket class and the jacket had applique on it. The jacket had to be prepped for class and there wasn’t enough time to do a blanket stitch around the raw edges of this applique. So I loaded invisible thread on the sewing machine and did an invisible applique stitch around these shapes using the elongated zig zag.

While the job got done, I wish I hadn’t been so hasty. I think the applique would’ve looked much better with a different stitch. But considering that the applique shapes are flannel (they were fused down with a fusible web) and the shapes have a raw edge, there really isn’t a lot of fraying.

Why was the invisible stitch faster? Well, I didn’t have to fuss with neatness on turning the corners because you can’t see the stitching. That saved a huge amount of time.

With that in mind, as we move forward with these guidelines, feel free to change them up, break the rules and do what works for you. My only advice is to experiment, make samples and try everything. The more you try, the more you’ll know what you like and that means you’ll be happy with your end result.

Invisible machine applique (using monofilament thread) on fused (raw edge) flannel applique shapes

Number 2 – Choose the right thread

Here’s a lesson for all of us.  While I do try to keep all my supplies in their appropriate place, I’ve been known to keep threads and a few other small items with the particular project that I was working on. Hmmmm – then when you attempt to find your brown threads – the memory goes blank as to what project those threads are with!

For invisible machine applique, I like to match the thread color to the color of the applique shape. You can use invisible thread if you like, but I find that invisible does give off a bit of a shine and well – this is supposed to be invisible applique! However invisible thread (monofilament thread) is a good way to get started in invisible machine applique without investing hundreds of dollars in thread.

My preferred thread is a very fine thread – weight of 60 to 100 that matches the color of the applique shape. There are numerous brands of this fine thread out there and I have been collecting them over the years.

Before you panic and think that you have to buy hundreds of thread, remember my dilemma? I couldn’t find my brown threads? Well no panic – let’s see what else we have that is close. I found these two colors and while they do not look like a match when you look at the thread on the spools, have a look at a single strand of thread on the fabric and I think either one of them will work very nicely.

Actually, I used the darker one and can you see the stitches on that sample I showed at the beginning? Nope – I didn’t think so!

Two samples of lightweight thread – lay out the thread on the fabric to choose the color

As I mentioned, you can also use monofilament thread or invisible thread. There are several brands of this thread, make sure you use a good quality one. Some of the invisible thread can be very coarse and you don’t want that. You want the fine delicate ones. Monofilament comes in smoke and comes in clear.

Personally, I don’t use monofilament in the bobbin – I use pre-wound bobbins (with bobbin weight thread) for my invisible machine applique and have been known to use two colors: black or white. If the tension is set properly on the sewing machine then you’re good to go. Let’s just say that I had no trouble getting a good tension on the Sapphire 930 which makes life so much easier. Sometimes I use the same lightweight (sometimes called bobbin weight) thread in the bobbin that I’m using in the top. In other words, I wind my own bobbins, but I might have one bobbin with red thread and one with green and I use it for any variation of those colors that I’m using on top.

Invisible (monofilament) thread in clear and smoke with a pre-wound bobbin with bobbin weight thread

Again for the color of the bobbin thread, if you don’t have a matching thread, layout what you have to see if it works. Here I’m using a pre-wound bobbin with a very fine bobbin weight black thread. You can also buy pre-wound bobbin thread in all the colors. I’ve seen these come in one package which makes it very economical to buy. I do use those bobbins from time to time, but I must confess that I’m lazy and if I can set the tension to work with the same color in the bobbin, it saves time having to change the bobbin.

Pre-wound bobbin in black bobbin weight thread

I can’t stress this enough – but choose your thread for the bobbin and the top wisely. Do not ‘cheap out’ on the threads. If you can’t afford to go crazy (and who can?), then buy a couple of basic colors of the bobbin weight thread for your applique. You can get away with a lot when you use neutrals. Greys, browns and taupes will work on most fabrics. If your applique is bright – then you may want to look at buying one spool of each of the main colors. Whatever you do – don’t buy cheap thread!

Number 3 – Choose the needle wisely

The same way that you should use quality threads in the sewing machine, make sure that you’re using quality sewing machine needles. I like the Inspira brand.

But once you’ve chosen the brand that you and your sewing machine like, there’s a vast variety of needle types and sizes that one must choose from. For 99% of my work, I use the Microtex needles. That’s the type of needle. The point is very sharp and I find that it works for most of my projects.

The other thing to consider with needles is the size of the needle. It’s a good idea to match the size of the needle to the size of the thread. A huge percentage of problems with sewing is a mismatched combination of needle and thread. If you think about it, the sewing machine is literally punching a hole through your project. If the thread is too small, it can’t fill the hole completely and the project doesn’t look nice. If the thread is too big, you’ll get fraying.

Since I’m using very fine thread, I go with the smallest needle available. That is a size 60/8. A word of caution – this needle is very small as you can see below. The needle threader won’t work with it. You’ll have to thread the needle by hand. If you can’t seem to do this, then move up to a size 70/10. The needle threader will work with that size of needle.

Top needle is a size 12, the bottom needle is a size 8

Number 4 – Set up the sewing machine space

Whether you have your sewing machine set up in a cabinet or with an extension table, you must have some additional work space on both sides of the needle. I can’t stress this enough. If you don’t have room to control the work, it’s going to be much harder to control.

I moved this small sewing table to my office at work (yes – I get to sew most days at work!) and I love this table. It’s small, so it fits nicely into a corner, but it’s big enough to handle most projects very nicely.

Or use the extension table. Whatever works for you, but you need some space to work.

Sapphire 930 in a portable sewing cabinet

Extension table for the Sapphire 930

Number 5 – Thread the sewing machine

Every time I blog, I always mention threading the sewing machine. You would be surprised at how much of a difference it makes if the sewing machine is not threaded properly. Broken needles, poor tension to name a few. Now that I’ve discovered this portable thread stand, I use it all the time. I love it and am going to have to invest in a couple more since I sew on different sewing machines depending on where I am.

You can see though that I have a potential problem. That fine weight thread wants to fall off the spool. This can become a problem if that thread gets caught somewhere. That can lead to a broken needle which I don’t want as broken needles can damage the sewing machine.

Loose thread can break a needle if it catches somewhere

I like to use these nets around my fine threads so the thread stays contained and won’t get caught. In this case, the net was too tight and didn’t want to stay on the spool thus defeating the purpose of the net. I fixed that problem by stretching out the net so it was loose, but not falling off the spool and it worked like a charm.

Thread is now contained with netting

Number 6 – Choose the appropriate foot

If you’re going to do machine applique of any kind – you must buy an applique foot. In a pinch, you could use your clear foot, but you just can’t do a good job if you don’t have an open foot. Never try to applique with a regular piecing foot. You can’t see right to the needle because of the bar across the front and this will prevent you from seeing to the corners and into points on your work.

This isn’t a guideline – this is a MUST. Nuff said!

Open toe applique foot

Number 7 – Choose the appropriate needle plate

Although this makes sense, I’ll mention it anyway. Make sure you have the general-purpose throat plate on the sewing machine. You’ll be doing a zig zag and you don’t want to break a needle. You can see in the photo above, that the hole for the needle is a large oval to accommodate the width of the zig zag stitch.

Number 8 – Set up the stitch on the sewing machine

We’re almost ready to stitch!

Now is the time to set up the stitch on the sewing machine. On the touch panel of the Sapphire 930, the first 10 stitches of the first menu are featured. I’m choosing number 5 which is an ordinary zig zag.

Now here’s where you’ll have to play. I try to make that stitch as narrow as I can. But I have to make it wide enough so that it covers the edge of the applique. In this case, I’m using a stitch width of 1.0. Now to play with the length – I want an elongated zig zag. If I make the stitches too close together, the stitches will be much more visible. After playing around, I choose a stitch length of 3.0.

Stitch length is set to 3.0 and stitch width is set to 1.0 for an elongated zig zag

Number 9 – Do a test stitch out

You must do sample stitch outs. There’s no way around it – oh – you could just start stitching, but then be prepared to rip out. I usually start by stitching out the zig zag on a scrap of fabric and once I’m happy, I’ll try that stitch on a sample of applique. I want to know if I can readily cover the edge of the applique – it isn’t only what the sewing machine can do – it’s what you can do. If you need a wider stitch because you’re having trouble with the edge – then you might want to use a wider stitch.

I have stitched miles of invisible machine applique so I don’t do that part of the stitch out any more. But all sewing machines are different. I always test the length and width until I’m happy.

Stitch out to test the stitch length and width

I still have the stitch outs from the raw edge applique that I showed you at the beginning of this post. I don’t keep all my stitch outs, but if it’s something new, I keep them. They’re in a box labeled Machine Applique. They are very useful tools to me even now.

If I want to bend those guidelines, I use these stitch outs as a starting point. I can ask myself – what have I done in the past and did I like it? That can save a lot of time!

More stitch outs for machine applique

Number 10 – Stitch!

At last we’re ready to stitch. The bottom line is 99% of the zig zag stitch will be sitting on your applique piece. When the needle zags to the right of your work, the needle should not be in your applique shape. The needle should only go in the background. This will ensure that the edge of the applique is covered. If the edge of the applique shape is not covered, you’ll get a visible ridge along the edge which isn’t pretty.

There you have it – 10 tips for invisible machine applique. The next three days are going to cover a couple more applique stitches. There’ll be more tips on the actual stitching such as how to deal with points and corners. The bottom line is that the sewing machine set up for the other applique stitches is the same.

While we didn’t get to see too many features of the Husqvarna Viking Sapphire 930 today, stay tuned because you’ll see tomorrow where the Sapphire 930 shines when it comes to applique.

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1 comment

Ruth McHaney Danner October 26, 2015 - 6:43 pm
Excellent tips! I've been afraid of machine applique (well, ANY applique, to be honest), but your ideas make me believe I can do it! I think I'll start with some random shapes for practice--like in your #9. Thanks!
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