Applique Quilt Blocks, and The Bird Block Tutorial

For anyone just joining me in the blog-wide brainstorming sessions this week – welcome!  We’re getting ready for the Quilt Block Challenge.  You don’t have to be a quilter to join in the fun, this is geared toward beginners and seasoned quilters alike, in the hopes that you try a new technique with fabric.  It’s not a whole quilt, we’re starting small with just one square that you can enter in the contest for your chance at some fabulous prizes!

Today I’m talking about applique.  I like applique.  I like it a lot.  I used in it the very first quilt I ever made, and in quite a few quilts since then – including the one I just made for Raya in the spring.  You can use your fabric more like an artist’s canvas when you cut applique shapes, because instead of sewing the edges into the seams of the quilt, you’re layering it on top and just securing the edges.


There are a lot of ways to applique, but I’m going to show you the method I like to use.  If you’ve seen it done differently – it’s not wrong!  People have their preferred methods of creating their fabric designs.

There are a couple of my past projects you can take a look at if you’d like to see some other ways to use it creatively – I made this pop art pillow last fall, and Marilyn’s face(s) were all little pieces of black fabric that I appliqued on.  It was part of a challenge that my fellow judge Rikka from Ricochet and Away! co-hosted – and if you click through to the contest page, there are lots of resources there for applique projects, too.

For a cool twist on applique, there’s also a reverse-applique method, too – the basic idea is that you start out with two or more fabrics sandwiched together, you stitch your design, and then cut away portions of the fabric to reveal the colors underneath to create your design.

It’s how I made my Storm Trooper Tote Bag (which was for another one of Rikka’s challenges).  If you’d like to know more about reverse applique or just want to see a girly Star Wars Accessory in all its glory, you can visit my post, or check out the tutorial that I used to learn how to do it over at Sweet Verbena.

Reverse applique is great for a shabby look or something more industrial, because those edges that you cut away will fray a bit.  Because of that, I don’t find it to be the best choice for something like a quilt, unless you’re using a no-fray fabric like a jersey knit.

Today I’m going to share with you a little love bird block, and show you my best method for applique.

I hope you’re not spotting all my flaws in this week’s series. :P It was a last-minute idea to make up a few quilt blocks this week, so I’ve been sort of racing through making them.  So I can attest to the fact that they can be done in 30 minutes, LOL, but don’t feel pressure to go quickly when you work.  Otherwise you get wonky wings… don’t mind that… you get the idea! :)

My friend for all applique projects: Heat-N-Bond.  This stuff turns anything into the equivalent of an iron-on patch.  For anything you are going to be using your sewing machine for, you want to get the light-duty stuff which gives you a temporary hold.  The heavy duty Heat-N-Bond will gum up your sewing machine – so you only want to use that if you plan to secure your shapes by hand.

What you will need for this method:

12″ square of background fabric.  I chose white.
Small scraps that coordinate to make your birds
Light duty Heat-N-Bond… there is probably an equivalent product?  I’m not sure?
Sewing Machine OR embroidery floss and thread
Template – see below.

These little birds are very basic, and you won’t need to worry about reversing your design because they are symmetrical shapes.  If you want to applique letters or anything that has a distinct left and right, you will need to trace your design out backward onto the paper side of your Heat-N-Bond, because you iron it onto the backside of your fabric.

Here is my template for tracing out your shapes  Just print this out on a regular-sized piece of paper.  I know, it’s not fancy, but it’s just for tracing so it will get the job done, if you happen to like these little birds.

Click here to download the template

All you will need to do is get a letter-sized piece of Heat-N-Bond, and then lay it on top of your printed template, paper side up.

Trace around the shapes.

Now cut them apart, leaving a small border around each shape.  You don’t need to be really careful, just make sure you don’t cut all the way to the edge of your shape.

Now, iron the adhesive side to the underside of your fabric scraps with your iron on no steam, medium-high setting.

When you have all your pieces ironed on, use your scissors and trim the shape down.  It will cut really easily with the paper backing.

Now, carefully peel the paper backing off your shapes.  Make sure that the adhesive is sticking to the fabric, and not the paper.

Now, arrange your bird bodies how you like them on your square, and iron them on.  Do the heart too, if you’re planning to use it.

Now, iron on the wings.  You want to do these as a second step to make sure they bodies adhere well, and you don’t want to try to heat up multiple layers.

Now – it’s time to stitch them on to reinforce them.  The Heat-N-Bond should last as long as you need to sew with it, but ironing it on isn’t a permanent way to attach it.

There are a few methods you can use to stitch them on.  You can hand-embroider the edges.  This is a solution if you don’t have a sewing machine, or you like a more country-cottage type of look.  It’s beautiful to hand-embroider!  But I opted to use my sewing machine because I didn’t want to take a lot of time finishing this up.

On the machine, you can run a normal line of stitching, close to the edge of your designs, but over time, those edges will begin to look frayed.  It’s a cool look, if you’re going for shabby!  But what I normally do is a zig-zag stitch, on a wide setting, with the shortest stitch length.  I used a contrasting color thread to really stand out.

If you’re doing the zig-zag stitch, you want to make sure that one side of the stitching is fully on your body piece, and the other side of the stitching is on your fabric backing.  This is the most secure way to machine-applique.  Go around each piece – the body, the wings, and the heart.  Go slow.  If you start getting impatient (ahem) it helps to remind yourself that even a slow machine stitch is much faster than a hand-stitch, so you are saving yourself time! :)

I also stitched each bird some stubby little stick legs.

Kind of fun, right?  I hope you are getting some ideas of your own about what you can do with fabric.  If yesterday and today seemed like entirely too much sewing for you, then stay tuned for some unconventional ideas tomorrow! :)

I link up to these great parties!


  1. Kadie says

    Great tutorial!! I think you need to applique a mustache on to your block.:) Or maybe just a face of Terry.

  2. Meredith says

    Great suggestions Kadie! This method seems super simple! I might just try this in a fun pattern…maybe a Sparty helmet?!

  3. Terry says

    I think this would be my kind of quilting. Love how you inserted the 'ahem' – very descriptive with only a single word. lol

  4. Tonna says

    Thanks for posting! I want to put a ladybug applique on my daughter's birthday dress, but I wasn't sure I could embroider it with my sewing machine. Now I know I can! And I'll remember to go slow… :-)

  5. Jessi Wohlwend says

    Those birds are super cute, and I LOVE the zig zag stitching around the edges in that pink color :-) Thanks so much for sharing at The Fun In Functional!

  6. The Thriftiness Miss says

    This is awesome! And the possibilities are endless! Thanks so much for sharing this.. It's a great tutorial.

  7. Bonnymom says

    Thanks for your tutorial. I've been wanting to try appliques, but I've been nervous about it. You've motivated me. When I get the time to do a project, I'll post it in my blog ( and link it to your great instructions!

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