Wool Appliqué Tutorial August 11 2017 6 Comments

Wool Appliqué Fast and Easy by Marya Kissinger Amig of Spoolproof.com

It’s hard to imagine that a needle art that evolved at the time of the Civil War is surging in popularity today.  But if you’ve ever stitched wool appliqué, you know why. Whether primitive or modern in design, wool appliqué is portable, tactile, and easy and quick to stitch! Since the wool is felted, it doesn’t fray, so you don’t have to turn under the edges of your appliqué pieces.  Plus, it’s so easy to stitch using the scads of beautiful threads on the market today.

Felted wool can be sourced from your local quilt stores, online, or you can upcycle wool from garments.  You can even dye and over-dye felted wool yourself.  And stitching is just so easy!  All you need to do is trace your appliqué shapes onto freezer paper or a lightweight fusible web, iron the tracings onto your wool, cut them out, place your shapes on your background, and stitch!

But face it, we all want to spend as much time stitching as possible, so here are some tips that will make your wool appliqué stitching easier, allowing you to stitch more!

Precise cutting is essential.  Whether you trace your patterns onto freezer paper or onto a lightweight fusible adhesive web, like Soft Fuse, you need good, sharp scissors to cut felted wool accurately.  You also want a pair of scissors that feels good in your hand and that has a sharp point for cutting in tight spots.  I like to use small to medium-sized scissors because it’s easier to control than large shears.  Karen Kay Buckley’s six-inch Perfect Scissors – the blue one – is perfect for cutting out wool appliqué pattern pieces.  One of its blades is serrated, so it grips the wool, preventing slipping and allowing you to make accurate cuts.  The soft-grip handle is easy on your fingers, and a plastic cover protects the very-sharp tip between uses.

Perfect Scissors

It’s critical to position your pattern pieces accurately.  Some stitchers use fusible web, such as Soft Fuse, or glues, like Roxanne’s Glue-Baste-It, to help them place their pattern pieces.  Roxanne’s needle-nose tip allows you to place a tiny drop of this temporary basting glue on the smallest of wool pieces – just enough to hold it in place to ensure accurate stitching.

Roxanne Glue

However, purists want their wool projects to be 100% natural and shun fusibles and glue products.  In that case, you can use a stapler to attach your shapes to the background.  An investment in a long-reach stapler with a 12-inch throat depth will allow you to attach pieces in the center of even your larger projects.  However, take care not to leave the staples in your project too long as they will rust eventually.

Basting with a stapler

If you’re a stitcher who fears the staples will leave holes in your project or you want the ability to reposition shapes at the last minute, Clover glass head appliqué pins are a good option.  Their small size and glass heads help prevent your thread from catching on the pins.

Basting with applique pins

You want to use a sharp, strong needle when stitching wool.  Felted wool can vary in thickness, so you need a needle with a sharp point to pierce the wool.  You also want a large, long eye to accommodate thicker threads.  Tulip Chenille Needles have both a sharp point and a large eye so you can use whatever cotton or wool thread you choose.  I prefer a size #22 or #24 chenille needle, depending on the thickness of the wool and thread that I’m using.  Tulip uses special surface treatments that allow it to manufacture a needle that is strong yet flexible and rust resistant.  Remember needle sizes run the opposite of thread sizes – the higher the number the smaller the needle diameter. 

Tulip chenille needle for wool applique

Your thread choices are nearly limitless.  A variety of thread can be used in wool appliqué depending on the “look” you desire in your project.  Perle cotton is frequently used, but you can opt for linen, wool, rayon, or even a few strands of embroidery floss.  If I’m whip stitching an appliqué piece where I don’t want the stitching to show, I prefer Sue Spargo’s Ellana wool/acrylic blend thread. Created in collaboration with Wonderfil Specialty Threads, the fray-resistant Ellana threads blend and bury nicely in wool and are not fuzzy.  Sue Spargo suggests you use a #24 chenille needle when working with Ellana.

Ellana Thread

When I use a blanket stitch, I prefer size 8 or 12 Perle cotton.  Many brands of Perle cotton are currently available, including Valdani, Finca, Thread Art, and DMC, among others, and I’ve used all of them.  But I especially like the Sue Spargo Collection’s Eleganza Perle Cotton size 8.  Also created in collaboration with Wonderfil, this 100% Egyptian cotton thread is tightly wound with an extra twist that adds sheen and creates firm stitches that accent all your stitchery.  Solids and variegates are available.  The variegates are fun to use as Sue designed them so you get a rapid color change on smaller designs.

 Eleganza Thread

But no matter which thread you choose to use, please don’t obsess over the quality of your stitches.  You’re creating a one-of-a-kind handmade piece.  Embrace your personal style of stitching. It’s yours alone.

If you want to add detail to your wool appliqué, use Clover’s iron-off white marking pen to draw embroidery lines for letters, words, or stitching details like swirls, French knots, and stems.  It even works on dark colors.  The ball-point tip won’t crush or need sharpening, and it allows you to make precise markings on your project.  Don’t worry if the marks seem too light when drawn, they will darken as the ink dries and won’t rub off.  Just press your project with an iron and the ink will disappear.  The ink also disappears when sprayed with water, so you also can use this pen on your other quilting, embroidery, or craft projects.

Clover White Marking Pen

Wool appliqué projects are easily portable. Because you’ll want to take them with you wherever you go, it’s important to have small scissors that you can stash in your needle case.  Kelmscott Designs’ cute, red 2.5-inch pair of Putford scissors is perfect for traveling. Although the one-inch blades are short, they are very sharp and cut threads and yarn with ease.  Made from stainless steel, the Putford’s finger holes are the same size as a normal-size scissors, making them comfortable to use.

Putford Scissors

If you’re new to wool appliqué, it’s time to get started.  Find a small project that you’ll be able to finish quickly – a mug rug, needle case, or candle mat are perfect.  Choose a project with pieces that are easy to cut and simple to stitch.  And you don’t have to start with blanket stitch – use a quick whip stitch instead.  If you choose a project that will allow you to be successful the first time, I know you’ll be back for more.

Spoolproof Wool Applique Project

About Marya Kissinger Amig

Marya Kissinger Amig, who has spent more than four decades creating art with textiles, fell in love with wool appliqué many years ago. She now has a blog at Spoolproof.com and is designing a line of wool appliqué patterns to be released shortly.  Marya also is a member of the Studio Art Quilts Association, focusing her work on contemporary and modern quilting.  She worked for many years as a sewing and craft book editor for Rodale Inc. and as an editor for a daily international business newspaper.