Applique can get a little bit complicated at times, and can certainly take some time.  Once you have completed an applique design, the work was well worth it!  Applique can make just about anything beautiful if done correctly.  Personally, I love doing applique designs.  The question of the day is, do you pre-cut your applique fabric, or do you cut it on the machine?

While the end result looks the same, there are two ways of doing applique:  pre-cutting your material before you start the design using a die-line, or cutting the fabric in the hoop.  Neither is wrong or right and neither technique will have an effect on the final design.  It all comes down to personal preference.   Here is a rundown of both techniques, and I encourage everyone to try both and then decide which way you like to do your applique.   These are not in any specific order as neither technique is better than the other.

APPLIQUE CUT IN THE HOOP:  When you are working on an applique, it will have 3 parts – usually in 3 different colors.  The first part is the die-line, the second part is the tack down stitches and the third part is the satin covering stitches.   For this method, you need to hoop your fabric with stabilizer, both hooped tight.  Then you will take the hoop to the machine, and add your applique fabric on top of the hoop.  Make sure the applique fabric is nice and flat and covers the applique area completely.  If you are not sure of the exact size, you can check on your machine or in your software and make sure that your applique fabric is large enough to cover the whole entire area of the applique.    There is no need to pin the applique or iron it down – make sure that you pre-iron your applique fabric if necessary.    You can use a little bit of temporary tack-down spray if you would like – but remember the best practices when using the temporary spray – do not spray it near to your machine!!   Please remember to keep your fingers out of the way of the needles – there is no need to get your fingers in there to hold the fabric down – it should not move or fold over when you are stitching the first part of the applique.  Once the placement or die-line running stitches has completed your machine will stop.  If you have a single needle machine, there will be a color change that will make your machine stop.  If you have a muli-needle machine, remember to program a stop or press the stop button.

On some machines, there is a “frame out” option for applique.  If you have this option, remember to use it!  This will move the hoop out away from the needles so you can cut the fabric a little bit better.  My machine has a table on it, so this feature is really helpful for applique.   If you don’t have this fancy feature, no worries, just remove the hoop from the machine (do not unhoop) and carefully place it on a table.   HINT:  remember which way the hoop goes back into the machine!  I have seen this error a few times and done it a few times myself.  Make sure you remember which way is up!  APPLIQUE HACK:  To prevent this error from happening, I mark my hoops with a little sticker on the left side of the hoop (on the metal arms, not on the hoop itself) so that I remember that is the left side of the hoop when I am putting it back on the machine.  Once you have your hoop safely on a flat surface, grab your scissors and start cutting off the excess fabric.  Try and get as close to the placement running stitches as possible, and at the same time try not to pull or move the fabric and stabilizer underneath.   Take your time, applique can take time and practice to get perfect results.  Once you have cut out the applique fabric carefully, then you can put the hoop back onto the machine and keep going – the tack down stitch will be next, and then the covering stitches – usually satin stitches but other stitches can be used.  Repeat as many times as necessary to finish your project.  The results are beautiful and applique is a great technique to use up your scraps of fabric too!

If you are cutting the applique fabric in the hoop, there are special scissors that make the job a bit easier.   They are called “applique scissors” and they come in various shapes and sizes:

applique scissors help cutting in the hoop

There are two points to notice about applique scissors:  the first one is the bend in the handles – both scissors in the picture above have them – and that bend makes it easier to cut in the hoop with the hoop laying on a flat surface.   The second part is on the larger scissors:  on one side there is a flat part – and that helps to smoothly hold the fabric out of the way, as well as preventing the scissors from poking holes in the fabric or stabilizer below.  These are my favorite applique scissors!  You don’t have to have applique scissors, but I find they do help out quite a bit as long as they are sharp enough!  Some people like really small scissors for applique, so I suggest trying a few and see what you like best!

PRE-CUT APPLIQUE FABRIC:  This second technique is different than the first, but again the end result will be the same.   Pre-cutting your fabric means that your fabric is cut to the applique shape before you are stitching.  Some people find it easier to have everything ready to go when they start stitching.  There are a few ways to pre-cut your applique.  You can print out the image of your placement stitch on a template HINT:  make sure that you print it 1:1 actual size ratio or the template will be the wrong size.  Once you have printed out the template you can rough cut it out and place it on the applique fabric.  It may be helpful to use a bit of adhesive spray before you start cutting.  Once you have your template in the right place, then you can precision cut your applique fabric along the lines of the template.  Remove the paper template and you have your perfectly cut applique shape ready to go to the machine!  HINT:  if you don’t have a printer, or don’t have the software to print out a template, you can always lay a piece of plain white paper on some stabilizer in your hoop, and stitch out the placement lines.  You will have perforations through the paper and your template will pop out!   If you have a cutter, you can export the placement line into a cuttable format and have your cutting machine precision cut your fabric for you!  Once you have all of your applique fabric cut out,  hoop your fabric plus stabilizer and make sure it is hooped properly and tight and you are ready to go!  Put your hoop on your machine, load up your design and stitch those placement stitches and stop.  Again, if you have a single needle machine, your machine will stop for a thread color change.  If you have a multi needle, make sure you press the stop button or program in a pause to this part.  Once everything has stopped you can place your pre-cut fabric carefully in the placement lines.  If you need to use a bit of temporary spray to make it easier, then use a little bit.  Smooth out the fabric and then start stitching the tack down stitches and the satin stitches.

how to pre-cut applique fabric

Pre-cut applique fabric with rough cut templates

I love applique!  You can add so much interest and color to a design by using matching or bright fabric!  Here is my favorite of all applique designs, created by John Deer and available at the  My favorite zombie dude.  I think we called him Fred?

zomblie applique design


Which applique method do you prefer?  Let me know in the comments!

Until next time

Happy Stitching!

Sue :)

4 Responses to “Applique: Pre-cut or not to Pre-cut? That is the question!”

  1. Linda Morse says:

    I like to cut mine out from a printed template with small appliqué scissors but hope to have a cutting machine in the near future. Haven’t decided which brand yet.

  2. Deborah Farthing says:

    A lot of my applique pes designs don’t have a die line with them. Is it possible for my scan and cut to do them somehow?

    • gcherry says:

      Can you print out the applique shape? I’ve never seen one without a dieline but the great feature of the SNC is that as long as you can scan in a picture, it can cut it out on something else. You could probably even stitch out the tackdown stitch on paper, connect the lines with a pen, scan it in to let SNC cut it out.

    • Sue says:

      In your software, you can save a copy of the first placement stitch of the applique, or print it out and scan it back into your computer (depending on what embroidery software you have) and then you can import it into the scan and cut software? there may be an easier solution – one with less steps, but I don’t have a scan and cut to figure it out. You may be able to export that part of the file to a scan and cut file so you can omit the printing and scanning.

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