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3D appliqué

These techniques are for shapes that stand proud of the fabric or that are manipulated into shapes before being applied to the base fabric. These techniques create a dense surface texture using repeating shapes in layers and rows. Each one could easily be developed using variations of shape and application to the base fabric.

Material and Design Notes

  • Appliqué motifs that stand proud of the base fabric need to be made in a suitable material which has some body to it. Felt is often ideal as it doesn’t fray and it holds its shape well.
  • Techniques like these are used in couture fashion where the whole garment is covered in a single technique. Generally this is easier to do before the garment is constructed, but ensure the appliqué matches the grain lines so it hangs correctly.


Felt circles

This appliqué technique could be used on a number of different shapes. It is based on the principle of making silk petals for fabric flowers, but is highly effective when applied en masse to fabric. Use fine wool felt, boiled wool, Melton or other lightweight non-fraying fabric for the circles. Each felt circle should be made separately before attaching in overlapping rows onto the base fabric; do not be tempted to sew the pleats as you stitch them down onto the fabric as this does not work so well.

1). Cut circles from the chosen fabric about 3cm (11⁄₈in) in diameter. Take one circle and make a small fold in the edge of it. Use three or four stab stitches to hold the fold and fasten the end securely. Cut the thread and set the petal aside. Continue in this way until all your circle shapes are completed.

3d applique felt circles A

2). To apply to the base fabric, start at the bottom of the arrangement and stitch each piece individually by hand, sewing over the folded part and overlapping the shapes as required.

3d applique felt circles B

Fine wool Melton works perfectly for felt circles; it does not fray and has a nice drape so it sits flat in the finished piece.

3d applique felt circles C

Vertical felt appliqué

Pebble-shapes are applied to the fabric end-on to create a dense texture. Felt is ideal for this technique, but other stiff fabrics could be used, such as organdie, although many more shapes would be required.

1). Cut multiple round (or other shapes) as required according to the density of your chosen fabric.

2). Knot a strong, doubled thread and start on the underside of the base fabric. Bring the needle up through the base fabric, go through the edge of the felt or fabric piece about 6mm (¼in) from the cut edge, then bring the needle back down, almost in the same place. Repeat 2–3 times.

3). Continue to sew the fabric pieces to the base fabric, keeping them close together and alternating colour or shape to create a varied texture.

Vertical felt appliqué A

A variety of recycled wool felts have been used to create contrasting colours and textures.

Vertical felt appliqué B

Thick wool felt creates a dense effect.

Vertical felt appliqué C


This technique requires fine fabrics, which fold and gather up without creating a lot of bulk. Polyester lining fabric or fine habotai silk are ideal. The raw edges will show at the edges of the petals. This technique could be used to make fabric flowers, and the petals can also be attached vertically to the base fabric as in Vertical Felt Appliqué.

1). Cut circles 5cm (2in) in diameter or larger. Fold each circle in half and half again to create quarters.

Petals A

2). Using a knotted thread, sew across the curved raw edge using a small running stitch. Pull up for the gathers and fasten firmly with two or three tiny stitches.

Petals B

3). Hand-stitch the petals in rows starting at the top with tips pointing up and the gathered edges pointing down.Overlap each subsequent row so the points cover the gathers and stitches of the previous row. It helps to offset the petals too. Sew four or five strong stitches over the gathers only to hold each petal securely without flattening it.

Petals C

Small fabric petals stitched together en masse create a dense, decorative texture.

Petals D

Split circles

This time-consuming but simple technique creates a wave-like effect. The sample shown uses fine linen, and other suitable fabrics include polyester lining, habotai silk, cotton lawn, or any fine soft fabric that will not fray excessively. Experiment with other fabrics to create stiffer, more vertical waves, and thick felt can be used to create bold shapes.

1). Cut circles 6–8cm (2½–3½in) in diameter. Mark a line from edge to centre, along the bias grain of the fabric and cut. Open out the slash and spread the circle.

Split circles A

2). Pin and tack (baste) each circle in position on the base fabric, then hand stitch in place using running stitch.

Split circles B

Split circles randomly applied and hand stitched. Alternatively circles can be machine stitched in rows.

Split circles C


Layers of bias-cut fabric strips create beautiful texture and different fabrics will produce different effects: soft fabrics will flop or lie flat, while stiff organza is ideal for more upright curves. Draw the placement lines on the base fabric first if a very regular design is required.

Raw-edge rows

1). Starting at the top or widest part of the base fabric, pin the first strip in place, then hand or machine stitch.

Raw-edge rows A

2). Position the next strip so the edges of the strips almost meet, or space them wider apart, ensuring the previous row of stitching is covered. Continue, adding and sewing each strip down by hand or machine before adding the next.

Raw-edge rows B

Raw-edge rows using strips 3.5cm (13⁄₈in) wide; both the front and reverse of the fabric was used to create the alternating stripe effect.

Raw-edge rows C

Folded edge.

1). Fold 3–4cm-wide (1–1½in) strips bias-cut fabric in half lengthways, choosing a soft fabric such as silk chiffon or habotai silk. Start at the top of the base fabric and pin the first folded strip in place, with fold towards the top, curving if required. Hand or machine stitch in place.

Folded edge A

2). Add the next strip beneath and stitch in place. Continue adding strips increasing the space between strips as you go.

Folded edge B

Folded edge: in this sample, the top three rows are spaced 1cm (3⁄₈in) apart, while the lower five rows are spaced 6mm (¼in) apart.

Folded edge C

Upright curves

Bias-cut strips will stand upright when stitched in a curve. Stiff fabrics such as silk organza or cotton organdie are very effective for this technique, although softer fabrics such as polyester or silk chiffon can also work.

1). Cut strips 1.5cm (⁵⁄₈in) wide. Curve and pin the strip into position on the base fabric, stretching slightly, particularly for soft fabrics.

2). Machine stitch along the lower edge of the strip, as illustrated, to curl the top edge. Alternatively, stitch in the centre to curl up both edges.

Upright curves A

3). Add the next and each subsequent bias-cut fabric strip so that the edges just overlap.

Upright curves B

Upright curves in bias-cut silk organza, stitched to sturdy wool fabric.

Looped strips

Thick non-fraying fabrics such as wool felt are best for this technique, or a crisp fabric such as organza or organdie cut on the bias

1). Cut long strips of fabric. Take one strip of fabric and pin the end down on the base fabric; loop the fabric to make a ridge and pin in the furrow where the fabric strip touches the fabric again.

2). Continue to loop the fabric strip, twisting it over as required as you make the ridges, and pinning in the furrows.

3). Hand stitch the strip to the backing in the furrows, using tiny backstitch or running stitch.

Looped strips A

Looped strips using bias cut silk organza.

Looped strips B


Cut pieces of fabric are stitched down in lines to create a fluttery, light but dense surface texture. The pieces can be cut in any shape. The sample uses squares cut from bias-cut strips as they will not fray. Lightweight fabrics work well and will all behave differently: try silk chiffon, polyester chiffon, habotai silk or other floaty fabrics.

1). Cut bias strips from your chosen fabric about 4cm (1½in) wide, then cut the strips into squares.

Squares A

2). Mark horizontal lines across the base fabric 2–4cm (¾–1½in) apart. Pin the squares, point up, overlapping along the line.

Squares B

3). Sew across the lines of squares, either through the centre or along the top. Stitching across the centre will keep the shapes quite flat, while stitching the top corners only will allow the squares to float, which is particularly effective on garments.

Squares D

Silk chiffon squares have been sewn through the centre and the curl has been created by steaming the finished piece.

Squares C

Squares cut from bias-cut strips.

Squares E

Heavyweight polyester chiffon has been cut into squares (not on the bias) and stitched just across the top points; the sample has then been turned upside down to allow the squares to flop over the stitching.

Loops in rows

Short lengths of ribbon or bias-cut fabric are applied to a base fabric to create loops. The pieces are slightly different lengths and arranged in an irregular design in the two samples shown, but it would also be possible to create a neat, regular design with pieces cut into precise lengths.


1). Use a polyester or silk ribbon of your preferred width, and cut it into short lengths.

2). Starting at the bottom of the design, draw a line across the base fabric. Take a piece of ribbon, fold it in half and position the raw edges on the marked line; pin in place. Place the next ribbon loop slightly above or below the line, butting it right up against the previous ribbon loop. Continue to create an irregular line of folds.

Loops in rows A

3). Place the piece on the sewing machine with the folded loops facing up and to the left; machine stitch across the raw edges of the ribbon strips.

Loops in rows B

4). Draw the next guideline 1cm (3⁄₈in) above the first row of stitching and offset the first piece of ribbon so it covers the join between the first two ribbon loops on row 1. Continue as before.

Loops in rows C

Ribbon loops in rows: here the ribbon is 1.3cm (½in) wide and the lengths are 5–6cm (2½in) long.

Loops in rows D

Bias-cut fabric

For this to work effectively, your chosen fabric needs to have spring in it, so that when the strips are folded in half, they hold a curve rather than lie flat. Habotai silk was used for this sample. Strips of fabric are cut 3.5cm (1½in) wide and 8–10cm (3–4in) long. As with the Ribbon variation, the strips are applied to the base fabric, offsetting rows. In this sample, the rows are positioned 2cm (¾in) apart.

Loops in rows E

Bias-cut fabric loops made using habotai silk.

Fabric Manipulation
150 CREATIVE Sewing Techniques

Ruth Singer