Sew Appliques on Knits in a Snap!

Appliqué Your Way 

I'm a big fan of dressing up a plain item of clothing with simple embellishments. It's a great way to refashion something that you already own or dress up an inexpensive plain item like a t-shirt or simple dress and make it interesting. Summer is the perfect time for this since it's all about throwing on something easy and fun and getting outside. 

Jersey Garden Skirt from Sew Liberated.
  Jersey Garden Skirt from Sew Liberated. 



Embellished t-shirts are still as popular as ever, and you can make your own for half the cost of store-bought versions. Appliqué is one of the easiest ways to add embellishment, but while it is really easy to do on woven fabrics like cotton and linen, it can be a bit trickier to appliqué on knit fabrics. A really cool look on knits is reverse appliqué in which the appliqué fabric is placed at the back of the top fabric, then you cut out the shape you want in the top layer. You can add beading and handstitching as well for more detail. 

Designer Meg McElwee creates fantastic designs with appliqué in her first book Sew Liberated: 20 Stylish Projects for the Modern Sewist and she has a great tutorial on sewing reverse appliqué on knit fabrics. It's a great technique to customize a plain t-shirt, knit summer dress or skirt, baby onesie, and more! 

Reverse Appliqué on Knitted Fabric 

Whenever you are appliquéing with a knitted fabric, you will need to use a stabilizer behind your fabric to keep it from stretching during the process. I recommend using a self-adhesive, tear-away stabilizer such as Sulky Sticky +. The adhesive makes the stabilizer perfect for using on knits, while a nonsticky version would still shift around and would require the use of pins, which create holes in the fabric. 

Stitching recommendations: Handstitches with embroidery floss (a running stitch creates a rustic look), or a straight machine stitch. 

Tools and Materials:

  • Freezer paper
  • Fine-tipped permanent marker or pencil
  • Erasable fabric marking pen or tailor's chalk
  • Self-adhesive, tear-away stabilizer
  • Craft scissors
  • Sewing scissors
  • Embroidery scissors

1. Trace your template(s) onto freezer paper (nonwaxy side) with a permanent marker or pencil and cut out. 

Figure 1
  Figure 1  

Figure 2

  Figure 2  

Figure 3

Figure 3  

Figure 4

 Figure 4 

Figure 5

Figure 5 


2. Cut a generous rectangle from your appliqué fabric so that your template will fit on top of it with a seam allowance of at least ½ " (1.3 cm) on all edges.

3. Cut out a rectangle of self-adhesive, tear-away stabilizer that is larger than the appliqué fabric rectangle by at least 1" (2.5 cm) on each side. 

4. Iron the freezer paper template to the right side of the background knitted fabric, making sure that the plastic coated (waxy) side is facing down (figure 1). 

5. Remove the paper backing of the tear-away stabilizer and adhere the wrong side of the appliqué fabric, centered, to the sticky side of the stabilizer (figure 2). 

6. Place the stabilizer/applique fabric under the background knitted fabric, positioning it directly behind the freezer paper template that is adhered to the right side of the knitted fabric (figure 3). Make sure the knitted fabric is smooth and the edges of the stabilizer are firmly adhered to the wrong side. 

7. Using a ballpoint needle, sew a straight stitch on the knitted fabric, along the edge of the freezer paper template, backtacking at the beginning and end (figure 4). Check to make sure that your stitching has gone through the layers of appliqué fabric and stabilizer (if it has accidentally gone beyond the edge of the appliqué fabric, you'll have to rip out your stitching and try again; otherwise, you'll end up with a hole when you cut out the top, knitted fabric). 

8. Peel the freezer paper template off the knitted fabric. Then, use your embroidery scissors to cut along the inside of your stitchline through the top knitted fabric only, leaving at least 1/8" (3 mm) seam allowance, if not more (figure 5). 

9. Flip the knitted fabric over to the wrong side and tear away the stabilizer from the back of the appliqué. Trim the applique fabric to within ¼" (6 mm) of the stitchline.

Once your try this technique, you'll be hooked! If you want the full pattern and instructions for the Jersey Garden Skirt shown above plus a lot more great appliqué projects, be sure to check out Sew Liberated as part of our Hurt Book and Overstock Sale. And then shop around for more great deals full of summer sewing inspiration!

 Happy sewing,



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One thought on “Sew Appliques on Knits in a Snap!

  1. Does it matter whether the applique fabric is a knit or a woven fabric? It seems obvious that it would need to be a knit, to maintain some stretch along with the movement of the background fabric, but I can also imagine that this would depend, to some degree, upon the placement within the structure of the garment, along with the size of the applique…but since knits also vary in degree of stretch, perhaps each case is different from the next. Am I overthinking this completely? Thanks for the article! -Terri