Stretch Applique Tutorial [archive 2011]
The following was originally posted on my blog and has been moved here so I can keep everything in one place and answer your questions easily.  Original photos are used.


 In this tutorial I will be showing the technique I use for applique and reverse applique for stretch fabrics. The fabrics used in this tutorial (and in many of my costumes) are 4-way stretch lycra/milliskin from Spandex House.

Many characters have stretch bodysuits with emblems on the front or designs worked in. This can appear challenging and may have some people getting their Sharpie markers out.. but have no fear, this tutorial is here for you. No more puckered seams!

Also, you may find this tutorial helpful if you want to make your own swimsuit or leggings with some graphic designs.

Read on to find out how to do it yourself.

1.  Things you need:

- Iron On Tear Away (Totally Stable)

- Schmetz Microtex Needles

- a sewing machine with a stretch stitch*

- Sharp scissors

- Polyester thread (cotton thread will break under the stress of stretching)

- Clear ruler

- a pencil

- an iron**

- your fabric!

Test out your fabric by cutting an edge then stretching it. If it runs like pantyhose, this is not a good quality spandex. Next, put it on top of other fabrics you are using to make sure it is opaque enough. Sheer fabrics don't work too well with this technique.

*Straight Stretch Stitch (say it 3 times fast or just call it a Chain stitch)

Not all machines have this. In fact, many don't. Industrial chain stitch machines are out there, but the machine I use at home is a very inexpensive Singer from JoAnn fabrics. It does not chainstitch quite as clean as an industrial machine but it works just fine for the purposes of costumes or swimwear.

In the case of recent Singer home machines, stretch stitches are usually denoted in red on the stitch knob.

If you do not have access to a chain stitch machine, a small zigzag can work too, but will not provide as much strength when stretching or as clean a look.

**Iron settings

Set your iron to a mid-range setting and turn the steam off. Test it by ironing some Tear Away onto a scrap of lycra.

You do not want the tear away to peel off easily, nor do you want to accidentally melt it to your fabric (or just melt the fabric). Find the right temperature where the Tear Away stays on.

2. Plan your design

For the purpose of this tutorial, I winged it (sorry if it shows).

At this point you want to plan out your design. If its something you need to print to scale from a computer or draw onto a grid, do that now. Computers are great for symmetrical designs!

Cut some pieces of your accent fabric larger than your planned designs by at least an inch all around.

I will be making a lightning bolt and an exclamation mark.

The gold will be a reverse applique, and the purple metallic will be an applique on top of the fabric.

3. Ironing

Iron on pieces of Tear Away to your scraps. For the gold (reverse) piece, the Tear Away is applied to the wrong side (back) of the fabric. For the purple pieces, it is ironed onto the right side (front).

4.  Design

Using your pencil, draw or trace the design onto the right side. Because the gold will be under the blue, the lightning bolt is drawn onto the blue fabric. For the purple, the design is drawn right on the front.

5. Cut

Now carefully cut out the design using sharp scissors.

Here I have placed the gold behind the blue.

At this point you could peel off the paper if you really wanted to, but it just doesn't matter. You can sew through multiple layers of this stuff and it will all peel off together later.

6. Stabilize

Iron on some Tear Away to the back of your fabric to stabilize it.

- You want lycra sandwiched between the Tear Away so nothing stretches while you sew it. While you want it on both sides, you should never have it between fabrics! Tear Away is the bread, putting it between fabrics would trap it inside and defeat the purpose.

- Be sure to use enough to cover the back of the whole design with some room around the edges (about an inch is fine).

- See how the edges of the Tear Away extend past the gold piece? This holds it onto the blue fabric without the need for pins. Pins cause a ripple in fabric so avoiding them in this project helps. Iron those edges well and its just like taping it on.

7. Attach

Same thing on the front, iron on large pieces of Tear Away to hold your design on securely.

At this point its a very good idea to draw out your sewing line. Here I drew my lines about 1/8th inch from the edges, but usually I do 1/16th inch. You may think this step is unnecessary, but it can make a big difference in how good the finished design looks!

8. Sew!

Put in your microtex needle & polyester thread and go for it! Follow your drawn lines.

I'm gonna apologize here for rushing while making this tutorial, mine didn't come out quite perfectly. But I know yours will!

9. Checkpoint

Does yours look like this? Need to seam rip anywhere? Everything good? Good! You are almost done!

10. Tear!

Tear off all the Tear Away. Start with large pieces, then go to smaller ones. If there are any bits stuck in the seam, use tweezers to get them out. Bending it before tearing can help with tricky spots too.

Keep tearing!

11. Trim where needed

For the reverse applique, you need to neatly trim the back of it. This step can be skipped for front applique since you already cut it.

12. Ta da~!

You are done. Now isn't that neat? It should lay flat with no puckers. Try stretching it:

Now theres no end to what designs you can add to stretch fabrics.


Update: I have used this technique on SO many of my costumes since then, including Yuri Plisetsky!

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