In its broadest sense, an applique or appliqué is a smaller ornament or device applied to another surface. In the context of ceramics, for example, an appliqué is a separate piece of clay added to the primary work, generally for the purpose of decoration.

In the context of sewing, applique refers a needlework technique in which pieces of fabric, embroidery, or other materials are sewn onto another piece of fabric to create designs. It is particularly suitable for work which is to be seen from a distance, such as in banner-making. A famous example of applique is the Hastings Embroidery.

Appliqued cloth is an important art form in Benin, West Africa, particularly in the area around Abomey, where it has been a tradition since the 18th century and the kingdom of Danhomè.

Applique is used extensively in quilting. "Dresden Plate" and "Sunbonnet Sue" are two examples of traditional American quilt blocks that are constructed with both patchwork and applique. Baltimore album quilts, Broderie perse, Hawaiian quilts, Amish quilts and the ralli quilts of India and Pakistan also use applique.

Types of applique

Applied pieces usually have their edges folded under, and are then attached by any of the following:

  1. Straight stitch, typically 2-3mm in from the edge.
  2. Satin stitch all around, overlapping the edge. The patch may be glued or straight stitched on first to ensure positional stability and a neat edge.
  3. Decorative stitching over a significant amount of the applique piece, with the thread intended to be part of the artistic effect. The Buttonhole stitch is a good example.
  4. Central fixing only, with the edges of the applied piece intended to rise up from the background cloth. Typically used when attaching 3-dimensional flowers.


  • Barber, Elizabeth Wayland: Women's Work:The First 20,000 Years, W. W. Norton, 1994
  • Gillow, John, and Bryan Sentance: World Textiles, Bulfinch Press/Little, Brown, 1999, ISBN 0-8212-2621-5
  • Reader's Digest Complete Guide to Needlework. The Reader's Digest Association, Inc. (March 1992). ISBN 0-89577-059-8

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