A few months ago, one of my shirts developed a most unfortunate hole. Otherwise in perfect condition, and just old enough to be soft but not yet threadbare. I let the poor thing linger on the bottom of a drawer for several weeks, wondering whether I would finally shame myself into learning how to darn or not, until I finally realized the perfect fix: A quick felt appliqué.
When I first think of appliqué, I think of elaborate needlework or quilting; maybe you do, too. Appliqués can be elaborate and complicated, but they don’t have to be. In the case of my comfy blue shirt, I grabbed some lightweight felt from my scrap pile, eyeballed the offending textile injury, cut out a simple heart shape, grabbed my sewing box and stitched the thing in place. I was done in under ten minutes and my shirt had a new lease on life.
For kids’ clothes, appliqués are a great cover-up option for a variety of problems: Stubborn stains on a garment you don’t want to dye, uneven rips and tears that can’t be neatly repaired, worn spots, and the like. Appliqués can even stand in for patch pockets on aprons, dresses, or even pants.
If you can patch the knees of pants, you’ll find that appliqué uses many of the same basic techniques, though it requires a little more planning and foresight.
Since appliqué-as-mending is very dependent upon both the style of the garment and the type and location of its trouble, you’ll want to start planning with the item to be repaired at hand and let it dictate your choices.
For the appliqué, choose a fabric with complementary laundering needs in addition to choosing a fabric appropriate to the design you have in mind. Resist the urge to reclaim that gorgeous-but-ruined, prone-to-shrinking, dry-clean-only blouse by turning it into a cute daisy appliqué to cover up the chocolate ice cream stain on the bodice of your daughter’s seersucker sundress. (While it is true that I stitched felt to a ribbed knit shirt, the stakes in my example were very low – puckers or wrinkles under the appliqué weren’t going to bother me as long as the compromised part of the shirt stayed covered.)
Most appliqués, particularly on childrens’ clothes, are stylized, simplified images of animals, toys, flowers, and so on. The Internet is littered with coloring pages made up of simple lines that can easily be adapted to appliqué designs as well as sized up or down as necessary, but you may be happier with the end result if you use your own design.
To create an original appliqué that will reflect your child’s personality and interests while extending the life of an article of clothing, you don’t have to be able to draw. If you can look at an image and identify its basic geometric structure – think of the typical child’s rendition of a house made up of stacked rectangles, squares, triangles, etc. - you can produce a simple rendition by tracing around objects you have on hand. A business card becomes a small rectangle that makes up part of the cab of a dump truck. A saucer becomes the bottom of a cat’s body, tracing around a cup makes the cat’s head, and the corner of an envelope can be folded over to produce a triangle that will make up the cat’s ears. Tracing and cutting on a traced line are the two skills you really need.
Once you have chosen an appropriate fabric and design, you can decide whether you want to keep things simple – as I did in my example - or work toward something more polished. The best-looking and best-wearing appliqués come through a combination of ironing-on and stitching. Amy at My Happy Crazy Life has a great tutorial on appliqué using both iron-on adhesive and tear-away stabilizer to produce professional-looking results.