Applique quilts can be fun and easy to do, especially when the applique is done by machine. One applique pattern that is pretty and can be made very simply is a butterfly. You can make butterflies in any size you desire, as the central focus of your quilt, or simply to add a touch of whimsy to another pattern. Butterfly appliques are charming added to a pieced quilt that has a floral motif.
To make your own butterfly applique, you will need the following supplies.
- Fabrics of your choice for the butterfly’s wings and body
- Iron-on fusible fabric backing
- Thread to match fabrics
- Background fabric or quilt top to sew butterfly onto
To begin, you need a drawing or computer graphic of a butterfly, at the size you want your finished butterfly to be. You will need to determine if the wings will be all one piece, two pieces, or many pieces. This will be determined by the picture you are using. If you are a beginner, it is best to choose a picture without too many details.
Trace your picture onto the fusible fabric backing. This product comes in rolls at fabric stores. One side is paper, and the other side feels bumpy. Draw your pattern on the paper side of the fabric backing. This will be the bottom side of your applique, so remember that your final image will be reversed. You need to trace each individual shape separately.
For example, if the wing has two parts, you need to trace each part separately, and if there are patterns on the wings, such as polka dots, those also need to be traced separately. If you can’t see the lines of your original picture clearly enough through the fusible backing, you can use a lightbox, or tape your picture to a window. Tape a piece of fusible backing over the picture, paper side up, and trace the pieces of the butterfly.
Roughly cut out the pieces of your butterfly, leaving some paper around them. Following the manufacturer’s directions for your fusible backing, press each butterfly piece to the backside of the fabric you have chosen for that piece. Be sure that the paper side is up, or you will have a sticky mess on your iron! When you have the pieces ironed onto the fabric, carefully cut out each piece on the lines.
Lay your background fabric or quilt top on your ironing board. Lay your butterfly pieces on it, without ironing them, just to be sure of your placement. When you have it where you want it, you might want to lightly outline the pieces with pencil, chalk, or air- or water-soluble sewing marker. Beginning with the piece that will be on the bottom, peel the paper off the backing and place the piece where it belongs.
Iron it onto the background. Continue adding pieces until you have your whole butterfly ironed on. If a piece is not quite right, you can often heat it up with the iron and peel it off to re-position it. Be careful, though, because sometimes this distorts the fabric, changing the shape of the piece.
When all of the pieces are ironed in place, it is time to sew the butterfly down. There are a few options here. If your quilt will be a wall hanging, you can use invisible thread to sew a straight or small zig-zag stitch around the edges. If your quilt will be used for cuddling, however, you will want something more substantial holding the edges of the applique down. It is best to do a satin stitch around the edge, either in matching or complementary colors.
You could also use some other decorative stitch, as long as it holds the edges of the applique securely. Make sure that you also sew around the edges of any piece that was added on top of the wings.
In most cases, your butterfly’s body will be made out of a piece of fabric. If, however, your butterfly is small, it might be easier to just make the body out of thread, using a satin stitch in your choice of color. You will probably also want to add antennae. Again, depending on the size of the butterfly, they could be made with a simple straight stitch.
When using butterflies as a subject for appliques, the possibilities are endless. Use your imagination when choosing colors and fabrics. See what a butterfly wing would look like using florals, or geometric patterns, or batik fabrics. You can also embellish your butterfly with sequins, beads, metallic thread, fabric paint, ribbon, etc. Let your creativity fly free!