Three 2017 Row by Row Junior patterns use machine applique. More specifically they use raw edge, fusible machine applique where a cut shape is heat fused on a background square and stitched all around to permanently hold it in place. While adults may look at an applique project and think that’s a lot of work. Kids will think “I get to use the machine to do that! Can we do it now?”

Kids can!  All they need is opportunity, practice, a few good tools, and a willing adult.  

Row by Row Jr. recommends a simple zigzag stitch for machine applique. Other applique stitches like the blanket stitch are popular but the irregular swings of the needle are more difficult for kids to master at first. High Tops and Rover use zigzag stitching.  Big Wheels uses straight stitching.

The best way to introduce machine applique is to practice with thread-less sewing on a plain piece of paper. Point out the stitch setting for zigzag and then the stitch width and length adjustment options. Play around with different widths and lengths. Kids will enjoy examining the holes in the paper and how they change with different values in the setting. This is also a good time to practice pivoting while zigzagging and keeping the needle down in the paper when turning corners. If your machine has a “needle down” function, explain how to use it too.

Next, offer our “Let’s Sew Curves” free printable activity page for more zigzag practice. (Download pdf here.) Demonstrate how to guide the zigzag stitch through gentle curves with little pivots. Talk about how the needle swings back and forth like it’s dancing.

Now it’s time to prepare the applique shapes following the Row by Row Junior pattern instructions. Both Rover and High Tops patterns are already reversed for tracing on paper backed fusible web. Big Wheels pattern does not need to be reversed.

There are many fusible products on the market. Use what you are familiar with. Row by Row Junior did testing on a variety of fusible brands. Heat n Bond tested most favorable with kids. It worked fast, only 2 seconds for the first press, peeled away cleanly, and left a shiny surface that was easiest to see.

Now it’s time to practice zigzagging on fabric. Save the fused scraps when you cut out your applique shapes. Fuse these to scraps of background fabric. Experiment with different stitch widths and lengths. Write down the settings for each test. Let the kids choose the one they like best. Ideally, a looser zigzag is better for kids than a perfect satin stitch. Remember to use stabilizer (see below) under these practice scraps too for best results.

Point out how most of the stitch stays on the applique. It zigs on the applique and when it zags, it falls off the edge into the background. Again, it’s like a zigzag dance.

Try different thread colors too. Thread colors that match the applique are best for camouflaging beginner goofs but kids will think contrasting threads are more fun. That’s OK. Let them choose their favorite.

Variegated thread is popular. For best results look for brands that have short color intervals (shown in the photo.) “Rainbows” from Superior Threads is a good choice. It changes color every inch. Look for it at your local quilt shop.

Remember to always use stabilizer when applique stitching. With zigzag stitching, or any wide stitch, the tension caused by the side to side swing of the needle draws up the fabric in the middle of the stitch. The result is called tunneling and produces unsightly puckers.

Prevent tunneling by using a stabilizer. A stabilizer can be any material that is rigid enough to overcome the thread tension and hold the stitch in place as the needle swings. There are dozens of stabilizer products available at your local quilt shop or sewing center. Row by Row Junior uses a tear away style like Stitch-n-Tear but you can use any brand you like. Kitchen parchment paper, tracing paper, or common copier paper can be used in a pinch.

Use a piece of stabilizer material large enough to accommodate the whole design. Place it behind the background square. Pin it in place so it does not move while stitching. After the applique stitching is finished, gently tear away the excess stabilizer.

The Big Wheels pattern applique does not require stabilizer because it uses straight stitching to hold the edges down. Older kids can try zigzagging their Big Wheels if they’re confident enough. If younger kids are having difficulty with zigzagging, they can simply use a straight stitch around the edge, especially on High Tops. That’s perfectly OK!

This is OK too!

Two siblings sewing on the same machine applique for Big Wheels. When the younger was asked if she wanted to “fix” her Big Wheel so it looked like her sister’s, she said “No. I like it that way.” She was happy and so was I. We moved on to sewing the other three Big Wheels the exact same way.

Our Row by Row Junior mission:

We want to enhance your Row by Row Experience with “kid friendly” educational materials that foster the love of fabric and machine sewing, strengthen inter-generational family relationships, and support local quilt shops everywhere.”

Kids can!  All they need is opportunity, practice, a few good tools, and a willing adult.  

Learn more about the Row by Row Junior Program here.

Let us know how you like Row by Row Junior.  Share your experiences with us.  Leave a comment below.

Jeannette Kitlan, your Row by Row Junior author and designer.