Embellishment How-To: Corded Appliqué

Couched applique tutorial from Cosplay by McCall's

My favorite part of almost any costume is in the details. That may mean quilting, fabric manipulation, embroidery, appliqué, trims, or other techniques depending on the feel of the costume, but I always like to find some way to add texture, richness, and depth to each piece. Today I’m going to talk about a cording technique that’s been used on a few of the Cosplay by McCall’s patterns to give decorative appliqué a more dimensional look. You can see the effect in the sample above, which is a detail of the appliqué that our designer created for M2081.

This is a useful method if you have a little bit of a fancy brocade or tapestry fabric that you want to highlight but not enough to use it for the main fabric; if you want the look of large-scale embroidery without having to do it all by hand; or if you’ve found a great print, but it’s too lightweight or the wrong type of fabric for your project. The couched cord embellishments cover the edges of the appliqués, giving them a neat, finished look with a hand-worked effect. You can see how our designer used this corded appliqué technique on Cosplay by McCall’s patterns here and here, and read on for the full tutorial.

couched applique tutorial from cosplay by mccall's - fabric selection

Choose a bold appliqué fabric that won’t be overshadowed by the embellishment. Simple, graphic prints are easiest to start with.

First, choose your motifs for the appliqué. Some fabric designs are more suitable than others; you want one with clearly defined motifs that can be pulled out and used in isolation. Pick a bold design that will read well from a distance, and won’t be overshadowed by the corded embellishment. Simple, graphic designs with a solid outline are easiest to work with.

For the hand-couched cording, you will need decorative cord or thread and a matching all-purpose or decorative thread. Satin rattail cord is a good option for this technique; you can often find it in the trim section but try bead stores for the thinner, firmer version used for jewelry cord as it will be easier to work with and give you a crisper outline. You could also use embroidery floss, yarn, or a narrow braid. A narrow cord applied in multiple rows will give a bold outline that’s flexible enough to turn tight corners. Experiment to find the color and texture that looks best with your fabrics.

couched applique tutorial from cosplay by mccall's - applique cutout

Trim close to the outline of each appliqué motif, allowing for the width of cording you plan to add. This one is being applied to a heavy cotton sateen.

When you’ve selected your appliqués, cut them out with a sharp pair of trimming scissors. If you will be using a single row of cording, cut right up to the edge of the motif. If the fabric frays or you want the bolder look of multiple cording rows, allow a border of the appropriate width. If needed, use a dab of fabric glue around the edges to prevent fraying. Then, determine how the designs will be placed. If you want a symmetrical design, make sure you’ve chosen an appliqué fabric that includes mirror-image motifs. If you’re going for a more organic look, just think about how to place the designs so that they will highlight the design of the garment.

Couched applique tutorial from Cosplay by McCall's

Work-in-progress shot from the designer of M2081. She embellished each panel with appliqués cut from a printed floral fabric, using a decorative cord to cover the edges of the appliqué.

Our designer suggests cutting out the garment pieces and serging or otherwise finishing the edges to prevent fraying, then completing all the appliqué before you proceed to assemble the garment. This minimizes the amount of extra fabric you will have to deal with while you work on the embellishment, making it a bit easier to handle. Temporarily secure the appliqués with a fabric glue stick to prevent them from shifting while you work; this will also allow you to carefully peel them up and reposition them if needed. Do not cut off designs that hang over the edges of the garment pieces, but leave them hanging free until after you’ve assembled the garment. Hold the appliqués back out of the way as you sew, so that afterward you can lay the free edges across the seams, seamlessly merging the design all the way around the garment.

couched applique tutorial from Cosplay by McCalls - attaching the applique

Appliqué zigzagged in place. If using this method, multiple rows of cording will be needed to conceal the stitching.

If you intend to apply multiple rows of cording, and if you’re using a fabric that’s prone to fraying, you can secure the edges of the appliqué by sewing all the way around the outside with a zigzag stitch. This doesn’t need to be as dense as a satin stitch that would be visible on the finished garment; try a stitch width of 3mm and a length of 0.7mm for a start. If you have trouble seeing what you’re doing, a clear or open-toe sewing machine foot can help.

couched applique tutorial from cosplay by mccall's - beginning cording

Begin the couching by stitching the end of the cord in place. Seal the end and neatly trim before you begin.

Tidy up any stray threads before starting the embroidery. Thread a hand needle with decorative thread, or all-purpose thread in a color that matches your decorative cord. If using rattail cord or braid, you will need to seal the end with a fabric glue or fray stopper, cleanly trim, and secure on the right side of the fabric with a few hand stitches in your anchoring thread. After securing the cord end, bring the needle up right on the line where you want the cord to go. Loop the thread over the cord, stick the needle back into the fabric right next to where it came up, and come up again about 1/4″—3/8″ away on the same line. (You can make the stitches even closer together if trying to secure a tight curve, or longer if the line is long and straight.) You don’t need to worry about keeping the entire cord in position as you sew it on; just hold the next inch or so in place so you can sew over it.

couched applique tutorial from cosplay by mccall's - embroidery floss

This motif is corded with a single row of embroidery floss. Additional rows will be added to conceal the stitching around the outside edge.

You can also do the couching with an embroidery floss or thin yarn, which creates a softer, flatter, more irregular line. If the cord is thin enough to fit through a tapestry needle, you can conceal the ends on the back side of the fabric instead of sealing them and securing on the surface. Use a few stitches from your securing thread to secure them to avoid the bulk of a knot.

When working with softer threads, pay attention to how tight you pull them. Leave the cord loose enough to form smooth curves between the securing stitches instead of jerky dot-to-dot lines. If applying multiple rows of cord, stagger the securing stitches so that you don’t get obvious breaks in the line.

couched applique tutorial from cosplay by mccall's - ending a strand

As you near the end of a line, trim the cord to length and seal before you finish stitching it down.

When you approach the end of a line, or a tight corner where you want to break the cording to create a sharp point, measure out how much cord you need to finish the row and cut it to length. Dip the end of the cord in fabric glue or fray stopper to seal it, holding it away from the fabric until it dries so you don’t leave marks, then finish stitching it down. If using a soft yarn or floss, leave enough extra length to thread through a tapestry needle and secure on the underside.

couched applique tutorial from cosplay by mccall's - overlapping cording

Outline the topmost layer of appliqué first, then proceed to the lower layers and any internal details. When you run into intersecting lines, it’s up to you whether to cross the cord or break it off and start fresh on the other side. If crossing the cords, space your securing stitches a little further from the intersection so that the overlapping row of cord will flow smoothly over the other instead of creating a tight lump.

If the motifs are large in scale or worked over a large area of the garment, you may find that an embroidery hoop hinders you more than it helps. Instead, our designer suggests laying the fabric over a large notebook or drawing board. The hard surface supports the fabric and keeps it smooth and flat, while also preventing you from sewing through more layers than you intend. She also suggests having a few good movies lined up, as this process is a little time-consuming!

couched applique tutorial from Cosplay by McCalls - finished cord applique

Appliqué with satin cord

Corded appliqué would also be a great technique to combine with other embellishments, like embroidery or beadwork. As with the cording, use the print or design of the appliqué fabric as a guide for placing decorative stitching, beads, or even additional layers of appliqué—allowing you to create complex, layered, multi-colored designs without having to draw out any of the shapes yourself.

couched applique tutorial from Cosplay by McCalls - finished embroidery floss applique

Finished appliqué with up to three rows of embroidery floss

Once the appliqué is all done, or during the assembly of the garment, you may wish to press the embellished pieces. This can be a little tricky, as the cording creates lumps and bumps that can cause hot spots or crinkles if you’re not careful. To solve this the designer padded her ironing board with a piece of batting, held in place with a layer of clean, lightweight cotton. This extra cushion cradles the embellishment, so that the fabric base remains nice and smooth. This is a good idea any time you’re working with bulky embellishments, and the padding can be secured temporarily by pinning it to your ironing board cover. Remember, always press embellished fabrics from the back side to avoid damaging your hard work!

couched applique tutorial from Cosplay by McCalls - appliqué detail

Cording adds texture and dimension to your appliqués

We hope you found this tutorial useful! We’d love to hear how you plan to use this technique, if you’re thinking of giving it a try. Also, it’s been a while since we did a big how-to like this, but we’d like to do more of them in the future. Are there techniques you’d like to see us cover here? Let us know in the comments!

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