Appliqué Today

Traditional needlecraft of the Haida and Inuit takes a modern twist

From an early age, I was immersed in traditional needlecraft, focusing on clothing, and soft goods for the home. Once I discovered the vibrant appliqué traditions of the indigenous people, specifically the Haida and Inuit, I was inspired to go beyond traditional forms and create large scale designs of my own.

The techniques that I use, appliqué and embroidery, are ancient. In Egypt, there are surviving examples of appliqué over 2,500 years old. Both hand and machine appliqué are used in the textiles.

Hand appliqué

Natural fibers, cotton, linen, silk and wool work best in hand appliqué. A tight weave is essential in achieving a clean graphic line. To begin the design is traced from the paper to the top cloth.
This is then placed on the base fabric, and the two layers are basted together, using a long running stitch. Pins must be removed, since they catch constantly on the sewing thread. Once the layers are basted, the cutting begins. The fabric is trimmed within 1/4 inch of the design edge. Using a slip stitch, the raw edge is folded under and secured. Though hand stitched appliqué is time consuming, it is essential for a clean edge with invisible stitching. Additional colors may be added on the surface as patches. To created the finest lines in my designs, I embroider a chain stitch.

Machine appliqué

For large free hanging panels, a combination of linen and mesh are used. Because these panels are illuminated, the rich texture of linen makes it an ideal choice. The design is transferred to the linen base. A layer of mesh is placed on top the design, and multiple rows of basting sandwich them together. For machine appliqué a tight narrow zigzag is used. The stitching follows the transferred design on the linen. Once the stitching is complete, the basting is removed, and cutting begins.

Using small, sharp scissors, the mesh layer is carefully trimmed close to the stitching.
After the mesh layer is trimmed, the panel is reversed. This time the base layer, linen is trimmed, next to the stitching, to reveal the mesh. Care must be taken not to cut the mesh at this stage.

Since the designs are transparent, imperfections are obvious once the piece is hung. For installation a rod pocket is created, both top and bottom.

To see more of Brenda’s work, visit For Brenda’s blog of tribal and contemporary textiles:



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