Trace, Baste, Snip & Stitch by Margaret Brewster Willingham



Reverse Appliqué the Eye of the Beholder way. It’s not your Grandmother’s way.


When my Great-Grandmother, Sarah Catherine Walker Tiers was quilting in the 1800’s, she used paper templates, pins and scissors. And, she would have reverse appliquéd the traditional way. (Reverse appliqué is when the design is revealed in the background fabric peeking through, after the top fabric is cut away.) It was challenging, to say the least.
She would have traced the design on the right side of the top fabric before layering with the background fabric. Then done a grid basting to hold the fabric layers together. Finally, she would have carefully cut away the top fabric and needle-turned the raw edge under. It was tricky to keep the raw, biased edges from stretching, the inside corners from fraying and the fabric from shifting as she hand needle-turned and stitched. My hat is off to her, as she did beautiful work.
But we have an easier way! Trace, Baste, Snip & Stitch.
I came up with my process beginning in 2010 as I was figuring out a better way to hand stitch a very detailed design I created- Barbara’s Medallion (


I took skills that I had acquired from 50 years of sewing and 20 years of quilting, and applied them to my creative endeavor, not even really knowing, at first, that I was reverse appliquéing. I stumbled into it. What follows are the four steps to hand reverse, needle-turn appliqué the Eye of the Beholder way. Trace, Baste, Snip & Stitch!


pic-3If this is your first foray into reverse appliqué, use batiks. Batiks will make it easier on you as you learn and practice a new skill. In addition to being richly dyed and gorgeous, batiks have a fine hand and tight weave, which minimizes fraying. Choose two batiks with good contrast to each other-a light background batik and medium-dark top batik.




pic-4I place my light background fabric on top of the paper pattern with the wrong side facing up to me, and secure with safety pins. Using a pencil or a Frixion gel pen, I trace the design onto the wrong side of the background fabric. A light box makes this easier.

Once I’ve traced the design, I take the fabric off the paper pattern and layer with the top fabric. Pin-baste using safety pins.


pic-5Safety pins spare you the pain of pricks, blood on your piece and getting your thread caught and tangled up when stitching. When I layer my fabrics together, I make sure the right sides of both fabrics face the same way: Up. (From the top I will see the right side of the top fabric. If I flip the pinned piece over, I will see the wrong side of the background fabric with the design traced onto it.)



pic-6I thread a No. 7 Sharps needle with thick thread in a contrast color to my top fabric, single thread, and knot with a messy, spit knot. Button thread or hand quilting thread works great.
I baste my fabrics together right on the drawn lines of the Snowflake design. I send my needle into every corner, and baste the arcs of my curves. Stitches will be about 1/8” – ¼” long, and 1/8”-1/4” apart. Do not carry your thread from shape to shape, but tie off at the end of each shape. Follow general quilting practices- start in the middle and work your way out. As a section is thread-basted, you can remove the safety pins.


pic-7Basting tips: Look closely at the following picture with two examples of basting. The pink piece, our Rose Window, Medallion II ( pattern, is a very detailed design. The basting stitches are small and close together to communicate the intricacy of the design. In the darker piece, our Majesty, Medallion IX ( pattern, the design shapes are large and sweeping. Therefore, the basting stitches can be longer and farther apart. They both successfully communicate the design when looking at the right side of the top fabric.


pic-8The basting transfers the design to the right side of the top fabric, stabilizes the bias edges of the fabric, and eliminates the need for pins. If you’re not sure if you are basting “right”, flip the piece over to the front to see if it communicates the design to you.





Now it’s time to cut away the top fabric.
Flip your piece over to the front- the right side of your top fabric.
Take out your pattern piece and directions and re-read what you are cutting out. Let’s learn from the carpenter who says, “Measure twice, Cut once”. In our case, its “Read twice, Cut once.”

Going to the center of my piece, I separate the top fabric from the background fabric by feel. I make an iceberg in the background fabric, and a mountain in the top fabric. While holding the iceberg with my left hand (I’m a righty), I snip the top off the mountain using my small, sharp scissors.


pic-10I insert my scissors through the slit between the fabric layers, and trim away the top fabric only, eyeballing a seam allowance of 1/8” – ¼”.


pic-11If this is your first reverse appliqué effort, clip ¼” seam allowances. You can always cut it down to 1/8” if ¼” is too much. You can trim the whole piece out at one time, or snip in sections as you go.


pic-12I clip my points and curves, by clipping into the seam allowance perpendicular to the basting thread: up to it, but not through it. These clips will make the fabric easily sweep under and lay flat as you sew.


pic-13Next I clip every other basting thread, but don’t pull them out…yet.





Now I’m ready to hand reverse-applique.
I use a No. 11 Milliner’s needle and applique thread that matches my top fabric. The Milliner’s needle is long and thin. Thread needle to sew with a single thread. Knot.
My Milliner’s needle is the only tool I use when I reverse applique. With my needle I pop out the basting thread of one stitch.

pic-15Next, with a windshield wiper, wrist action, I sweep under the raw edge of the top fabric so the folded edge lines up with where the basting stitch was, and bring the needle up from the back through the folded edge and pull through.


pic-16Sweep the top fabric in front of your stitch back to the basting line. Send your needle down into the background fabric right next to where you came up with your last stitch, and come up 1/8” – ¼” ahead catching the folded edge.
Notice, that when you sweep back the top fabric too far, you can see a line a small “holes” in the background fabric.


pic-17This is the “magic” of this process. These holes were created when you basted with your No. 7 Sharp needle and thick thread. These holes are your sewing guide. As you pop, sweep and stitch, align the folded edge of your top fabric with the holes left by the basting thread in the background fabric. Your basting line is now your stitching line.


pic-18Basically, reverse applique is hemming a skirt using the blind hem stitch – it’s just a wonky skirt hem. In reverse appliqué, however, the diagonal travel of the thread will be on the wrong side of the background fabric.


pic-19Continue stitching until all the raw edges are stitched under. At the end, pull needle and thread to the back and knot securely. Repeat for each shape in the design.


pic-20Our trace, baste, snip & stitch process truly makes reverse applique easy and fun, because you are not fighting with your fabric or the technique. If you’ve never done it before, give it a try. It’s FUN!
And remember, be gracious with yourself. You are practicing something new.
Happy Quilting!


If you have more questions or need some extra pointers, check out the Technique Tutorials on our Home page ( and blogs ( on our website:
We have a unique variety of original reverse appliqué patterns in our web store for all levels, for hand and machine reverse appliqué. Medallions. Table runners. Quilts. Blocks. (



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Thanks for this tutorial, I have been trying to do reverse applique & was having a difficult time marking the dark fabric. can’t wait to try this method.

Martha, you will definitely need a light box. If that is still problematic, read our blog “Tracing Tips for Darker Fabrics & Other tips” for some more ways to mark darker fabrics.


Love this reverse appliqué and especially your directions. The directions are so clear and precise.
Thanks. I think I will be able to try this!

Great. Glad to help. I love it!


Thank you for the tutorial. I love applique and have done reverse applique but this is much easier than what I did. Now to find a pattern.

I hope you will check out our patterns.

Charleen DiSante

Your detailed and clearly photographed tutorial is right on! Thank you for this Margaret.

You are very welcome. Happy Quilting!

Karen Brennan

I have long wondered how to do this. Very clear instructions. Beautiful snowflake. Thank you for the tutorial.

You’re welcome. I hope you will give it a try. It’s fun!


Is there any advantage to trimming off the backing material once you have complete the entire block?

Some people don’t want to quilt through all those layers. I have not had a problem, myself. The existence of the background fabric is part of what gives the extra dimension to the piece. Without it, I think a piece flattens out. Also, when you quilt a reverse applique piece, you want to quilt in the negative space so it will press into the batting. And don’t quilt to close to the edges of the reverse space on the top fabric. That will also flatten it out. And then, what was the point of reverse appliqueing? I have had success… Read more »


Thank you so much for your taking the time to answer my question. I c an understand now the advantage of leaving the excess on. Gonna give this a try. Looks like fun.

Super! If you have any other questions once you start, just email me at and I’ll do my best to answer your questions. I have many other informative tutorials and blogs on my website, too.
Happy Quilting!


Wow. This tutorial really makes sense. I have wanted to try reverse application for some time now, however did not truly understand the technique, you are brilliant in your work and your explanation of same. Thank you so much for taking the time to do this tutorial. Just fabulous!

Thanks for your encouraging comments. I love sharing my passion with others and empowering them to be successful. I think its so fun and easy, and I want others to have the same good time as me. If you ever have more questions, email me at and I’ll do my best to give an intelligent answer. Check out our blogs and tutorials on the website, too. Happy Quilting!