An Occasion for Applique

With over 35 years in the embroidery industry with particular emphasis on writing, education, and digitizing, Helen Hart Momsen is widely published in the trade press. Momsen founded and moderates the Embroidery Line (, the longest continuously running internet forum for apparel decorators. A sought-after speaker for many years for THE NBM SHOW, Momsen has authored two ground-breaking books on professional embroidery, available at

I was enchanted by the Cheerios box that came out this past holiday season. Still the basic sunny yellow offering, it came with instructions to take something away in order to create something more. The company added a dotted line around the letters CHEER, leaving a rectangle the size of a postcard. Printed inside the box, on the back of that rectangle, were the same graphics used on postcards. The instructions were simple—cut it out, write a message and drop it in the mail. It was pre-addressed, intended for a member of the armed forces. What a happy project! I wanted to eat cereal for breakfast, lunch and dinner so I could create many sunny missives to wing their way to as many soldiers as possible. When I was writing a piece for Printwear on appliqué, I heard a story that came back to mind while contemplating the Christmas Cheer project—making something less in order to make it better. And what better connection can we have for this month’s column about a recalcitrant design for cheerleading outfits! (You just can’t make this stuff up… you just have to stand around in wonder while it falls into place!)

The Challenge

Communicating and cooperating were the watchwords in the HOLMDEL project. The customer brought the original design to Diane Huyler of Color Your World in New Jersey and requested a kiss-cut appliqué. Huyler worried that the design would not work out well with a routine appliqué solution using single letters and the usual satin cover stitches. She added a contour to bulk up the letters and removed some of the nubs on the text. But some of the letter elements still appeared skimpy, weak and much too thin in places. This narrowness would cause the satin columns to “fall all over themselves,” Huyler said, creating unsightly overlap.

After some attempts to correct the lettering Diane Huyler and Color Your World added a contour to bulk up the letters and remove some of the nubs on the text. Janet Valdex of Embroidery 4U then collaborated on the project, joining the text elements together and welding them into a single shape.

The solution

Those ugly overlaps were avoided by a cooperative decision made by Huyler and Janet Valdez of Embroidery 4U in Colorado to join the text elements together, “welding” them into a single shape. The top layer of twill was cut with this welded-letter shape and the division was created by the satin stitches, giving the appearance of individual letters. The background of the design is silver metallic twill, which is notoriously difficult to kiss-cut when using flimsy single letters. By using the solid foreground over the metallic instead of struggling with separate shapes, the cutting was deemed “a breeze.” Valdez then digitized the satin cover stitches right on top of the solid foreground shape created from HOLMDEL and the stitching separated the letters back out, similar to the original artwork. Instead of one satin down the right side of the ‘O’ and another up the left side of the ‘L,’ only one satin column was used to create both. As a result, the satin-stitched columns around the letters stayed nice and bold without unsightly overlaps on either side. Huyler pronounced the problem successfully solved as she was still able to kiss-cut the file as the customer wanted and, with an innovative approach and creative digitizing, give the appearance of the individual text elements that were contained in the original design. Another upside to this solution is stitch saving. Appliqué saves stitches (but adds labor!) and by using a less stitch-intensive satin column solution, the HOLMDEL design was even more cost-effective.

Thinking outside the box

It doesn’t require a lot of extra expense or equipment to offer appliqué—a good pair of scissors will do the trick, or a cooperative partnership with a fellow stitcher who has invested in a cutter. This process can be an important addition to the services we offer to our customers, so it is necessary to learn how to think outside the box. Ingenious and imaginative solutions can swiftly become an integral part of our design process. This month we present you with a problem solved, and hope it will help appliqué veterans and novices alike be creative in any and all challenges presented! The appliqué process has always reminded me of the story of the tortoise and the hare. Plodding carefully along like the tortoise, appliqué, with exciting colors and applications, stays in the race. And, with careful planning and a creative approach we can often turn a bear of a project into a real pussycat. (Or a tortoise into a hare!) I am not as conversant with appliqué as the two ladies featured here, and like other novices, I might have insisted on staying in the box of single letters, passing up a clever and pleasing resolution in the process. Remember that showing, not telling, is often the order of the day with customers who have “one way” set in their minds. Sometimes it is beneficial to do things both ways and let them see the difference for themselves. Hugs to Diane and Janet for thinking outside the box, ignoring the rules and finding their own innovative solution. Spring arrives this month, so celebrate!—HHM