As a well-known technique, satin-stitching is one of the nicest ways to “applique” details onto your costume.
I’m not stating anything revolutionary here! However, everyone’s process can differ a bit, so perhaps my method will expose a different way to accomplish this technique. When adding certain kinds of details, satin-stitching is my preferred go-to method. If you’ve never heard the term before, satin stitch is basically a very tight zig-zag stitch that creates a nice solid line of “embroidered” thread. Not only does it add a nice, finished (and professional!) look to your costume, it is also very secure and durable. The time and effort is worth it!
The example I’ll be using for this tutorial is my Digimon 02 Ken Ichijouji soccer uniform. This works great for sports jerseys, embroidered jackets, and basically any kind of pattern or design your costume may have!
step 1: transferring design to Heat-n-Bond
First things first, you’ll need to draw out your design on some paper to make a stencil out of. When the shape is settled on, cut it out and lay it down mirrored onto Heat-n-Bond paper. I’ve always used the UltraHold (red) kind. If you’ve never used Heat-n-Bond, or a similar product, it’s basically a heat-activated sheet of “glue” that bonds fabrics together that you can get at your fabric/craft store. It’s like StudioTack for fabric. Now trace with a pencil around your design!
step 2: cutting and ironing the Heat-n-Bond
Cut out your design with extra space around it. We will be cutting along the traced edge after the Heat-n-Bond is attached to the fabric to get a nice, clean cut that won’t fray thanks to the glue. Next, iron the Heat-n-Bond to the wrong side of your “decal” fabric. You can/should follow the directions on the package and perhaps test with a spare piece of fabric (especially if it’s delicate), but for this first side, you only need to hold for a few short seconds on a medium-high setting (no steam). Be sure the edges are all attached and let it cool for a bit before moving on to the next step.
step 3: cutting out the decal, ta-dah!
Cut carefully along your traced line, as I am pretending to do here. Pretty self-explanatory. Below you can see the cut-out decal’s front (fig 1a), back (fig 1b), and a close-up (fig 1c). Cool!
Also, “decal” isn’t an accurate term for the thing you just cut out, but I can’t think what to call it.
step 4: placing decal on garment
Peel the backing off your decal. You essentially now have your design with an iron-on back. You’ll now want to place the decal on your sewn garment where ever it’s supposed to go. You may want to pin it and try the garment on before ironing to make sure it’s positioned correctly. Because, trust me, once it’s ironed on, it’s not moving and it’s not coming off. Not without a fight and lots of damage to your garment, so make sure it’s good to go before plunging in.
step 5: ironing decal on garment
When you feel confident it’s positioned correctly, get your iron back out! Again, check the directions, but ironing this side will take more time than the first time (because now there’s a layer a fabric between the Heat-n-Bond and the iron, so it takes longer to heat the glue up, I think). You will have to hold the iron 10 seconds or more to firmly attach it, and corners/edges can be stubborn at times. Check all the edges to make sure there are attached before moving on to sewing.
step 6: setting up the sewing machine
Now you’ll need to set up your sewing machine for the “satin stitch”. Every machine is different, but you can see how I’ve set my machine in the pictures above. The stitch length (left) is set a little above zero. You want the stitches to be very tight. However, I know my machine gets a little stuck sewing on “0”, so to keep it moving forward I set it a little bit higher, as I will explain more later. The stitch width (right) will depend slightly on your project, but most likely you will want it on the highest setting, which is probably around 1/4’’ wide. If the work you’re doing is smaller and more detailed, you may want to bring the width down a little bit.
step 7: starting to sew, hurrah!
Okay! Get ready to start sewing! Pick a corner to start with, and personally I prefer to start with the needle on the outside of the decal. That is, on the right so that the first stitch (the zig) starts right where the decal edge meets the fabric. Then, when the needle goes to the left (the zag), it falls inside the edge of the decal. I prefer to the have stitch on the “inner boundary” of the decal because it results in a more consistent line, and also exactly follows the shape you designed for the decal at the start. Also, in cases like this, the thread matches the decal, so having the stitch 100% on top of the decal is ideal.
step 8: sewing the first time around the edge
So now that you’re in the groove of things, sew around the entire edge of your decal — take your time, especially around curves and corners.
Speaking of corners — below is how I like to tackle corners. If the corner is 90º (B) or there-abouts (C), I like to slowly angle my stitches to a 45º angle so that the stitches right at the corner go from the inner edge of the corner to the outer edge. This is something I do very slowly, on a stitch-by-stitch basis. Precision is key!
If the angle is acute — less than 90º and a much sharper corner (A) — the former approach doesn’t work out as well. So, it’s ideal to split the corner into two parts, as shown below. You can do corners however you’d like, but I think doing it similar to this looks the nicest!
Okay, remember when I said that the stitches should be tight? Well, if you put your machine’s stitch length to zero, it’ll be as tight as you can get. However, the machine can get caught up sewing that tightly for a long way. So, I prefer to set the stitches to be a little bit looser. As you can see to the left, there are some gaps between some of the stitches. To remedy this, we’re going to make a second pass around the edge — sewing a second round of satin stitching on top of the first round in order to thicken it up so there’s no gaps. If you don’t want to do this, and your machine can plow through on zero stitch length, by all means go for it, and skip this part of the process!
step 9: sewing the second round!
Like I said above, if you’re stitches are tight enough, you can skip this step. If not, a second pass will help fill in the gaps and also add some thickness to the satin stitching. Easy peezy, just do the same thing you just did one more time! When you’re done, always pull the thread ends from the front side to the back of the fabric. Keep those unsightly knots to the inside of your garment!
And that’s it! Below I have some more photo samples and tips!
^ the completed thing! This is with two rounds of satin-stitching, and looks nice and full!
^ a view of the inside (wrong side) of the garment.
other samples of the same technique, on a slightly smaller scale (about 4 inches tall)
CAN I GET AWAY WITH NOT USING HEAT-N-BOND?
To the left is a test I did before working on my Ivan Karelin jacket. I tested satin-stitching without using Heat-n-Bond. As you can see the stitches are irregular and the yellow fabric is wrinkly. There are frayed edges poking of the stitching. I was also using a slightly tighter stitch at the time. To the right is the real-deal, with Heat-n-Bond. The yellow fabric is smooth and wrinkle-free with no fraying along the edges. A second round of stitching would be added to get rid of inconsistencies. Overall, the right is much tidier.
The Heat-n-Bond not only keeps the fabric from fraying, it attaches your design to the base fabric, which means that the decal won’t buckle as you sew. Without the decal being firmly attached, it can slide around and bubble where it’s not flat and taut anymore. You could maybe baste-stitch the decal on first but you’d have sew very close to the edge and it would only work on a larger scale.
So, I would say no— you cannot get away without using Heat-n-Bond. You can try if the fabric is particularly thick and doesn’t fray, but I would recommend against it!!
A friend of mine points out some potential issues with the Heat-n-Bond brand of fusibles— the thickness, etc— and some alternative solutions for projects using satin-stitching on a large scale! Read her comments here. (thanks Sam!)
PREVENTING BUCKLING WITH INTERFACING FOR STRETCHY FABRICS.
If you’re sewing onto a stretchy fabric like a knit or spandex, you can get some buckling when doing satin-stitching. This tends to happen when sewing something non-stretchy to a stretch fabric. The Heat-n-Bond should help a bit in some ways because the two fabrics are solidly attached, but I recommend using fusible interfacing on the wrong side of your garment — when doing elaborate projects, especially. This will keep your garment fabric from pulling and stretching as you are sewing it.
The lighter the weight and the stretchier the fabric, the harder doing applique will be. I would test it out before planning to use this method on fabrics like those. If you use Heat-n-Bond, you will lose any stretchiness in the areas you add applique too.
Good luck with your project, and if you have any questions, you can find me at firewolf826.deviantart.com or firewolf826.tumblr.com