Applique vs. Patchwork – What’s The Difference? (Explained)

If quilting is a new hobby for you, there are probably some technical terms that you are not familiar with, such as patchwork or applique.

The difference between these two things are not commonly known to beginner quilters, so I have decided to clarify what each of these terms means for you.

What is the difference between applique and patchwork?

Patchwork, sometimes called piecework, is when you take small pieces of fabric and sew them together to create a larger project, such as a quilt. Applique is when you take a small piece of fabric and sew it onto a larger piece of background fabric.

Understanding the Differences Between Applique and Patchwork:

In essence, both applique and patchwork seem like they would be the same thing.

They are both ancient sewing techniques that are still used today.

They are often confused with one another, but they are not the same thing:

  • Patchwork, sometimes called piecework, is when you take small pieces of fabric and sew them together to create a larger project, such as a quilt.
  • Applique also uses small pieces of fabric, but instead of sewing small pieces of fabric together to create something larger, applique is when you take a small piece of fabric and sew it onto a larger piece of background fabric.

While patchwork is more of a functional technique, applique is more of a decorative technique of layering different fabrics on top of one another to make a beautiful and decorative image.

How do I Apply Applique?

Applique is a great way to add shapes and patterns to your quilt or other sewing projects to create a beautiful design and elevate your project to the next level.

When you are first starting out, many people tend to start with a “raw edge” applique. This is where you leave the cut edges of your fabric raw, but secure it to your project using stitching.

Before you begin your applique project, you will want to make sure you have gathered all the supplies that you will need. Necessary supplies include:

  • Fabric for you applique
  • Fabric for your base project
  • The thread for your project
  • Sewing needle or sewing machine
  • Pencil or other marking objects
  • Scissors
  • Pins

Some other things that you might need will depend on the type of applique you are using.

These things include, but are not limited to:

  • Fusible webbing

When you are applying applique, how you will do it depends on the method that you choose to use.

The possible methods include sewing or fusing.

What are the Different Styles of Applique?

When it comes to applique, there is not just one available method.

In fact, there are three commonly used methods that are used to apply applique to your fabric projects, whether they be quilts, pillows, clothing, etc.


The most common type of applique method is by attaching your applique to your fabric using a sewing method.

This can either be done by hand or by a sewing machine. Which method you choose is normally determined by your skill level, as well as what you want, the finished product to look like.

If you choose to use a sewing machine to apply your applique, there are a couple of ways you could go about it.

The traditional method that is used with a sewing machine is a more advanced method.

To do the traditional method, you will:

  1. Stitch a placement line that is shorter than your applique on your base fabric.
  2. Place your piece of fabric over your placement line so that you cover up the stitches.
  3. Complete the second row of stitches to attach the fabric to the base material.
  4. Trim away any excess fabric to show your decorative applique shape.

The traditional method can be more difficult and more time-consuming.

That is why more people are using pre-cut shapes when they apply appliques to their projects.

To adhere a pre-cut applique to your fabric, you will:

  1. Make sure you have a pre-cut shape to attach to your background fabric. You can get pre-cut shapes from the store by a laser-cut, or you can cut out your shape by hand.
  2. Secure your shape to your background fabric by using a zig-zag stitch all the way around your shape.
  3. Set your machine to a tight stitch that you might use when sewing satin and re-trace the edges over the zig-zag.

*When you are doing your zig-zag stitch, make sure that you have your shape beneath the needle so that have the stitch falls on the background fabric, and the other half falls on the applique itself.

Hand-sewing your applique on is also an option. Even though a lot of appliques are done on a machine, if you are quilting, you might want to consider hand-stitching to create a more dimensional design.

When you hand stitch on your applique, the most common method that you use is the needle-turn method. This is an intricate method that will take some practice.

Hand stitching will also allow you to add embellishments to your design while you are sewing, such as sequins and other elements.


Because sewing on your applique can be very time consuming and take a lot of technical skill, you could instead opt for a fused applique.

To do this, you would use a fusible web that you apply with an iron. This is a quick and simple way to add appliques to your project and is something that everyone can do.

If you stitch on top of the applique afterward, it will look like you have an embroidered and finished look.


There are also a variety of styles when it comes to applique designs.

Some of these styles include:

  • Smooth Edge
  • Raw-Edge
  • Multi-Needle Hoop Applique
  • Reverse Applique
  • Decorative Stitch Applique

What Stitch Type should I use to Apply Applique?

There are a few stitch types that you should use when applying and applique.

This can vary based on whether or not you are using a sewing machine.

Sewing Machine:

When stitching on your applique using a sewing machine, you will want to start with a zig-zag stitch, as previously mentioned.

A zig-zag stitch will make sure your design has a smooth edge when you go back over it, as well as being able to hold your applique firmly in place for the final stitching.

After you are finished with your zig-zag stitch, you will want to use a very small stitch length to go back over your zig-zag stitch.

This will help to cover up the look of the zig-zag stitch as well as firmly secure your applique.

Hand Stitching:

When hand-stitching, you will want to use the “needle-turn” technique.

To do this, you will use your sewing needle to sweep your seam allowance under so that it is not visible in the front of the project. 

This gives your applique a finished and three-dimensional look, which can be very cool when you are quilting.