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Modern Madeira Applique

Mindful hand stitching yields a delicate adornment
Sheer reverse Madeira appliqué adds a subtle window effect to a linen blouse. Pattern: McCall’s 7542. Fabric: handkerchief linen, Vaune.com.

One of my favorite ways to add sophisticated embellishment to my garments is with Madeira appliqué. This detail is applied to a base fabric with the point de Paris stitch, also known as the pin stitch. The stitch creates pin-size holes in the base fabric around the appliqué. Madeira appliqué can be applied in two methods: traditional and reverse. The reverse method inserts decorative fabric in openings cut in the main garment fabric.

It is possible to attach the appliqué by machine, as long as the machine has a Parisian stitch function. However, this article focuses on hand-sewing the appliqué. I will explain how to choose fabrics appropriate for this technique and take you through the process to create both styles of Madeira appliqué.

Choose appliqué materials

To achieve the best results, follow several guidelines  for fabric and thread weight, as well as needle types. Stabilization is also necessary for precise stitching.


The point de Paris stitches create holes in the base fabric. For the holes to remain open after washing, opt for natural fibers, such as cotton, linen, and silk. Polyester and polyester blends don’t retain the holes. To obtain Madeira appliqué’s delicate effect, choose lightweight fabrics, including organdy, lawn, batiste, voile, handkerchief linen, and even some lightweight broadcloths for base and appliqué fabrics. The appliqué fabric can be a different weight from the base fabric. This can be especially striking in reverse appliqué when using a lighter material as the appliqué fabric. Test the combination first, as some fabrics may be incompatible.

Thread and needle

For the point de Paris stitch, you want to see the holes, not the thread. Match the thread color to the base fabric color, where the thread may show. Use a single strand of thread between 70 weight and 100 weight for optimal results. Select a size 28 tapestry needle or a size 10 sharp needle for hand stitching.

Starch or sizing

Applying starch or sizing to the appliqué fabric makes it easier to manipulate the edges without distortion. Use a light spray to make the fabric crisp, not hard. Make a sample to see what works best for your fabrics.

Baste the fabric layers

Reverse Madeira appliqué
Reverse Madeira appliqué creates motifs in negative space.

The appliqué fabric must be precisely basted onto the base fabric, with the layers’ grains aligned. If the appliqué is off-grain even a little, it will ripple after it is stitched and the basting threads are removed.

Traditional appliqué method

tracing the design

Trace the design onto the appliqué fabric and add a 1⁄4-inch-wide seam allowance on all edges. The traced line becomes the foldline. Then cut out the appliqué.

Determine the placement of the appliqué on the base fabric. Hand-stitch a line of basting 1⁄4 inch inside the traced foldline. If the appliqué is larger than 2 inches in any dimension, add a second line of basting inside the first.

Reverse appliqué method

base fabric with the traced on design

Trace the design onto the base fabric. This line is the foldline for the finished design, not the cutting line. You will add the seam allowance later, when you cut away the base fabric. Place the appliqué fabric under the base fabric, both right side up. Pin the layers, then baste the appliqué fabric to the base fabric outside the design lines, following the shape.

Hand-stitch the appliqué

To attach the appliqué, fold the seam allowances under and secure with the point de Paris stitch. Work just 1 inch or 2 inches at a time for precise control.


1. Turn the appliqué edge under. Fold a short length of the seam allowance under, clipping as needed so it lies flat against the fabric. Working with only a short length at a time reduces the risk of distorting the fabric.

2. Begin the point de Paris stitch. Bring the needle up from the fabric’s wrong side, with the needle emerging from the appliqué’s folded edge.

the point de Paris stitch

3. Stitch into the base fabric. On the right side, place the needle into the base fabric at point A, directly across from the starting point. Bring the needle out  of the base fabric at point B,  a scant 1⁄8 inch from A.

stitching into the base fabric

4. Loop back to the first stitch. Insert the needle at A again, and bring the needle out at point C in the appliqué fabric, directly across from B. This stitch takes up one thread at the fold. When you pull this stitch tight, it draws the base fabric’s yarns together to form a tiny hole.

looping it into the first stitch

5. Continue the sequence. As the stitching continues, B becomes the new A, and the stitch sequence repeats. Continue stitching, folding the seam allowance under every 1 inch to 2 inches and then stitching.

he sequence of stitches


1. Trim the base fabric. Make a snip in the base fabric in the area to be trimmed away. It is helpful to use a pair of scissors with a rounded tip to avoid cutting into the appliqué fabric below the base fabric. Trim carefully, leaving a 1⁄4-inch-wide seam allowance within the traced appliqué shape.

trimming the base fabric

2. Fold the edges under. Working with an inch or two of fabric at a time, fold the base fabric’s seam allowance under. If needed, clip the seam allowance so the edge can lie smooth and flat, and baste the fold in place.

folding the edges of the fabric

3. Stitch around the edges. Following the stitch sequence for the point de Paris stitch, as shown in the traditional technique at left, sew around the appliqué.

stitching around the edges

Appliqué on edges

Madeira appliqué is attractive along a hem, collar, or cuffs. In these cases, the appliqué is first applied in the manner of a facing that folds to the garment’s right side.

1. Cut the appliqué. Trace the design, which includes the garment’s hem shape, onto the appliqué fabric, maintaining the same grain orientation as for the garment section. Add a 1⁄4-inch-wide seam allowance to the appliqué’s outer edge.

cut the garment

2. Machine-sew the appliqué to the garment. With the appliqué’s right side against the garment’s wrong side, and the hem edges aligned, sew along the hem edge. Trim the seam allowances to 1⁄4 inch. Clip as needed. Press the seam flat, then press the allowances open.

3. Prepare the appliqué for stitching. Fold it to the garment’s right side and press carefully along the seam edge, taking care that no garment fabric shows on the right side. Baste the appliqué in position.

4. Hand-stitch the appliqué’s free edge. With the point de Paris stitch described on p. 20, secure the appliqué’s edge to the garment layer.

sleeve cuff

Vaune Pierce teaches smocking, embroidery, and heirloom sewing techniques for children’s and adult’s garments. Vaune.com 

This article was featured in Threads #208, May 2020.


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