What is the Difference Between Embroidery and Applique?

Anyone working with decorative sewing and crafting will perfectly understand what the two terms “applique” and “embroidery” mean.

Both immensely popular and common techniques all around the world, appliqueing and embroidering their fabrics is how most people prefer to decorate their clothing, quilts, tapestries, crafts, and any other projects related to fabrics around the house. 

To know the difference between these two concepts of decorative stitching – embroidery, and applique – it is first very important to get a good idea of what they are, and how they are done. 

What is Embroidery?

Embroidery, or embroidering your fabrics, is one of the oldest techniques of decorative stitching.

Embroidery has been in existence forever; more specifically, we see signs of embroidery on clothing and household apparel in China around 3rd century B.C.

Since there were sewn clothes worn by people, clothing has also been embroidered to enhance their looks and their value.

Even today, many people prefer embroidered designs on T-shirts, coats, caps and hats, golf shirts, blankets, quilts, dresses, stockings as well as their bags and other accessories.

Embroidery is basically a craft to make designs on fabric with just thread and a needle. 

Regular and decorative stitches are applied to fabrics to make designs on them, in forms of flowers, shapes, patterns or even human figures and sceneries.

Letters, numbers, and words can even be produced with thread and needles through careful stitching. 

There are many different types of embroidery used to decorate fabrics and clothing, namely: whitework, candlewick, cross-stitch, hadebo, pulled thread, drawn thread, Crewel, Blackwork, Bluework, Redwork, Goldwork, Hardanger, Sashiko embroidery, and more.

All these different types of embroidery all look different from each other and are all used in different contexts and for different purposes. 

Besides the different types of embroidery, this technique also uses various stitches to form shapes and patterns, mainly running stitch, satin stitch, back stitch, stem stitch, cross stitch, back stitch, chain stitch, and blanket stitch. 

What is Applique?

Applique is, technically, a kind of embroidery in terms of decorative stitching.

Although the technique and the look are completely different, appliqueing and embroidering are both used to enhance the appearance of clothing and other accessories made from fabrics.

Appliqueing is a popular technique used in not just dresses and clothes, but also in quilts, tapestries, bed sheets and pillowcases, cushion covers, bags, and banners. 

The procedure of appliqueing is completely different from embroidery, although applique can be considered as a type of embroidery.

In appliqueing, designs are created by stitching patches on fabrics on another foundation piece of fabric, in specific sequences or patterns to create a design.

Small and medium-sized fabrics – both plain or patterned – are folded into shapes, and then stitched to the foundation fabric with needles and thread.

The open edges are turned inside the folded fabric, trimmed away, or covered in extensive decorative stitching. 

Applique is a popular design concept used in embellishing clothing or household linens. The most common use of appliqueing can be found in making quilts or cushion covers. 

Difference between Applique and Embroidery

 As you can probably understand from the two definitions above, appliqueing and embroidering are two very different concepts. Here’s a comprehensive discussion on how they are different from each other. 

  1. Tool and Accessories Required: 

Embroidery only uses needles and threads to make patterns and designs. Any kind of decorative or regular stitches can be used in making embroidery patterns, depending on the design.

There are a lot of different types of special thread that are used in embroidery to make the design more attractive and detailed.

Usually, a single embroidery design contains many different colors – and even types – of thread, whereas some designs only require a particular color.

The goldwork, redwork, blue work, and blackwork embroidery, for example, only requires the specific color of the thread mentioned in the name of the embroidery type. 

Creativity is essential when it comes to embroidering, as well as skill and patience. Any kind of figure, design, pattern, or letters and numbers can be created on fabric through embroidery. 

On the other hand, appliqueing requires the use of other fabric pieces to layer on the foundation fabric as well as needle and thread.

These pieces of fabrics can be of a single color or pattern, as they depend on the design the user is trying to make.

Regular needles and thread are also needed in stitching these various layers of fabric together, but the extra pieces of fabric are one of the most important accessories needed in appliqueing. 

  1. Medium:

Both appliqueing and embroidery are generally done by hand, but also possible by machine. Special embroidery sewing machines are quite popular among both professionals and amateurs for embroidering.

Computerized and electrical sewing machines can be used to make detailed and intricate embroideries on fabric in a matter of minutes that would have taken weeks to complete by hand.

Both computerized and electrical embroidery machines are quite expensive and are mostly used by professionals who work extensively on embroideries. 

Appliques are mostly applied by needlework done by hand, but they become easier to complete with a sewing machine.

Regular sewing machines can be used to stitch appliques to foundation fabrics, but it takes a lot of experience and practice to do so perfectly.

Sometimes, adhesive, tear-away, or iron on applique interfacing are used with a sewing machine, which makes the work easier. 

  1. Stitches Used: 

Most stitches used in sewing and making clothes can also be used in embroidering. This includes basic stitches like the running stitch, backstitch, split stitch, satin stitch, and stem stitch.

Some special decorative stitches that are mostly used in advanced embroidery are the French knots, chain stitch, lazy daisy technique, etc.

Among all these stitches, the basic satin stitch is the most used stitch needed mostly for filling out an area with thread and the running stitch is used to make a quick border around a specific area. 

In making applique layers on fabric, there are only a few basic stitches that are used. These are the straight stitch, the satin stitch, and the reverse applique stitch; these three stitches can usually cover the edges of applique fabrics with not a lot of work.

The double blanket stitch is also used in appliqueing, as it can effectively hold the applique fabric piece to the background fabric. 

  1. Origin:

Embroidery is undoubtedly the oldest form of decorating clothing and fabric, and it dates back to the Middle Ages.

Embroidered clothing in Europe, the Middle East, and America was considered to be a symbol of wealth and status thousands of years ago.

Compared to that history, appliqueing is a fairly new decoration for fabrics. Appliqueing started in France and then spread all over the world. 

  1. Texture:

Incorrect use of embroidery thread or technique can make clothing heavy and uncomfortable,  but only when too much area is embroidered with heavy thread.

When only a little space is embroidered, it doesn’t make any difference to the piece of clothing or fabric.

Appliques, on the other hand, add layers to a particular piece of fabric. Quilts and blankets are made using appliques to make them heavier and warmer. When the right fabric is used as applique pieces, it doesn’t make the clothing uncomfortable. 

Therefore, as you can see, although both appliques and embroidery are used to embellish clothing, household accessories, and fabric, they are very much different from each other. 

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