How To Make A Butterfly Applique?

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Having finished my first dress with faux-chenille like appliques, I created another one utilising a slightly different technique of fabric manipulation. So I decided to make a butterfly applique.

Instead of cutting out the heart shape from selected fabrics, used on my first dress, I cut stripes of stacked fabrics on the bias and sew them in the desired shape.

In this tutorial I will show you how to create a butterfly you can sew onto t-shirts, dresses, or tunics. All depends on your creativity. Your home decor such as pillows, bed throw blankets and many other items may gain a lot more attractive look.

1. Prepare cotton fabric for the butterfly applique

Select two woven cotton fabrics of different colours for the butterfly and also choose a base fabric you are going to use for your project. For my butterfly I chose orange and yellow while pink for the base material.

Pretreat all fabrics the way you normally would when working on any other sewing project. Prewash the fabric and tumble dry or let dry and iron.

Imagine where you wish to place the butterfly and iron an embroidery stabiliser from the wrong side of the base fabric. This is really an important step. It’s very likely that without it the base fabric will get distorted in the process of sewing.

Cotton iron on and tear off stabiliser ironed to the WRONG side of the fabric.
Cotton iron on and tear off stabiliser ironed to the WRONG side of the fabric.
butterfly applique with stabiliser.Butterfly applique without stabiliser.
Applique with stabiliser on the left, without on the right.

2. Download and transfer the template

Download the free butterfly template below (.pdf format) and print it. The A4 paper format is suitable for any home printer. Set the printer to black & white and make sure the scale is set to 100%.

You can transfer the template in several different ways (see the instructions below).

Free printable butterfly template. Black and white.

Transfer method I: Transfer paper and tracing wheel

You can transfer the template using a tracing wheel and transfer paper. Put the transfer paper with the coloured side up. Place the fabric right side down on the tracing paper. Place the image with the butterfly on the top of the fabric and trace the template. To create exactly the same applique as in the image at the beginning, trace the solid lines of the butterfly only. (I have also traced the dotted lines in case I change my mind later and decide to add more material to the wings).

Butterfly pattern prepared for tracing with tracing wheel and tracing paper.
Butterfly prepared for tracing.
Traced butterfly template using a dressmakers tracing paper and tracing wheel.
Traced butterfly.

Transfer method II: Marker and tracing pad

If you have a tracing pad, you can trace the template using a water soluble marking pen. Test the fabric marker on a scrap of fabric to make sure it can be washed out. (This is the method I prefer to use.)

Work in the following order: tracing pad, paper with butterfly template, fabric with the right side up. Do not forget to turn the pad on and trace (see the images below). If you cannot see the butterfly clearly, make your workroom darker. To create exactly the same applique as in the image at the beginning, trace the solid lines of the butterfly only. (Again, I have also traced the dotted lines just in case I change my mind later and decide to add more material to the wings).

Butterfly template and cotton fabric placed on a tracing pad.
Fabric prepared for tracing with tracing pad.
Traced butterfly using a washable fabric marker.
.Traced butterfly template.

3. Prepare stack for sewing the butterfly applique parts

For the individual parts of the butterfly you are going to need stripes of stacked fabric. To create them do the following:

Cut out five rectangles of the fabrics you prepared for your butterfly. Three rectangles of one colour and two of the other colour. Each about 15 cm by 35 cm ( 5 7/8 inch by 13 7/8 inch). I used three yellow rectangles and two orange ones.

Baste the stack together and mark the bias with a water soluble marker (see the images below).

Cotton fabric rectangles that will create the stack of fabrics for sewing.
Alternating fabrics for the butterfly wings.
Basted stack of cotton fabrics.
Stack of alternating fabrics basted together.

Sew straight lines on the bias about 1 cm (0 3/8 inch) wide. Use a sewing machine presser foot with a ruler (as I did) or a simple presser foot using its right side as a guide.

Sew 10 straight lines on the bias (see the images below).

Standard presser foot for sewing parallel stitches.
Basic presser foot.
Sewing parallel lines using presser foot with a ruler.
Presser foot with a ruler.

Slit individual stripes of fabrics with sharp scissors. Cut right in between the sewn lines until you cut all stripes. You will get 10 stripes of stacked fabric. For the butterfly wings you will use 8 of them, yet, it is useful to have some extras in case something goes wrong.

Do not discard the triangles on the sides left from the cutting as you are going to need them.

Stripes of stacked fabric.
Cutting individual stripes of stacked fabric.

Cut off the pointy end from each stripe.

Stripe of stacked fabric with pointy end.
Stripe after cutting off the pointy end.
Stripe of stacked fabric.
Stripe before cutting off the pointy end.

4. Prepare stripes for sewing the butterfly applique

Bend each stripe in the middle, exactly on the stitching and iron it carefully. This is a little bit tricky so be careful not to burn your fingers (as I did :)). You should end up with a nice thick stripe (see the images below).

Ironing a stripe of stacked fabric.
Ironing a stacked fabric stripe.
Ironed stripe of stacked fabric.
Properly ironed stripe of stacked fabric.

5. Sew the wings of the butterfly

Following the wing lines you have traced onto the fabric, start sewing each stripe in the way described below.

Pick one of the stripes you have prepared, pin it right next to the body of the butterfly. Start sewing next to the body and sew about two thirds sewing through the centre of the stripe. Secure the thread, lift the presser foot and cut away redundant threads.

Then ‘close’ the stripe and sew close to the bent side of the stripe. Sew until you reach the second line of the butterfly wing. Stop sewing, secure the thread and lift the presser foot. Cut away threads and redundant part of the stripe (see the scheme and images below).

Butterfly sewing scheme.
Butterfly sewing scheme..
Pinned bias cut fabric stack to base fabric.

1. Pin the stripe right next to the body.

First bias cut stripe sewn to base cotton fabric.

2. Sew about 2/3 in the middle (red colour in the scheme).

Bend bias cut stack stripe.

3. Bend the stripe and sew at the bend edge slightly overlapping the first stitching (blue colour in the scheme).

First part of butterfly wing is ready.

4. Stop stitching at the end of the blue line in the scheme, secure thread and cut away redundant part of the stripe and threads.

Repeat the process described above for the second line of the wing.

Second part of butterfly wing pinned to base fabric.

1.

Sewing bent part of butterfly applique.

3.

Second part of butterfly wing sewn to base fabric.

2.

Second part of wing is finished.

4.

For the two looped parts of the wings do the following.

Lower part of butterfly wing.

1. Pin the beginning of a stripe right next to the body and sew like before (red scheme line).

Lower part of applique wing.

2. Pin the other end of the stripe next to the body and sew. Begin sewing next to the body (red scheme line).

Lower part almost ready.

3. Cut off excess stripe and as the last step sew the curved part of the wing at the edge of the stripe (blue line).

Both wings of butterfly applique are sewn to base fabric.

4. Repeat the same process (1.,2.,3.) for the lower wing.

6. Prepare and sew antennae

Cut a 1 cm (0 3/8 inch) wide stripe of a cotton fabric on the bias. You can cut away a stripe from the stack left from sewing the stacked stripes. Cut a stripe from one layer only.

Bend one third of the stripe on the long side and iron. Bend the other third over the first one and iron again to get really thin stripes about 3mm wide (0 3/8 inch) (see the images below).

Stripe of fabric for butterfly antennae.
Pressing one third of butterfly antennae fabric stripe..
Antennae finished.

First carefully baste the antennae where they belong and sew.

Basted butterfly antennae.
Butterfly antennae sewn to base fabric.

7. Create and sew the body of the butterfly

Measure the actual size of the butterfly body. In my case it is about 3 cm (1 1/8 inch) long and about 1 cm (0 3/8 inch) wide.

Measuring actual butterfly body height.
Measuring actual butterfly body width.

Take one of the cut off triangles from cutting the stripes and mark a long line on the bias. On this long line mark a segment that is 2 cm (1 3/4 inch) longer than the actual length of the butterfly body (in my case 3 cm + 2 cm = 5 cm) (1 1/8 inch + 0 3/4 inch = 1 7/8 inch, 1 31/32 to be more exact). Draw a perpendicular line in the middle of this segment and make it 2 cm (0 3/4 inch) wider than the width of the measured body width (in my case 1 cm + 2 cm = 3 cm) (0 3/8 inch + 0 3/4 inch = 1 1/8 inch).

Draw the body of the butterfly. It should be lens shaped.

Butterfly body scheme.
Butterfly body scheme.

Baste along the centre of the body and cut out the body. Then bend it along the basting and iron.

Basted butterfly body.
Pressing folded butterfly body

Place the body in between the wings, baste it and sew.

Sewing basted butterfly body.

The edges of the body will need some adjustment. Hold the scissors horizontally and cut a thin stripe of fabrics from all layers at once. Do this cut on both sides of the body and the butterfly is finished.

Shaping butterfly body with scissors and cutting of extra fabric.
Cutting away edges of the butterfly body.
Finished butterfly sewn to a tunic.
Finished butterfly.

8. Complete your project

We have sewn the butterfly to an unfinished project. Complete it now. Whether it’s a dress, t-shirt or home decor. I have decided to sew my butterfly to the front side of a tunic. Unfortunately, I forgot to use the stabiliser right at the beginning and now I have to start over again. Do not make the same mistake :)! Good luck and let me know of your success.

Conclusion: How To Make a Butterfly Applique?

I hope you enjoyed this tutorial and that it inspired you to create your own designs based in this technique. If you liked this tutorial, please be so kind and share it. Thank you.

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