Tsumori Chisato, AW11, Paris.
When creating certain decorative shapes on the surface of garments, it is not always practical to add in the design line through panels. When complex shapes and patterns or surreal tromp l’oeil effects are required, designers often turn to the technique known as appliqué.
Used in some stand out pieces by Elsa Schiaparelli in the past, this technique allows designers to “apply” one piece of fabric to another, enabling the pieces to layer up like a form of textile collage. Although the term appliqué, in a broader sense essentially means “applied” or “thing that has been applied” (according to Wikipedia»), in the context of the fashion industry it generally means the application of one fabric to another fabric. Attached beads, sequins and other decorative elements, for instance, are generally referred to as embellishments, not appliqués.
In the images above and below we see how Tsumori Chisato has used the technique in her Autumn-Winter 2011 collection in a variety of ways. At times, the panels even become functional as we see appliquéd panel shapes repeated as patch pockets.
Panels of fabric can also be finished in a variety of ways. The edges of any applique design could be finished by hand or machine stitching, you could fold the seam allowance under first, or leave the edge raw. The edges could be finished with a straight topstitch, or a stitch which will over lap the edge of the fabric such as a zig-zag or satin stitch. You could even straight stitch the edges first, and then apply a binding or ribbon over the top with a single or twin needle finish. Essentially, this technique can be used in any number of ways from the typically quirky uses which it is best known for, to some more subdued applications.
An interesting concept is also the idea of reverse appliqué, whereby you begin with layers of fabric that have been sewn through, and then cut away the top layers to shape your design.
The placement of all these pieces can also be assisted by the use of fusings and fusing tapes. There are certain double sided fusings available which would be perfect for assisting in the positioning of the panels. Make sure to test first though, as on finer fabrics the glue may seep through and darken or stain the fabric. Also when creating appliqué over other seams and darts you may be better to leave the fabric slightly loose, rather than fusing it into the crevice of the seamline.
Images from Vogue.co.uk»