Sample Makeover and HNBL

A little history on Applique Cafe… we started in August 2009, so 3+ years ago. Bless my heart, some of my old samples are just sad! The fabrics are yuck so-so, but some of the photos are worse than so-so. We now have over 575 designs, so while I can’t re-do ALL of the “bad” samples, I’m working on it here and there. I also just recently started removing the background (i.e. white stabilizer or shirt or whatever I used) from my photos. Again, I can’t do all 575+ but work on them here & there. I use Photoscape to edit my photos (rotate, crop, lighten, add watermark, etc), but also have Photoshop Elements (Adobe Photoshop Elements 10) to remove my backgrounds. I really need to learn more about Elements so I could do it all in there, but for now I toggle back and forth between the 2 programs. Photoscape is FREE, BTW.

We also sell some of our designs at SWAK Embroidery and also on Etsy. Here’s a prime example of a design that we were getting ready to list on Etsy. Our Alligator design is one of our originals (#60 out of 575) and I shrieked a little when I saw this picture! The fabrics are cute enough, but I think I must have taken this picture in a closet somewhere! So…. this morning I re-did the sample with a brighter chunky lime gingham with turquoise teeth and eye. I also got a brighter picture (outside even tho it’s dreary here) and removed the background in my photo. It looks MUCH better, eh? One design at a time…… A good photo and fabric can make ALL the difference!

alligator 600-vert

 Now, on to further discussion on Heat N Bond Lite (see this POST for more info). I saw a post or two last week on Facebook regarding Heat N Bond Lite versus Steam A Seam Lite (2?). You can find it at most sewing stores like Joann, Hancocks, Hobby Lobby etc. It’s described as “double stick fusible web”. Years ago before I discovered HNBL I tried it (and Wonder Under), but found it a little stickier than I liked for my machine. I HAVE NOT tried it since, and they may have changed it and I noticed a SASL2 so that may even be the new thing (vs. just LITE). Anyway, a question was posed on Facebook asking if people were going to switch, or stick with HNBL. I am choosing to stay with HNBL. I’ve been using it for years, it’s easy to work with and my machine has no problems with it! I encourage everyone to try SASL if you feel inclined (Wonder Under too for that matter), and figure out what YOU like! Figure out what works best for you and your techniques, and your machine, and your finished product. Just because I use HNBL doesn’t mean everyone else has to. But, I do recommend it!

I thought I would post a few pics I took of a shirt I did recently for my daughter. I wanted to show what the shirt looked like straight out of the dryer. This is a Garanimals long sleeved tee from Walmart (60% cotton/40% polyester), and our Bird 3 design. As you can see it’s a little wrinkled, which is normal for a t-shirt I believe and this was probably after 3 fluff cycles since it takes me 3 days to get clothes out of the dryer to fold them.


The applique itself looks pretty good. Most of the “wrinkle” in my opinion is in the shirt. The applique fabric is still fused to the shirt with no bubbles.


I ran an iron over the shirt a time or two, and this is how it looks. There is a “wet spot” between little birdie’s legs, which is probably a stain of grease or cheese dip or something. Sissy is 4 so most of her shirts have something on them!


The applique looks crisp and wrinkle-free!


Here is a side view – no bubbles.


I use a cheap Shark iron that most likely came from Target.


The instructions on HNBL say: Preheat iron to medium heat, no steam. I do keep water in my iron but do not use the steam setting. The water comes in handy ~ squirt it on any hoop burns and iron and they go away. Also, if you stitch an applique design on a shirt and feel as though your fabric is a little bubbly, squirt a little water on it and iron well. For me, it takes the bubbles out and fuses the applique fabric to the shirt. In case anyone is wondering, I do not prewash shirts, fabric or anything. No dryer/hanging to dry is probably good practice for applique shirts, but I have 3 kids and doing laundry is a daily chore. I dry just about everything and have no issues!


Please comment with any questions!


  1. I love my HNBL and I don’t plan on switching either. I’ve used the other types you mentioned before and my results just weren’t as nice. HNBL gives me the best, and most consistent, results!

  2. I do all the same things….I’m not switching. This works for me and my customers always have great comments, even after they have washed. I have three young children as well. I don’t hang dry (even though I advise my customers to do so) so laundry is a daily way of life around here…I don’t have time to sort through what needs to air dried…in the dryer it all goes. Generally my wrinkle release cycle dings until I just can’t take it any longer. I give all the shirts a quick press, and they look just as new and fresh as when I made them…minus the stains that I can’t get out. Did I mention that my 3 are boys?

  3. Thanks for sharing, I was following that FB discussion and bought some SASL out of curiosity. I have tons of HNBL so I’m not switching any time soon. My shirts do bubble up, dryer or no dryer. And I have 3 kids so all of mine get dried. So I have a question about your stabilizer. I am using Sulky and then float a piece of tearaway underneath. Would that factor into the fabric bubbling?


    • I use medium cutaway stabilizer only on tshirts. Do you think your iron is warm enough for the HNBL to work? You might also try the water trick – getting the applique a little wet and then ironing if it seems bubbly.

  4. Beth Smith says

    Hi Rosemary! First of all I just wanted to thank you for taking the time to share all of your great tips and for recommending the guys over at! I traveled to Atlanta this weekend from NC to purchase my new PR1000e. I’m so excited. Coming from using a Bernina Deco(which is a great single needle) this should be quite an adventure. I don’t know where I would be today if I did not have your help! Not to mention your fantastic designs. I am officially addicted to applique and embroidery!


    I do have a quick question about stabilizer. I like to clean up the back of my appliqués as much as possible and I like to cover the back of my designs with the soft touch material. I have noticed that when I use the fusible stabilizer on knit shirts and/or the soft touch (can’t remember brand name) you tend to see an outline on the front where the material stops. I was curious if you ever ran into this problem? Also, how much larger is your fusible stabilizer or soft touch extend out from your applique?

    Thanks a million for your help and I can’t wait to stitch your designs out on my new machine!


    PS. I feel I need to add that your designs have exceptional stitch quality and tend to do better than some on my deco! Many thanks!!!

    • I trim my stabilizer closely and I use medium cutaway. As far as the Comfort Cover, it’s about 1″ bigger all the way around. I think you can see it a little bit, but it doesn’t bother me. The shirt I posted has medium cutaway and you can’t tell (outline). So glad you made the trip to ATL!Thanks for all the compliments! 🙂

      • Beth Smith says

        Thanks for the tip. I’m interested too in attending the conference in May! I really admire you all for coming together to give back to the industry. And having lived in mobile as a child it will be nice to visit Alabama. 🙂 Will you be posting details about the event or should I just keep checking the Facebook page? Hope I get to attend! Take care! Beth

  5. I also am a HNBL user and love it. Have never had any issues. I also wanted to tell you how much i LOVE your digitizing! I love the order in which your files stitch out (if that makes sense!) and LOVE you design style! Just wanted to say THANK YOU for a job well done!! It makes us new-comers (I have only had a machine for about 8-9 months) look really really good! Hee Hee! Thanks again!

  6. Lesa White says

    Hi Rosemary,
    Thanks so much for all your great tips! I have a question for you and others – I have read several different places that prior to applique/embroidering, I should wash all shirts and all fabrics. What do you suggest?

  7. I get a lot of bubbling. I’ve been into applique embroidery for just over a year. I make things only for the family -5 granddaughters – and their mothers don’t iron anything. I do get bubbles and wish I didn’t. My latest strategy is not to hoop too tightly – still having problems. I now will try spraying well when I iron to do the final bonding.

  8. Does anyone have any suggestion on keeping the soft touch backing on shirts even after a couple washings? Is seems like it always comes off for me after the first couple times it gets washed. I keep my iron on the hottest setting so I definitely think it’s getting enough heat 🙂 TIA!

  9. Courtney Grant says

    This blog is everything I was wondering about…from the gator to the HNBL to the iron. ..So, Thank you!!
    As much as I want to love HNBL b/c I find it looks so much better, I seem to have trouble with it. I’m going to try my best to explain this, but when I go to do my tack down stich, my fabric with HNBL doesn’t stich down flat. I tried spraying adhesive and it seemed to help but I didn’t like the sticky effect. I do notice that when I iron on my HNBL my fabric with the HNBL starts to curl…is this normal? So, I guess I would like to know if there is a tip when doing the tack down stitch so your fabric doesn’t “bubble” or “pucker” up. Thanks so much!!

    • The best you can do is keep the fabric as flat as possible when it is sewing the tackdown stitch. You can use a small craft or travel iron AFTER YOU TRIM if you want to try to fuse the fabric BEFORE the satin stitch. I have a 6 needle so I’m able to use my fingers (however dangerous) to keep the fabric down while it is sewing the tackdown stitch. If it does bubble, I squirt the applique w/ water and iron and it works.

    • I actually just use an Elmer’s glue stick! It is washable and fits ito most nooks and crannies when I need it. Plus since it is more precise, I can keep it away from my stitch lines and beyond. Lots cheaper than 505!!

      As for fingers with six needles… (scary!) I read somewhere about using skewers or chop sticks. =) I only have a single needle machine for now so I can’t get quite as close!

  10. I tired HNBL per your suggestion and loved it…so I bought a huge roll of HNBL from JoAnn’s online store around Christmas when it was on sale…so I have no plan of switching until it runs out…which doesn’t look like it will be any time soon! Great suggestion!

  11. Rosemary…once again thank you for all of your wisdom and help. I cannot tell you how many times I have leaned on your advice and wisdom! Like you I will stick to HNBL….I love it. I remember following your advice when I first began to appliqué….ironing the HNBL onto the back of the cloth before the “tack-down” and realizing how the HNBL keeps the cloth you are cutting from fraying as you trim the design. If for no other reason than that the HNBL is worth its weight in gold!

  12. i have a question…which is probably in the category of “stupid”…..
    i had no clue until i have seen the conversations about the types of bonding products that you even use them when doing machine applique!!!
    i have just always used stabilizers….
    please do tell more………..exactly how do you use these if you are doing a multi fabric applique?

    • You iron the HNBL on to each fabric, peel the paper away and place it down for the tackdown stitch. You do everything the same w/ multiple fabrics. Iron at the end when you are completely done!

  13. I’m fairly new to machine embroidery and came across your site tonight for the first time. So far, I’ve learned a couple of news things, so thanks! But I have a couple of questions. One, do you use HNBL on all your applique work, and do you finish the entire design before ironing to set the HNBL? I’ve used it once or twice, but I still had some rippling of the fabric. Also, I applique woven cotton fabrics fairly often, and even though I trim the stabilizer close to the design, I find that it still causes the fabric to wrinkle around the stitching quite a bit when I iron it (I use medium or heavy cut away). Do you have any suggestions on how to eliminate this problem? Thanks!

    • Typically you iron when you are completely finished. You CAN iron after you trim w/ a small craft or travel iron, if you feel your fabric didn’t lay down flat enough. I would stick w/ medium cutaway!

  14. Rosemary,

    I also use HNBL on all of my appliques. It does not gum up my machine or needles. I like the way my items turn out, and i have never had any problems at all. I also like that I can buy it by the bolt. I don’t know if you can buy Seam a Seam by the bolt, but I am going to stick with HNBL. I already know it works. Thanks for all the great tips!


  15. Hi…enjoyed all your tips….but have a question…I am fairly new to embroidery…Do you use a spray 505 on your cutaway in order to keep stablizer on your shirt? I do use HNBL on my appliques.
    Thanks for everything…

  16. Your blog is so helpful! Thank you for all the great advice. I am new to embroidery also and was wondering what you think of the peel and stick stabilizer? I have used medium cutaway and seem to get a better result from the peel and stick. Thanks!

  17. Hi Rosemary,

    Thanks again for all of your amazing tips! I also have Photoshop Elements and would love to know how you removed the background on your photos?? This would make the pics on my blog look SO much better!!

    Thanks for all of your help!

  18. Melissa Brockwell says

    I am new to all of this but how do you trim your excess fabric from the design when you use heat bond lite to the shirt? I have been using spray adhesive but have a hard time getting underneath the fabric to trim the fabric. I have cute a few holes in my shirts:( I have a one needle machine. Thanks for any advice.


    • What kind of spray adhesive are you using? You might also try curved scissors. I cut a lot of holes when I first started and am now REALLY careful! Maybe just spray the adhesive on the middle of the fabric where it needs to be.

  19. Hurray for HBL! This mama is sticking with what she knows :). As you say, no bubbles! Thank you for the photo and watermark tips, appreciate it SO MUCH!

    My mind is thinking Easter and I just purchased your adorable bunny and carrot design ;). Can’t wait to sew him out. I’m an Appliqué Cafe addict!

  20. Rosemary,

    Love your blogs, thanks for all the helpful tips! I have one question about Photoshop. I just downloaded the trial, but I cannot figure out how to drop the background from the pictures. Any help would be appreciated!

    Can’t wait for the EAC!

    • You go to Image, then Magic Extractor. It’s a little tedious and sometimes it doesn’t do it right and you have to start over! You basically select what stays and what goes by using the red & blue “dots”.

  21. Lilian Choo says

    Hi, what is the machine that you use for your applique? I love how it looks all so neat and uniform, which i cant achieve with my normal zig zag stitches on my home machine. I otherwise use a juki industrial for my regular sewing and thus not very well versed with embroidery machines. Am exploring incorporating applique in my designs, so hope u can shed some light.

    Thanks, Lilian from Singapore

  22. I use HNBL as well and love it. I use sticky stabilizer and I can’t decide if I need to pull that off the back of the design when I get finished or leave it on. If I leave it on the design is stiff but if I pull it off it seems to pull the HNBL adhesive off too. Any suggestions??

  23. Jessica Jones says

    Hi Rosemary
    Thank you for this info! I just started reading your blog. I have a question, and I’m not sure if it’s related to not using HBL or not. I use the cutaway stabilizer and adhesive spray, but lately I find that my blanks (usually t-shirts), are pulling/puckering around the designs (usually areas of heavy stitching). Any idea why? Thank you!

    • Do you stretch your shirt at all when hooping?

      • I have had the same problem, especially when monogramming or writing names. I have tried to not stretch my fabric, but it’s still gathering/pulling/puckering/ not laying flat when unhooped. It’s ruining my precious onesies!!

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