Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Plain to Pretty: How to Applique a Step Stool

Our house has really high ceilings, and the closets take full advantage of it. Wonderful for storage, not so wonderful for actually reaching the stuff on the top shelves. I bought several plain white step stools from Target when we first moved in, so I saw this awesome step stool re-do from Prudent Baby featured on Ohdeedoh back in January with the exact same stools I had, I filed it away to await design inspiration.

Remember the lovely fabric I ordered from Daisy Janie a month or so ago? One was a gorgeous coral-and-cream pattern destined to recover my desk chair someday, and the other was a tiny little linen/cotton remnant just the right size for one of my step stools. The orange and blue matched the color scheme I'm using in the nursery, so I came up with a quick applique design for the stool instead of using paper like the original tutorial.

Note (aka learn from my mistakes): if you're Mod Podging fabric, test a scrap first to see how it takes the glue. I didn't do this, and while it's not bad, I am not entirely happy with how it worked with the blue fabric (ripped out of an old fabric shoulder bag I never use).

Step stool
Base fabric, big enough to cover the top of the stool
Fabric for the applique
Marking pen or pencil
Fusible web interfacing (like Steam-a-Seam)
Sewing machine (optional)
Mod Podge or other decoupage glue

Step 1: Measure and cut the base fabric
Like in Prudent Baby's tutorial, you'll cut the base fabric a bit smaller than the top of the step stool because it just looks nicer that way, and it's easier to Mod Podge. Place the fabric wrong-side up on a cutting surface and trace the stool. Cut it out about a quarter-inch inside the line you traced.
See? If you want a different size border, go for it.

Step 2: Transfer the applique design
I drew my design freehand, but you can easily print out any simple line drawing and cut it out to make a stencil, or use carbon paper or your favorite transfer method to get your applique design on the fabric you choose. You can get crazy and use different colors of fabric, or you can keep it simple like this one with just one color. I used a chalk pencil to draw my design, but you can also use water-soluble markers. Notice I also drew the design backwards, on the wrong side of the fabric. This way I didn't have to worry about getting rid of the tracing marks later.

Read step 3 before you cut out the applique -- your method of applying fusible web will determine whether you cut now or later.

Step 3: Apply fusible web interfacing to applique and adhere applique to base fabric
There are different ways of applying the fusible web. Either way you do it, first you remove just one side of the paper backing.
My method, because I'm a saver and hate wasting stuff, is to cut out the applique from the fabric first, then dig out all the little scraps of fusible web leftover from other projects and piece together enough to cover the back of the applique, then trim the excess (like photo above).
The easier way is to stick your applique fabric -- uncut and right-side up -- on the fusible web, then cut out the applique design from the fabric and the webbing at once. You'll end up with a negative applique, too, which could be kind of cool.
Anyway, once you have your fabric stuck to the fusible webbing, peel the other layer of paper off and stick your applique onto the base fabric.
Once you stick it down, check to make sure it's exactly where you want it. Right now you can still peel it up and re-place it.
Look good? Ok, you're ready to iron (P.S. don't be like me -- you should iron the base fabric before you stick the applique on. It's much nicer). Follow the manufacturer's instructions for ironing this dude down. It usually involves pressing straight down for 10-15 seconds, working in overlapping sections until you've ironed the whole design.
Since you're going to be Mod Podging this little guy onto your stool, this will be more than enough to keep it from peeling, and you can skip to step 5. But if you like the look of stitching, or if you're just not confident in the power of glue, move on to step 4 for sewing.

Step 4: Sew the applique onto the base fabric
I used a zigzag stitch because I thought the roughness of it looked good with my design. You can make the zigzag shorter so it looks more like a satin stitch for a more polished look. Whatever you decide, test your stitch on scrap fabric first to make sure it looks like you want.

Your machine will have some variation of the picture below for zigzag:

Change the top dial (stitch width) so the horizontal direction, or zig, of the stitches is the width you like. Change the bottom setting (stitch length) so the vertical, or zag, of the stitches is how you like. Making this setting smaller will give you a more satin stitch or buttonhole look, and making it bigger will make it look like mine (or even more open).

It's also a good idea to set your machine to stop with the needle down (if you can) and to set it to half speed (also if you can). It'll look something like this:

Because of the curves and tight turns of my piece, especially the tiny helicopter, going s-l-o-w-l-y was imperative. If you don't have these settings, just take it easy and use the hand wheel to move the needle down whenever you stop, before you lift the foot to turn the fabric. Luckily, you don't have to worry about pins since you used that nifty fusible web interfacing!

Before you start gluing, add any embellishments you need to add by hand (I added the helicopter rotor blades, skids and the contrail by hand, since I'm terrible at freehand machine embroidery).

Step 5: Glue! And glue again!
And now we're back in Prudent Baby tutorial territory. Make sure the step stool is clean, then paint a layer of glue on the surface. Check to make sure the edges of the base fabric are clean and not fraying -- trim any loose threads. Place the fabric on the glue, and smooth out any bubbles. Let dry completely before moving on. While it's dry, it's not a bad idea to use a lint roller or piece of tape to get up any pesky bits of lint or stray threads that might be stuck to your fabric. You don't want to glue those down!
Once the glue is dry, apply a layer of glue to the top. Let it dry, then apply another layer. Repeat ad infinitum, or at least for 3-4 coats for durability. The brush you choose will determine the texture of the surface -- a smooth foam brush and thin coats will make a smooth surface, a bristly brush and thick, impatient coats will make for a more textured surface for little feet to grip.

That's it! Let me know if you have questions, and post a link in the comments to your versions!


  1. I love it and uber cute . You are awesome !!!

  2. That's seriously adorable!


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