What is Leather Applique: Types and How it’s Made

what is leather applique

I believe everyone growing up at a point did an art activity that involved cutting out a colored shape or design from one surface (paper) and pasting it by gluing onto another different colored surface. This art activity is what’s commonly referred to as Applique. Generally, Applique is a French word which means “apply on”/”applied on”, but what is meant by leather applique?

So what’s leather applique? Leather applique is a leatherwork decorative technique that involves cutting out different sizes, shapes, textures or colors of leather pieces and pasting them on a bigger surface of leather by either gluing or by both gluing and stitching. Often, stitching and gluing is used to ensure the durability of the leather applique design.

Leather applique is commonly made on fabrics but has been creatively employed in leatherwork. There is a lot more exciting information you might want to stick around for as I’m ready to share with you all my research findings on Leather Applique.

Leather Applique

Leather applique is a basic leatherwork decorative techniques every beginner would be able to master when starting out. Aside from simple geometric shapes, plant shapes, animals, human shapes to mention a few are some of the very interesting shapes that you can you could use to arrive at great outcomes.

Leather Applique is one sure way to be very economical with your leather leftovers, leather scraps or offcuts. Often after making one or two projects, you’ll begin to notice pieces of leather scraps begin to pile up and you might not know what to do with them. Leather applique is one of the best ways to utilize those scraps.

The Leather applique method can be accomplished by hand or by using a machine to cut and to stitch. Most often than not, you will use a combination of hand and machine that is, you will cut out shapes using a utility knife or a pair of scissors and will need to use a sewing machine to stitch the cutout shape on another leather.

Leather applique is also a good decorative technique to use for leatherwork decoration because it’s suitable for all types of leather whether synthetic or natural leather. In most cases, you will not be able to apply leatherwork decorative techniques like tooling or carving, molding, etc on synthetic leather but applique is just perfect if you use both synthetic or natural leather materials.

History of Leather Applique

The word applique was originated from the Latin word applicō which means “I apply” and later from the French word appliquer which also means “attach”. The technique started out as a way of reinforcing worn out areas of items such as garments, tents, leather articles, etc.

In the early days, applique was also used to patch holes that had formed on items and mainly to make clothing more durable because it served a reinforcement for the clothing material. Subsequently, more artistic applique expressions and techniques expanded from clothing to blankets, quilts, etc. that can be seen with various cultures all over the world.

A variation of applique is that of the Chintz applique or Persian embroidery. They arranged the cut out of small motifs from printed fabrics into a pattern.

Also, the Kuna Indians from the San Blas Islands off the coast of Panama also jumped on the applique wagon and made their own molas using the applique technique. The ancient Egyptians also had their own applique on garments and several other household items.

In the 1950s, the popular Irish dance competition costume wasn’t adorned but the end of that century, elaborate applique and embroidery were used on the competition garments.

In places like Africa, applique patches were filled with magical powers in the form of talisman which was used to protect traditional leaders. The so-called magical powers were placed inside of the applique design and were believed to have the capacity to stop gunshots, arrows, spiritual attacks, and virtually anything that would possibly harm the wearer.

Types of Leather Applique

In leatherwork, there are two main types or techniques for applique. These are called;

  • In-lay
  • On-lay
  • Cut Out

In-Lay Leather Applique

So what is in-lay leather applique? The in-lay leather applique is the technique of applique making which involves cutting out a shape or design from a piece of leather and using another piece of leather (possibly of a different color) to seal off from beneath of the hollow space created as a result of the cutout design to create a decorative effect.

This technique is also called the reverse applique because unlike the traditional applique of pasting a design or shape on top of the leather, the in-lay applique is the opposite. This technique can be quite a bit challenging for beginners especially if the design involves intricate curves and complicated designs or shapes.

In many cases, it’s advisable to stitch around the design with a zigzag stitch to secure the design. The In-lay applique makes very use of colorful scraps especially the very thin soft-grained leather.

How to Cut and Make an In-lay Applique

Depending on how complex or how simple the design is, it determines the kind of tools and materials you will need for the in-lay leather applique technique.

Items Needed For In-Lay Applique

Generally, you will need items such as;

  • Different colors of Leather
  • Swivel Knife or edge groover or beveler (Optional)
  • Utility knife
  • Glue
  • Sewing Machine or needle and thread (Optional)
  • Ruler
  • Pencil
  • Eraser etc.

In-Lay Leather Applique Procedure

Step 1: Trace out your desired shape onto the grain side of the leather with a blunt tool such as an awl or you can simply use a pencil.

Step 2 Optional: You can use a swivel knife, an edge beveler to create a groove along the lines of the traced out design for the cutting knife to sit in while cutting to minimize the possibilities of cutting errors. This is especially ideal for both beginners and professionals alike for that extra precision.

Step 3: Use a Utility knife to cut out the shape leaving out a hollow shape.

Step 4: Now cut a leather of a different color that is also bigger than the hollow shape and paste it from beneath: the area you have already cut out with the help of an adhesive.

Step 5: Pat down the glued areas with a mallet or maul to ensure the glued pieces are well bonded or have a reinforced adhesion.

Step 6 Optional: You can stitch around the shape with a sewing machine, if possible with a contrasting colored thread.

On-Lay Leather Applique

The On-Lay leather applique describes the typical applique method. It’s however, similar to that of in-lay applique. The main difference is that the shape or design of contrasting leather is rather pasted on or superimposed upon a background.

Like any kind of applique, the on-lay may also employ geometric shapes or designs such as squares or circles, or they may be any other interesting thing.

How to Cut and Make an On-lay Applique

The cutting process is similar to that of the in-lay applique method the only difference is the design you can out is what you’d rather use over another surface. You will notice the tools and materials needed for both the in-lay and on-lay are the same.

Items Needed For On-Lay Applique

  • Different colors of Leather
  • Utility knife or scissors
  • Glue
  • Sewing Machine or needle and thread (Optional)
  • Ruler
  • Pencil
  • Eraser etc.

On-Lay Leather Applique Procedure

The procedure for the on-lay leather applique is the same the only difference is where you glue the design. Unlike in-lay, the cutout design in on-lay leather applique goes on top of another leather. You can follow the procedure below to get this done.

Step 1: Trace out your desired shape

Step 2: Use a Utility knife or a pair of scissors to cut out the shape into a pattern

Step 3: Now paste the cutout design or pattern on top of another colored large leather surface with a leather adhesive

Step 5: Pat down the glued leather parts with a mallet or maul to ensure the glued pieces are well bonded

Step 5 Optional: You can choose to stitch around the shape with a sewing machine to make the applique design more durable.

Cut Out Leather Applique

This is a very simple form of applique you can do. It’s a decorative applique technique which involves the use of a drive punch, rotary, or a revolving punch to make small round holes or shapes without sealing the holes to create a design.

In much simpler terms, all you do is to create a hollow design without sealing it either from the top or beneath.

This technique is used on leather articles such as babies’ or children’s sandals and shoes, men’s sandals, some lady’s handbags. So in the case of the babies’ shoes for example, the baby’s feet show through the hollow cut to show off the design.


The leather applique technique is a very interesting leather decorative technique you can readily try even as a beginner. You can use this decorative technique on all kinds of leather including synthetic leather. All three types of leather applique are easy to execute within very simple steps. Try it out if you never have and enjoy working with leather. Cheers!!! 😀


Hi! I’m Kwabena, the owner and founder of Favored Leather. I’m a huge Leathercraft enthusiast and I’ve been that for almost 13 years now. I'm excited to share my experiences and all the new stuff I learn each day about leather craft, leather cleaning & care, and everything in-between!

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