Appliqué quilts are made by cutting shapes out of fabric and then sewing them onto a backing fabric to create an overall design. In contrast with piecing (or patchwork), appliqué enables the maker to create naturalistic designs, rather than simply geometric, designs. Appliqué might depict flowers, animals, people, buildings, or other figural elements. With the endless possibilities of appliqué, makers can use quilts to tell stories and express ideas or just create beautiful designs that might not be possible through piecing or other quiltmaking methods.

Traditionally, makers used hand stitching to appliqué fabric pieces to the ground, but many quilters today employ the sewing machine, using straight topstitching, a tiny zig-zag, or a blanket stitch, which results in more visible stitching.