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How to Add a Catchlight to Applique Eyes – Three Ways

three ways to add a actchlight to applique eyes - photo mosaic showing hand embroidered, machine stitched, and fabric painted eyes on applique dog faces

What’s that little light you see in eyes? It’s called a catchlight, or a catch light, or a spark of life, or a bunch of other poetic names. Whatever you call it – adding a little speck of light really brings applique eyes to life.

It’s one of the reason I love using black safety eyes on my dolls and stuffed animals. The surface is shiny, so it reflects the light and you get that little spark that makes them awesome.

But you can’t really use those plastic eyes on applique.

No matter!

There are lots of different ways to add that catchlight to applique eyes. Here are three different methods. . .

Fabric Paint

Easy peasy! Just paint those specks in!

I’ve tested a bunch of different fabric paints to use for eyes too small to applique. For catchlights on applique eyes I went straight to my favorite – Scribbles fabric paint.

It dries shiny and 3D and is impossible to pick off. 🙂

If you’re nervous about painting on a finished block, try just a dot.

fabric paint catchlights on applique eyes

If you’re feeling a little braver, go for a crescent shape.

fabric paint catchlights on applique eyes

If you’re nervous about a crescent, think of it as a comma, or a closed parenthesis – and definitely practice on paper to get a feel for how the paint flows.

Pros of fabric paint

  • inexpensive
  • fast
  • easy
  • permanent

Cons of fabric paint

  • permanent
  • takes a while for the paint to cure
  • someone in your quilt guild might say you’re a cheater pants

Hand Embroidery

This is another really simple option. Just a few stitches and you’ll have some sparkling eyes.

hand embroidered catchlights on applique eyes

For this I like to use #8 Perle Cotton embroidery thread and a size 3 or 4 embroidery needle. You may need a thimble too.

stitch guide for embroidering catchlights

Bring your needle up at point A. Leave a 3-6 inch tail hanging on the back side of the block – long enough to tie into a knot with your other tail when you’re finished.

Take one stitch from A to B.

Come up at point C and take a stitch from C back to B.

Come up at point D (just a smidge to the side of point A) and take a stitch from D to B.

Tie off your tails in the back and repeat for the second eye.

Beautiful catchlights in those eyes!


  • simple – no special tools or tech needed
  • can unpick the stitches if you don’t like how it looks
  • portable
  • no drying time needed


  • It can be hard to push the needle through fabric backed with fusible adhesive. You may need a thimble.
  • slow

Machine Embroidered

You can embroider those catchlights by machine – even if you don’t have an embroidery machine. You just need to have some decorative stitches.

On my machine I used a stitch that looks like a little row of triangles or arrow points. I adjusted the length and width to something that looked good, and I curved it a bit as it sewed.

See that scrap of fabric sitting next to that dog face?

Once I was happy with my stitch settings, I stitched up a little sample and wrote the stitch number, length and width right on the sample. Now I have that reference any time I need it and I don’t have to do that testing again!

Here’s what my machine screen looks like.

See? I used stitch #401, set to a width of 3.5 and a length of 12.0. My machine is a Bernina 710, so your setting may vary from that – but you probably have a stitch that will work.

One thing to note when you’re tricking your machine into thinking it’s an embroidery machine. . .

See how this stitch makes a continuous row of triangles if you just keep sewing? You have to pay REALLY close attention to when the triangle is coming to a point so you can stop it and tie off before it jumps back up to the wide section of the next triangle in the row.


  • fast
  • can be picked out if you make a mistake


  • requires some fiddling with your machine

So there you have it! Three different ways to add catchlights to applique eyes to really bring them to life.

Here are links to all the posts showing how to applique with fusible adhesive – my favorite method. It’s fast and easy and (with the right materials) it holds up beautifully to rough use and repeated washing.

Here are links to special posts about eyes.

Here are links to some extra fun things you can do with your applique.

Other Applique Methods

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Move on to the lessons about outline stitching.



  1. Pat E. SAYS...

    You read my mind, Wendi. I was about to experiment with ‘catchlights’. These are three excellent options. I love embroidery, so was planning to try that, but I like the look of the fabric paint, so that’s my choice. Thank you for being so thorough in your descriptions, pictures, testing, and naming of specific products. You make everything so easy!

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