Friday, May 30, 2014

How to Machine Appliqué

Before I talk about blanket stitch appliqué I must spend some time explaining a few things about satin stitch, which will also apply to blanket stitch.  First of all the appliqué fabric is heavily starched, fused to fusible material, then the appliqué designs are cut and fused to the background fabric.  See my earlier post.

TIP:  Starching is optional, but I find it helps control the fabric.

Satin stitch is simply a zig zag stitch squashed tightly together to form a solid, edge around the appliqué.  This takes the right machine and some practice to get it even and uniform. I haven't gotten there.  I haven't practiced.  Someday I will learn to do it nicely, but right now it clings to the bottom of the bucket list.  Below is the anatomy of a satin stitch.

Finally, your choice of stabilizer is affixed to the back of the background fabric.  I use safety pins.

Satin stitch with no stabilizer
Satin stitch on cotton with two layers of stabilizer
As you can see, stabilizer makes a world of difference in the appearance of satin stitch, and equally so with blanket stitch.  In these examples you can see why I don't do satin stitch:  my machine does not allow the stitches to be any closer together.  The skinny example (far right) was done twice and I still am not happy with it.

TIP:  Using the same fabric and materials as in your quilt start stitching, adjusting tension, stitch length and width until you are satisfied with the result.  It is difficult to rip out this kind of stitching and it is hard on your fabric and your mental stability to do so.  Mark this tester scrap with your final choice of settings and put it on your design wall where it won't get lost or land in the wastebasket.

The fabric preparation for blanket or buttonhole stitch is the same as for satin stitch, including the practice sample...especially the practice sample.  The stitching runs along the edge of the fabric, tossing out a sideways stitch or two regularly as in the example below.

Blanket Stitch
Batik is a great fabric for blanket stitch appliqué, but more loosely woven fabrics can be used if they are not prone to heavy fraying.

TIP:  If you are using a fabric with some small tendency to fray you can treat the edges with Fray Block.  The tube has a fine tip, but this product is very juicy so I apply it with a toothpick to the very edges of the appliqué after fusing it to the background.  It is a form of plastic so I want it only on the edges.  It seems to work well and is invisible.  I also check for any fray threads as I stitch and either pull them out or snip them.  This is fussy stuff, but if you plan to show a quilt the judges will notice unattractive fuzz.

The machines I have used and heard about take several stitches in place sideways and then several stitches forward and backward.  Machines differ in the specifics of their blanket stitch, but below is the anatomy of the blanket stitch on my Viking Sapphire.

I start with about 5 tiny straight stitches to lock the thread.  Then the needle goes in at A, left to B(1), right to A(2), left to B(3) and right again to A(4).  Next it goes forward from A to C (1), back to A(2), forward to C(3).  You can name or number these steps any way you choose, but you need to establish a rhythm, and it helps to name each step.  When you get to points or corners you need to know where you are in the sequence.  BTW,  the needle goes into the same hole every time you come back to A, B or C (I opened it up in the diagram so you could see the steps).  Points A and C are right at the edge of the appliqué and should form an attractive, smooth finish.   There is a lot of stopping and turning as you negotiate curves and points so this is a perfect place to use the needle-down function if your machine has one.  The A to B stitches must be perpendicular to the edge of the appliqué.

TIP:  Slow your stitch speed to low if you can.  As you learn to do this stitch on appliqué I suggest that you turn off the tv, turn off the audio book, turn off the music, and turn off the kids.  You need to concentrate until you understand the rhythm of your stitch.  Why not music?  Music is all about rhythm, but it rarely, if ever, syncs with your sewing machine stitch, leaving you all mixed up crazy.  Say the names of the steps out loud with your variation of names and needle sequence:  1,2,3,4-1,2,3.  You have just created new music with the needle as your drum!

Finish with 5 tiny, locking stitches, which can be buried nicely in previous stitching.  Pull the threads to the back and cut, leaving a 1/2 inch tail.

TIP:  If the thread tails might show through the fabric to the front, pull them through some stitches on the back before cutting.

The points and corners will take some maneuvering. Slow down.  You may need to shorten the width of the sideways stitch sometimes, and you may need to lengthen or shorten the lengthwise stitch even to 0 on occasion.  So much depends on your machine so remember the old mantra:  practice, practice, practice.  This is where you need to remember where you are in the stitching sequence or you will find the needle flying off in the wrong direction.  Ask me again how I know!!  My seam ripper has a long and varied history.

TIP:  Save time and reduce pilot error.  Once you have your settings established, and if you can do this on your machine, program your stitches so you can select them automatically.  The appliqué I am working on now has two different width settings depending on what part I am working on so those are each programmed separately.  The third stitch I program is the tiny straight, locking stitch because it needs to be offset to the right to match the start of the blanket stitch (A). 

When you get the hang of this you can turn on your choice of noise.  However, I suggest you send the kids outside to play in a safe place or put them down for naps.

Saturday, May 24, 2014


We were advised on short notice that a grandson will be spending the next week with us.  We are so looking forward to this special time with him, and will be driving into the snowy mountains, hiking, visiting the local Art Show, and doing everything we can think of to have fun.  I will be cooking too as this young man is very tall and loves and needs his calories.  I don't know whether I will have time to put together the next installment on Hallelujah Rhapsody in a timely manner, but I haven't forgotten and will get it out as soon as playtime allows.  I appreciate all the interest and encouragement I have received via your comments.  Thank you and stay tuned.  I WILL be back!  Now we are off to the airport to meet that plane from Texas.

The pincushion cactus are blooming here in the mountains.  The pretty colors and regular design could be inspiration for a quilt.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Hallelujah Rhapsody

I was planning to show the finished quilt after I explained the rest of the steps that went to complete it.  However, I came across an online Quilt Festival that requires a post showing a finished quilt.  It is at Amy's Creative Side and the entry deadline is May 23.  It sounded like a fun activity so here is my entry.

I learned how to make this quilt from reading Ricky Tims' "Rhapsody Quilts."  I learned new techniques and feel that I am a better quilt maker for the experience.  It has certainly opened up new avenues for designing quilts because I now know how I can sew ideas that once would have seemed impossible.  I used to look at quilts with strange seams and appliqué and wonder how on earth they were made.

TIP:  Challenge yourself.  You'll be surprised what you can do.

Hallelujah Rhapsody
I named it "Hallelujah Rhapsody" because that is how I felt when I finished it.  It was a lot of work, but I enjoy challenge and complexity.

I made the label from a photo of the quilt (address removed):

This quilt was the first one I ever entered into a show.  It didn't win anything and I will tell you why in another post, but it did get juried in.  That is a major first step toward winning something.

TIP:  Don't be afraid to enter a show.  The only thing you can lose is the entry fee, and if you are not juried in take some classes, make some more quilts and improve the quality of your sewing.  Practice.  When you are juried in, it is exciting to see your quilt hanging in the show, and the judges' comments are invaluable.  My competence and confidence were both given a boost when I began to show my quilts.

Today you see the finished product, but I still plan to write a post on sewing the appliqué and another on blocking quilts because those topics are both relevant to this quilt.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Appliqué to Background

Appliqué can be applied several ways.  It can be sewed on by hand (needle turned), and within that category there are tricks using freezer paper, starch or glue.  The fabric can be fused or glued to the background and the edges sewn down with the machine.  Satin stitch done with a tight zigzag is common and looks lovely when done well.  There are many special stitches on machines today that can be used. 

TIP:  Experiment with the fancy stitches on your machine.  They work best with stabilizer under the fabric.

My favorite method is to use a fusible material, iron the appliqué to the background, and sew it down with a machine blanket stitch.  I trace all my appliqué pieces onto Soft Fuse IN REVERSE.  It stays soft.  It has paper on only one side, and that paper stays on until you want to take it off.  It is easy to pull off when you are ready.

First the designs are drawn IN REVERSE on the paper side of the fusible material.   If you are using fusible with two paper sides, read the directions for which side to use.

TIP:  I often squeeze all the designs that will be made from the same fabric together about ¼-½ inch apart so there is little waste, and iron the whole bunch to one piece of fabric without cutting the fusible apart first.  You don’t have to worry about grain on the appliqué.

TIP:  Did you get that?  The designs must be drawn on the paper of the fusible IN REVERSE of how you want them on the quilt.  A new habit to develop! 

Now I sit down with an audio book in the player and carefully cut out all the pieces.  Watching TV is OK too.  I like to get all of the cutting done first to get it out of the way.  What I really want to do is sew and I don’t care to stop in between to cut.

TIP:  I find it helpful to put all the cut appliqué for one background shape into an envelope, label it and put it, the original tracing paper drawings, and the background piece into a folder for each background shape and its appliqués.  Everything is labeled of course.  It is nice to be able to find it all together when I am ready to work on that part.

Finally, I tear the paper off, lay the appliqué in its predetermined spot and iron it to the background according to the directions of the fusible material.

TIP:  Is it hard to get the paper off before ironing to the fabric?  Use a pin to lightly score the paper in the center of the appliqué piece.  The paper will pop up and is easily grabbed.

TIP:  Use a heat resistant ironing sheet over the appliqué.  It will protect your iron from any AWOL fusible goo.

MAJOR BIG TIP:  reverse (design) + wrong (side fabric) = RIGHT.  Two negatives make a positive! In this case two wrongs make right.  

Why am I do adamant about reversing the design on fusible?  I made a whole quilt backwards one time.  That's why!