|Hand Applique at Left, Invisible Machine Applique at Right|
I was so excited about taking Harriet Hargrave's Invisible Machine Applique class at the North Carolina Quilt Symposium last weekend. I have owned Harriet's Heirloom Machine Quilting and her Mastering Machine Applique books for about 10 years, and although I relied on her machine quilting book extensively with my first few quilts, I had never attempted machine applique until this class. Since I had just started my very first hand applique project this year, I thought it would be great to try Harriet's methods for achieving similar results by machine to see which construction method I preferred.
|Bernina 750 QE Packed in a Tutto 1XL Machine On Wheels Bag|
I lugged my Bernina 750 QE to class in a spiffy red Tutto trolley case purchased 'specially for this occasion. I was very happy with how well my machine fit in this case and how easy it was to transport this way -- but then, when I walked into the classroom and saw the itty bitty, TV-tray-sized "tables" that were each supposed to accommodate TWO students and TWO machines, I found myself wishing I had brought a smaller machine!
For those of you who are also 750 owners, I can tell you that Harriet recommended using Stitch #3, the Vari Overlock stitch, instead of the Narrow Blind Hem stitch built into the machine's quilting menu, because there are fewer straight stitches between the V-shaped bites on the Vari Overlock stitch and she feels that Stitch #3 creates a much more attractive invisible applique. She had me MIRROR IMAGE Stitch #3, reduce the length to 0.9, reduce the width to 0.4, and reduce the needle tension to 3.0 (with monofilament .004 nylon thread in the needle and 60/2 Mettler cotton embroidery thread in the bobbin -- no adjustments needed to bobbin tension). After making those adjustments to the stitch, I also had to press that button on the leftmost side of the second row to put the needle back in center position, otherwise the stitch would form so close to the left toe of my #20C Open Applique presser foot that I couldn't see what I was doing.
|Stitch #3, Length 0.9, Width 0.4, Catching 2 Threads of Applique Fabric|
With those settings, I was able to get beautiful tension for machine applique and the left swing of the needle caught only two threads of the applique fabric. With the Open Toe Applique foot and the super-bright LED lighting on my 750 'Nina machine, I had excellent visibility for this technique. But, did I ENJOY it?
Well, compared to the hand applique that I've been working on lately, I have to say that I found machine applique to be incredibly stressful. In order for the machine stitching to be invisible, you need that skinny little 60/8 needle to rub right against the folded applique fabric edge for the straight stitches, pivoting carefully around every curve, and the left swing "bite" part of the stitch is supposed to catch just two threads of the applique fabric and then land precisely against the fold on the background fabric. I found myself holding my breath as I stitched, tensing my shoulders, and muttering curses under my breath every time the needle didn't land exactly where I wanted it to. Hand applique is slower, but it's so much more relaxing and every single stitch goes exactly where I want it. If a hand needle pokes through in the wrong spot, I just back it out and adjust it to where it needs to go. It's easy to pull out a single hand stitch just by unthreading and rethreading the needle. The stitch length for this invisible machine applique is SO tiny that the stitches are like a string of knots, virtually impossible to remove.
|"Invisible" Machine Applique? Well, Not On Batiks...|
About those tiny stitches, though... My applique shapes were all cut from densely-woven batik fabrics, which I thought would be fun and "painterly" for an applique exercise, and my background fabric was a "regular" cotton quilting print. Even though I was using .004 monofilament nylon thread in a 60/8 needle, the smallest machine needle available, the needle holes are really obvious in the batik fabrics. In the photo above, you can see every one of the needle holes on that line between the blue and pink hearts, even though the needle landed right where it was supposed to every time (on that little bit, at least!). Where I was appliqueing the green batik stem and leaves to the "normal" weave of the background print, the stitches are much more invisible, but not so much with those batiks. This photo was taken prior to cutting away the backing fabric and pulling out the freezer paper templates, which helps to turn that applique edge a little and helps to hide those straight stitches between "bites," and it's possible that the needle holes on the shapes themselves might close up and look less obvious after washing the finished quilt, but still -- I think I'll avoid batik fabrics next time I'm planning to do invisible machine applique.
I know this was a new method for me, and this was only my first try -- in unfamiliar surroundings, with distractions and pressure to finish so the class could move on, etc. I'm sure it will get easier to machine applique with practice, and even running the sewing machine at a snail's pace is faster than stitching the applique pieces down by hand with a milliner's needle. The verdict? I think I might use machine applique for a project with large, simple applique shapes, for something I need to get done quickly for a gift, or something like that. But I really like having a portable hand stitching project to carry around with me, and I love the way the little applique shapes puff up as I stitch them by hand.
|Applique By Hand: Completed Jingle BOM Applique Block #2|
I was able to finish up my Jingle Applique Block #2 (a Block-of-the-Month pattern designed by the faboo Erin Russek of One Piece At a Time) this morning, stitching the berries in place while I was watching Anders perform in his school talent show. I couldn't have brought my sewing machine into the auditorium, that's for sure!
|See My Lumpy, Misshapen Berries?|
I'm still trying to figure out how to deal with the smallest applique shapes, and I haven't mastered those sharp points without fraying. My little padded berries, all made with the same 3/8" diameter circle templates, are ending up misshapen and unevenly sized by the time I stitch them down. If I master the berry circles later on in this project, I might go back and redo the worst berries on the earliest blocks. For now, however, I have one more applique block plus a pieced block that was just posted today before I am caught up... As well as that big center applique medallion. The applique stitch itself is easy, and although Erin's starch and press method for preparing the applique shapes for stitching takes some time up front, it's nice to not be obligated to cut the backing up so freezer paper can be removed after all the stitching is complete. I love how the hand applique stitches just disappear into the applique fabric when the thread color is a good match.
I'm so glad I decided to give this project a try! Next, I think I'll prep the applique shapes for the 3rd applique block so that's ready to tote around. As for the next pieced block -- maybe that would be a good first project for Judy the Featherweight?
There are only FIVE days of school left before summer vacation, including Field Day, final exams in math and Chinese for both boys, and a science project that Lars and a partner are finishing up this weekend. I have some Room Parent duties (such as creating an end-of-year Signup Genius for next week's party) to wrap up and I'm in the early stages of a client's nursery project as well. Perfect timing, really.
Have a wonderful weekend!