|Still Life with Applique and Morning Latte|
I would have finished this block sooner, but after getting impatient with the amount of time it takes to prepare applique shapes using Erin's recommended Starch and Press method, I decided to investigate other techniques for hand applique for this block in hopes of speeding things up a bit. I've learned that a medium-to-low iron setting is safer for my fingers and less likely to warp my little plastic templates than a hotter iron, but it takes SO LONG to starch and press all of these little pieces before I can stitch them down. The applique part is fun, but the prep work, not so much.
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|Traced Design on BACK of Block, Placing Applique Fabric with Light Box|
So, here you can see that I've lightly traced the reverse image of my applique block design on the back of my block background in ordinary pencil. I had already hand embroidered my stems and appliqued my center circles and most of my pomegranates in place using the starch and press method, so I was just experimenting with leaves here. I used my light box to trace the design onto the back of my block as well as to place each applique fabric so that there was plenty of fabric all the way around the drawn edge of each shape for a turn under allowance. So far, so good.
|Basting Leaf in Place Along Drawn Pencil Line, from Back of Block|
Now, I didn't really dig the idea that I was going to sew these leaves down first with a basting thread, and then I was going to have to rip out those stitches and sew them down again, so I decided to try the Machine Basting method, using a 90/14 Topstitch needle, 40 weight quilting thread in the needle, and 50 weight cotton thread in the bobbin. For the first leaf I attempted to stitch along the drawn line with my feed dogs down and the free-motion foot on my machine, but as you see in the photo above, that resulted in a bit of a wobble. Eikmeier's book warns that the finished applique is going to end up exactly like the line of your basting stitch, so I switched to using an open-toed applique foot with my feed dogs up, pivoting after each stitch as I neared the point to ensure a perfectly smooth basting line around the shape of each leaf.
|Basting Along Pencil Line with Open Toed Applique Foot #20|
I got much better results with the feed dogs up and the open-toed #20 foot. It didn't take long to baste all eight leaves in place by machine.
|Front of Block After Basting Leaf Shapes|
Here you see the block from the front, with all of the leaf shapes basted in place. At this point I was feeling pretty optimistic about this back-basting method... But then I started the actual applique process. This is one of those processes that is difficult to explain in words, but instantly makes sense when you look at a picture:
|Needle-Turn Applique Along the Broken Basting Stitch Line|
See? You clip partway into that turn allowance to get started, pull out about 3/4" of basting stitches, and then use the tip of your needle to swipe the fabric allowance under as you stitch exaclty along the line where the basting stitches were, which is visible due to the large holes created by that 90/14 Topstitchig needle I used when I machine basted. Sounds easy enough, right? Except that I REALLY don't like this method!!
|Two Back-Basted Leaves Appliqued: Meh!|
If I had never tried any other applique method, I might be satisfied with those two "beginner" leaves and stuck with the back-basting method. They aren't THAT bad, right? But, with the starch and press method that I've gotten used to, all of the work of shaping the applique pieces is done ahead of time, and by the time I'm appliqueing shapes in place I have perfect points and perfectly smooth, lovely curves on every piece. Stitching perfect little shapes in place while visiting or watching television with my family is relaxing and enjoyable, and because I have a crisply pressed and starched edge on every shape, it's easy to precisely position my needle so that it grabs just two or three threads of applique fabric and then disappears just beneath the edge of the applique, as invisible as possible. Like magic. Fun!
With the back-basting method, though, you are trying to create a smooth curved edge from wimpy, floppy fabric that doesn't want to cooperate with you at the same time you are stitching it down. For me, this method resulted in less perfect shapes, more visible applique stitches, and increased swearing and scowling throughout the applique process. Not fun!
|Two Back-Basted Leaves at Left, Lots of Prettier Starch and Press Leaves at Right|
See the difference? This cardinal block on the right was my very first ever attempt at applique, using the starch and press method. Compare those first leaves -- smooth, plump, and invisibly stitched -- to the two leaves I appliqued using the back-basting method, on the folded block at the left side of the photo. Blech! So I got out my seam ripper and removed the remaining six overcut leaf shapes from my block. Then I had to remove the two misshapen leaves I had already appliqued in place, which was VERY difficult to do and which prompted me to wonder whether there was such a thing as applique stitches that are TOO small and TOO closely spaced?
|My Applique Stitches -- Should My Stitches Be Longer?|
Initially I was concerned about making sure my applique stitches were small enough to be invisible and closely spaced enough to securely hold the applique in place for the life of the finished quilt. Now I've gotten into a hand stitching rhythm and this is how my stitches come out automatically, without thinking about it. I didn't think tiny stitches could be a problem until I realized that I couldn't fit the tip of my seam ripper into most of my stitches, and removing the stitches at the points of my leaves, which I had secured with a few extra stitches, was an extremely precarious undertaking. If I had accidentally cut into my background fabric at this point it would have been a disaster!
|Jubilation! My Leaf Is Lovely Again!|
I did manage to remove the leaves safely, and then I made eight new starch and press leaves for my block. I glue basted them in place, using the needle holes from the machine basting stitches as placement guides, and added a little 1/2" applique pin to each one for added security. Now I can get back to the fun part again!
I've pretty much decided that back-basting or traditional needle-turn applique is not going to be for me, but there are other methods for preparing pre-turned shapes for applique that I have not yet written off. For instance, in Harriet Hargrave's invisible machine applique class, she had us preparing applique shapes by ironing freezer paper templates to the wrong side of the applique shapes, cutting around the templates with a turning allowance, and then using fabric glue stick to turn and secure the edge. Then we basted the shapes in place with fabric glue sticks prior to stitching the applique. With that method, it was faster than the starch and press method and even easier to get smooth curves and sharp points. My only concern is the added resistance to my needle as I'm hand stitching through three layers of fabric, glue stick, and a piece of freezer paper. Of course, this method also requires you to cut into the background fabric afterwards so you can pull out the freezer paper templates. I think I might give it a try anyway, and see how it goes.
Happy Tuesday, everyone! Enjoy that sunshine while it lasts.