Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Applique tools

#678.2Junkos Rose Gardencheiko's calla lily yoyo

Whilst I love applique I know many people don’t. It can be slow and fiddly but there are times in life that I need to slow down and sit with a needle and thread to think about things. The sewing machine is great for getting things done quickly and putting large pieces of fabric together but for small detailed work nothing beats a good needle and fine thread!

When sewing anything by hand it’s important to have the right tools, a poorly manufactured needle tugs and pulls through fabric.That’s no fun! If your needle is too big it makes large holes in the top layer and then the stitch becomes very visible.  Thick thread sits on top of your work and screams out look at me…  a thread that keeps snapping or tangling can really test your patience. So if you are not enjoying applique it may be time to try a new needle and thread.

When I first started to sew I had no idea what all the numbers and words meant on a needle packet or a spool of thread. Now I know what my favourites are and when to use them. I know that for applique I need fine thread and that usually means 50wt or higher. But not always, unfortunately thread manufacturers haven’t really agreed on a system for measuring thread weights so its important to feel the thread before you order it.

I like to match the colour of the thread to what I’m sewing on for example, for sewing a yellow circle onto a black background I choose yellow thread. I like using the finest thread possible so that whenever the stitches are visible they are barely there. For years I used Aurifil brand thread in a 50wt but recently I’ve started to use a polyester thread that looks like silk. I still use Aurifil for machine piecing and hand sewing but have switched to Superior Bottom Line Thread for hand applique.











This thread is usually used for the bottom thread of the sewing machine and comes pre wound on cardboard bobbins. I find I can get by with just a handful of neutral colours but one day I may splurge and buy a rainbow of them!

When I do need a particular colour I select from my super handy Prewound Masterpiece Threads Donut. It’s hard not to find the right colour here!









My favourite hand piecing and applique needle is a milliners/ straw size 11. I find it is long enough to help me with needle turn applique and holds many stitches for hand piecing. The small eye of the needle means it also doesn’t make big holes in your fabric and you only need a small knot to anchor the thread. Needles are fairly inexpensive so I encourage you to invest in a well manufactured needle! You are looking for a gentle taper from tip to eye, a needle free from burrs that may catch on fabric and a smooth polished eye that doesn’t shred your thread. A fine, straight and sharp needle is a joy to sew with. There’s lots of interesting information on the net if you want to know more about needles.

If you’ve tried to applique by hand and you really don’t think you will come to like it, don’t give up. There are some amazing things that can be done with a sewing machine these days. Michelle Hill is an Australian who has really perfected this technique and her classes are highly sought after. You can read through her basic instructions for machine applique in these instructions for a pattern published in Issue 38 of Quilter’s Companion.

What other tools will you need? Well it depends on how much applique you do. I like small sharp scissors, a wooden manicure stick to help turn fiddly points and some Dritz Fray Check in case I snip a little close to the seam and I’m worried about fraying. Some people like to use small applique pins but I’m not that bothered. If the pins really get in the way I tack my applique down with thread and snip that off later.

So there you go, that’s my tools for applique. Everyone has their favourites so go ahead and use what gives you the best results.

Read my previous post about applique for some tips and techniques.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

catch up post for my lovely students…

Hey, you’ve found my blog, well done!

Blogs can be pretty confusing to navigate so I’m going to link to the posts that relate to what we’ve already covered in class and to what you can expect to cover next week and further along the course.

It’s a big learning curve, I’ve structured the lessons so we cover as many of the techniques that quilt makers use without overwhelming you with too many details. If you want more information or help I post links here under each topic.

Week 1: We already discussed The Anatomy of a Quilt and the importance of colour and contrast in quilt design. We drafted our first quilt block and learnt about seam allowances whilst piecing a simple block.

Week 2: We learnt how to cut strips and piece them quickly to construct a Rail Fence block. Those that wanted an extra challenge are giving the Variation Rail Fence block a go. The 1/4” seam is crucial when piecing lots of strips. Sew accurately and press with care. Finally, make sure your measurements are correct before cutting.

Week 3: This week we are cutting and piecing a wedge shape that makes up the Dresden Plate. Next week we applique a circle for the centre and the whole flower to a 14” square of your base fabric.

Week 4: Applique: learn a few different techniques to tackle applique. More complex applique patterns are available if you enjoy the technique.

Week 5: Learn English Paper Piecing, we sew over card templates to construct a hexagon block, a Grandmother’s Flower Garden Unit or applique the hexagons onto your base fabric in a random design.

Week 6: Foundation Paper Piecing lesson, great for fiddly blocks and blocks with lots of matching seams and points.

Week 7: Bring in all your scraps to make either a Log Cabin block or a modern improvised block. Other patterns are available too. Time to decide if you have enough blocks, how to piece it all together and finish off your quilt.

Week 8: This week we cover sashing, cornerstones and piecing options for your blocks. Practice machine quilting or hand quilting. learn how to bind your quilt. It’s unlikely that your quilt will be finished by the end of this lesson as quilting can take a while. Don’t worry, plenty of notes are available to take home!

I’ll post more information as we go along!

Lorena x

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Getting back on the “repetitive horse”

I just read Amy’s blogpost about “the one trick pony” versus the “repetitive horse” and thought it was timely given the mind numbing, painstaking piecing I’ve been doing this week. I’m really not a fan of repetition, I love the challenge of finishing a tricky block and admiring it before moving on to the next one.

That’s why I love a good sampler quilt, with lots of different techniques and proportions. That’s probably what attracts so many of us to the Dear Jane, Farmer’s Wife and Nearly Insane quilts.

But a good pattern repeated over and over has it’s own beauty. The background photo on this blog is a good example. Making 49 Orange Peel blocks in black and white is really an exercise in pinning and pressing and then adding another finished block to the design wall. Yet the finished quilt looked so gorgeous hung up in my sewing room I really didn’t want to give it away! This has been my story as a quilter… making beautiful things and sending them off into the world to be loved.

Alice Quilt 001

But as I mentioned earlier, I’m trying to get into the Zen of repetitive piecing this week. I have quite pile of fabrics in front of me to get through…


What on earth am I making with these 1936 rectangles?

CN crosses 2

Four hundred and eighty four 2 1/2” little cross blocks. Phew, I’m tired just thinking about it. I briefly entertained the thought of quick piecing them, sewing up long strips and then cross cutting them but you don’t get much variety that way. I think the real beauty in these little blocks is how each one is different, with it’s own character and flaws...

It should be relaxing really, like meditation. I’ll let you know how it goes Winking smile