Machine Applique Can Be Beautiful and Durable

Hi everybody.  The subject recently came up about how to sew stitched raw-edge applique so it can be washed and used without a fraying edge.  I have used these appliques for years now and have found that there are ways to minimize or even eliminate fraying regardless of the stitch I use for the edge.

Canterbury silk. All the appliques in the central block are silk and stitched with narrow matching lightweight thread using a blanket stitch.

First of all, one needs to consider the fabric.  If you are using a relatively loosely woven cotton, it probably would be best to turn the edge even if you are machine stitching it or use a satin stitch with a fray edge treatment, such as fray check if you machine stitch it down.  Most current day high quality quilting cottons, however, are tightly woven enough to withstand a raw-edge applique treatment if the stitching is properly set up and the washing is done on a gentle cycle or by hand.

Night on the Bayou. The big cyprus trees are turned edge, machine stitched and the remaining appliques are fused raw edge. All the applique stitching was machine blanket stitched.

I use a light fusible web to tack down my appliques that usually washes away.  I have also used a simple wash away glue stick and it works too with the right stitch settings.  So for blanket stitch:

  • Set the stitch narrow with a short length.  I use about 1.7 width by 1.5 length on my Bernina 880 plus for most quilting cotton.
  • I move the needle as far to the right as possible.
  • I use an open toed embroidery foot 20D
  • I engage the dual feed to make it really even, but if you don’t have such, stitch at a slow even speed
  • Run the edge of the applique up close to the inside right toe of the foot so that the straight stitch runs close to the edge of the applique in the background and the swing left to right stitch goes into the applique
  • Turn the applique as it curves so the swing left-right stitch points to the center of the circle or roundish shape
  • When turning at a sharp angle, stop as close to the end as possible, preferably with the needle to the right in the background.  Then turn, and begin the stitch pattern by hitting the restart pattern button if your machine has one. This makes a pretty point and seals the sharp shape of the applique down with thread. Don’t fret if you miss it a bit, just get it as close to this ideal as you can.
  • When quilting this type of applique you may wish to use a matching light weight thread or monopoly to blend into the background, or a heavier thread in a dark gray stitched close to the edge to make a shadow-like appearance. It all depends on how you want the end result, so do a test first.

If you do all of this, the result is usually a straight stitch running close to the cut edge of the applique on the background and the left-right stitches close enough together that they help to prevent fraying.  Use this stitch with matching thread when you want your edges to blend into the applique more. If you want the blanket stitch to stand out, see if your machine has a double blanket stitch.  The double blanket stitch is beautiful and pretty completely seals the edges but stands out.

If you are using wool felt appliques, you can use wider and longer blanket stitches and possibly a 12 weight wool thread for a very hand-appliqued look.  You are likely not to wash these items, but felt does not fray in any event.

If you decide you would rather use a satin stitched edge it requires careful even stitching and points and corners require care because this stitch can look fairly amateurish with wiggles and bumpy corners and poorly stitched points. I really prefer to do this by first digitizing it in my Bernina software and then stitch in-the-hoop appliques because it gives a much more professional finish than is easy to achieve otherwise.  However, I have been successful at stitching this with first a narrower satin stitch around the applique and follow that with a slightly wider stitch over the original stitch.  This gives a nicer smoother look.  Use this stitch when you want your edges to stand out.

Detail from Summer Melody, in which all the butterflies are appliqued with narrow satin stitch.

Then there is the time you actually want a little fraying to add to the character of the applique.  For this, I just use a straight stitch close to the edge of the applique in a matching thread.

Regardless of the applique you use, when you wash these quilts use gentle cycle or wash by hand and dry flat and they will last for many years.

Sew happy everyone!  Have fun in your studio and don’t fear the applique.

 

Way More than a Hobby and Memories of a Great Seamstress

This sewing machine is like the one I remember Mom having when I started to sew.

For me, sewing and quilting is and has been for most of my life far more than a hobby.

My earliest memories of sewing are from when my family lived in Paducah, Kentucky (interesting considering Paducah’s position in the quilt world today!). My Dad was working with Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) on their power plant there.  I clearly remember sitting beside my mother at her pretty black Singer sewing machine when I was very young.  She was telling me how important it was to clean and oil your machine and keep a good fresh needle in it.  That was my first lesson that I never forgot.  She was a true expert “seamstress” and we shared the love of sewing throughout her life.

Mom and me in May 1967. We are both wearing clothes we made.

We made most of our own clothes together for as long as I lived at home.  With her guidance, I made some of my more complex clothing like tailored wool suits, overcoats, and stylish clothing of all types.  She made my prom dresses and accompanying gorgeous wraps and I made the bags.

We never did quilt together. I don’t know if she ever quilted. She made some lovely stuffed dolls and stuffed toys..not just rag dolls, sails for the sailboat, tents, in addition to the gorgeous clothes at couture level.  I still have the Victorian doll  that she made and I dressed so long ago. The jacket and skirt satin fabric is sun faded, but I love it. I miss her.

Throughout my life, it has been a key  skill for me to be able to sew.  It enabled me to make not only my own work clothes when I went out to work, but my husband’s too.  I made Marvin suits and a gorgeous Harris Tweed jacket he loved.  I even made him a tuxedo from tropical wool with silk satin lapels using a stylish Bill Blass pattern from Vogue that required substantial resizing (he was a big tall guy).  It turned out well and he wore that for years especially when he sang. He got many compliments on it. I, of course, made things for my boys too…clothes, overcoats, backpacks, pup tents, bedroom curtains, and so forth.

Until I went out to work and got so busy I had little time to sew, I never had to wear anything that wasn’t stylish and well fitted when I went out because I could make what I wanted and alter what I bought to fit right.  Even then, I was able to make things fit better.  It is my hope to keep on sewing  to the end of my life,  Mostly, however, that will probably be making quilted fabric art with the occasional clothing item.

I still do a small amount of clothes sewing, but I work from home now as a fabric artist, and don’t sing with semi-professional choral groups anymore or even often go to concerts.  So my work uniform is jeans and a simple shirt or sweater.  I have a closet full of nice clothes that are timeless in style and I mostly manage to keep well maintained so they fit me.  I have been slowly loosing weight so I do need to do some altering now. I made myself a new overcoat from my stash last year with a faux fur collar.  It’s wonderful. I also made my youngest son a rather nice faux leather jacket.

Making quilted art seemed a natural progression for me towards the end of my government career and I decided to retire a little earlier than I might have otherwise to be a full time fabric artist.  I started quilting about a year after Marvin died at my sweet daughter-in-law’s suggestion.  It helped me cope a lot and still does.

I have occasionally made a cuddle quilt, but creating quilted art for the wall or the occasional piece of wearable art,  is really exciting for me. I took multiple art classes in both high school and college, and have taken private art lessons in addition, practiced on my own, and have my fourth year certificate in Japanese Ikebana I obtained in Japan.  Ikebana is also an art form that inspires some of my wall quilts.

I particularly love to see how far I can push the sewing boundaries working with the power of my machines, the great advances in threads, notions, and fabrics, and even working with leather or fur (mostly faux unless it is recycled), cork, fibers, trims, and beads.

Why am I telling you all this?  Because I have launched my YouTube video channel and am also writing workbooks and patterns to go along with them.  I want you to know that what I am teaching is based on a solid background of study and experience and hope you will join me in many of the projects I will be presenting.

Fabric art is a great way to decorate your home or cheer up your office–wherever it is–celebrate the seasons or family landmark events, help you deal with the more difficult times of life, and fill you with joy and peace.  You can express things through fabric art…praise, thanksgiving, love…This is true even if you get a little frustrated over problems you will encounter and sometimes have to walk away, or throw the project in the back of your storage area for a “time out.”

The fact is, though, that figuring out how to overcome problems you encounter in your projects can help you keep a sharp mind and give you a real satisfaction when done.  Experimenting with new techniques, materials, and designs adds to the whole enjoyment.

Sew happy everyone! Have fun in your studios. Subscribe to my YouTube channel so you will know when a new video arrives.