Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Meet Mr. Froggy-Bunny! Fusible Web T-Shirt Applique

Nope -- this shabby bunny isn't the Velveteen Rabbit, although he has definitely been loved enough to become "real" via Nursery Magic.  This is Mr. Funny Bunny, who came to us from the Build-A-Bear Workshop many years ago courtesy of Auntie Jani.  I remember the first night Anders slept alone in his Big Boy Bed, and I did this deep James Earl Jones impersonation voice, speaking for the bunny (can you picture this?) and said "I'm Mr. Funny Bunny.  I shall protect you in the Big Boy Bed.  I eat monsters like crackers!"  That was the beginning of Mr. Funny Bunny, and Anders has snuggled up with him at bed time every night since.

Mr. Funny Bunny is beginning to show his age, and I decided to spruce him up a bit as a surprise for Anders' birthday. 

Plain White Bear T-Shirt, $5 from Build-A-Bear Workshop
I bought a plain white T-shirt for the bunny from the Build-A-Bear Workshop store for $5.  I know; I could have made him a shirt from scratch, but: 1. I didn't have a pattern.  2. I didn't have any scraps of the right kind of fabric.  3. I haven't made a T-shirt in a long time and I'd have to hunt down some directions.  4. I didn't feel like it.  5. I ran out of time. 

I actually wasted at least an hour hunting down commercially digitized frog embroidery designs on the Internet, as my initial idea was to machine embroider a red-eyed tree frog on the shirt.  I was on my way to get my credit card from my wallet so I could purchase and download a $12 embroidery design when I was struck by common sense like a bolt of lightning.  Seriously?  A $12 design to go on a $5 shirt for a stuffed animal?  I also harbored nagging doubts in the back of my mind about how a densely-stitched embroidery design would behave on the flimsy knit shirt fabric, and I didn't have any scrap fabric to practice on.  Would it pucker and pull the shirt fabric?  Or would the design stitch out beautifully, but end up so stiff, bulky, and scratchy from thread and stabilizers that my son wouldn't want it on his bear at bed time? 

Then I had a fusible web applique epiphany, and remembered that I had scraps of leftover quilting cotton with frog prints from Anders' Froggy Quilt of Many Colors.  Perfecto!
Leftover Fabric from the Anders' Froggy Quilt

I cut a square of Pellon Wonder Under fusible web and fused it to the wrong side of the frog fabric, per manufacturer instructions.  It helped that, with this particular fabric, the print was very visible from the wrong side so it was easy to place the fusible web exactly where I wanted it.
Fusing Wonder Under to the reverse side of the applique fabric

Then I carefully cut out the frog, leaving rounded edges so there would be as little scratchiness as possible.  I peeled off the paper backing, positioned my froggy on the tiny shirt, and then fused the applique in place with my iron and a weird padded tailor's board contraption that finally came in handy after 10+ years gathering dust in my sewing room.  It was probably on some list of "Tools for Beginning Sewers" back when I got my first sewing machine.  This is the first time I've used it for anything, but really, it would be handy for pressing the boys little shirts and pants, too. 

Now that the applique was fused into place, I just used a narrow zigzag stitch and 60 weight black cotton embroidery thread along the outer edge to secure it permanently so the edges don't start to curl up when it goes through the wash.  Raising my sewing machine up out of the cabinet so I could use the free arm was a huge help, because I was determined not to have to open up the side seams. 
Using the Free Arm to Secure the Applique Edges with a Fine Zigzag Stitch

By the way, in the photo above I'm using Applique Foot #23, which is supposed to be ideal for what I was doing.  However, this presser foot sits entirely behind the needle, with no toes in front, and I experienced a lot of flagging (fabric coming up along with the needle after every stitch).  In retrospect, this could have been caused by the Microtex sharp needle I was using, and I might have had better results with a ballpoint, jersey, or even a Universal needle since the T-shirt was, after all, a knit.  I didn't think of that in the thick of things, though, so instead I switched to Open Embroidery Foot #20.  I still had plenty of visibility with this foot to place the zigzag stitches precisely where I wanted them, and the toes at the front of the foot kept the T-shirt fabric from popping up every time the needle came up through the fabric. 
Open Embroidery Foot #20: Plenty of Visibility for Applique, Better Fabric Support than Foot #23

One of my favorite things about this little project is how low-tech it was.  You don't need a fancy computerized machine for this one -- just a regular household iron and a sewing machine with a zigzag stitch.  If you didn't have a sewing machine at all, you could sew the edges of the applique down by hand and it would come out just as nicely.  You could use this method to decorate a onesie for a baby, or plain T-shirts for older children.  Quilting cottons like the frog fabric I used are relatively inexpensive and come in SO many colors and prints, including all of your children's favorite characters, and if you don't have a quilt shop nearby you can shop online at sites like eQuilter

One caveat: Because this frog fabric was leftover from a quilting project, I knew that I had already prewashed the fabric and checked to make sure the dye would not run.  If you're going to applique a dark fabric onto a light colored shirt, prewash both of them separately before you begin and make sure you rinse out any loose dyes before proceeding. 

Easy as pie!  It sure is nice to squeeze in a "quickie" project in the midst of an 11+ month quilting project.