Monday, May 13, 2013

The Fierce Art of Applique: Why Real Quilters Don't Have Fingerprints

Finally Stitching the First Applique Block!

After spending the last few days preparing applique shapes for stitching, pressing tiny seam allowances with starch and a big, hot iron, I no longer have fingerprints.  I have a deeper appreciation for those who craft masterpiece quilts with thousands of itty bitty applique pieces, and if this quilting thing doesn't pan out, I'm all set to become a gangster.  They can dust for prints all they want, but they'll never prove it was me...  ;-)  I'm working on Applique Block One of Erin Russek's Jingle BOM project, which you can find here
Starch-and-Press Tools

This is my first attempt at hand applique (as opposed to fusible machine applique), and I'm using the starch-and-press method that Erin demonstrates in her blog tutorials.  Her tutorial is fantastic, but it's definitely not as easy as it looks!  I'm using Mary Ellen's Best Press in lieu of diluted liquid starch because I went to three different grocery stores near my home and NONE of them carry liquid starch.  Plus Mary Ellen's Best Press comes in "aromatherapy" flavors, and the lavender kind smells yummy.  So I put the Best Press liquid in an Avent baby bottle, thinking that the markings on the side would be useful if I needed to dilute the starch, the small opening at the top (where the nipple would go) is perfect for dipping the stencil brush, and the airtight cap seals it up nicely between pressing sessions -- you know, when I've gone off to slather my fingertips with burn cream...

It took me a long time to make all of the pieces for this block, and I just did it in batches of 5 or 6 pieces at a time.  I will say that the first leaf was the hardest, and it did get easier after making more of them.  Erin posted a special tutorial for making the cardinals, but I still don't think I did the face and beak parts correctly. 
Bird Suffers from BBS, Bulky Beak Syndrome!

Because those pieces were so small, but I still needed a turn-under allowance all the way around, I had a ridiculous amount of fabric bulk and was not able to get the beak as tiny as the pattern specified.  I was hoping that I could tighten it up along the edges when I stitched the birds to the background fabric, but that didn't work out, either.  I probably should have trimmed away more of the black and red layers beneath the birds' faces, and maybe even slimmed down that turn-under allowance.  I think that on the next bird block I will try running a gathering stitch along the turn-under allowance of the beak and see if I can get a smaller seam allowance and flatter finished beak that way.  I have to think about this some more; maybe if I figure out how to do the beaks better on a subsequent block I'll be able to come back to this one and redo them. 

Step One: Embroidered Stems
Step one for this block was embroidering the chain-stitched branches.  Erin used two strands of embroidery floss for her branches, but I used perle cotton because that's what I had on hand in the right shade of green.  This probably resulted in thicker stems or branches or whatever they're called, but I think it will be fine. 

Birdie Eyeball: The "Black" Embroidery Floss that Turned Out to be Gray
Then, of course, I had to cut out all of my little shapes, press the raw fabric edges under with starch, and preassemble my little birdies.  The pattern had tiny circles marked for the cardinals' eyes, but it didn't specify how you were supposed to make them.  After looking at some images of cardinals online, I decided to satin stitch the eyes with black embroidery floss and then outline with a backstitch in gray.  I had some variegated black and gray DMC embroidery floss, so I just unwound that and cut out the darkest section of floss for the eyeballs and a lighter gray section of the floss for the outline.  After finishing the eye of the first bird I realized that the "black" section of the variegated embroidery floss was actually a very dark gray, but I decided it was fine.  Maybe my Christmas cardinals have cataracts!

I opted to glue baste all of these pieces onto the block background prior to stitching anything down because I noticed that my shapes all finished slightly larger than the pattern pieces, probably because when I traced the shapes and cut them out I cut outside the line instead of inside the line, and then there's that little bit of bulk from the turn of cloth on top of that.  So I thought I should make sure everything was going to fit nicely before I started stitching anything in place. 

I positioned my fabric background over the paper pattern and used my light box to precisely place each bird and leaf, securing every piece with dots of Roxanne's Glue-Baste-It.  I had a fleeting thought during this process: "Gee, this is going nicely!  I'm surprised the fabric isn't shifting on the paper pattern more!"  I ignored this thought, and when I had finished gluing down all the pieces I discovered that I had been so zealous in my gluing that I had glued the block to the paper pattern!  Fortunately, I was able to tear away the pattern and remove the bits of stuck-on paper from the back of my block with a tweezers.  I further secured my applique pieces with 1/2" applique pins for added insurance.

Back View of Applique In Progress
After all that drama, the actual applique stitch is easy-breezy.  Since you can't see the stitches from the right side, here's what it looks like from the back (above photo).  I'm not sure how close together the applique stitches are supposed to be, but since I'm using a very fine, 60 weight 2-ply cotton embroidery thread, I thought I should err on the side of stitches too close together rather than risk having the stitches too far apart. 
I still haven't make the nine 3/8" diameter berries for this block yet, but I did mark their placement with a faint silver pencil.  Looking over the directions, the little stuffed circles might actually not be that bad, since you gather the fabric allowance smoothly around the circle template with a running stitch before setting it with the iron.  That means I don't need to stick my fingers under a hot iron to push the fabric edges into place as I'm pressing them!
I can't believe it's noon already.  I have so much to do today!  Happy Monday, everyone!


JanetD said...

Thank you for a Monday laugh about the eyes. Your block looks great and I admire you taking on this as a first hand applique project. I also spent time removing my fingerprints this weekend, but I am doing a much simpler project/shapes. Call me if you need another member for your gangster gang!

rosanne said...

I found Earth Friendly Spray Starch to be a wonderful product and a lovely fresh scent that in my local Whole Foods and two other grocery stores in the neighborhood:

Tammy said...

Absolutely gorgeous. I so want to do this project too.

Jenny K. Lyon said...

Fun post! I learned alot from your process, just reading about it. I'm no pro at applique either but yours looks beautiful!

LeAnne said...

Your cardinals look great. I haven't started mine yet, but I plan on using buttons for the berries when I get to them. Even with the Perfect Circle templates, I still have a hard time making a round circle.

Rebecca Grace said...

Thanks, Janet! I didn't realize how ambitious the little tiny shapes were until I actually started them. This is probably a good thing, because I've already made two of the pieced blocks, purchased the center medallion pattern and all of the fabrics, and the first applique block is nearly done. So I'm too far in to quit now!

Rebecca Grace said...

Ooh, thanks for the tip, Rosanne! There's a brand-new Whole Foods store near my kids' school. I'll have to look for the Earth Friendly spray starch and give it a try!

Rebecca Grace said...

Thanks, Tammy. It's not to late to join the fun!

Rebecca Grace said...

Buttons for the berries will be adorable! But I want my quilt to be used for snuggling on the sofa throughout Advent and Christmas morning, and hard buttons wouldn't be very snuggly. I had considered doing a black sequin with a tiny seed bead in the center for each cardinal eye, but decided against that for the same reason. I had planned to make my little berry circles today but my morning got swallowed up with paying bills, laundry, etc. and now the kids will be home soon.

I was hoping that the berries would be EASIER than the other small pieces because you get to run a gathering stitch to draw the fullness up evenly! Now you're scaring me! Hopefully I can soak the edges with the starch and pull my gathering thread tightly enough that the fabric will stretch smoothly around the circle template until it's burned into submission by the iron... We'll see what happens when I try this tomorrow!

Lane said...

Hey, Rebecca. Your fingerprints will grow back. But, i can offer this suggestion. I use my stilleto instead of my fingers. I can use the point of the stilleto to fold the fabric over the edge of the paper. Fold over one edge and sit the iron on it, then use the stilleto to fold over a bit more and advance the iron. Works like a charm and cheaper than burn ointment! Have fun! I have a long term needle turn project, too that I work on when I can focus my eyes that way. Lane

Rebecca Grace said...

Thanks, Lane! I bought this wooden "applique tool" when I was stocking up on suggested supplies, but I'm not quite sure how I'm supposed to use it. Maybe I can use the pointy end the way you describe using your stiletto?