Saturday, April 5, 2014

Testing, Testing, 1, 2, 3: Needleturn Applique Experiments Continue

This Is Only a Test!
I have planned much, and accomplished nothing.  Well, that's not true -- I've been practicing and experimenting with my new applique project; I just have nothing to show for it because the bit I've been working on is lousy enough that I won't be using it in my quilt. 

My Crooked and Overly Pointy First Petal
I showed you last time how my yellow center petal point came out misshapen and skewed to one side, but I decided to continue making this petal anyway as a practice run, to try out the needle turn applique methods for inner points and a rounded curve. 

It is not going smashingly well.  For one thing, my fabrics are very soft and limp from prewashing them, and I don't like how that feels in my hand.  The chalk line seems to smudge as I'm handling the pieces to stitch them together, and that -- along with the limp fabric hand -- is making it harder to see exactly where the edge should be turning as I'm stitching.  That's why my curves are not perfectly smooth.  This was irritating me enough that I stopped in the middle of stitching my coral petal and made all new templates for this block out of the heat resistant plastic so I could pre-turn my edges with liquid starch and an iron, as I did for my previous applique project.

Plastic Template, Starch and Press Prepared Edge Method
I tested this out on a brown petal, and was quickly reminded that I had trouble getting nice inner points with the starch and press method.  See how I couldn't quite get all the way into the corner with the iron? 

Also, it look longer to press the edges around the template than I had remembered, and even though I set the iron on medium heat, my template plastic still got cloudy and threatened to warp even after just one petal.  Annoying!  Grrr! 

Having reminded myself why I was trying to learn the needle-turn-as-you-go method in the first place, I went back to stitching my sample petal by turning the fabric edge under along the pinched "finger pressed" chalk line with my needle as I was stitching.  I suppose it isn't SO bad, is it?  I could try another brand of chalk pencil to see if it smudges less, and I can try pressing my applique fabrics with a light starch to give them more body and stability and see if that doesn't also help to keep the pinched finger pressed edge crisp and precise throughout the stitching process.
That curve is not totally perfect, but maybe I will improve as I go along.  The inside corner was not as bad as I thought it would be.  And the outside points look fine from the front, but somehow I'm creating a pinch of fabric there that I can see when I lay the work flat or check from the back side:
Unsatisfactory Corner Puckering from the Back Side
See what I mean?  But the first corner is worse than the second corner, and this petal is only for practice, anyway. 

MEANWHILE...  My husband is expanding my design wall today so I can fit all of my Jingle blocks on the wall at once and hopefully figure out the pieced inner border this week.  Hooray! 

Jingle Blocks on Newly Expanded Design Wall!
He went to Home Depot to get more screws, but I couldn't wait.  I had to start rearranging blocks on the wall before he even gets it completely attached to the wall!  This is my tentative layout for this quilt now that I was able to see all of it at once.  I tried to space out the blocks that have the brightest yellow in them so hopefully that's balanced enough now.  I also discovered that I miscounted when I was cutting out those red poinsettia fabric setting triangles, because I'm short four of them.  Now you can also see the empty space between my wide red block border and the center applique medallion.  I have not trimmed the center medallion yet, and I overcut my red setting triangles, but I'm still nervous about how to calculate the pieced borders in between so that they will fit correctly without puckering.  The books that I've consulted talk about building your quilt design from the center outward, like if I had just made the center medallion so far and added borders one at a time until I liked how they looked, and THEN calculated what size those outer blocks needed to be in order to fit the inside. 

So what I'm thinking I'll do is plan to have a plain fabric border on the inner and outer sides of my pieced border, and hopefully I can oversize those enough that I'll be able to trim it to fit what it has to attach to at the end.  And hopefully that will result in pleasing, I-meant-to-do-that proportions.  That is the hope.

Now I need to get everything off the wall again before Bernie gets back with the screws!


Karen - Quilts...etc. said...

Just my opinion but as a person that does needle turn applique I think you are being too hard on yourself. The first photo that you show looks great - if a curve is not quite as curved as a pattern shows or a point not as pointed who is to know other than yourself. Unless you are planning on entering in a show and really want a ribbon continue to try to be perfect but if it is for you to enjoy let yourself enjoy it and not stress over the process!

Rebecca Grace said...

Thanks for the vote of confidence, Karen! I'm not really stressing about it or being hard on myself. I enjoy the challenge of trying different things to see what works best for me, and I have high standards. I have never entered a show before, but I certainly have admired many magnificent ribbon winners and would love to be able to do something like that some day. It's not that I'm worried others will know the point did not come out correctly, but that I want to improve my skill level to where I can create something in fabric that matches the vision I had in my mind. After all, these are big pieces that I'm practicing with -- I want to be able to do beautiful applique with itty bitty pieces. I enjoy the trouble-shooting process of trying to identify all of the variables and tweak them one at a time to see which yields better results for me.

Also, I suspect that quilters who win blue ribbons strive for excellence in all of their work every day, because how else could those Japanese quiltmakers ever attain the skill level to do what they do in their show quilts?

Jenny K. Lyon said...

I agree-I think it looks lovely! I have done little applique but I'm a fan of heavy starch for many things. It's so easy to work with a stiff piece when I'm doing something fidgety. I admire your perseverence!

Pat Pollock said...

I'm sure starch will make a lot of difference and will make your applique pieces much easier to handle. As an avid needle-turner, I mark with only two tools, a brown Pigma pen and a white Clover marker than disappears with ironing. Your work looks very close to perfect to me.

Rebecca Grace said...

Thanks, Pat! That's what I was thinking. I read in the Thimblelady's book and also, I think, in another book that smaller pieces were easier to applique with batik fabrics. I know that's partly due to the higher thread count, but batiks definitely have a crisper hand as well. I may have even prewashed some of these fabrics in regular laundry loads which would have had fabric softener... Another possible culprit!

Vivian said...

Your Jingle Quilt looks great. A pieced inner border will look nice and the two solid fabric outer and inner border will look nice also. The outer border can be red and you shouldn't notice it's even a border. I did notice you moved the first applique block (cardinals on the branches) to the left side of the quilt when it was center top in the original design. I am not sure if you noticed but all the cardinal blocks (4) are centered on the quilt (like a clock, 12 o'clock,3,6,9). It still looks good, but I didn't know if that was something you noticed. Still love your fabric choices.

Rebecca Grace said...

Good point about the cardinals, Vivian! I didn't even notice that. I only had the blocks on the wall for about 10 minutes before my husband got home from the store and made me take everything down so he could attach the design wall more securely. I think I will switch the birds as you suggested.

Vivian said...

I thought I should mention it. I did the same thing when switching my blocks around. It looks good both ways though!

JoEllen said...

I have been trying to find the best technique as well! I am not willing to spend all the time and effort to not have a good result. I have been spending time on the website.
Simplebirddesigns. Kerry is very a very talented appliquer and has done her own learning curve to see what method works best for her and her work is lovely!

Rebecca Grace said...

Thanks, JoEllen! What a coincidence -- I just stumbled across SimpleBird's blog yesterday and was awestruck by the gorgeous album quilt border she's working on right now. :-)