Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Mission Impossible: How to Machine Applique Something to Nothing

Good morning, my lovelies!  I am happy to report that I actually achieved my goal of completing all 48 foundation paper pieced flying geese arcs by the end of March.  I had to cut back on some other commitments to free up for sewing time, but Lars's graduation quilt (which I had tentatively named Geese In Circles but have now renamed Mission Impossible: Graduation 2019) is now on schedule again.  Yay!

Four 12 Inch Blocks Done, Forty-Four More Blocks to Go

My To-Do Tuesday Goal for This Week is to complete the inner and outer curved piecing on at least 24 of the 48 blocks

As you can see above, I've already got four of those 24 blocks sewn together.


My One Monthly Goal for April is to complete the inner and outer curved piecing on all 48 blocks, AND get the blocks sewn into a finished top.  

Mission Impossible, 72 x 96, My Original Quilt Design Created in EQ8

Oh, and for me, April only has 21 days because I'm leaving for Spring Quilt Week in Paducah the day after Easter.  But now that I've tinkered around and figured out the fastest, easiest, and most accurate method of piecing each of those curved seams, I am expecting nothing but smooth sailing ahead, seriously!  Who knew I could put a quilt together from start to finish in less than a year?!  (There is NO WAY I could do this without my mom helping me and keeping me on task.  She'll be here at 1 PM today and she's not going to let me leave the studio until 5 PM).

But, before I get back to sewing, I wanted to document for myself -- and share with anyone else who's interested -- my sneaky method for sewing the inner curve of this block.  Sewing the outer curve -- the skinny L-shaped piece that gets sewn to the flying geese -- is easily accomplished via traditional curved piecing using plenty of pins.  

This Outer Curve Is Easy
But the other curve was giving me all kinds of grief because the foundation paper pieced geese are stiff as cardboard from all of the starch I used (and I'm NOT giving up my starch, so don't go there!) and I was having a horrible time trying to manipulate that stiff, flat pieced section in order to pin it to the quarter oval circle piece.  

...But This Inner Curve Was A Monstrous, Miserable Mess!

Appli-Piecing, Curved Piecing a la Applique, or the Fast and Easy Way to Applique Something to Nothing

First of all, let's give credit where credit is due.  I did not dream this up completely on my own (which gives me great confidence that, as kooky as it seems, this IS a legitimate way to sew a quilt together successfully).  I'm borrowing from the methods that Harriet Hargrave teaches and shares in her (sadly out-of-print) book Mastering Machine Applique: The Complete Guide Including Invisible Machine Applique, Satin Stitch, Blanket Stitch, and Much More , the method that Caryl Bryer Fallert-Gentry once taught and now offers as a free tutorial on her web site here, and the method that Vicki Pignatelli explains in her book Quilting Curves: An Innovative Technique for Machine-Piecing Curves with Incredible Ease. I'm not following any of these teachers' methods exactly, but I would never have dreamed I could piece a block this way if I hadn't read their books, taken the class, and stored their techniques away in the back of my mind for a rainy day like today when I needed to come up with a better way of getting these blocks sewn together quickly.  I stand on the shoulders of giants!

Step One: Print the Quarter Moon (Convex) Curve Shape Onto Heavy Cardstock, With Seam Allowances

Since I designed my quilt using EQ8 software, I have all kinds of options for printing out templates for the nonstandard shapes in my quilt design.  I printed this particular template out WITH 1/4" SEAM ALLOWANCES.  My curved piece is too large to fit on a single 8 1/2" x 11" sheet of card stock and I didn't have any legal size card stock on hand for my printer, so I printed it on two sheets of card stock, matched up the registration marks, joined those together with packing tape, and then glued that template onto a big sheet of poster board left over from the kids' school projects.  I cut my template out carefully, leaving the seam allowances on the outer edges of the block -- the straight sides that meet at a right angle -- but I cut right on the seam line along the curved edge, as smoothly as I could manage.

Double Card Stock Template With Curved Seam Allowance Trimmed Away
Placing the template UPSIDE DOWN, I traced it onto the dull side of my freezer paper 48 times.  I might be able to use these freezer paper templates more than one time, but for speed and convenience' sake I opted to just trace one for every block and rolled the paper right back up into the box.  I'll cut them out one at a time, as needed.

At first, I was annoyed that my traced line was landing slightly outside of the template rather than right on the edge due to the thickness of the tip of the pen or the angle of the sharpened pencil point, but then I tried a cheap mechanical pencil and was delighted to discover that I could get my traced line to land exactly at the edge of my double card stock template, without any sliver of white paper showing in between.

Mechanical Pencils Worked Best for Tracing Templates Onto Freezer Paper
My purple quarter oval pieces had been previously rotary cut (I'll show you how we made our own acrylic templates for rotary cutting soon, I promise!), so my next step was to carefully cut out one of the traced freezer paper templates -- cutting just INSIDE the pencil line -- and iron it to the back side of one of the purple quarter oval fabric pieces.  Because I only removed the seam allowance from the curved seam line, I can line the two straight sides of my freezer paper up with the raw fabric edges on the fabric.  The curved seam allowance extends beyond the edge of the freezer paper and there's no need to worry about whether it's exactly a quarter of an inch or not, as long as the freezer paper lines up exactly with those two straight edges.  I ironed the freezer paper to the fabric with a hot, dry iron.
Freezer Paper Ironed to Wrong Side of Purple Shape, Shiny Side Down

Step Two: Pre-Turn the Seam Allowance Using Starch or Starch Alternative and a Hot Iron

Next, I used a small stencil paintbrush to dab Mary Ellen's Best Press Starch Alternative just along the exposed curved seam allowance, and then used the tip of the hot iron to swipe the  seam allowance back over the edge of the freezer paper, careful to maintain that smooth curve that I worked so hard to trace and cut accurately.  (This is how I learned to do "starch and press" applique from Erin Russek's tutorials, but on itty bitty leaves and bird beaks -- it's MUCH easier to manage on a large, gentle curve like this one).  I could spray regular starch into the cap to liquify it for this step, but I like to use Mary Ellen's Best Press instead because it smells like lavender and who doesn't like a little aromatherapy in the sewing room?
Using Freezer Paper, Best Press and a Hot Iron to Pre-Turn the Seam Allowance

And now comes the scandalous part, because everyone who knows what they are doing uses some kind of foundation or background fabric for their machine applique, even if it gets cut away after stitching.  Go ahead and tell me all of the 10 million reasons why this won't work in the comments, but I'm going to keep on doing it anyway because it worked for me!  ;-)

The challenge comes from the need for these blocks to all finish at exactly 12 1/2" so they will fit together accurately when I sew them into a quilt top.  So for each block, that easy outer curve gets sewn first using the traditional piecing methods.  After piecing that curve, I carefully press the pieced unit with the seam allowance pressed towards the purple fabric, moving my iron only in the direction of the fabric grain with NO steam, and checking that the outer edge of the block remains at a nice right angle.  Then it gets set with STARCH because, as you know, I am in love with starch and will not give it up no matter what anyone says.  (Didn't a band called S.O.S. have a hit song about starch back in the '80s?  I think it was called "Just Be Good to Me."  People always talkin' bout the bad things you do, You never do them to me... But I digress.)

Okay, now that we've danced our sillies out with my favorite Love Anthem to Spray Starch, we can get back to quilting!  Because I can almost guarantee you that if you try this without using starch to stabilize your fabric to a paper-like crispness, you are going to have trouble appliqueing the sections together in thin air.  The freezer paper backing on my curved inside purple piece makes it stiff and stable like a piece of paper, and the heavy spray starch on the rest of the block makes that part as stiff and stable as a piece of paper, too.

Smooth, Stiff, Square, Starched, and STABLE!  Ready to Go!

Step Three: Line Up the Block Sections and Glue Baste the Seam Together

I take the crisply starched, completed section of my block over to the cutting mat on my worktable and I line the right angle corner up with the 12 1/2" marks on both the top left and bottom right corners of the block, and then I use pattern weights to hold the block in place.  [NOTE: I was not able to find a link to my own pattern weights on Amazon, although they do have others and I know you can get some at your local JoAnn's as well.  I probably purchased my yellow donut-shaped pattern weights from a drapery workroom wholesaler years ago. ]

Lined Up On the Cutting Mat Grid and Trapped In Place With Pattern Weights
Next, I take the purple inner curve piece, the one with freezer paper ironed to the back side and the seam allowance already starched and pressed smoothly over the curve, and I lay that piece on my cutting table with the right angle right on the zero lines at the X and Y axes, like so.  

My purple shape with its preturned seam allowance overlaps the partially pieced portion of the block by -- you guessed it -- a quarter of an inch!  When the purple piece is aligned just right, I weight it down with the pattern weights to hold it in place, too.  

Perfectly Aligned, Firmly Weighted In Place, Ready to Glue Baste
Now, on my cutting mat, all I have to do is temporarily secure those two seam allowances together using Roxanne's Glue Baste-It and a very fine tip glue nozzle.  With the already pieced section of the block remaining flat on the cutting mat, I'm lifting up the curved edge of the quarter oval piece just enough to apply glue to that preturned seam allowance.  

Gluing the Preturned Seam Allowance of the Convex Curve to the Flat Seam Allowance of the Concave Curve
I want small dots of glue spaced closely together all along the seam line rather than large globs of glue spaced farther apart, because nothing else will be holding these block sections together on the way to my sewing machine.  The freezer paper backing is stabilizing the purple curved piece and the rest of the block is stabilized with a reckless amount of spray starch applied throughout my piecing process, and this final curved seam is held together with nothing but those tiny droplets of water soluble glue.  Terrifying, isn't it?!  I heat set that glued seam with my hot iron just to dry and set that glue, and then I take the block over to my machine for stitching.

Step Four: Stitch the Curved Seam from the RIGHT Side Using Monofilament Thread and Invisible Machine Applique Blindstitch

On my Bernina 750QE, I'm stitching this seam using Vari-Overlock Stitch #3 with stitch length reduced to .90, stitch width reduced to 1.0, Mirror Image engaged, and needle reset to center position.  I'm using Open Embroidery presser foot #20D with Dual Feed engaged, my 5.5 mm stitch plate (that's why the Security Function icon is lit up) and I've also engaged the Memory function to remember my settings in between sewing sessions.  

Stitch Recipe for Curved Applique Piecing on My Bernina 750QE
I'm using invisible monofilament thread in my needle, the Smoke color this time due to my very dark fabrics, and that's why I've reduced my tension down to 2.5.  (MonoPoly and YLI are my favorite brands).  My needle for this extremely fine thread is the smallest size you can buy, a Schmetz size 60/8 Microtex needle, to make the smallest possible hole and to position those stitches as close to the edge of my appliqued fabric as possible, and I'm using Mettler 60 weight cotton embroidery thread in a neutral medium beige color in my bobbin.

Sewing the Seam from the Right Side of the Block
Sewing with the purple quarter oval section on the left and the flying geese on the right, I position my needle on the flying geese section but rubbing up against the raised ridge of the preturned seam allowance of my purple fabric, just like I was going to do Stitch-In-the-Ditch quilting.  As my machine sews the straight stitches, I want to keep that needle as close to the hump of the seam allowance as I can without accidentally catching any purple fabric in the stitch.   

Straight Stitches Go On the Low Side of the Seam, But the Needle Rubs Right Up Against the Purple

After every two straight stitches, the needle swings to the left and catches just a few threads of that purple fabric, enough to secure the seam but not enough to be visible with my monofilament thread.  
Catching Just a Few Threads With the Zigzag Swing "Bite"
I had to zoom in a ridiculous amount to show you that because I am seriously grabbing only two or maybe three threads of that purple fabric in the zigzag stitch.  I would make the stitch even narrower to only grab 1-2 threads if I was just doing regular machine applique for little leaves and flowers or whatever.  I decided on a deeper swing bite because these are construction seams and I didn't want to have to go back and restitch anything if I missed the edge of the purple fabric altogether in some spots.

Stitching Merrily Along...
I'm running my machine at a fairly slow speed for this, since the placement of every needle hole is of paramount importance.  The bright LED lighting on this machine is a huge help, as is the FHS Free Hands System that lets me raise the presser foot slightly to pivot around the curve without removing either hand from the work.  (A friend of mine who has the same Bernina model uses the Hover feature in the same way -- I need to try that one of these days!)
The Invisible Seam Has Been Sewn
Check out my lovely finished seam, that I had to zoom in on a ridiculous amount in order for you to see it in the picture at all.  By the time this quilt is layered with batting, quilted, and washed to remove all the glue and starch and markings, those needle holes will close up and only the most obnoxiously eagle-eyed quilt police with magnifying glasses will ever know that I didn't piece this curve the "normal" way.

Same Seam Viewed Up Close, But Without Magnification
Even now, it's pretty darned invisible.  It was fast and easy to stitch, too -- faster and easier to stitch than it was to explain in a blog post!  And, because I'm working from the right side of the block and used the grid on my cutting mat to ensure a square, perfectly sized block, there's no room for goofing and NO SEAM RIPPING.  Did you see those beautiful triangle points, by the way?  That was a cinch, since I could see them while I was sewing instead of having them hidden inside a gathered and pinned seam allowance.

Step Five: Peel Away the Freezer Paper Backing and Give the Block a Final Pressing and Starching!

Back of Block After Stitching
As you can see in the photo above, that purple piece really is securely attached to the flying geese section of this block.  Remember that the straight stitches you see in the flying geese seams are super small 1.5 mm stitches in order to perforate the foundation paper well enough for easy removal.  There are two very strong, very tiny straight stitvhes between each of the zigzag swing bites, and those swing bites are close enough together that they really are creating a strong seam.  Imagine if this was an invisible applique stitch someone had done by hand, but they were knotting to secure the thread before and after each and every applique stitch -- THAT's how strong this seam is.  Much stronger than a hand pieced straight stitch seam would be.  Maybe as strong as a hand pieced backstitched seam would be...  Anyway, it's good enough for me!

The First Four Blocks Completed!
Since I used starch to press the seam allowance over the freezer paper edge rather than glue, and since the zigzag bite is so tiny, the freezer paper comes off easily all in one piece with no straggly bits left behind in the seam allowance, and without any distortion of the curved seam.


So, now that I've worked out the kinks in my methods, the plan is to sew all of those outer curves(traditionally pieced) first on my Goldilocks Bernina 475QE, which is set up for traditional curved piecing, and then sew the inner curves on my Big 'Nina 750QE, which is all set up for the invisible machine applique.  

I'm off to the studio for some mad sewing, but first I'm linking up with:


·      Design Wall Monday at Small Quilts and Doll Quilts http://smallquiltsanddollquilts.blogspot.com 
·      Main Crush Monday at Cooking Up Quilts http://www.cookingupquilts.com/
·      Monday Making at Love Laugh Quilt http://lovelaughquilt.blogspot.com/
·      Moving it Forward at Em’s Scrap Bag: http://emsscrapbag.blogspot.com.au/
·      BOMs Away at Katie Mae Quilts: https://www.katiemaequilts.com/blog/ 


·      Colour and Inspiration Tuesday at http://www.cleverchameleon.com.au
·       To-Do Tuesday at Stitch ALL the Things: http://stitchallthethings.com


·      Midweek Makers at www.quiltfabrication.com/
·      WOW WIP on Wednesday at www.estheraliu.blogspot.com


·      Needle and Thread Thursday at http://www.myquiltinfatuation.blogspot.com/  


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

that is great that you found a method that works for you - I have done something similar but stitched by hand - Roxanne glue with skinny tip is the best product around (and freezer paper!)
You will have this done in no time flat!!

Christine Slaughter said...

That. Is. Genius. I love that you found a method to work for you with no apologies!

lvkwilt said...

I love that you credited those who came before! I think this method is similar to Sharon Schamber's "Piecelique" also, but she sews the seam after gluing and that would have been impossible in this case. Like Karen - Quilts...etc., I have also done this but hand appliqued the blocks. Great tutorial and I love your blocks! I love seeing many ways to accomplish a great result. I used to live in Denver and frequented Harriet Hargrave's quilt shop (sadly, now closed). I was able to take a class from her once and her quilts were perfection--all machine pieced/appliqued.

momto1 said...

My head is spinning, but I am totally keeping this information for reference. It makes all kinds of sense. Also, don't ever apologize for your starch addiction. My starch of preference is Niagra non-aerosol, original scent. Chicken soup for the nose.

LA Paylor said...

wow this is a ZInger! Thanks for the tips and the close up pics. Great camera work too!

Ramona said...

I am loving your detailed descriptions of making the blocks for this gorgeous quilt. You've come up with some great ideas to make your blocks as perfect as possible. You will be quilting this in no time!

Patty said...

Wowza - your blocks are beautiful and what an interesting way to make this happen! Thanks for linking up with Elm Street Quilts and good luck with your project!

Lynette said...

This quilt is going to be SO COOL!!! Super in love with it, Rebecca. You made a very nice tutorial to share with others who also love starch how to get that finicky curve put in perfectly.

DawnyK said...

This is AMAZING!!! Thank you so much for sharing this technique with us. I'm so grateful as I have been scared of curves AND spray starch. I'm looking forward to trying new techniques when my family is resettled. Congrats on an amazing work of art and masterful techniques to get a beautiful effects. When you starch have you prewashed the fabrics? Do you starch it to the point of being wet and then air dry or dry with iron? I'd love to know how you got the fabrics so stiff. Thanks in advance!

Nancy @ Grace and Peace Quilting said...

Brilliant! Beautiful blocks. What's your role at quilt market?

Rebecca Grace said...

Thanks, Nancy! I am not going to Quilt Market. I'm going to Quilt Week in Paducah, just as a regular show attendee and as a certified crazy person who signed up to take every single longarm quilting workshop that is being offered because Judi Madsen and Lisa Calle are teaching. So I guess you could say that my role is to be a student and a groupie and hope that Judi and Lisa don't think I'm stalking them when they realize that I'm in EVERY SINGLE CLASS... Hah!

Quilting Babcia said...

What a fabulous tutorial. Thanks for sharing these insights.

Frédérique - Quilting Patchwork Appliqué said...

Beautiful blocks, and your method is amazing! Thanks for sharing!

Rebecca Grace said...

Thanks, DawnyK!

I use heavy spray starch regardless of whether my fabric is prewashed or fresh off the bolt. For this particular project I opted NOT to prewash because: 1. time was of the essence and 2. I was using all Kona Solid fabric for the quilt top and backing, so I can expect all fabrics to shrink at the same rate and 3. I am a very new longarm quilter -- the puckery texture that happens when quilt fabric shrinks AFTER quilting will help to disguise any wobbly imperfections in my newbie quilting.

When I started foundation paper piecing, I followed the advice of other quilters who told me to never use steam or spray starch, but the limp fabric has a tendency to wiggle away even after pressing the seam open and then you have a bubble when you sew the next piece on, if that makes sense. So then I started pressing the seam open, spraying it with heavy spray starch (Faultless or Niagara brand, whichever one I can find at my local grocery store) and then pressing again. I do this with every single seam and the starch builds up as I go, so that's how it gets so stiff by the end. That helps me to trim away the excess around the edges of the foundation paper accurately, too.

If you're not foundation paper piecing, then you can starch your fabric first before cutting it, then starch when you press after each seam as you go along, and you will have that same benefit of crisp, paper like fabric to work with. Just be careful that you press the seam open first with dry fabric, moving your iron only in the direction of the fabric grain, and that you don't distort the work by pushing your iron in a bias direction on the fabric when it is wet with starch. Starch can freeze your fabric in a distorted, stretched position just as well as it can freeze it in an accurate position!

I also recommend that, when you're piecing a complex block, you check your work by measuring the units as you add each piece instead of waiting to measure the finished block. That will let you know right away if your starch/pressing technique is locking in accuracy or or INaccuracy as you go along.

DawnyK said...

Rebecca, thank you so much for this descriptions!!! Much appreciated. I'm going to save the email with all your comments. Do you starch on a towel instead of directly on the ironing board? Really appreciate the comment about starching it into a distorted/stretched position!!! I think I need to be a little more careful and know the expected measurements and practice. Thanks again! -DawnyK

Susan said...

Great tutorial! You can't beat glue for holding pesky curves and angles together!

Dione Gardner-Stephen said...

Love this project and your tutorial.... such a great collection of tips from start to finish. I don't use so much starch, but I do use a ton of washable glue. And I often appliqué/pieceliqué glued pieces without stabilizer.... my machine doesn't know it is supposed to mess it up, so it doesn't. shh, don't tell. :)