Sunday, February 21, 2010

American Beauty: Hand Appliqué Tutorial



Block 6: Bunny Hop in the American Beauty quilt features four little baskets with pretty curved handles. 

Regarding the handles, the instructions read, “Use your favorite method to hand or machine appliqué the basket handles…”

Hmmm….  a couple choices instantly come to mind.  Fusible appliqué is oh so quick & easy.  But, a block this pretty deserves something nicer than quick & easy, doesn’t it?  It is truly an issue of individual preference, but if you are new to hand appliqué these little handles are perfect for beginners.

Here’s my favorite method, recommended by Joanna Figueroa, Fig Tree Quilts.

1.) Use a regular ball point pen to trace the handle shape onto the shiny side of a scrap of freezer paper.


2.) Press a second scrap of  freezer paper over the piece you have traced the shape on, effectively sandwiching the traced shape between two pieces of freezer paper.  You are making a double thick freezer paper template, and if it was relevant, this step would also reverse the motif.  (This is a symmetrical motif, so reversing it isn’t really necessary, but with more complex designs, reversing is often an important step).  Your initial marks must be dark enough to be visible through the layers.


3.) Using sharp scissors, smoothly cut on the drawn line.


4.) Press the freezer paper template to the wrong side of your fabric.  The shiny side will adhere to the fabric with a firm press.  Because I need four handles, I divide the fabric into four quadrants with a press fold.  That way, I’m sure that I don’t accidentally use up too much fabric as I cut & trim.


5.) Trim the fabric approximately 1/4” away from the template. 


6.) Prepare your workspace.  You’ll need:

  • good lighting
  • a child’s cheap plastic paintbrush (I “borrowed” one from  Matthew)
  • a pressing surface (I like to use a couple yards of fabric folded, and set upon my kitchen island.  It is a comfortable height for me to work at)
  • a can of spray starch.  The cheap stuff in the aerosol can from the laundry aisle is just fine.  Spray some starch into the lid of the can, to crate a little puddle of starch.
  • a mini iron, heated to a low setting


7.) Work on small segments of the appliqué motif at one time.  For example, fold the ends of the handle back first.  “Paint” the fabric with the spray starch until it is clearly wet, and use the tip of the mini iron to carefully fold and press the fabric  edges under.  With more complex shapes,  you’ll also need to gently ease the fabric into position, either with your fingers (careful not to burn them), or some sort of instrument (example: tweezers, that purple thang notion, or a stiletto)

bhb6.5 bhb7

8.) Both inner and outer curves will need to be clipped to allow edges to neatly fold around the template.  As a ballpark, I clip about every 1/3”, and nearly cut as far as the template, but not quite.  Repeat the steps above: paint with starch, then carefully fold, ease, and press.


9.) Repeat for the outer curve:


10.) Gently unwrap an end, then tug the freezer paper template out of the motif.  Don’t rip the template, you’ll use it over and over.  Trim any messy threads, and press the motif neatly from the right side.


11.) Repeat to make a total of four basket handles.  The pattern has a placement guide, to allow you to judge handle placement.


12.) Using “Roxanne’s Glue Baste It”,  apply small dots of fabric basting glue to the back side of the appliqué motif.  Don’t put glue where you plan to stitch, as it is hard to push the needle through the dried glue. 


13.) Once the motifs are glued in place, and the glue has dried, you’re ready to sew.  This is my favorite part…. so relaxing!  Thread a small needle with a single pink thread, as close of a match to your basket handle fabric as possible.  Aurifil 50 weight is simply perfect for this purpose.

Tie a couple knots in the thread, then push the needle from back to front and catch one end of the handle with your first stitch. You don’t want to be too far into the appliqué motif, or your hand sewing stitches will show.  I like to be at least 2 threads inside the edge, so my stitches are secure.


14.) Pull the needle completely through, so the knot is gently resting snug against the back of your piece. 

Now, take your first stitch, setting the needle into the background fabric right next to where you are.  In the same step, push the needle up about 1/8”  away, and through the edge of the appliqué motif, in a position a couple of threads away from the edge.  Put another way, your needle tip goes through to the back of the fabric, and then back to the front of the fabric and through the edge of the motif in the same motion.


15. ) Repeat step (14) over and over, using small, smooth stitches.  From the back, your stitches should look something like this:


16.) And, once you’ve gone completely around, it will look like this from the back:


17.) Sorry, I guess I forgot to get a pic of the fabric piece from the front.  But, with practice, and the right shade/weight of thread the stitches are as close to invisible as you can imagine. 

The finished block looks like this:


The little handles are smooth and look much more neatly finished than if I had done them by machine.

Links to some supplies:

Regular Clover Mini Iron

Clover Mini Iron II (The Adapter Set)

Elisa's Backporch: Sew Easy Tweezers

Roxanne's Glue Baste It (Travel Size)

Roxanne's Glue Baste It (Larger Size)

Aurifil Hand Appliqué Thread Packets (50 weight cotton)

And now, for a “pep talk”… 

I know, this looks like a lot of work compared to fusible web.  Although it is somewhat more time consuming, the results are much nicer.  Once I got the hang of this technique, I fell in love with it.  There are other methods of hand-appliqué that you might prefer, but I personally really like this one.  I find preparation of the pieces easy, and love to hand-stitch them in place.

And, once you are comfortable with simple motifs, you can progress to more challenging appliqué patterns. 

I’m nearly done with “Madeline” (Click here)


And, I’m seriously considering starting “A Girl in Paris”  (click here).


Warning: some quilters find hand appliqué highly addictive.  Unfortunately, I cannot grant you  permissible to call in sick to work, or forget to feed your family because you are too busy working on your appliqué. 

Have fun!

~ Laura