Don’t go running and screaming away, I promise this will be quick and painless. And for those of you who haven’t done much with applique, or machine applique, you’ll see this isn’t anything to be afraid of.
Here’s the thing about machine applique: with the right tools and techniques, it can be really, really easy. And if you’re one of those people that just cringe at the word applique, well, you’re not alone. I have a couple friends and family members that are right there with you. But I promise–it doesn’t have to be traumatizing. Lets do it. Here are 10 steps to perfect machine applique.
1. Start with a template
Unless you’re really, really good at freehanding it, it’s easier to trace a shape. Also, with this technique, if you want to applique letters, you’ll want the letter to go backwards on the template.
Trace the template on to the paper side of some fuseable webbing. Usually, I use Heat ‘n Bond lite, but I also really like featherweight–it doesn’t make the finished product stiff at all.
2. Cut around your shape, leaving some space around the line. Iron to fabric.
Place the paper shape shiny side down on the wrong side of your fabric.
Adhere the paper shape to the fabric according to manufacturer’s instructions. In my case, I used the “silk” setting on my iron for 2 seconds.
3. Cut out the shape on the line.
Peel the paper off the back of the fabric.
4. Iron the shape to background fabric, according to manufacturer’s instructions.
In my case, I used the silk, no steam setting for 10 seconds. Be sure not to keep your iron there too long, you run the risk of scorching the fabric or making the webbing not adhere as well. The shape should be stuck to the background well enough that it doesn’t lift or shift if gently manipulated.
5. Choose your thread.
You have lots of choices when it comes to thread. I have used metallic, iridescent, matching, contrasting, even invisible thread. If you’re just beginning, I suggest using a thread that matches your shape. As you gain skill and confidence, you can move on to other threads–which can add a LOT of fun and visual interest to your project.
6. Start with a tacking stitch.
Using a clear presser foot, align your shape right in the middle of your presser foot, so that your needle will sink right at the edge. Take a few very small straight stitches along the edge of the shape. This will help your zig zag (or other decorative stitch) be secure and not unravel. On my machine, I set my stitch length to .5 and took about 5 stitches. I usually start on an inside corner or a straight part if there is one. On circles, you can start wherever you want.
7. Stitch around the shape, using a decorative stitch.
I use a zig zag stitch, because my sewing machine doesn’t have other stitches that work well with applique. If you have a blanket stitch, that’s a fun one too. Align your stitch so that it is all on the shape, just barely coming off the edge of the shape and hitting the background.
8. Drop your needle and pivot at corners.
When you reach a corner, manually place your needle right at the corner, in the background.
Lift your presser foot, pivot the fabric until it is aligned, then begin stitching again.
9. On circular shapes, pivot continually or use the “clock method”.
When I am stitching around a circular shape, I use one of two methods. On larger, more gradual curves, I put one finger parallel to the presser foot on the shape and allow that finger to serve as a pivot point. This allows the fabric to move freely and easily around the curve. The keys to this method are practice and allowing the fabric to move freely.
If I am stitching around a smaller or tighter curve, I sink the needle and pivot just like with corners, only moving less with each pivot. The “clock” means to pivot at each place where an hour would be located on the clock. This helps so that your stitching still looks circular like your shape.
10. Finish with a tacking stitch.
Just like when you started, finish by switching to a very small straight stitch and taking 5-6 stitches. This will secure your applique so it doesn’t unravel.
There you have it! 10 steps to perfect machine applique. I hope you’ll try it and see it’s not so scary after all. I’ve included a template you can download and practice with, including marked pivot points on both the star and the circle. Click the link below to open the PDF in a new window.
Machine Applique Template
As I am typing this, I’m wondering if it would be helpful for me to post a video of the circular stitching. What do you think? Do you have other questions? Machine applique tips or suggestions?
PS Have you made January’s block? Or February’s? (You’re speedy!) I’m going to post a giveaway this month, and one way to get an entry will be to add your block to the flickr group. So far, my block is all alone. :( I’d love to see yours!
When I put my little ones to sleep at night, one of my favorite things to tell them is
“I absolutely adore you!”
I remember the first time they asked me what “adore” means, and I told them (because they were still so little), that adore means to not only love someone so so much, but to really really like them too. To think they are more wonderful than the moon, or the stars, or anything else.
To this day, when I tell them I absolutely adore them, they can’t help but smile, and neither can I.
So this block is to remind you to find, and surround yourself with people, and places, and memories that you like, love, even worship. That you adore.
solid strips for borders
(2) 12½” x 2” border strips (Dark Plum)
(2) 9½“ x 2” border strips (Magenta)
(1) 10” square (linen)
Using scraps, make an improv patchwork piece large enough to cut out the heart template.
Trace the heart on to fuseable web, adhere to the back of the crazy patchwork piece according to manufacturer’s instructions. Cut out on the line.
Fuse heart to the center of the 10” background according to manufacturer’s instructions. Using a small zig zag, or other decorative stitch, sew the heart to the background.
Trace the embroidery outline around the heart with an erasable marker.
Using a backstitch and two strands of embroidery floss, embroider around the heart.
Trim the square to 9½” square.
Sew the 9½” x 2″ borders to the left and right sides of the square. Press toward the border strips.
Sew the 12½” x 2″ borders to the top and bottom. Press toward the strips.
Click below to print the template and embroidery pattern.
February Adore Template
Alright, Mom, this post is for you. Oh, and everyone else who has ever had me cut out their quilt pieces for them because they are cutting pieces one at a time. Oh, and you newbies who wanted me to walk you through the block of the month one step at a time? I told you I was going to start at the beginning. Just because I love you. xoxo
Let’s talk about rotary cutting.
First things first, you’ll need a rotary cutter (mine is 45mm), an acrylic ruler, and a self-healing mat to protect your surfaces. For other tools you’ll need to start quilting, check out this post I wrote a couple years ago.
You’ll need some fabric you want to cut up, too.
Alright, chickadees, here goes.
There are a couple things you want to keep in mind when you’re using a rotary cutter, which are obvious, but crucial. First, that little blade is SHARP. Seriously people, you can lose parts of digits with that little beggar. Be careful. Please. Second, you should be using your rotary cutter on a clean, level surface that is high enough for you to work without hunching over and not so tall that you’re scrunching up your shoulders. For most people, that’s counter height, approximately 36″. Using the right height counter makes it possible for you to put the right amount of pressure on the ruler without hurting yourself or shifting the ruler because you’re in an awkward position. Third, always, always, ALWAYS put the guard up after EVERY cut, and keep it off the floor. Just make it a habit. If you don’t, you risk kicking that little blade and really doing some damage to a toe. Ask me how I know.
Now that those are out of the way, some tips and tricks for using a rotary cutter.
To start, you’re going to want to square up your fabric.
There are multiple ways to do this. I typically fold the fabric selvedges together and line the selvedge edges up with a horizontal line on my cutting mat. I then trim the adjacent edge as needed at a 90 degree angle to the selvedge. This makes the rest of your cuts more accurate and also helps you avoid a peak in the middle of your long strips. Always make sure you are cutting square to the fold and the selvedge. If you are cutting multiple strips, you will probably have to re-square your edge after multiple cuts.
Anytime you can, cut vertically.
Meaning, lay the fabric out so that you can make your cut starting close to you, and moving the rotary cutter away from you. (Always move it away from you, just like cutting with scissors.) If you are right handed, you’ll want to position yourself so that you are just a little bit to the right of the place you are cutting. This gives you maximum visibility of both your ruler and your blade. This is crucial for both accuracy and safety. Horizontal cuts are much harder to accommodate accurately and severely limit your visibility. Consider turning your mat or fabric instead.
When positioning your ruler for a cut, be accurate, but be generous.
Put your ruler on the left edge of the appropriate line on your cutting mat–remember, the blade is thin, but still takes up some space too. Positioning your ruler this way will insure you aren’t cutting your pieces just a hare too small–which in many projects can really add up. Check to make sure that all the lines on the ruler are also aligned, there should be no ruler lines intersecting cutting mat lines unless you are cutting on an angle on purpose. Instead, ruler lines and mat lines should be either stacked on top of each other, or parallel to each other.
Now that your ruler is positioned, you’ll need to hold it down securely.
Resist the urge to put your left (right for lefties) hand flat on the ruler to hold it. When you put your hand flat, you tend to put diagonal pressure on the ruler causing it to slip forward and away from you, resulting in a crooked cut. It also creates a single pressure point which allows the ruler to pivot. Think a fulcrum in a seesaw. In addition, a flat hand position causes your thumb to be quite close to the edge of the ruler, and many people spread their hand out more and more as they try to put pressure on the ruler, resulting in cuts to your thumb. Instead of the flat hand, try making a claw shape out of your hand, and bending your wrist so that your arm is perpendicular to your hand. This places direct downward pressure on the ruler, making slips less likely. In addition, spreading your fingers this way and using your fingertips provides several pressure points on the ruler, which prevents a single pivot point and adds security.
You will notice in the pictures that my palm is always off the ruler and my thumb is always parallel to the edge, even in extreme cases where I am using both my fingertips and knuckles for pressure.
Position your hand in the middle of the ruler.
Always try to place pressure on the whole ruler, not just one point. You don’t want any space between the mat, the fabric, and your ruler, because the fabric will slip in and out of alignment as you push it with the rotary cutter. Be sure your fingers are all clear from the edge. If you are making a particularly long cut (18+ inches), you may need to move your hand, position it first at about the 1/3 mark, and again at the 2/3 mark. Stop cutting while repositioning your hand, and make sure the ruler is still perfectly aligned and hasn’t been bumped in transition before you resume cutting.
Cutting multiple layers.
One of the great things about rotary cutting is that you can cut quite a few layers at a time (I have cut up to 10 layers of regular quilting cotton with a fresh blade.) While this can be a huge time saver, it can also make quick waste of your fabric if you make a mistake. I have found that my biggest mistakes come when my blade isn’t sharp enough, or I don’t put enough pressure on my ruler. When you’re cutting through several layers, like cutting squares from strips, for example, here’s what happens. You place your ruler on top of a stack, and suddenly, you’ve created a pivot point because the height of the stack of fabric lifts the ruler enough that it doesn’t touch much of your rotary mat. Like we discussed earlier, a pivot point causes ruler movement. So, in this case, your best option is to position your hand so that your fingers are on either side of the stack, if it’s a small piece, so you can press the ruler all the way down to the mat, or if the piece is larger, use extra downward force centered on the piece–that’s when I tend to push my claw hand down to the point where my knuckles are also on the mat.
In these instructions, I’m going to walk you through cutting squares from multiple strips.
First, position your strips horizontally so that you can cut vertically. Stack strips precisely on top of each other. Trim off the selvedge edge.
Move your ruler to the appropriate measurement line, press your fingers down on either side of the strip.
Once everything is aligned correctly, make one quick, firm cut. Leave the strip stack and the freshly cut squares where they are. Move your ruler to the left and reposition it for a second cut.
Avoid moving anything until the entire strip has been cut into squares.
Hold the rotary cutter for precision.
The best hand position for your rotary cutter should allow for precision of movement, stability, and top-down pressure. This means, no gripping the handle in your fist. I like to position my hand as shown, using my pointer finger along the top for perfect pressure, my thumb along the side to avoid left and right wobbling and quick guard access, and my other three fingers along the bottom for counter pressure.
Finally, be fast and firm.
Once you have squared up your fabric, aligned your ruler, and positioned your hand, the final step is to actually make the cut. In a lot of ways, this part is the easiest, and yet, most people have a really hard time with it. Your most accurate cut is going to come from direct, firm pressure on the rotary cutter and a fast, decisive cut. Don’t go slow, this gives time for the fabric to move and shift as you leisurely roll along. Don’t seesaw back and forth along your ruler, this shreds your fabric and kills your accuracy. If your blade is sharp, just one firm fast cut ought to do it. If your blade can’t make the cut in one pass, either you aren’t using enough pressure or your blade needs to be replaced. Slow, jerky movements and deep gouges in your rotary mat are signs of too much pressure.
As you gain experience, you will be able to cut more layers, and even several stacks of multiple layers at a time. But that’s a topic for Rotary Cutting 102. :)
Alright my friends, go and cut those block of the month squares and rectangles with your new found knowledge! Questions and tips in the comments of course, and if you left a question on the last post, I’ll be answering those today in the comments. Be sure to check back.
PS Up next, a quick break to show off my finished Scrappy Tripalong quilt, a fabric bleeding mishap, and Piecing 101.
Introducing the Twelve Words Sampler! I’m so excited to share this Block of the Month with you…and even more excited to see the blocks you make! I’m calling it the Twelve Words sampler because, as you’ll notice, each block will have a word on it. I chose these words to be uplifting and encouraging, they inspire me and I hope they will inspire you, too.
So here’s how it works: each month I will post a block with basic instructions. Then, for the next couple days I will post tutorials on how to complete each step of the block-making process. That way, those of you who are ready to just jump right in can just go for it as soon as I post the block, and those of you who are learning some new skills as you go will get to finish the blocks too.
Each month the blocks will incorporate a basic quilting “building block” as I like to call them, the elements that make up a large majority of quilting projects out there, in some combination or other. This will help build and refine skills, as well as help me build an arsenal of tutorials here on the little old blog.
By the end of the year, you will be old hat at machine applique, basic embroidery, flying geese, pinwheels, and lots of other things! Don’t worry, if you need a little hand-holding, I’ll walk you through it. Promise.
Please, join along! We’re going to have so much fun, and the end result will not only be beautiful, but positive and uplifting–and I don’t know about you, but I can use all the bright cheeriness I can get in this weather.
Like I said earlier, basic instructions today, more thorough explanations over the next 2-3 days. Please ask questions if you have them, and I will be sure to answer you.
Before we get too into this project, a few words on fabric selection so you can plan. I chose 8 solids and 2 linen blends to work with for this quilt. For each block I am choosing two or three solids to form my color palette, and then pulling print scraps from my stash in the same color values. You can see the black and white linen on the bottom of the pile, that will be my sashing. I wanted something that would set off every color nicely, but I didn’t want to use white. Finally, I am using a natural colored linen for my background of my embroidery and applique, and plan to use that natural color in each block as well.
Here’s the details on making this month’s block!
Piece 2″ squares in (4) strips of (8) squares, and (2) strips of (4) squares, as shown.
Press seams in alternating directions to avoid bulk.
Align intersections, pin, and sew top two rows together. Repeat for bottom two rows. Press.
With disappearing ink, mark a line 1″ from each side of your 7″ x 10″ rectangle. Trace center snowflake for embroidery. Using templates provided, and following manufacturer’s instructions, use fuseable web to adhere applique pieces INSIDE the lines you just marked.
Using a small zig zag or other decorative stitch, sew around each applique piece.
Using navy thread, embroider the main lines of the snowflake. Switch to aqua thread, use large stitches to embroider the small middle star. Press the block.
Trim to 6½” x 9½”.
Sew remaining (4) piece strips to the sides. Press.
Finish block by putting all three units together and pressing well.
Download templates here. January Sparkle Templates
I’m starting a flickr group where you can add pictures of your block, please add yours! (I just might have a giveaway planned, and your entry is your block picture in the group…) Join the flickr group here.