Block-of-the-Month · Piecing · Quilt Designs

New Skills

One of my Block-of-the-Month classes is actually a Row-of-the-Month class. It’s hosted at a local library by The Cottage Quilter and we’re doing the Piper Girls’ row-by-row sampler.

This week, we were assigned the pinwheel row and some homework. Check out my pretty pinwheels! I’ve also included the other rows we have done to date.

The pinwheel row was actually Row #4. Kelly (our instructor) didn’t want to assign Row #3 until next week because it’s a new skill for most of the class (yaaay!! I’m not the only n00b!!) and she wants us to practice at home before doing it for real on the quilt. It’s called machine applique. It’s “machine” because you do it with your sewing machine and not by hand (which is what many people prefer). What is applique, you ask?

Applique is when you take a piece of fabric, cut out a design, and stitch it on to your quilt top. A lot of quilters make large portions of their quilts this way. I’ve never seen the appeal of it. I like doing piecing, not applique. And yes – I did do one bit of machine applique when I first started (as you can see above). My first issue was that the applique was a star. I have always had problems making star shapes and it has always bothered me, even as a small child. It looks wonky to me and I don’t like it. My second issue was that this was done back in … September? Maybe? I was still very new at quilting and I think I took on a little too much too soon.

I decided that my class practice is going to be a for-real practice … maybe. πŸ˜€ I got this beautiful fabric from Troll Brothers to make an orange peel quilt. As soon as I get around to picking out a background fabric, I intend to start! The problem with the orange peel design is that 90% of the patterns are an applique pattern. You can do a pieced orange peel block, but there aren’t a lot of tutorials because it’s curved piecing and I think most people prefer applique to curved piecing.

I have to veer off a bit at this point to talk about acquiring patterns. I try (whenever possible) to purchase a pattern instead of just looking at the design and doing it myself. It’s not that I can’t do that (and for husband’s quilt and niece’s quilt, they are my designs), but if I’m going to use someone else’s creativity to make a project, I’d like to compensate them for the effort. Plus, they’ve done all the maths to figure out the right sizes of things so you don’t wind up with pieces that don’t fit together.. πŸ˜€ I’ve been doing this more frequently with my knitting projects. The nice thing is that yarn patterns are usually only a few dollars on Ravelry.com. I only make … sorry, start (see last blog post) … a couple of things a year, so it doesn’t break the bank. Quilting patterns are different. The “professional” patterns can be quite expensive. You can often get blocks for free, but doing applique or curved piecing requires having a template of some sort. Ordering acrylic templates for this pattern has been a huge pain in the butt for me since the only places currently offering the orange peel templates are out of the US of A and the UK. I absolutely refuse to pay a foreigner’s tax (aka the import fees or duty) on something someone in Canada probably has for sale but I just can’t find. After 3 days of searching, I finally found an extremely old free paper pattern that has the templates included! In the spirit of doing the old thing, I cut out some cardboard using the paper pattern as a template and pulled out some test fabric to figure out what I want to do.

First, I made the curved piecing version. I don’t mind sewing curved piecing that much, but my scrap fabric decision made pressing the fabric a bit onerous. You’re supposed to press out away from the peel. Since my peel was a very dark fabric and my background was a very light, see-through fabric, there would be serious ghosting happening. Ghosting happens when you can see the seam right through the fabric – this is why most quilters press with the seam under the dark side – less chance for ghosting. When I do my quilt, though, I’ll be using a darker background fabric, so this won’t be a problem in the official version. The other issue was the cardboard template itself. Because I’m using a rotary cutter, I have to be very careful that I’m not accidentally trimming the cardboard. Not only does this dull the blade and make a mess, but it changes the size of the template over time. The last block might end up smaller than the first block. When I go to make my quilt, I will either need to invest in acrylic templates or mark the shapes from the cardboard template with a pen before cutting along the pen line.

With the curved test out of the way, we move on to the applique test. The interesting part is that these blocks will end up a little bigger because I’m not losing 1/4″ on each side of each piece to a seam allowance. It’s good to keep in mind.

I cut out the orange peel from scraps first, then I cut a couple of squares to use. I was going to go with scrap squares, but I thought it would be fun to play with the opposite dynamics by cutting squares from the original matching fabrics. I did make a mistake, though. You have to attach fabric stabilizer to the back of your applique pieces to give it some rigidity during sewing and to help keep the edges from fraying if you’re doing a raw-edge applique (more on that later). Usually, you attach the stabilizer to the fabric, then cut (so you don’t see the white stabilizer showing). I forgot to do this part, so I had to attach the cut pieces to stabilizer, then cut around the shapes with scissors. It wasn’t bad this time, but making this same mistake with the star applique was the part of the reason it started looking wonky. I was very careful about setting the pieces in the dead center with the same amount of background space on the mirrored sides. This isn’t super crucial because you can re-cut the block properly square afterwords, but I’m aiming for right the first time.I loaded up my bobbin with dark green and selected a yellow embroidery thread for the top. I’ve used it a little bit in the past – it comes up as a golden colour. It might not work out, but this is a test piece and I wanted to know how this thread will hold up on future projects (since I’ve got 6 spools of the stuff to use).

Note: I should have posted this blog last week in keeping with my one-a-week resolution, but this was as far as I got before my busy week and away-weekend ended my spare time. I did consider posting just this much, then decided to do a two-blog week so I could finish out this story. πŸ™‚

My sewing machine has preset stitches specifically for machine applique. I didn’t know that when I made the star piece, so I made my life a little harder by having to manually set up my stitch type. This time, I just used my presets and it made life so much easier! I have three sizes for an applique satin stitch. In the samples, you will see me use sizes medium and small.

I started with the green-on-plaid piece under the medium satin stitch. The pictures should show why this is called a satin stitch – it looks soft and shiny when it’s done. After running for an inch or two with the default settings, I tightened up the stitch width to give it a bit more of that satiny sheen. In machine applique, the big challenge is points and turning corners. From the very limited reading I did on this (because why wouldn’t I want to learn the hard way with no pointers?? πŸ˜‰ ), the two main ways of turning corners is to slowly walk around the point or to stitch slightly past the point, stitch backwards, turn the corner, stitch back again to get a sharpish point, then continue forwards. With green-on-plaid, I decided to try the walkaround method. From what I understand, the key to this method is making sure you always have your needle stop on the applique-side of the stitch, turn the fabric slightly, make another two stitches so you land back at the same spot on the applique side, and re-adjust again. You keep doing this until you are completely around the corner. As you can see, I needed a couple of attempts to get it looking okay.

Next up was the plaid-on-green with the small satin stitch. This was much harder as my margin for error with the edges of the applique piece was much tighter. With the medium stitch, all I had to do was make sure that the edge was somewhere between the two 1/8″ marks. This also allowed me to make a more gradual curve if my cuts were a little choppy (putting the interface on after cutting the shape only makes this worse). With the smaller stitch, I had to follow my cuts exactly. There are a couple of places where you can tell I didn’t schwoop very nicely in my cuts, but whatever – practice pieces! I also tried the back-and-forward corner method for the points this time. I think, in some ways, it actually works best with the small satin stitch because the tiny size hides the stitches a bit. In other ways, not so much – because stitch is so small, the edge of the applique was fraying a bit as I attempted to sink my stitches into the edge without having the applique fabric show on both sides of my stitches. At the corner, this fraying gets worse because I’m going back over it two extra times. Time will tell if the applique stands ups with the small stitch.

Look at me! I can machine applique!

My two completed looks! I had already decided before stitching that I didn’t like the green-on-plaid near as well. The patterned piece just looks better as a focal point. I’m still glad I went ahead with it, though, because I learned something else. When stitching on the applique, the background fabric got a little warped. It’s not bad and it will almost completely vanish once the the block is stitched in place, but it is a lot more obvious that it’s happening when you use a pattern fabric as your background fabric. Learning things! I also think I prefer the look of the small stitch over the look of the medium stitch as it starts to take emphasis away from the applique. I can’t even begin to imagine how the “big” satin stitch would turn out! I want to make two more of these blocks so I can make a completed orange peel block – maybe I’ll try the big satin stitch on one of them, just to see!

Orange peel quilt colors … so much in love!!!

Finally, I’m also glad I waited until after I got home before posting this because … I found the background fabric for my orange peel! Won’t it look nice with the charcoal grey?? I was in Ottawa, Ontario for the weekend visiting a friend and I made them pull over at a local fabric store (Sew For It) to see if I could find something. Good news – I found something! Bad news – there was only maybe 1/2 a meter left on the bolt. Not very much at all, maybe not even enough. I have to measure it out and see. I took what they had left just in case – worst case scenario, I’ll stash it and get something else. Oh darn. πŸ˜€ Because there’s so little of it, I will definitely be doing the curved piecing over the applique because I won’t have fabric to spare hiding under the orange peel. It was still worth doing the applique work just to learn how to do it. πŸ™‚ No time is wasted time if you learn things!

~M

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