By Judy Moore Pullen
Turn hand applique into awesome instead of awful. Many quilters are very good at machine piecing and applique, but tend to shy away from hand applique. I had the pleasure of spending a day with five quilters who wanted to learn to hand applique at Uptown Blanco Textile Studio in Blanco, Texas.
The Textile Studio is located directly across the street from the historic Old Blanco Courthouse, where monthly Market Days was being held in this charming hill country town. The interior of the building is a step or two back in time, featuring floor to high ceiling shelves, finely restored and packed with fabulous name-brand fabrics, and antique and new quilts suspended from poles and heavy ropes. Plentiful samples inspire one to try something new in an old-timey setting.
The five ladies who I had the joy of spending the day with wanted to learn needle turn applique. I did not have to coerce them. They were ready to try any and all techniques. Pam was a true beginner, Jan wanted to expand and learn wool applique, Kathy works and plays at the shop, and Carol brought her friend Christine. “Tips, Tricks, and Techniques” was the title of the class, and we also worked and played with tools. Using one of my original designs for a table runner, we jumped right in learning about using freezer paper for things other than wrapping for food preservation.
I also conducted a demo that I call “Needle Threading 101” using white fabric on top of a pillow, standing the needle straight up and down, and thereby having both hands free to thread a needle. White fabric allows you to see the eye of the needle more clearly. Using Presencia 50 weight 100% cotton, cut the thread straight across, moisten, pinch flat, and insert the thread into the needle. If the needle does not thread the first time, rotate the pillow, as a needle eye is punched and there is a right and wrong side to the eye of the needle. Repeat: cut, moisten, pinch, and thread the needle. Pull about 4” of thread through the eye of the needle. Hold the eye between your fingertips and pull the spool of thread to up to your muscle, about 18”, and cut. Make a quilter’s knot in the cut end.
We began by threading a John James Applique Needle size 10. Just as some people prefer Fords and others prefer Chevrolets, I wanted my students to test drive a milliners needle and quilters betweens needle. I occasionally switch off to different needles just for a change. It gives my fingers and hands a rest. For hand applique, you want a needle that is so smooth and slender that it readily punctures the fabric rather than pushes. If your eyesight is better than mine, perhaps you might try a size 11. The bigger the number, the finer the thread and hand sewing needles- just like us, as we “mature” we get finer. Using Needle Grip-Its also helps with hand stress that is the result of the repetitive motion of gripping and pulling a needle. I also shared information about the ergonomic benefits of a Roxanne thimble and using the side motion of one’s finger for pushing a needle through fabric.
We discussed placement of applique pieces, using a light box and/or clear plastic with the design traced on the plastic with a permanent fine tip marker. The design offered opportunities to practice placement of a curved bias-cut vine, leaves, and three petals of a flower. For portability and ease of applique, students could use Roxanne’s Glue Baste-It with or without the addition of straight pins and basting. I love to applique thin stems, so students were shown how to overcut stem fabric on the bias and trim it down to make a slender stem, or one that was smaller at the end that tucked under the flower. If you want the tip of a leaf to just touch the stem, there is a trick for that as well.
The flower consisted of three heart shapes, two of which were tucked under the center heart. A heart shape offers the opportunity to stitch straight sides, curves, innie and outie points. Having three heart shapes in the flower gave the gals plenty of practice, and I must say they all did so very well.
The day was not only spent discussing the finer points of needle turn applique. We talked about children, grandchildren, recipes, gardening, and many other things so dear to our hearts. One of the best parts of spending the day with friends and stitching is building rapport or womanship. Customers peeked in, curious to see what we were doing. Many thanks to Ruth, shop manager, and Monica, her helper for the day. They provided encouragement and cut fabric before we left. One must not leave without taking fabric home, or patterns, or supplies, or some memory of this wonderfully welcoming quilt shop and Textile Studio. This is an unspoken rule of and for all quilters.
I am so happy to have been a part of converting machine piecers and quilters into hand appliquers, and these new appliquers are truly awesome. There was no whining, nary a word of complaint, just fun and learning a new skill. I also feel as if I made some new friends, which is such a joy. And, I learned things from my students as well. They shared tips, tricks, and techniques with me that I can use and that will improve the quality of my work and play.