I have moved twice in the last two years, which is very positive, yet very stressful. Moving involves so much. Of course there’s the packing and storing, but there’s also the topsy-turvy life style as one adjusts, and dealing with mountains of paper work and address up-dates, etc. But, take a deep breath…it is all well worth the effort in so many ways. Change of any kind can be stressful, but change can also offer opportunities for seeing and doing things in new creative ways.
Sometimes the most difficult part of beginning something new for me, whether it is a new recipe, new sewing or gardening project, etc., is the starting part: Thing 1! But I have been so eager to sew during my “moving experiences” that I finally decided yesterday was the day to begin and I would treat myself periodically with positive reinforcement of cookies, ice cream, of sips of coffee from a favorite mug. Many times, I have to make a mess in order to bring order to that mess. Does anyone else identify with that process?
Thing 1 involved moving some pieces of furniture that I have acquired over the years that are great sources of memories as well as unique and fun for storage. In my mind, if I can move something one inch, I can move it across the room (given time and a treat or two). My vintage Half-Hoosier cabinet fit nicely placed diagonally next to my life-size mannequin, Lucy. Lucy wears one of my old high school cheerleading skirts and a straw hat. By now, you have probably guessed that my style of choice is wonky eclectic.
Sitting on top of this charming roll-top Half-Hoosier is a vintage wire dress form wearing an authentic vintage tightly laced and buckled corset. Propped against the other side of my new/old fabric stash cabinet is Grandmother’s Flower Garden, hand-pieced by my beautiful mother. It is layered and ready to continue hand quilting on the frames handmade by my dear sweet dad. I can hardly wait for warmer weather and sittin’ and stitchin’ outside on my covered patio on this beautiful quilt. I’ll be sitting on a vintage shoe store bench, acquired by bartering (for wool this time), while my fur baby Sadie Sue keeps me company and chases squirrels in the back yard.
That is just one corner of my sewing room. The rest is still a work in progress. However, as I am sometimes attention deficit, I also began working on stashing some of my fabric stash on barrister’s shelves between books. Fabric and books…what’s not to love?! These shelves are in the living area, so I multi-tasked last evening, arranging fabric and books while watching a movie on tv. By the way, the word “stash” is both a noun and a verb. (Sorry, the retired teacher identity just popped out.)
I had set up my sewing machine cabinet last week but was rudely interrupted by the great need to do some not so much fun things, like vacuuming. So now I am ready to sew, even though there is more arranging to do. I have a wonderful closet with lots of shelves in my now-to-be-called Studio, but that closet is off limits for a while for reasons yet to be revealed.
Once I get started on a project, the next hurdle is stopping. But I am having so much fun creating my own personal creative space, even spilling over into other rooms of my new little home as well as outside! My precious little companion during all this moving is sweet precious Sadie Sue, a Jack Russell/Border Collie rescue and wonderful companion. She shadows and herds me, and is so much a part of my creative space and Studio. Time to feed Sadie Sue her cooked breakfast. She is also so patient with me. More to come as more is accomplished in my moving experience while I am itchin’ to stitch!
We are so excited to announce a guest contributor to our blog this week, Megan Zaniewski! Megan has recently authored a new book sharing her techniques, tips, and tricks for stitching 3D Nature Motifs. This book is an absolute delight and includes beautiful pictures and easy-to-follow descriptions and instructions to create your own thread masterpieces. We are truly inspired by her work and are thrilled to be able to share a digital copy of her book with one lucky winner!
*To Enter: Follow us and Megan on Instagram and be sure to like the contest post. For additional entries, tag a friend in the comments. Each tag = one additional entry so be sure to share the love!
Hi! I’m Megan Zaniewski, author of Stumpwork Embroidery & Thread Painting: Stitch 3D Nature Motifs and I’m guest writing for Colonial Needle today to discuss my favorite needles for thread painting and stumpwork embroidery techniques and share some tips for selecting the correct needle size for your project.
Why is needle choice important?
Even though the differences between different types of needles and their sizes may seem slight or insignificant, choosing the appropriate needle for your project can make a big difference in your stitching experience and the quality and look of your finished work.
The type of embroidery you are doing will help determine the type of needle you select. John James Sharps and Embroidery needles are both well-suited, high-quality choices for most hand embroidery with 6-strand cotton embroidery thread, including thread painting and stumpwork techniques.
What is thread painting?
Thread painting refers to an embroidery style where long and short stitches are used to blend threads, similar to the way a painter blends paint with brushstrokes. Thread painted designs are most often worked in stranded cotton embroidery thread or silk split down to 1 or 2 strands at a time. This blending technique allows the artist to create depth and shadows that render their subjects in realistic, precise detail. This type of detailed embroidery requires a thin needle with a sharp point profile to achieve the best amount of coverage and detail in your work. When thread painting with a single thread of stranded cotton, a size 10 John James Sharp needle is my preferred needle. For 2 strands, I use a size 9 John James Sharp needle.
A Hummingbird stitched using Megan Zaniewski’s thread painting technique.
What is stumpwork?
Stumpwork embroidery includes a variety of techniques that produce a 3-dimensional effect. Padded stumpwork and wire slips are two embroidery techniques I use in my work and teach in my book. The John James Sharps needles are my preferred needles for these projects as well because of their sharp point profile. Their thinness and sharpness allow you to precisely couch wireslips in place and stitch through multiple layers of padded felt with very little resistance. Again, I recommend a John James Sharps size 10 for 1-stranded work involving wireslips and padding. The dependably high-quality of these needles will also help ensure your work is clean, consistent, and precise.
A flowery example of Megan’s stumpwork.
How to select needle size
The size of the needle you select in your own embroidery will depend on the number of strands you are stitching with. Follow this general guideline choosing the correct needle size Note: there is some flexibility between sizes. The brand of stranded cotton embroidery floss you are using may affect your needle selection slightly. For example: a size 9 needle can be used for 1 strand as well if you are having difficulty threading it.
1 strand – size 10
2 strands – size 9
3 strands – size 8
4 strands – size 7
5 strands – size 5
6 strands – size 3
How do I know if my needle is too small?
If you’ve mixed up your needles and cannot confidently identify their size, here are some signs to look out for that might indicate the needle you are using is too small:
You have more-than-usual difficulty threading the needle. Smaller needles have smaller eyes to accommodate fewer threads, so if you are trying to thread multiple strands through a smaller needle, like a size 9 or 10, you will find it is very difficult, if not impossible.
You experience resistance when pulling the needle through the fabric. If you have to tug or pull to get your needle and thread through the fabric, your needle is too small.
You lose fabric tension and notice your fabric is denting or puckering around the needle as you pull it through the fabric.
A slight popping sound when the needle pushes through the fabric is often normal and okay, but loud or abrasive sounds as you pull the thread through might indicate that your needle is too small. The hole the needle creates should be large enough to accommodate your thread so that it glides smoothly through the fabric without a lot of rubbing or abrasion.
Your thread is becoming fuzzy-looking, breaking, or tangling easily. This happens when the hole is too small for the thread to glide through smoothly, causing the thread to rub excessively against the fabric and wear down with each pass.
Sore hands. If you are having to work harder to get the thread through the fabric, the additional strain on your hands can cause them to hurt or tire easily.
If you encounter any of these issues and suspect your needle is too small, try the next size down (ex. switch from a size 9 to a size 8). Remember, needles get larger as the size # decreases.
How do I know if my needle is too large?
Alternatively, here are some signs that might indicate the needle you are using is too large:
Visible holes left in the fabric around the thread are a sign that your needle is too large. The needle should create a hole wide enough for the thread to pass through comfortably without resistance, but not much larger than that.
Stitches that are loose.
If you suspect your needle is too large, try the next size up (ex. switch from a size 8 to a size 9), which will be a slightly smaller needle.
I hope these tips help take some of the guesswork out of choosing the correct needle size for your hand embroidery project. Remember, stitching should be comfortable and fun above all else. If your needle is causing you hand strain or frustration, try out different sizes until you find what works best for you.
“She is so cute and fluffy!” is one of many elated comments I hear from children when Sable Ann enters Central Library in San Angelo, Texas. Sable Ann visits at the amazing Children’s Library weekly as one of their Tail-waggin’ Tutors. Children as well as adults ask so kindly, “May I pet her?” From the time we exit the car, to the time we get back in at the end of the day, so much kindness is shown to her and I by library visitors.
The Children’s Library is like walking through Alice’s looking glass of wonders, with books and toys galore, abundant activities, comfy child and adult-size furniture, and cuddlies for snuggling and reading within alcoves in the library walls. Giggles and laughter are encouraged, rather than the usual: “shh shh”. Sable Ann is well-known to the children, and they ever so politely ask to take turns walking her around the child-size kitchens and food trucks where pretend food is prepared, and building blocks, computers, and shelves of books are readily available.
Sable Ann sat up-right in my lap as her TV debut began with local TV personality, Sonora Scott, and Fr. Richard Summers. They read to the children and engaged them with questions and discussion. Prior to reading the funny Dr. Suess book, The Cat in the Hat, we played with rhyming words in preparation for the children’s help in reading the book together.
Then we moved over to the craft tables and this is where the real fun began! An abundance and variety of beautiful Presencia Perle Cotton and Floss, Persian Wool threads, plus Colonial Needle Chenille and Tapestry Needles size 18 were generously provided by this fine family company. Eager little hands of creative children were helped by loving parents, plus Miss Connie, Miss Becky, and Miss Jeanette, while Miss Trudy played the keyboard to the tune of the “Sable Song,” also known as the BINGO song.
Brown felt dog bone shapes were then turned into one-of-a-kind bookmarks with help from loving adult hands. Tips were shared with children and adults during the sittin’, singin’, and stitchin’ time.
Anything can be turned into a pattern! The pattern for the felt dog bone shape is a small sign that I hang on my doorbell that reads: “Ring the bell, win a dog.”
Place a pillow on your lap to rest your arms and to bring the work up to a comfortable position as you’re stitching
More tips, tricks, and techniques were offered and practiced as the children and adults happily stitched and sang. Including, how to thread a needle.
How to thread a needle:
Stand it in a pin cushion, which will allow you to use both hands and better see the eye of the needle
Cut the thread straight across to help avoid fraying the thread
Moisten and pinch flat the cut end of the thread.
Now use a needle threader or a loop of Presencia 50 weight thread as a needle threader if one is not available.
How do you spell joy?
Read daily to and with a child in your lap or nearby. Sing, stitch, savor the company of like-minded friends. One more tip to parents: read aloud to your child from the day you bring your baby home for the first time. Prop up a book, use a sweet voice and eye contact as you read.
In addition to research that indicates reading aloud daily to a child from infancy helps promote success later on in school as well as social situations, you will be creating memories that last a lifetime for you as well as your child.
One more tip:
Have a sweet, loving, fluffy 4-legger nearby. Sable is a local celebrity, so after her home-cooked meal when we arrived home after her TV debut, she promptly curled up, closed her eyes, and probably dreamed about her wonderful day reading and loving children who happily loved her back.
Are you searching for activities to keep your youngsters as well as yourself active, creative, and off the cell phone and computer for a while this summer? Try making crayon blocks with your favorite people for fun or to preserve a summertime memory. Yes, it is ok, even encouraged that you color on fabric with crayons for this one.
My Favorite Crayon Block Quilt
My second-grade students surprised me with an entire quilt of crayon blocks that they SECRETLY made for me in 2001, the last day of school before retiring from my 37-year teaching career. At the time, my children had been studying famous artists and their art work. Each child selected his and her favorite piece of art to turn into a crayon block. Our art teacher’s daughter was one of my many wonderful children that year. For our end-of-year party, my students and their parents surprised me with a quilt made from each child’s favorite piece of art. Not one child peeped the secret of their surprise for me!! What a joy to have such a treasure of my children’s art work and the quilt made by their parents, in addition to the gift of their parents sharing their wonderful children with me that year. Such a precious memory!
So, have some fun this summer, reading, connecting, and creating not only crayon blocks, but memories as well. Memories of a trip, a shared experience of fishing with a grandparent, shopping, a pet or pets, building a birdhouse and watching a pair of birds work together to make a new home. The process of creating crayon blocks is just as much fun as having the finished product for a memory of some summertime fun! Here are some tips, tricks, and techniques for what worked well for me in my classroom, as well as recently, at our wonderful library for over 30 children and their parents.
How to Make a Crayon Block Quilt:
Materials You Will need:
Rotary cutting supplies
Colorful fabric for borders (scraps work well for a fun scrappy look)
Crayons! (Fabric crayons not necessary)
Dry iron and press mat
Plain white paper towels
Children’s book with great illustrations for inspiration
Cookies…optional but highly encouraged.
Step 1: Prepare the Fabric
Rinse well or gently pre-wash muslin to remove sizing. Dry gently in dryer. Press.
Step 2: Cut
Cut muslin into blocks – I suggest 12 1/2” square for 12” finished block.
Cut freezer paper into squares smaller than muslin.
With hot dry iron, center shiny side of freezer paper square to wrong side of muslin to stabilize fabric for drawing with crayons.
Step 3: Color!
Use your crayons to make a beautiful piece of art. Try to encourage children to keep their drawings within the size of the freezer paper in order to have room to stitch 1/4” seams for borders.
Step 4: Set Crayon Drawing
When your artists are finished creating, remove freezer paper.
Place muslin on press mat, crayon side up, then place sheet of plain white paper towel on top of crayon drawing.
*Make sure you remove freezer paper before pressing paper towel.
Press paper towel with hot dry iron to heat-set crayon. Let cool. Remove paper towel.
**With direct supervision (and your own good judgment regarding using a hot iron) show each child where to hold the handle of the iron. Place the other hand behind one’s back to keep it safe.
Step 5: Finish Block for Quilting
Pre-cut 4 border strips to width of your choice. I cut 2 ½” wide strips. Stitch one strip on each side of heat-set block.
Stitch bordersto each side if desired.
*Consider letting youngsters stitch borders as a great beginning sewing machine project with your direct supervision.
Carefully press seams, keeping hot iron away from crayon.
Proudly show and share your sample!
**This crayon block will probably not withstand washing, so treat as you would a fabric wall hanging or treasured pillow.
Show children a sample of your own crayon block prior to starting. Discuss, ask, and answer questions. Model the steps and procedure when you prepared your sample.
Don’t forget to add a name and date for future reference to front of block.
Encourage children to show and share with others.
Read a book together if you are working with children to help give ideas for crayon drawings. Predict what will happen next, discuss illustrations, characters, events, problems and solutions, ideas for children’s crayon blocks. Side note: As an educator of little ones, I cannot stress the importance of early literacy enough! Share the joy of books by reading daily to your newborn baby and other youngsters, modeling your own enjoyment of reading, visiting the library together, and even getting your child their very own library card to experience the delight of checking out books on their own. You will not regret it!
Enjoy! Individual blocks can framed, placed on refrigerator, sent to a special person, turned into a quilted block with others, made into a pillow, wall hanging, etc.
To applique is to apply a piece of fabric on top of another piece of fabric background or on top of a pieced background. This can be done by hand and/or machine, using a variety of methods and techniques. An applique (n.) is the fabric stitched on top of a background, either by hand stitching or using a sewing machine.
What I love about applique:
I love applique for so many reasons! My passion for it is in both the process and the product. I find it awesome, while some find it awful to do. At one time, I belonged to a group of like-minded hand applique stitchers. We could multi-task: sit and stitch and enjoy each other’s company at the same time. I hope to sway some readers to try applique, so this subject probably will probably require more blog posts.
The Economics of applique:
There is actually a little economics history related to applique. Years ago, those who made quilts for function only were probably the first scrap quilt makers. If you had to raise the cotton or sheep, harvest the product, spin the fiber, weave the cloth, make the garment, all while struggling to put food on the table and survive, the most efficient and economical way to make quilts for your family was to join scraps of fabric side by side of whatever was left over from worn out clothing. Over time, when funds were more available, and a quiltmaker desired to make a quilt pretty, she could arrange bits and pieces of fabric together to perhaps design flowers for embellishment and applique them on top of the scrappy pieces. Quiltmakers with even more money and time on their hands added hand applique to their quilt tops. Think crazy quilts, broderie perse.
My journey with applique:
As I enjoy the process – the doing of something (except for dusting and vacuuming), hand applique is a joy for me to do! There are so many ways to hand applique, and my favorite way is needle turn. I remember the moment I saw someone demonstrating it at a local quilt show years ago. She looked so relaxed, so confident, and her work was beautiful. I picked her brain and observed for a while, then decided to try my hand at needle turn applique at home.
In the beginning, I was somewhat self-taught, ironing a freezer paper template on the right side of my applique fabric, tracing around the cut edge with a pencil, then cutting the fabric with a scant 1/4” seam allowance. I left the freezer paper in place as I hand stitched, using thread color that matched the background and tried to conceal my stitches. I quickly learned that matching the color of the thread to the color of the applique fabric was much better. While working and playing in a quilt shop at the time, I offered to teach a hand applique class. When a student asked what kind of needle I used, I promptly replied: “Whatever I can see to thread.” Let’s fast forward from that time, since I have learned so much more about tools and techniques, often times by trial and several errors.
There are a few things that make my needle turn applique look so much better, and much more relaxing and enjoyable to do:
Choice of Needle
Needle Grip-Its from Colonial Needle Co.
The invisible stitch
A lighted magnifier
A pillow on my lap
Cookies and coffee…
Let’s break those down:
Presencia 60 weight thread is my thread of choice for needle turn applique. It is made from the finest quality long staple Egyptian cotton, is 3-ply for strength, and virtually lint free. The bigger the number, the finer the thread, which helps make my stitches virtually invisible. I want my hand stitching to last, so 3-ply (three strands of fiber wrapped together) makes this very fine thread so strong. Whenever possible, I unwind a strand of thread and lay it across my applique fabric to check for the best color. Sometimes I audition several colors. My first glance is my best clue to the color that will become one with my applique.
2. Choosing your needle
John James’ Signature Collection Needles are my needles of choice. They are made of the very finest precision engineered steel, making them so strong. With their proprietary finish, these needles glide easily through fabric rather than prodding it out of place. They are available in 4 different kinds: Embroidery – sizes 7, 8, 9; Milliners – sizes 9, 10, 11; Quilting – sizes 7, 8, 9, 10, 11; and Sharps – sizes 7, 8, 9, 10. As with thread sizes, the bigger the number, the finer the hand sewing needle. Machine sewing needles are the opposite.
My needle of choice with my knobby fingers, is a Milliners size 10. It is longer and allows me to sweep the seam allowance under as I go, concealing the drawn line of my applique. I now remove the freezer paper prior to stitching.
*TIP: in tight places like an acute “innie” point, I have a Quilting needle size 7 already threaded. I park my Milliners needle in the background, and make tiny stab stitches with my threaded Quilting needle to invisibly secure those tricky little “innie” points.
You may prefer to begin with a different John James Signature Collection needle or one of the many others offered by Colonial Needle Company. Just as some shoes are comfier than others, see what is the best fit for you and your hands.
3. Needle Grip-Its
Prior to stitching, I secure two little adhesive clear circles of Needle Grip-Its to my needle-holding hand on my forefinger and thumb where I will be gripping the needle. Faithfully using these little magic circles, I have no pain in my hands, and can stitch to my heart’s delight! These tiny adhesive circles stay securely in place during the repetitive motion of gripping and pulling a needle.
4. Roxanne Thimbles
I was happily gifted with a Roxanne Thimble several years ago, and it is the gift that keeps on giving, helping me to painlessly push the needle through fabric, regardless of what kind of hand stitching I am doing. The sideways motion of using Roxanne’s Thimble is better for one’s hands. Getting a correct fit is also important, and quilt shops who carry them are so helpful. Colonial Needle also has a handy info sheet on their website which can be found here.
*TIP: add a Roxanne's Thimble to your gift list, as well as matching Roxanne's Thimble earrings! They are so cute and readily identify you as a hand stitcher.
5. Lighted Magnifier
The lighted magnifier allows me to place light right over my work and more easily see where I am stitching, especially the tip of my needle as I insert it into the background fabric then upward through the underside of the fold.
6. Lap Pillow
The pillow on my lap helps bring my work to a more comfortable position so I can rest my arms and be at ease.
7. And last but not least…
The cookies and coffee, inspire me to take breaks to get up and stretch, walk into the kitchen, and let my little dogs out for a break for them, too.
Each of these tools will help your hand applique stitch become nearly invisible, strong, and secure. I think of the fold of the seam allowance of an applique as a cliff, and I am standing on the edge of the cliff. I bring my needle up from the inside of the applique to the back side of the fold, then “jump off the cliff” straight down with my needle into the background. Then travel with the point of my needle under the background a very few threads and come up with the needle just under the fold, the edge of the cliff. If you jump off the cliff/fold to the left or the right with your needle, your thread will show.
*TIP: Instead of scrunching the excess background fabric in my left hand while stitching with my right hand, I roll the excess fabric so that it fits neatly into the palm of my left hand. This keeps my fabric smoother, reduces stress on my hand, and helps prevent me from stitching my background to the wrong places as in my pillow or my clothing. I have learned a lot from my many mistakes.
Oh, the joy of needle turn applique! I feel like an artist, a sculptor, and I can “make the applique my own” by changing a shape as I go. Hand applique helps slow me down, listen to music or a recorded book, watch TV, talk with friends, or just sit quietly, breathe, and put a little love into every stitch. I can take a project with me on a walk along the river, sit down on a bench and stitch whenever and wherever I choose. I enjoy sitting outside in the cool mornings with my little girls, being serenaded by the birds’ songs and stitching by hand.
There are several ways to applique, and I look forward to sharing them with you as well. There is beauty in hand work, a human quality that is beneficial for the hand stitcher as well as for the person who admires or receives the work of one’s hands and heart. Be kind to yourself and savor every stitch. Just as my dad had a box full of hand tools that helped him with his work and play, there are tools that are helpful to those who enjoy hand applique and think of it as Awesome. There is joy and grace in simple things.
There are so many ways to applique, both by hand and by machine. For many stitchers, the word “applique” is not pleasant. I avoided it when I first began making quilt tops, even though I do love to work with my hands. And…I am somewhat less annoying when I am hand stitching. I well remember the first time I saw a young woman doing needle turn applique at a quilt show several years ago. I was amazed at how easily she shaped the heart applique and made nearly invisible stitches. The appliqued heart appeared to float on the background fabric. I knew that was something I wanted to learn to do. Now, however, there are several things that I especially enjoy about needle turn applique.
Thing 1: For needle turn applique, I spend very little time on preparation for stitching, as opposed to prepared applique techniques. I can more leisurely spend time stitching, and less time turning the seam allowance and securing it with glue, starch and a hot iron or basting thread, etc. Not to be negative about prepared applique, however, there certainly are advantages, about which I will write in blogs to come.
Thing 2: I love using these Milliners Needles from John James in a size 10 for hand applique. The Signature Collection needles are manufactured of the finest steel, polished so they smoothly glide through fabric. The points of these needles are so sharp that they pierce rather than push the fabric, which is so helpful for accuracy, and allows me to continue stitching for a longer period of time. The longer length of Milliners needles allows me to smoothly sweep under the seam allowance. To be more specific, I sweep the seam allowance under the extended thumbnail of my fabric-holding left hand. That thumbnail is a great tool, and I suggest it on my workshop supply lists. A claw-length thumbnail is not necessary, but long enough to secure the seam allowance in place as you use your Milliners needle and 60 weight thread.
Thing 3: There are several things about thread that also help to make your hand applique stitches nearly, if not completely, invisible. Remember: The bigger the number, the finer the thread, and hand sewing needles. Just like us: the more candles on our birthday cakes, the finer we are!! (Machine sewing needles are just the opposite.) My thread of choice for hand applique is Presencia Finca 50-weight or 60-weight, preferably 60-weight if I can get a good color match with the applique fabric. Another memory: when I began hand applique, I used a thread color that matched the background, and no matter how hard I tried, my stitches showed. Then my internal light bulb came on and I tried a thread color to match the applique fabric. BINGO! What a winner of an idea!!
Now here’s another tip about thread color: unwind a length of thread, about 10 inches from the spool and puddle it on the applique fabric, rather than just laying the spool of thread on top of the applique, like we learned in high school Home Economics when making garments. If your applique fabric is multi-colored, make sure that the puddle of thread touches all of the colors. When in doubt, audition/puddle another color of thread, step back, look away, then look again. Make your choice.
One more thing! If your applique fabric has many strong colors, try auditioning Presencia 60-weight thread, color #352. It is a great gray neutral, and just might work well. It is also my thread color of choice for more most of my machine piecing, and 60-weight thread is so fine that it helps with machine piecing accuracy.
Thing 4: The needle threading and weight are the next important things that help your applique appear to float on top of the background. I thread my Milliners Needle from the spool of Presencia 60-weight thread and leave about a 4” thread tail at the eye end of the needle. Pinching the thread at the eye of the needle, I unwind the spool to about the middle of my upper arm (former muscle) and cut the thread straight across with sharp scissors. This end is where I make a tiny quilter’s knot that becomes buried beneath the background or between the background and applique. The eye of these Signature Collection needles is so smooth that your thread will not shred. And, Presencia thread is 100% long staple Egyptian cotton, which is smooth and so strong because it is 3-ply, another huge advantage of using these needles and threads. Especially important as you are also using your time, energy and creative efforts to make something beautiful and lasting.
One more thing before your stitch: adhere an adhesive Needle Grip-It circle to your forefinger and one to the thumb of your needle stitchin’ and pullin’ hand. This is so helpful in relieving stress from the repetitive motion of hand sewing, allowing you to sit and stitch with ease. You won’t even notice the Grip-Its are there!
Thing 5: Now for the nearly invisible stitch. Prepare to stitch by making a “puppet” of your background by folding the outer edge, opposite of where you will be stitching, then gently roll the fold until your thumbnail is on top of the seam allowance of the applique. The neat roll of fabric will be nestled in the palm of your hand rather than all scrunched up. This helps prevent unnecessary wrinkles in your fabrics and helps to make your stitches more precise. It also helps relieve stress on your hand. If possible, begin where there is a straight or nearly straight side on your applique, and with your needle, sweep the seam allowance under your less dominant hand thumbnail, making sure that the marking of the seam allowance is just folded under. About 1/4” away from the folded edge of the applique, beneath the background fabric, or between applique fabric and background, come up just on the tiny edge of the fold of the applique, actually more to the back of the fold if possible, and pierce a couple threads of the applique fold with your needle. Slowly, to avoid knotting your thread, pull the thread through the edge of the folded seam allowance, keeping your thumbnail on top of the fold. Give a little tug on the thread near the end, then insert your needle into the background just beneath the fold where your thread came through the applique. Note: if you insert your needle to the left or the right or away from the fold, it WILL show, I promise.
Thing 6: Now, begin the next stitch by gently moving your thumbnail slightly away from the first stitch, and sweep the seam allowance under your thumbnail with the side of your needle. This is where the length of a Milliners Needle is so helpful. Depending on the weave of your fabric, you may need to use the point of the needle to position the seam allowance so that the mark of the seamline does not show. Then, sliding your needle about 1/16” or less beneath the background, come up on the back edge of the folded seam allowance, pierce the back edge of the fold, catching a couple of threads of the applique and slowly pull the thread upward. Tip: if your thread color so closely matches the applique, to find where to piece the background, gently pull the thread away from the applique, extending over the background, making a right angle with the thread to the edge of the fold. Now, tuck the point of your needle just under the fold, slide beneath and come up slightly away from your last stitch. Be patient with yourself if you are a beginning beginner or even an advanced beginner. This is the work of your hands, not computer-generated, which in my opinion, is of great value. Learning, doing, and practicing are so valuable.
Thing 7: Keep going, but take some breaks. I also highly recommend using a lighted magnifier directly over your work and your hands as you stitch. Using a lighted magnifier right over my sewing hands allows me to continue what I love to do, sculpting fabric and making pretty things. My eyes are rested, my hands are not sore, and I am relaxed with the process of hand applique, especially if I rest my work and my hands on a pillow on my lap as I stitch. A pillow for your lap is also on my workshop supply lists. It can be used for a nap as needed…
I have read that we can learn from our mistakes, therefore I have certainly learned a lot. Be kind to yourself, and others. Take someone under your wings and share what you have learned and what works well for you. Thank you for taking your time to read and try these tips, tricks, and techniques. I hope they are helpful.