I’ve decided to try hand applique, as I mentioned earlier, in an effort to limit my “machine time.”
I will say this: Holding needle and thread feels very… organic. It connects the sewist to a time-honored tradition of hand-work. I like the idea of practicing an art that goes way, way back in time. Many generations of women perfecting their stitching… by candle light, no less!
I’m a hand applique neophyte but I’ll show you what I’m learning. I am trying to make blocks that look like this:
OK, it’s not perfect, but this is just block 1. The goal is to create a whole bunch of these to make an “orange peel quilt.” I got the pattern from a beautiful book, Remembering Adelia, by Kathleen Tracy. It includes excerpts from the diary of a young Illinois woman during the Civil War, and quilts inspired by her life and the period. The orange peel quilt is on the book’s cover and here’s a photo of it:
Each “peel” or leaf is hand appliqued to a background. It is a scrap quilt, meaning that it uses a wide range of fabrics for both the applique and the background pieces. (I’m using mostly Civil War era reproduction fabric in my quilt, to give it “authentic” look.)
I’m trying out two methods for doing these hand appliques: “needle turn” applique, and “freezer paper inside” applique.
Needle turn’s concept is straightforward: you pin or baste the applique fabric onto the background and simply use the needle to turn the edges under a specific amount as you sew around the entire piece. BUT: getting curves to look curvey, and not uneven, is really, really hard. Woven fabric simply doesn’t bend easily when you’re manipulating little pieces!
So I’m now a fan of freezer paper on the inside. Here’s how it works: You trace your shape onto freezer paper, then iron the shiny side of it to the back side (wrong side) of your applique fabric and cut around, leaving a 1/4 inch allowance around all edges. Then use white thread to baste around all the edges of the piece, covering up the paper entirely with the applique fabric. At that point, you can pin or baste it to the background, sew around the edges using a blind hem stitch, and leave about an inch edge open to pull out the freezer paper after cutting all your basting stitches. Voila, a miracle of even, easy curves. Here’s a basted leaf – can you see the white thread going around but not too close to the edges?
Here’s how it looks when you put your basted image against the background fabric:
And here’s how the back of the stitching looks when you’re done:
Ideally, on the front side, no stitches actually show up because they are so tiny and hidden. More technique tips in my next post!