Success in the Set Up

One of the concepts I wanted to discuss during this Year of Quilting with Excellence was the set up of any project.  For a lot of quilters – myself included – it’s easy to get excited about a new project.  Either you’ve shopped your stash and found a great new quilt there (and you didn’t have to spend an additional dime – one of my personal favorite feelings in the world), or you have gone shopping and found wonderful fabric and a great pattern – either way, you’re excited and your ready to get started.  Everything goes on the cutting table and you’re ready to roll with it.

Slow down…

Remember way back when you took driver’s education?  Remember that list of things your instructor drilled into you before you pulled out of the drive way:  check the mirrors, check the fuel gauge…etc.  It was like your own personal flight check list before you could throw that car into reverse and ease on down the road.  Well, quilting, at least quilting successfully, has a check list.  And I find it’s a lot easier and makes things go much more smoothly if I do a little prep work before I whip out the rotary cutter or push the pedal to the metal on Big Red.

The first action any quilter should make – beginner or experienced or anywhere in between – is to read through the directions.  Or if you’re using your own design, think through the project.  It is the most helpful advice I can give any of you.  This will help you maybe not completely avoid troublesome spots, but it can make you aware of where some problems may arise and prepare for them.  To illustrate this, we’re going to take a look at my May mini-quilt.

Since my April quilt was themed April Showers, I wanted May to emphasize the flowers in the back half of the quote “April Showers Bring May Flowers.”  Matthew’s challenge for May was to use a technique that we haven’t used before.  I decided to go modern quilt.  I knew I wanted to piece my background with blue batiks, with no two alike and that I would applique my flowers on this pieced background.

Step one was that I would have to consider what I wanted the background to look like.  I had lots of blue batik scraps, so the fabric wasn’t the issue.  I had to take into consideration one primary concept at this point:  I didn’t want a great deal of bulk in my background.  If there were a lot of seams involved, machine appliqueing my flowers would be very difficult, may break a few needles, and the machine stitching would not lie flat and pretty.  With this in mind, I chose a 15-inch block that was all rectangles and squares with no matching seams and corners.  This would allow me to press the seams open – something I don’t normally do when I piece blocks, but since I need to reduce as much bulk as possible to make the machine applique look good, pressing open the seams would be a good idea.

I chose the block Chinese Coins.

Chinese Coins

As you can see, there are no matching intersections.  Originally, this bock was a 6-inch square (finished) block.  I asked EQ8 to enlarge it a 15-inch square block so that my applique would have plenty of room, plus there was still room for some “shrinkage” as I quilted it.  I cut the pieces according to the size EQ indicated and begin to lay it out on my tabletop design board.


I sewed the pieced strips together, pressed those seams open


and then sewed the solid strips onto them.


At this point all the seams were pressed open on the back


and then I gave it a good press on the front.  That good press on front was really important, because seams that are pressed open then to crease on the front, making the block a bit smaller than needed.  A good press on the front eliminates that possibility.


Next, I squared it up, as squaring up with every step makes for a flat quilt when it’s quilted.  Don’t believe it?  Remember the Firenze Quilt I made for Quilt Club?  I finally got it on the longarm this weekend.  Because it was squared up at each step, that baby went on Loretta without a whimper and I’m having a grand time long arming it.


Now comes the fun part, the applique.  At least that’s the most fun for me because I love applique of all kinds.  My applique would need a modern “vibe” to it.  After much searching, I decided on this design.


It’s flowers and definitely has a modern touch.

With that strong blue, batik background, my flowers need to be constructed of equally strong-hued fabric in order to make a stand on their own and not be overshadowed by the background.  I also want the flowers to look two dimensional, which means I need at least two, preferably three, of the same color family for each flower head.  If all the petals were the same color, the applique would look too flat.  The obvious choice for me was to pick other batiks from my stash.


So now let’s pause long enough to talk about what kind of fabric should be considered for machine applique – that’s part of the process of planning a project.  Unlike hand applique, the fabric chosen for machine applique does not need a “soft hand.”  It’s going to have to put up with a great deal of abuse, from fusing to sewing.  It needs to have a firm weave.  In this case, batiks are a wonderful choice.  I rarely use batiks in hand applique because they are difficult to work a hand sewing needle through – the weave is tight and often the dying and finishing process makes them too stiff for that artwork.  But for machine applique?  They are awesome.  In addition to being able to handle the wear and tear of this process, they are also brightly dyed, so my choices can stand up to that blue background.

I picked this fabric for the flower centers.  While not a batik, it does “read” as a batik and will work well.



Next, we need to take a good look at the pattern.  An applique pattern should be plotted out like a cross-country road trip.  I like to print two copies of the pattern out that are the exact size of my block.  One copy I prefer to be in color – whether that color is computer generated or one that I color in myself.  This allows me to get a good over-all visual of how my quilt is going to look.  Generally, I already have an idea of what color palette I’m using, but the colored rendition allows me to get a better idea of how the lights and dark fabric should be placed to give the block some depth.

The second copy of the pattern I make is a numbered one.



Each individual applique piece is given a number on this pattern.  When I trace each of the pieces onto the fusible, I also write the corresponding number on each one, so I know exactly where they go.  In this case, EQ has done the numbering for me, so I simply wrote the numbers in on the black and white copy of the pattern. that is the actual size of the block.




Next week, we will begin the process of fusing, cutting and bagging.  And then more cutting.  And more fusing.


Until next week, Quilt with Excellence!


Love and Stitches,

Sherri, Sam, and Lou



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