Material Possibilities

When I was a kid, one of my favorite activities was coloring.  I had a kazillon coloring books, sheets and sheets of blank paper, and probably a half-a-dozen of those 84-count boxes of crayons.  I was a sickly kid – I had asthma and severe allergies.  As a result, I spent a lot of time indoors.  Coloring, reading, Barbies – all of those toys were right up my alley.  I imagine if I had been old enough to hold a needle, I would have started my quilting career then.

I’m not off topic, I promise.  You’ll see in a minute.

When I started quilting, I loved to piece.  And then Ellen introduced me to applique and my true love affair began.  I love to applique – machine applique, hand applique, raw-edge, prepped edge – I love it all.  It’s like coloring with fabric (see I told you I would tie it back in with my childhood). 

I’ve talked about different methods of applique in other blogs, so I’m not going to re-visit techniques here.  If you want to read more about that, Google my blogs on applique and there should be several there to satisfy your curiosity.  If you’re new to applique, message me and I will give you several helpful hints as well as a brief run-down of books and YouTube videos you may want in your life. 

In this blog, I want to discuss applique fabric.  Some of the same standards apply for applique fabric that apply for piecing fabric – make sure it’s good quality, decide if you should pre-wash it, etc.  However, that’s where the similarities stop.  Allow me to blow another quilting gasket in your mind – applique fabric does NOT have to be 100 percent cotton in all circumstances.  Now if you’re working with prepped edge, machine applique, I do advise that you use 100 percent cotton fabric.  The reason for this is that the cotton material will hold the crease and stay turned under as well as handle the abuse of the machine needle.  But for all types of hand applique and raw-edge machine applique, work with the fabric that gives the illusion desired. 

Allow me to illustrate.  Remember this sweet, little Sunbonnet Sue block? 

I made this as part of my April mini-quilt challenge in 2018.  I needed to give the illusion of sky and mud puddles.

And this one – My 2018 Christmas quilt.  I needed to convey the feeling of a night sky. 

One of the wonderful things about fabric manufacturers is that they do seem to pretty much think of everything.  There are landscape fabrics available that mimic bricks, trees, skies, water – nearly everything any artist could think of that they need for a landscape quilt. 

Landscape Quilting Fabric

These fabrics are available in yardage and in fat quarters.  Nancy’s Notions is usually my go-to resource for these, as that company has a large selection of landscape fabric.  Word of warning here – if you Google landscape fabrics, you’re going to get tons of resources for tarps such used in actual landscape businesses.

But now let’s think outside the quilting box.  We are so geared as quilters to immediately use 100 percent cotton as our go-to fabric that we tend to forget that there are other types of fabric out there that, while those fabrics are not suited for piecing, can be used in applique.  Sometimes it’s these fabrics that will give us the desired effect much better than standard quilting fabric.

Take a look at this fabric: 

Blue, sparkly, see-through fabric

It’s shiny and slippery and see-through.  This is definitely not a fabric you could piece with – it would be more at home as a garment fabric.  But you know what I would use it for on a quilt?  Icicles.  Wouldn’t that make great icicles?  It definitely gives the illusion of frozen water, and it’s see-through, just like ice. 

And then there are these:

Wooly Fabric
Furry Fabric

If you’re appliqueing furry, fuzzy animals, you may want to lean to the actual tactile fabrics.  Wooly fabric for sheep.  Furry material for cows or dogs.  It would definitely add a little something extra to your applique.

When you chose to use these non-quilting fabrics in applique, there are a couple of considerations you have to bear in mind.  First, who is the quilt for?  If it’s for a small child (and especially if it’s destined to be a play quilt), you may want to opt for the all-cotton fabric.  The quilt will be washed, and specialty fabrics may not hold up well in the washing machine.  If the quilt is for a baby, chances are the baby will end up putting some part of the quilt in his or her mouth.  You don’t want Mom and Dad worrying about the little one getting a mouth full of fuzzy stuff or stray strings from shedding fabric.  Stick with the 100% cotton fabrics or flannel for a baby.

The second consideration is fabric treatment.  Will the fabric need to be stabilized?  Will the edges need to be treated with Fray-Check?  The fabric that I used for icicles had to be stabilized.  Since I used the material in a raw-edge applique quilt, the bonding agent worked as the stabilizer and still allowed for it to remain transparent.  It performed wonderfully under the wear and tear of a machine needle, too. 

So, the next time you’re planning an applique quilt, look that pattern over and see if there is any place you could use an unusual fabric to add a little spice to the quilt.  It really does make a difference.

Now let’s go back and consider traditional, 100 percent cotton quilting fabric.  I want to explore a couple of ideas in this area.  First, how to treat your scraps and second, how to dissect a piece of fabric. 

If you’re an avid applique quilter, large-ish scraps are rarely thrown away.  Large or small applique projects can use those up on a regular basis.  I do have a personal rule that I do not keep scraps smaller than 10 x 10 inches.  There was a point in my quilting life where I kept every scrap and it wasn’t long before I was overrun with them.  I had so many scraps I didn’t know what I had.  So, I sorted through them and gave anything smaller than a 10” x 10” piece to an organization that used small pieces of fabric to make pet beds for the local Humane Society (the scraps were used to stuff the dog and cat bed forms).  I grouped the remaining scraps into color groups and each group was put into its own bin (thank you Dollar Tree). 

A few of my scrap bins. I have a dozen of these under one of my work tables. The bins stack on top of each other and are easily pulled out and searched when I’m working on an applique piece. If a bin is too full to stack, I sort through it and recycle some of the scraps with my friends that make the pet beds. By keeping the bins relatively small, I am never overwhelmed with my scrap stash.

I realize not everyone has room for this in their sewing area.  If you don’t, you may opt to keep only the really “interesting” pieces of fabric.  However, if you can organize your scrap stash, it becomes a really good resource for applique.  There will always be lots of choices for flower petals and centers, plenty of greens for stems and leaves, etc.  When my bins become too full, I resort again, and make another donation to the group that makes pet beds.  The important idea here is not to have so many scraps that you’re overrun with them. 

Now let’s talk about fabric dissection.  Fabric dissection can fall into two categories:  Fabrics that are destined to be fussy cut and those fabrics that need a second (or third) look.

A fussy cut quilt. The large flowers were selectively cut for the center of the blocks. This is really effective and ties the colors of this quilt together very nicely.

We’ll look at fussy cutting first.  Fussy cutting is defined as piece of fabric that’s been cut to target a specific area of a print rather than cutting the yardage into random pieces.  Usually when we think about fussy cutting, we’re talking about piecing rather than applique.  If you’re constructing a quilt block and there’s a large piece in the block, such as a square, this is a wonderful place to showcase part of your fabric.  And if your focus fabric has a large print, you can specifically cut a part of this fabric and center it in that block in your square, such as shown above.

Fussy cutting can really help tie your color scheme together, as well as show off that focus fabric.  It takes a little planning and a little extra yardage, but it’s well worth it.

This technique can also be used in applique.  Remember Spring Bertie? 

Spring Bertie

Now let’s take a closer look at the bottom block, far right.

I fussy cut the polka-dot fabric so that the black dots would look like flower centers and appliqued those on.  This is a little thing, but it really adds some charm and depth to a quilt.  As you’re constructing an applique block, take a close look and see if there is anything you can fussy cut to add a little more pizzazz to that block.  For instance, if you’re making leaves, is there a green fabric that would give the appearance of veins in the leaves?  Do you a fabric with different shades of green in it you could use?  Little things like this adds depth to your applique and makes it more realistic.  Each plant has lots of greens in its stems and leaves.  Don’t stick to just one shade of green.  Your work will look flat if you do.  The same thing goes for flowers.

Some of the shades of green from my scrap bin. If you’re making stems and leaves, you need a variety of greens to make them more realistic. You’ll notice that not all stems and leaves in nature are the same color, and they shouldn’t be all one color in an applique piece, either. A variety of greens will prevent your work from looking “flat.”


Next week we’re will continue to dissect some fabric. Just remember, there’s more to a cut of material than meets the eye. You need to use your imagination.

Until next week, Quilt with Passion!

Love and Stitches,

Sherri and Sam

Categories: Uncategorized

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