Applique Vs. Piecing

I am fortunate to have quilting friends from all over the world.  Some of us are internet buddies and some of these folks I have been blessed enough to meet face-to-face.  One of these friends is a lady named Eileen who lives in New York.  When I was President of the Applique Society, Eileen was my Vice-President, right-hand help, and partner in crime.  She reads my blogs and after one recent publication posed this question to me:  How does applique affect you differently than piecing?

I’ve pondered this ever since she asked me that.  To be sure, both of those techniques can intertwine.  An applique quilt can have a pieced background, or a pieced quilt can have applique interspersed in the blocks or have an applique border.  They’re not necessarily independent of each other.  However, as far as my quilt journey goes, given the choice of piecing or appliqueing, I will usually pick applique over any other technique.  I know why – I love to applique.  Something about that quilt method grabbed my attention from the time I took that first stitch.  I’ve tried most of the applique techniques out there and love all of them.  However, after mulling Eileen’s question over in my mind for about a month now, I have realized something:

Piecing does affect me differently than applique.

Now before all you avid piecers get riled up, let me plainly state that I love piecing blocks, too although not nearly as much as I love appliqueing blocks.  The two quilting applications are more different than alike and it’s important to come to grips with those differences as you plan quilts.  Let’s talk about strictly pieced quilts first. 

While with both techniques, it’s really all about the fabric, in piecing, the fabric is truly front and center.  Fabric choices have to be made with the idea of greatest visual impact in mind.  It’s the fabric that will primarily “Carry the Show” in a pieced quilt, even more so than the piecing.  Did I just blow another quilting gasket in your brain?  That’s right.  In a pieced quilt, the fabric choices will carry the greatest visual impact.  Now I am not in any way, shape, or form condoning deliberately sloppy piecing.  Piecing should be done as accurately as possible.  However, when you step back about 10 feet from a pieced quilt, the average person’s eyes don’t pick up piecing mistakes (unless the quilt is being judged…the judges will pick up piecing goofs).  In the space of about 10 feet from the quilt, the fabric choices are what stand out.  It’s the colors, hues, and shades that make the biggest impact.  This is why I preach make sure your darks are true darks, your mediums are true mediums, and your lights are true lights.  If your darks aren’t real darks but mediums, the visual impact goes down and your quilt looks “muddy.” 

The quilting itself is also really important in a pieced quilt.  It’s also a priority in an applique quilt, but in my opinion, making quilting decisions about an applique quilt is easier – and I’ll have more about that later.  Overall, quilting in and of itself is more than just stitches to hold the three layers together.  It should enhance the quilt as much as possible, whether it’s an all-over, edge-to-edge design or custom quilting.  With a pieced quilt, there are three design concepts driving the visual impact:  Piecing, fabric/color choice, and quilting.  Two of these have starring roles – the quilting and the fabric/color choice.  Piecing co-stars.  I realize that I may get some push back on this comment, but in my opinion, it’s true.  Again, unless the quilt is being judged, apply the 10-foot rule listed above.  The piecing is important and should be as accurate as possible, but the visual impact is driven by the colors and  enhanced by the quilting.  That’s why the quilting motif should match the theme of the quilt.  For instance, if you’re using the Maple Leaf block, then don’t quilt flowers across the quilt, if you use an all-over design.  A leaf motif would be a better choice. 

However, if edge-to-edge quilting is not your thing, then the sky is really your limit when you quilt the quilt.  Each block can have a custom look.  It’s at this point – more so than an all-over quilt design – that the quilting begins to have as much visual impact as the fabric/color choices, even from 10-feet away from the quilt. 

With an applique quilt, the applique is the star of the show, period.  Every other decision made about the quilt should enhance the applique and not compete with it – from the choice of background fabric to the quilting.  This puts pressure on the quilter to make sure the fabric decisions are the best they can be, and the applique method used emphasizes the applique and doesn’t compete with it.  So, the type of applique technique I use on a quilt may not necessarily be my favorite, but it may be the best for the quilt.  The thread used is equally important.  I’ve written several blogs about different types of applique and thread, so if you’re curious, Google those.  I won’t rehash everything here. 

The way I quilt my applique quilts is really pretty simple.  (Please note at this time, I do not in anyway consider myself a true long arm artist.  Even now if I have a quilt that is show-bound, I have someone else quilt it.)  My procedure usually goes something like this:  I quilt around the applique pieces and then echo stitch   around those one or two times.  I do a dense background stitch to make the applique seem to “pop” off the quilt top.  If the borders are appliqued, I do the same thing with them.  If the borders are plain strips of fabric or pieced, I’ll do as much custom work as I’m comfortable with.  I also tend to use as fine of a thread as Loretta the Long Arm will tolerate with my applique quilt.  Nothing should compete with the applique, not even the quilting thread. 

With these thoughts in mind, I have realized something: Piecing a quilt stresses me more than appliqueing a quilt. I know this is a personal thing. Applique may drive you up a wall, and that’s fine. The reason there is so many quilting techniques is that there are so many different kinds of quilters. For me, there are way too many decisions that I have to get as close to perfect as possible with piecing. And while I really do enjoy piecing, I feel as if I always have to think three steps ahead in the process – even with paper piecing (which is much more precise than regular piecing). With applique, once my pieces are prepped, all I have to do is enjoy the process. So, when I say applique relaxes me, this is the reason. I don’t have to think. I just have to enjoy it – whether it’s machine or hand applique.

I know this is a really personal blog, and while yes, I’m out to get applique converts, Eileen’s question really got me to thinking hard about why I like applique so much.  I love the fact that it’s like “painting with fabric” but even more than that, it relaxes me, relieves stress, and let’s my brain take a break from everything else whirling around me.  And that’s what quilting should do for every quilter.  Whatever technique you enjoy, it should serve as an island of sanity in an insane world – whether it’s piecing or applique or a combination of both.  And lately the quilting process itself has become one of my chief joys.  Adding that extra texture with a touch of whimsy brings me a great deal of happiness. 

So … go forth and find your joy in quilting. 

Until next week, Quilt with Passion!

Love and Stitches,

Sherri and Sam

2 replies on “Applique Vs. Piecing”

Imagine my surprise! I was reading your first paragraph above and there I was 🙂 Thank you for deep diving your feelings about piecing versus applique.

One sentence had me saying YES-“With these thoughts in mind, I have realized something: Piecing a quilt stresses me more than appliqueing a quilt.” I don’t do machine applique, so I don’t know if that would be as stressful to me, but I can tell you that I get very stressed and turn into a different person if I’m sitting at a sewing machine with piecing in front of me.

Thanks for making me smile today!

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