Last week I promised I would give some additional detail on the applique supplies I use. These are my personal preferences. One of the best pieces of advice I can give you is to try different applique tools out for yourself. Don’t plunk down a huge chunk of money for any one product. Purchase small amounts and decide what works best for you. Then invest in what you love.
Batting – If I plan to crosshatch my applique background, I do this before I begin to applique. I mark the crosshatch grid lines on the background fabric and cut a thin batting piece at least one inch larger than my background fabric. I use a bit of spray adhesive to attach the batting and then sew across the crosshatch lines on my regular sewing machine. It just makes the quilting process easier. If you want a more detail on this particular technique, see my blog Making it Mine published back in October.
Water-soluble Glue Stick – There are literally hundreds of these on the market. You can find them anywhere from a dollar store, office supply store, and the grocery store – not to mention the glue pens from quilting stores. It is important that the glue stick be water soluble, so you don’t get a gummy, crumpled mess when the quilt is washed. Even if the quilt is destined to be a wall hanging, water-soluble glue is easier to needle. If you’re not sure if a glue stick will dissolve in water, look for the term school glue. That about guarantees it’s not a permanent fix. My favorite glue stick is this:
It’s a glue pen, which I feel gives me a little more control with small applique pieces. This brand is from Apliquick and can be found on The Quilt Show’s website, Kathy McNeil’s website, and Amazon. This glue tends to stay tackier a bit longer than other glues, so you generally don’t have to add more glue if you need to re-position the fabric.
Applique Foundation Paper – Your choice in this medium is as personal as your favorite color. I know fellow appliquers that prefer only the type sold by Apliquick. I know other quilters that simply use the heavy-duty, iron-on interfacing used in garment construction. Some folks like Alex Anderson’s. I have tried them all, but my favorite is sold by Sharon Schamber. You can find it here: http://www.sharonschamber.com. It’s a little thicker than the other foundation papers, so I can “feel” it better beneath my Apliquick tools. It turns to fiber when wet, so there is no stiffness to the applique pieces at all. It leaves a super-soft hand. My advice to you is order as small amount of each as you can and try them all. What is my favorite may not necessarily work best for you.
Thread – I could spend literally days talking about thread. Thread has come such a long way in the last 15 years. If someone would have told me back in 1986 (the year I started quilting) that I would plunk major money down for thread, I would has laughed at them. Coats and Clark was the name of the game and they were about the only game in town – with occasional glimpses of Mettler on the horizon.
Concerning hand applique, you will want to decide whether to use silk thread, cotton thread, or a machine embroidery thread. Each has its benefits and its drawbacks. Again, this is a personal decision. Silk thread is ultra-fine, and a few basic colors will cover all your applique needs. It tends to snuggle right down into the fold of the fold of the fabric and makes your stitch nearly invisible. The drawback to silk thread is that it must be knotted twice – once at the eye of the needle and then at the end of the thread. If it’s not knotted at the needle’s eye, it will slip out because it’s so smooth and thin.
Machine embroidery thread must be given careful consideration. Much of this thread is thin, so it would work well for hand applique. However, some it does not react well with heat. Since applique pieces are ironed and blocked after completed, if you chose to use machine embroidery thread, make sure it’s heat resistant.
Cotton thread is my favorite. Yes, I have to match the color of thread to my applique piece, but there is no special knotting and I never have to worry about pressing, as cotton thread is heat resistant. Use a fine cotton thread for this – remember the higher the number on the spool, the finer the thread. I use a number 60 thread. My favorites are the hand applique thread produced by Aurifil and Superior Threads. You just can’t beat them.
One thread you want to avoid in hand applique is monofilament thread. This thread works great for machine applique, but it’s a bit much to handle for hand applique.
Water-soluble Basting Glue – Remember, this is different from the water-soluble glue stick. This looks like regular glue and comes in a container like this:
While it has more staying power than a glue stick, it isn’t permanent. A basting glue that leaves fabric with a soft feel is a must, as often time you have to make a hand sewing needle go through it. My favorite basting glue is Roxanne’s.
It comes in a variety of sizes and containers and it does not dry stiff.
Dritz Liquid Stitch – I had no clue this product even existed until I read Sharon Schamber’s book Piece by Piece Machine Applique. This handy-dandy little product comes in a tube with a pointed applicator tip.
I use a drop of this product when I’m prepping points. I apply one drop on the edge of the point before I fold the fabric over.
After I make the point, I heat set it and add another drop to hold the fibers in place and clip off the excess fabric.
Another handy-dandy thing about this wonderful product: If you need a quick hem repair, this is an awesome thing to have on hand.
Hard Pressing Surface — This is needed to press the edges and points of your applique. A soft surface just doesn’t give you the crisp, clean edge like a hard surface does. For years I used this:
This is simply a muslin sleeve with a thin, narrow piece of wood in it. I believe it’s actually a piece of left-over flooring from a home renovation. I left one of the short sides open so I could slip the sleeve off and replace if needed.
I know some quilters glue a thin layer of batting to the wood before slipping the muslin sleeve on, but I don’t.
Then a few years ago I purchased a wool mat.
This makes a perfect pressing surface for nearly everything, including applique. I still have my wooden pressing board and use it in classes or on vacation when the mat may take up more room.
Needles – The type of hand applique needles used is a very personal choice. I was taught with the John James brand. Since then I’ve had the opportunity to try several different brands as well as several different sized needles. Remember, the larger the number on the needle package, the bigger the needle – longer length, thicker shaft, bigger eye. Some appliquers – especially those that favor needle turn – like a longer needle as it really helps turn the edges of the fabric under as you applique. The choice of brand and size needle is a personal choice. I have small hands, so a larger needle literally feels like a sword in my hand and I find it awkward. I use a small needle with any type of applique that I do. However, I have found one brand of hand sewing needle I absolutely love and that is Tulip.
What makes Tulip needles unique is their manufacturing process. Most needles are spun off the machine in a clockwise or counterclockwise direction. Tulip needles are spun off lengthwise, which means the grain of the needle matches the direction it’s being pulled – up and down. This makes sewing with a Tulip needle so much easier. And if you do a great deal of hand sewing, you can appreciate the stress taken off your fingers, hands, and wrists.
Fortunately, needles aren’t expensive, so allow yourself the time and luxury of trying out several brands and several sizes to find out what works best for you. Final word on needles – they do wear out. I preach regularly about replacing your sewing machine needles after about 8 hours of use (you can go longer if they’re titanium). Likewise, hand sewing needles should be discarded as soon as they get difficult to push through the fabric.
Fabric Scissors – Every quilter needs at least two different types of scissors in their quilt studio – one pair for fabric and fabric only, and one pair for paper and paper only. The ones used for paper can be just about any type, but I get really picky about the type used on my fabric. And honestly fabric scissors really deserve their own blog post – there are hundreds of different types and brands. However, for all of my applique I use these:
Karen Kay Buckley’s Perfect Scissors. These have tiny serrated blades that act like teeny, tiny pinking shears. Your applique pieces or quilting patches won’t fray hardly any as you clip and cut. These cost a bit more but they’re really worth every extra penny spent. Couple of words of warning here: If you need to have them sharpened, tell the sharpening tech that the blades are serrated — yes, the teeth on them are really that small. If you don’t tell the tech, he or she may not realize it and file the tiny teeth off. Second, don’t be fooled by knock-off brands. A few months ago, there was a cheap knock off floating around on Facebook and other on-line sites that claimed to be Karen’s scissors. They were not. Order directly from her site to make sure you get the real deal.
Now my last word on hand applique. While I love my hybrid method and use it most of the time, I don’t let my preference dictate my outcome. In other words, how my quilt will look when it’s finished is my priority. In the first blog of this applique series I defined the different techniques and when you may want to use each. If I were making a Baltimore Album Quilt, I would opt for needle turn since those quilts were initially made that way hundred of years ago. If I’m using one of Ester Aliu’s wonderful patterns, I’d use my method, as her quilts lend themselves to the final look achieved by my hybrid process. And I’m absolutely not afraid to mix methods. In my Language of Flowers quilt, the scroll work is raw edge applique and the flowers in the center are hand appliqued. Don’t let other quilters tell you that you can’t mix techniques. You absolutely can.
When I am finished with a block, I “block” it. If you knit or crochet, you are familiar with this term. It simply means you make sure the block is the correct size and then heat set it to make sure it maintains that size. With an applique block, this process starts at the beginning of the block. After I’ve cut the background fabric at least one inch larger than the required size, I stay stitch around the block (stitch all the way around the block about 1/8-inch from the edge). This prevents any raveling and helps the block keep its shape. Once my applique is complete, I spritz it with water, pin it face-side down to my ironing board, and press it dry. Here’s where the beauty of not having prewashed the background fabric comes into play – when this process is done, the background fabric shrinks a bit and literally pulls your hand stitches beneath the applique piece, making your stitches invisible. And that, my applique friend, is beautiful. Then I trim it to the specified unfinished size on the pattern.
I hope above all else, this blog encourages you to try at least one type of hand applique. This technique soothes my soul and I love and enjoy it so much! Start small. I hope you become as addicted as I am!
Standard disclaimer applies as always…I’m not employed by any of these companies, nor do I receive any type of compensation from recommending them.
Until Next Week, Quilt with Passion!
Love and Stitches,
Sherri and Sam