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Sticky Situations

Today I’d like to discuss a subject which is entirely subjective:  fusible webbing.

The choice of a fusible can be as personal and biased as your favorite batting brand or fabric designer.  And on the surface, fusibles may even seem like an afterthought compared to all the other quilting decisions you have to make.  I mean, you need to hold some fabric patches in place while you stitch around them – why does this need to be a huge decision?  Can’t you just grab whatever you have laying around and use it?

The answers to these questions are just like most of those in quilting…yes…and no.  To begin with, let’s talk about the difference between fusible webbing and fusible interfacing.  Both are fusibles (can be adhered by the heat of an iron) and both can be used in quilts, but they are different, and each has its own separate purpose.

Fusible interfacing is actually a fabric which gives shape and stability to whatever cloth item you’re making.  Fusible webbing is a fiber.  I use both in my quilting.  I use fusible webbing primarily in machine applique, although there are a few other areas I may use it.  While the term fusible interfacing is usually thought of in the context of garment construction, I have also found it super-handy in some quilting techniques.  For instance, if a quilt I’m making has large blocks which are set on point, such as this one:

I will use a type of soft, thin tricot fusible interfacing to stabilize the bias and keep it from stretching. 

This type of interfacing is easy to piece with and so thin it doesn’t interfere with the quilting process.  I have also used this interfacing on the backs of blocks which have a lot of bias-cut pieces  to stabilize those before sewing the blocks together in rows. I cut the interfacing the exact size of what the unfinished block should be, center it on the back of the block and press.  If I need to (because the block may be uneven), I can use the edge of the interfacing as the sewing edge.  For T-shirt quilts, it’s indispensable as a stabilizer for the knit fabric. 

Featherweight and even medium-weight fusible interfacing are found in my studio.  I use these on the backs of my quilt labels to give them a bit of shape before sewing them onto the back of my quilt.  And if you’re a quilter who also makes bags, you probably have several other different types of interfacing in your quilting space. 

Fusible webbing is different – and from here on out, when I mention fusible, I’m talking about fusible webbing, not interfacing.  One of the advanced techniques I plan on highlighting this year is raw-edge machine applique, and some kind of fusible is needed for this method.  This webbing reacts to the heat of an iron, and it melts onto the back of your fabric and its paper backing is removed– unlike a fusible interfacing.  A fusible interfacing’s bonding agent will melt onto the wrong side of your fabric, but the interfacing itself will remain intact.  There are a couple of great things about fusible webbing and fusible interfacing.  First, neither are too pricey.  Second, both can be found in big box stores such as Joann’s, Hobby Lobby, and Walmart.  And third, fusible is a US term.  In the United Kingdom and some other countries, it’s known as Bondaweb. 

However, before we start discussing the different types, weights, and brands of fusibles, I would like to offer a few tips for using any fusible. 

  • You may want to prewash your fabric before applying any fusible.  Sometimes the finishing chemicals on the fabric prevent the interfacing or webbing from adhering the way it should to the wrong side of your fabric.  Prewashing will remove all finishes.
  • Make sure you use the correct weight for the fabric and object under construction.
  • Keep in mind the webbing fuses two pieces of fabric together and makes them stiffer.
  • Keep fusible tape or strips in your sewing kit.  They’re great for mending – especially quick hem fixes.
  • Always, always, always remember the webbing is not a permanent bond (as neither are glues, basting sprays, or the bonding powder).  It will dissolve with washing or use over time.  It’s always necessary to stitch around the fused piece of cloth to ensure it stays in place.

How Fusibles Work

Unlike fusible interfacing which only has the bonding agent on one side, webbing has adhesive on both sides.  That’s important to keep in mind as your iron is the tool which adds the heat and activates the adhesive.  As long as the paper backing is on the webbing, it’s easy to tell which fabrics have fusible on them and which don’t.  Once the backing is removed, it’s harder.  If an iron directly touches the webbing, be prepared for a sticky mess on your iron.  This is why you may want to keep a tube of this:

In your sewing space or something else which will clean your iron in case of a fusible accident.  Word of caution here…you only need a dab of the cleaner.  One time I used too much on the surface of a hot iron and this produced a lot of smoke…which made the smoke detector go off…which prompted a visit from the local fire department – who were not amused.  And looked nothing like those hot firemen in the calendar, much to my disappointment.

The first step when working with fusibles for any type of applique is to look at your pattern.  Using fusibles for machine applique is a bit like working with freezer paper applique on the wrong side of the fabric – the applique pattern pieces need to be reversed.  Usually, if the applique pieces are reversed in the pattern, it will state this somewhere in the instructions or directly on the applique pattern pieces. If you can’t find this information anywhere, assume the pieces are not reversed. 

To reverse pattern pieces, I use my light box (if you don’t have one of these, go here https://sherriquiltsalot.com/2019/10/30/go-towards-the-light/and I tell you how to make your own).  I flip the pattern over, so the printed side is against the surface of my light box.  I then position my fusible over the pattern with the paper side facing up and trace the pattern.  This will reverse all the applique pieces.  If the pattern is reversed, put it on the light box with the printed side up, position the fusible with the paper side facing up and trace. 

After all the pieces are traced onto the paper side of the fusible, use a sharp pair of paper scissors to cut the applique pieces out, leaving about 1/8 to ¼-inch margin around the drawn lines.  Position the applique pieces on the wrong side of the fabric and press. 

A few words of caution at this point.  First, be sure to read the directions for the type of fusible used.  Somewhere in the directions, it should be stated what heat setting to have your iron set on and how long to hold the iron on the fusible.  Too much heat, too much time, too little heat, or too little time will affect the bonding agent.  Second, I avoid using mechanical pencils to trace my applique pattern onto the fusible.  I know that sounds kind of picky, but here’s why:  the wrong side of the fusible – the side with the webbing on it – is bumpy.  I can’t get a smooth line when I trace with a mechanical pencil.  I think the lead is too thin.  I like these pencils:

To trace just about anything in my studio.  The lead is soft enough to give me a smooth line and dark enough I can see my marking, but not so dark it gives me any issues on my fabric. Added plus, they’re inexpensive and can be found in just about any grocery or drug store. 

Then cut the applique pieces out on the pencil lines.  If the pieces won’t be used immediately, leave the paper on.  If not, position them on the background fabric before removing the paper.  Once you’re happy with the block, remove the paper backing, reposition, and press.  This is generally the way I handle my raw-edge applique blocks.  Once the paper is removed from the webbing, the back of the fabric is tacky from the webbing and can be difficult to maneuver.  If my block only has a few applique pieces, I may opt to remove the paper, position them, and then press.  However, if the block is like this:

And has a lot of pieces, I’ll wait and remove the backing until I’m happy with the arrangement.  If you’re still a little unsure of the process, there are a couple of upcoming blogs on raw-edge applique.

Now that we’ve discussed the difference between fusible interfacing and fusible webbing, and know (in a very broad, general way) how to use the webbing, let’s take a look at some of the major players in the fusible world and a couple of minor ones I really like.

Thermoweb – While you may not be familiar with this name, if you’re any kind of crafter, I bet you know the name Heat and Bond.  Thermoweb is the parent company.  They produce iron on adhesive, Heat and Bond, Heat and Bond Light, Heat and Bond Featherweight, and fusible webbings sheets which can be run through an ink jet printer or a cutting system such as the Brother Scan and Cut.  There are a lot of great things about these products.  Thermoweb has  merchandise for just about any fusible need you have.  They are reasonably priced and can found in most big box stores which has a sewing or crafting section.  Years ago, I appliqued a lot of sweatshirts (I did hundreds of sorority sweatshirts for a local college). I tried several different fusibles, but found I preferred Heat and Bond because it left the applique pieces stiff and could stand up to the abuse of a thick, satin stitch.  The downside to Thermoweb is just this – I find even the Featherweight leaves a bit of a stiff hand. However, there are ways to work around this and we’ll talk about them later.

Steam-A-Seam/Steam-A-Seam 2 – Like Thermoweb, this product is readily available in big box stores with a sewing section as well as quilt shops.  The biggest difference between Steam-A-Seam and Thermoweb is the packaging.  With Heat and Bond, the fusible is backed on one side with paper.  With Steam-A-Seam, both sides have paper.  On one side, the paper can be easily pulled away from the fusible.  On the other side, it can’t.  Trace on the side which stays attached to the webbing.  The paper from the other side can double as a pressing sheet or tear away stabilizer (sometimes needed with machine applique).  Like Thermoweb, Steam-A-Seam also has the 8 ½ x 11 sheets which can be run through an inkjet printer. 

Right now, you may be asking “Why two pieces of paper protecting the fusible webbing?  Isn’t one enough?”  Technically, yes.  And while the extra piece of paper can be used as a pressing sheet (and why this is kind of handy will come in later) or a stabilizer, the second piece of paper really serves to protect the webbing if it is stored for a while.  I have found if the fusible not used for a while, eventually the webbing will separate from the paper.  This additional piece of paper helps the fusible to keep its integrity. 

Wonder Under by Pellon – Pellon has given us quilters a lot of great products through the years and Wonder Under is one of them.  Like Thermoweb and Steam-A-Seam products, Wonder Under is available in lots of big box stores and quilt shops.  The biggest difference between Wonder Under and the other two fusibles is Wonder Under is acid-free.  This is something to keep in mind if you’re construction a quilt for the ages – the fusible won’t damage the fabric since it’s ph-balanced. It comes in various weights and types, but it’s important to keep in mind Wonder Under’s fusible bond is permanent. If you’ve fused a piece of applique in the wrong spot, you may be able to move it, but the adhesive will remain behind.

Misty Fuse – Compared to Wonder Under, Heat and Bond, and Steam-A-Seam, this may be a name you’re not familiar with.  I just recently discovered this wonderful fusible.  Misty Fuse has no paper backing, which makes working with it a little tricky.  It is great for use in sheer fabrics, so if you’re using super lightweight fabrics in your applique for things like insect or fairy wings or icicles, Misty Fuse can take care of your machine applique needs without compromising the fabric’s appearance. 

Because Misty Fuse is lightweight, it’s wonderful for applique quilts with multiple layers – such as art quilts or landscape quilts.  These types of applique quilts may have lots and lots of fabric fused on top of each other and a “regular” fusible can add to the bulk of the quilt, making it difficult to get a needle through in the quilting process.  Misty Fuse literally disappears after ironing and doesn’t change the hand of the fabric.  It comes in white, black and ultraviolet – which works great on sheer fabrics. 

Since it has no paper backing, you have to change how you use this fusible.  Lay the Misty Fuse on the wrong side of the fabric, and cover with a silicone sheet (a silicone baking sheet works well), a Goddess Sheet (more on these in a bit), or parchment paper.  Press according to directions. 

Couple of things to keep in mind as you use Misty Fuse.  First, save your scraps.  I keep mine in a Ziploc baggie.  Since there is no paper backing, even the smallest pieces can be used in your applique.  Second, if you have fabric scraps with Misty Fuse on the wrong side and you want to save them, be sure to store them separately from your regularly scrappage.  Misty Fuse is so lightweight, it’s difficult to tell it’s even on the wrong side of any fabric. You could run into some pressing issues if you accidently used some of the scraps with Misty Fuse on them in a pieced block.  Ask me how I know.

Soft Fuse ­ — My relationship with Soft Fuse goes back several years.  I had never heard of this fusible until Dragonfly Quilt Shop opened its brick-and-mortar store in High Point around 2009.  Up to this point, I used whatever fusible Hancock Fabrics had marked down – which meant either Steam-A-Seam, Wonder Under, or Heat and Bond.  I took an applique class at Dragonfly and had the chance to use Soft Fuse.   I was instantly hooked.  It allowed the fabric to maintain a soft hand (not as soft as Misty Fuse, though) and I didn’t have to “window cut” (more on this technique later) any of my applique pieces unless they were really big. 

Like most of the other fusible webbing, Soft Fuse comes in rolls or sheets.  It has a paper backing and bonds well with everything except super heavy fabric.  And it preps just like the major three fusibles.  To tell you how much I like this product, when Dragonfly closed its brick-and-mortar shop, I purchased every roll they had.  The only complaint I have about the product is it doesn’t age well.  I’ve found the longer the product sits opened on a shelf, the more the webbing pulls away from the paper. 

Vliesofix – This fusible is produced by the Czech Bead Company and is available more readily in Europe than in the US.  There are a few quilt websites which carry it, and if you’re curious enough, order some and try it for yourself.  I’ll have to be upfront and tell you I never heard of it until I began researching this blog and have never tried it, either.  It does get good reviews (five out of five stars on Amazon) and it is similar to Wonder Under.  It comes in varying weights and sizes and is used in everything from quilts and other fabric crafts to hat making. 

Tools You Need to Get Started

Fortunately, most of these tools you already have in your quilting toolbox.  There are a one or two you may want to purchase, but in those cases there are inexpensive alternatives you can use until you make your mind up about raw-edge applique. 

  • Sharp paper scissors.  Fusible webbing is paper backed, so a good pair of paper-cutting scissors is needed.  I use my large Fiscars for big pieces and a pair of small embroidery scissors for small pieces and tight curves.
  • Regular pencils.  I know this one seems kind of picky, but I don’t think you get a smooth tracing line with a mechanical pencil.  The lead is too thin.  My favorite soft lead, #2 pencils are Ticonderoga.  In the fall, you can get these for a steal in the back-to-school sales. 
Cutterpillar Wafer Light Box
  • Light Box.  These simply make life easier for tracing.  I’ve blown through three light boxes in my 35-year quilting adventure and am currently using a Cutterpillar.  This has become my all-time favorite due to its versatility and ability to transport.  It’s not bulky and it’s easy to carry to classes and retreats.  If investing in a light box is not in your budget at this time, remember you can make your own.  Just know some kind of light box will make your applique life so much easier.
  • A Goddess Sheet or the equivalent.  Raw edge machine applique is no different from other types of applique in many ways.  Like other techniques, you will want to assemble your piece as much as you can off the block.  This way you only have to move one large piece onto your applique block instead of hundreds of small pieces.  This is easy with hand applique, but it gets trickier with raw-edge machine applique because the fusible is on the back of the fabric.  If you try to press all the pieces together on your ironing board, you may end up fusing that piece to your ironing board cover or pressing mat.  A Goddess Sheet is a Teflon coated sheet which allows you to press your fusible applique pieces to each other, but then it lifts cleanly off the sheet.  A silicone baking sheet or a piece of parchment paper does the same thing. 
  • Learn how to “window cut.”  This applique technique is not used all the time.  As a matter of fact, if you’re working with a pattern that has lots of small applique pieces, you won’t need this technique.  Likewise, if you’re using a fusible which doesn’t leave the fabric stiff.  This technique comes in handy if your applique pieces are large and you don’t want the fabric to be tough from a lot of fusible.  You trace the applique pieces on the paper side of the fusible, and then cut it out about ¼-inch away from the drawn line.  Then you move to the inside of the applique piece and cut the inside of the fusible away about ¼ to ½-inch from the drawn line, leaving just a “fusible outline” of your image.  Press to the wrong side of the fabric and cut out on the drawn pencil line.  Window cutting (or windowpane cutting as it’s sometimes referred to) keeps the fabric from becoming stiff from a large area of fusible.  And the fusible which is cut away can be used for smaller applique pieces.

In closing, I want to caution you there is no “universal” fusible.  In other words, there is no one-and-only fusible you need to keep in your quilt studio which will cover all your fusing needs.  The fusible webbing used depends on what you’re making and your fabric choice.  Bags can require several different types of fusibles as well as interfacings.  The effect desired also depends on the type of fusible used.  If a winter quilt has lots of icicles, you may want to make them out of sheer blue fabric and use the ultraviolet Misty Fuse to keep them looking transparent.  Heavy fabrics such as denim need a fusible made for thick fabrics. 

The brand you like best is personal and subjective.  Just like anything else in quilting, the longer you keep sewing, the more products you’ll use.  What I may really like, you may not.  Like batting, the choices are your own and what works best for you.  My advice is to try several.  Fusible webbing isn’t expensive.  Fuse several shapes using different fusibles to a background.  Stitch around them.  Toss them in the washer and then the dryer – do this several times.  After about the third round, decide which one still looks good to you.  That just may be the brand you’ll want to stick with.

Until Next Week, Make Your Quilt Yours!

Love and Stitches,

Sherri and Sam

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