As promised in my applique blogs, this post is about stabilizers.  Broadly, a stabilizer is a material which supports the fabric while maintaining weave and grain. It also provides body, gives a firmer hand to the fabric, and prevents fraying. Interfacing only provides body, shape, and weight to a specific area. And although stabilizers are used in nearly all types of sewing, quilters are familiar with them for use in two areas:  Applique and Machine Embroidery.  I have an embroidery machine but am a novice when it comes to machine embroidery.  I use my Baby Lock Spirit for making quilt labels and that’s about it.  I am much more familiar with the stabilizers quilters use for machine applique, and it’s those types of stabilizers which are featured in this blog. 

First, stabilizers have been used for centuries.  They’re not remotely recent quilting notions.  Some textile historians believe ancient Egyptians used stabilizers way back in BC.  The stabilizers used then and up until twentieth century were not the familiar rolls or sheets of the material we recognize as stabilizer.  No, back then stabilizers were made from everyday common food items such as sugar, honey, flour, eggs, gelatin, and water.  These were used in varying combinations to make fabric stiff or water resistant.  They were used on rugs and carpets to extend their life.  Fashion trends owe their life to stabilizers.  Items such as the bustle, parasol, panniers, crinolines, masks, circus costumes, bow ties, spats, poodle skirts, and ruffled collars would have never held up (literally) to the passing of time without them.  Even if a dress incorporated hoops, it was a stabilizer which gave the skirt a smooth look.

Dress with Panniers

Before we jump headlong into all the stabilizers, let me give you some general information about them.  And remember this blog is about those incorporated in quilting.  Quite a few of these stabilizers can be used for both machine embroidery and quilting, but always…always…always read the labels to make sure it’s a two-track notion.

  • Stabilizers and interfacing are similar  but are not the same thing.  Both are used in quilting but generally are not interchangeable (more on this at the end of the blog).
  • Stabilizer is a notion, not a tool.
  • Stabilizer supports the fabric while maintaining the weave and grain.  If you know how much “needle abuse” both machine embroidery and machine applique dish out, you understand why it’s important to use a stabilizer.  It also provides body, gives a firmer hand to the fabric, and prevents fraying.  Interfacing only provides body, shape, and weight to a specific area. 
  • Typically, stabilizer is applied to the wrong side of the fabric.
  • Stabilizers prevent warping or twisting of the fabric weave
  • Not all stabilizers come on a roll or in sheets.  Some are liquids.
  • Even within one category, there can be several types of stabilizers.
  • Fabrics with an open weave – such as burlap, netting, or tulle – require special stabilizers. 
  • Fabrics which are delicate or slippery (like chiffon, silk, and taffeta) are easier to cut and stitch when a wash away stabilizer is applied first.
  • Stabilized fabric is ideal for creating shaped fabric objects and design elements.

There are four broad categories of stabilizers:  Tear away, cut away, wash away, and heat away.  Even a liquid stabilizer will fall into one of these four groups.  The group name also tells you how the stabilizer is removed once the project is complete.  And within these four categories are myriads of weights and forms (fusible, self-adhesive, non-fusible, spray on, tapes, etc.).  It also must be remembered not all projects require the stabilizer to be removed as well as some stabilizers can’t be taken out. 

A subgroup from these categories also exists – toppings.  I have never used a topping stabilizer in applique.  There may come a time (such as if I were constructing an art quilt) when I may need to employ a topping.  Toppings are used on the right side of the fabric and come in all kinds of weights, forms, and types.  Some stabilizers can be used as both a topping and the “regular” kind which goes on the wrong side of the fabric.  Some toppings are also permanent.  Let’s take each of the four categories and break them down.  Hopefully this will help you understand how each stabilizer is used and when to use each kind.

Tear Away

This stabilizer is removed exactly as it’s named – it tears away from the stitching.  It is suitable for stable fabrics without any stretch, such as quilting cottons, batiks, canvas, poly/cotton fabrics, and duck cloth.  Some can be used on vinyl and leather.

  • This is a cloth or paper-like substance available in rolls or sheets
  • It’s available both in fusible and non-fusible types
  • The weights can vary from sheer to heavy
  • It’s meant to be temporary
  • Some brands tear away more easily than others
  • May be used as a topping
  • It’s usually a non-woven
  • Nine times out of ten, this is the kind I use

Cut Away

This stabilizer can be used with fabrics which stretch, including knit, loosely woven fabrics, and denim.  It can handle denser stitching than tear away. 

  • This is a cloth or paper-like stabilizer available in rolls or sheets
  • The weights can vary from light to heavy
  • It’s typically a sew-in stabilizer
  • Adds strength to the fabric
  • Those used as toppings are usually cut away
  • Thickness and weight vary between brands
  • Available in both woven and non-woven
  • Heavier is better for denser stitching (such as satin stitch machine applique)
  • Prevents you from seeing through the fabric
  • Should be soft in areas next to the skin

Wash Away

Wash away stabilizer should be used when all of the stabilizer must be removed from the project.  It is used in cutwork, freestanding lace, and reverse applique.  When used as a topping, it prevents stitches from sinking into the fabric.

  • This group dissolves when wet
  • Available in film, liquid, cloth-like, or paper-like forms
  • Found on rolls more often than sheets
  • The thicker wash away resembles vinyl
  • The thinner wash away looks like plastic kitchen wrap
  • Available in weights from super sheer to medium
  • Good choice for a topping
  • Liquid wash away is applied via spray, brushes, or soaking
  • Great for specialty fabrics or fabrics with a high nap (such as velvets)
  • Best choice for working with lace

Heat Away

This stabilizer is usually removed with a hot, dry iron.  It’s the fiddliest to remove, and the heat reduces the stabilizer to flakes, which must be brushed away or removed with a lint roller. 

  • This stabilizer is available in film, cloth-like, or paper-like form
  • It’s offered in sheets or rolls
  • Film is the most common form
  • Extra care should be taken when removing a heat away stabilizer
  • Great for dry-clean only fabrics
  • Seldom used as a topping
  • Typically removed with a dry iron
  • More difficult to remove than the other types of stabilizers
  • It is not liquid friendly – avoid having any water at all in your iron when removing it.

With machine applique – either raw edge or finished edge – the choice of stabilizer will depend on the types of fabric used.  If batiks and quilting cottons are your choice for applique, a light to medium weight stabilizer can be successfully used.  The type – tear away, heat away, or cut away – becomes personal preference.  I tend to reach for the tear away simply because I really like it.  Stabilizers aren’t super-expensive, so I suggest trying a couple of different types and brands to see what works best for you.

All of this changes if specialty fabrics are used (such as in an art or landscape quilt).  The type of fabric dictates which  type of stabilizer and fusible webbing should be used.  If chiffons, lace, or taffetas are incorporated in the quilt, the stabilizer choice should be one which works specifically with these fabrics.   Read the stabilizer labels carefully and be sure to choose the one which will work best for the material involved.  In some quilts, you may find yourself using several different types of stabilizers.

One kind of quilt which needs careful stabilizer consideration is the T-shirt quilt.  These quilts have their own special category and need some additional planning.  Like some art and landscape quilts, T-shirt quilts employ a fabric which is not a “traditional” cotton fabric.  T-shirts are made from interlocking fibers – this is what makes T-shirts so comfortable to wear.  Even if you’re using cotton t-shirts, the weaving process used is not the traditional warp and weft.  As a result, t-shirts don’t play nice with quilting cottons.  Once the shirt is “de-boned” (the crew neck and sleeves are removed, the shirt is cut apart from the front and back, and the front has been cut down into the desired size rectangle), the edges of the shirt fabric want to curl. This makes piecing them with cotton fabric quite a challenge.  For the long armer or machine quilter, even when the t-shirt quilt is sandwiched, the t-shirt fabric doesn’t want to play nice in the quilting procedure.  In order to make the t-shirt blocks cooperate in the piecing and quilting process, the backs of those blocks need a stabilizer.  The issue which should be kept in mind is the stabilizer will remain in the quilt.  It needs to be firm enough to give the t-shirt material some body, but soft enough so the quilt doesn’t feel stiff or impede the quilting process.

I have always used this interfacing as a stabilizer in my t-shirt quilts:

This is soft enough the quilt doesn’t feel stiff.  It’s light enough it doesn’t interfere in the quilting process, yet still helps the t-shirt blocks lie flat.  There are also these:

The stabilizer sheets are pre-cut with both of these products, saving you a little time and the hassle of working with a bolt of interfacing.  I have not tried either of them, but the Stabil-Tee received 4.5 stars on Amazon and the June Tailor project received five out of five stars. 

And for those of you who may have a t-shirt quilt in your future, I’ve found applying the interfacing to the front of the de-boned t-shirt before I cut it down to the desired size really helps to make your cutting accurate – the shirt won’t curl up around your rotary cutter. 

If you have an embroidery machine, you probably already have several different types of stabilizers on hand.  And while they work differently in applique than in embroidery (in applique they prevent tunneling and keep the fabric from getting off grain), you may find some of what you have can work for both applications.  Just check the labels or do a little Googling on the brand and type.  It’s also interesting to note that stabilizers also come in black, which comes in handy if the fabric involved is dark.  If some of the stabilizer must stay in, it won’t show through the dark material.

While stabilizers are definitely used far more with machine embroidery, they do have a place in the applique toolbox.  When used, they make the stitching process go smoother, as well as make the stitches themselves look better.  They also help keep your fabric on-grain and prevent tunneling and tucks.  Stabilizers don’t cost a lot, so keep a couple of types in your studio for machine applique or t-shirt quilts.

Until Next Week, Make Your Quilt, Yours!

Love and Stitches,

Sherri and Sam

PS I finished the Rose of Sharon block I used as an example in my machine applique blogs.  Now I just have to trim it and decide what to do with it!


Roll, Roll, Cotton Boll

Have you ever come across a quilt block which completely captivates you?  One that not only holds your attention, but makes you question its history and wonder how difficult it would be to construct it?  I’ve had several of these types of blocks cross my quilting journey, but the first one – and the one which still makes me stop and give it a second look – is this:

North Carolina Cotton Boll Quilt

The first time I saw this block was back in the early 2000’s when I attended a quilt bee at Hancock Fabrics.  A spin off from the earlier quilt classes Hancock’s offered, our group continued to meet despite the fact no “official” classes were held.  At the beginning of each year, we would peruse different quilt patterns and decide on one to make as a group.  One year, we chose this quilt pattern:

Which included this block.

Once glance at the block told me it would challenge me.  It had leaves and stems and was all curves and points.  There was no piecing involved – it was all applique.  Fortunately, it wasn’t the first block.  If it was, several of us may have run screaming for the hills.  However, the block – with all its challenges – fascinated me not only for the skill needed to make it, but also for its name:  Cotton Boll.

I made the block.  It’s in my Southern Album Quilt.  Since then, I’ve made other quilts, took other classes, and attended other bees.  I honestly hadn’t though much more about it until I was performing a little Googling research for my raw-edge applique series, and I saw it again.  Once more I was mesmerized.  And it didn’t take more than the click of a mouse and I fell down the rabbit hole of Cotton Boll quilts…and this time I’m taking you with me.

The Cotton Boll has a distinctive look.  There is really no other quilt block which looks like it.  This led me to believe (wrongly, I soon found out) it would be a fairly easy process to find lots of information about it.  You can imagine my surprised when I Googled Cotton Boll quilt block, I came up with this:

All pieced, no applique and it bore no relationship to the block I knew as Cotton Boll.  Thinking it had to be a mistake, I opened my EQ 8 software, which has Barbara Brackman’s Block Base.  I typed Cotton Boll into the quilt block search bar, and again, this is what I found.

Not one to doubt Barbara Brackman and her research, I figured it had to be me, mis-remembering the block I made years ago.  After a little searching, I found my Southern Album Quilt pattern book and flipped to the page with the block on it.  Sure enough, here’s what it said:

Well.  I had remembered correctly (Go Me!).  Where was the disconnect?  It’s easy to see why the pieced block was named Cotton Boll.

The block and an open cotton boll look a lot alike.  But this still didn’t explain the differences, nor did it help me find the block I was looking for.  I decided to do what I normally do when I’m looking for a quilt block and can’t find it.  I put out an APB to some quilty friends.  One of them led me further down the rabbit hole of Cotton Bolls.  A quilt with those exact blocks at one time was exhibited at the Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts in Winston Salem, North Carolina.  This museum is kind of like a warehouse for early Southern crafts.

For those of you who are not from North Carolina or may not have visited my wonderful state, Winston is not far from where I live in Jamestown.  As a matter of fact, this museum sits right outside of Old Salem (which is in Winston Salem).  Old Salem is North Carolina’s version of Williamsburg, but on a smaller scale.  I’ve been to the museum several times but had not seen the quilt there.  However, an email to them resulted in a positive reply.  Yes, the quilt had been displayed there.  No, the quilt was not there now.  And yes, the name of the quilt was Cotton Boll.  “However,” the email went on to state, “this block also has been called Chrysanthemum.  It was called Cotton Boll primarily in the South and most significantly in North Carolina.  It was a pretty popular pattern among the Quakers.”

Bingo.  At least I hadn’t imagined the whole Cotton Boll quilt enigma. And as of that moment, I was super-lucky in two aspects.  First, sitting on my bookshelf in my quilt studio was the book, North Carolina Quilts, which resulted from the NC Quilt Project in the mid-eighties. It surely had some information on the Cotton Boll I was looking for. Second, Guilford County has quite a few Quaker churches as well as a college.  Between these two resources, I felt I was sure to get an answer as to where this quilt block came from and why the appliqued version differed so drastically from the pieced one. 

And I did.  I learned there are three schools of thought about this block. 

  1. It’s really just a Chrysanthemum Block.  Quilters quilt what they know.  No doubt quilters all over America were familiar with this flower and decided at some point to make it into a quilt block. 
  2. It’s neither a Chrysanthemum nor Cotton Boll, it’s an Anthemion.  Anthemion is the ancient Greek word for flower.  Anthemions are depicted in furniture and architecture as this:

And this symbol was all over 19th Century furniture and architecture.  Since Cotton Boll quilts enjoyed popularity primarily between 1840 and 1860, this actually makes more sense than the first school of thought. 

3.  Did some quilter somewhere take a long, hard look at the Anthemion and decide it looks very much like an unopened cotton boll? 

Then they made the block and called it Cotton Boll.

Now let’s look at each school of thought and decide which one – if any – are true.  And my first point of research is always Google. 

When I Googled Chrysanthemum Quilt block, two pieces of information repeatedly showed up.  A quilt block like this:

Or fabric with Chrysanthemums on it.  None of the blocks returned in the search looked remotely like the Cotton Boll quilt I was looking for.  Even when I looked for antique Chrysanthemum quilts, nothing popped up which resembled the Cotton Boll.  Instead, this block showed up:

Which I’ve always known as Bride’s Bouquet or Cornucopia.  Assuming Barbara Brackman may be a better research option than Google on quilts, I typed Chrysanthemum in EQ8’s search bar and these blocks were returned.

None of which are my Cotton Boll.  However, when Cornucopia was searched, this block popped up.

I honestly think the first school of thought – that the cotton boll block is really the Chrysanthemum block – completely erroneous. 

Now onto the second school of thought:  The block is really Anthemion.  This isn’t quite as clear cut as the Chrysanthemum.  When Anthemion was searched, hundreds of images were returned.  The Anthemion was found in architecture, carpets, textiles, and jewelry.  There is no doubt that 19th century quilters were familiar with this symbol.  However, the only quilt which came up was one from Barbara Brackman’s blog about Cotton Boll quilts.  Likewise, when her block base was searched in EQ8, it returned no blocks by the name Anthemion.  So, the chances of this quilt block actually being the Anthemion block are slim to none.

However… I think I’d take the third school of thought – that quilters looked at the Anthemion and decided it looked like an unopened cotton boll – to the bank.  This seems the most likely and it sounds like something I would do. 

There were quite of few quilters in North Carolina who made this quilt – several of them from Randolph County.  All of these quilts registered with the North Carolina Quilt Project are only referred to as Cotton Boll Quilts. There are also a few Cotton Boll  quilts found in Minnesota.  Many of these are attributed to Quaker quilters.  There are several schools of thought on those Quaker Quilts, too, but that’s another blog for another day.  What is important is the consistency of all of the quilts’ appearances.  All of them are distinctive.  There are four bolls.  Their stems cross in the middle of the block.  The bolls are made of separate, curved leaves along the sides which point upwards.  At the top of the block there is a non-curved leaf, which may be larger in appearance than the ones on the side.  Sometimes the curved forms alternate color, with a few of them even appliqued with green fabric.  Occasionally the block will contain small circles, indicative of berries or buds.  Over time, the sharp points at the end of the curving leaves and top points softened into a curve, producing more flower-like blocks.  Some have pieced sashing and cornerstones.  Others have simple sashing and no cornerstones.  And a few have no sashing at all.

They all are challenging, allowing a quilter to show off his or her finest needle skills.  They are beautiful and distinct.  However, I have no memory whatsoever of any of my quilty friends making a contemporary version of this quilt.  The Cotton Boll may become one of those quilt patterns, while fondly remembered and beautiful in its antiquity, eventually fades into obscurity. 

I sincerely hope not.

Until Next Week, Make Your Quilt, Yours,

Sherri and Sam


The Final Steps in Raw Edge Applique

We’re nearing the end of this raw-edge applique series. From this point on, we will work with layouts and stitches. This is the part which has video….so please be kind.

My layout technique varies depending on the complexity of the block. 

  • If the layout is fairly simple, has few pieces, and none of the motifs require a great deal of fiddly placement, I may opt to carefully look at where the applique pieces fall within the center lines of the pattern (maybe even make a few small reference marks with a Frixion pen) and eyeball it.  Instead of laying the fabric over the pattern, I will opt to place the background on my ironing surface and situate the applique motifs on it there, with the pattern close by for reference.
  • If the layout is complicated and I know correct placement is crucial, I will tape the pattern to a light box, place the fabric over the pattern, lining up the center creases, and tape down the fabric.  Then ever so carefully, I will ever so lightly trace the applique pattern onto the fabric with a pencil.  However, I will make sure my tracing lines are slightly inside the pattern lines. This way the applique pieces will completely cover the pencil marks on the fabric.
  • If the layout is somewhere in between fairly simple and complicated, and I don’t have a light box with a pressing cover, I revamp my pressing station.  I cover my ironing board or pressing surface with white fabric for visibility and position an overhead light if need.  Using straight pens, I securely pin my pattern to it.  Then I place the background fabric over the pattern, lining up my center folds, and pin it firmly in place.  Finally, I place the applique pieces where they’re supposed to go and lightly press the motifs in place (you may find using a pin or two in some of the motifs helpful to keep everything in place).  Once the fabric has cooled, I remove the pins and the pattern and give the background fabric and applique pieces a firmer press.
  • If you have a Cutterpillar Light Box and you don’t have one of these with it:

You may want to invest in one if you find you really enjoy machine applique.  I can place my pattern on my Cutterpillar, put this surface over it, then tape my fabric down, matching the center marks.  With a small iron, I can lightly press my applique pieces in place, then move the background fabric to a pressing surface and give everything a firmer, hotter press to hold it all in place. 

I really try to fuse down everything at one go.  It saves me time and I have found this to be more accurate in the long run.  To me it’s aggravating to have to keep moving everything back and forth to my lightbox and pressing area.  Also, one more word of caution – don’t remove the paper backing from your applique piece until you’re ready to fuse.

Stitching Everything Down

Finally, we’re at the fun part!  Grab some stabilizer and pin it to the back of your fabric.  Once several applique pieces have been stitched down, you can probably take out the pins.  However, before you place your applique piece under your needle, it is super important to test drive your stitches.  No matter if you’re using the buttonhole stitch or the zigzag stitch, I can just about guarantee the machine’s width and length default settings are too big. Unless the thread is truly the star of the show (and sometimes it is), the stitch needs to complement you applique pieces, not overpower them.  This means you may have to play with your stitch width and length throughout the raw-edge process.  You probably won’t like the way the stitch used on a large vase looks on a small flower bud.  The stitch on the vase will be a bit larger.  The larger stitch may overpower the bud.  You’ll shorten the stitch width and length on the bud.  Let me share with you how I keep up with my stitches.

Before I begin stitching any of my motifs, I analyze the applique piece carefully.  I guestimate how many widths and lengths I need.  With the piece we’re working on now, the pieces are large.  There aren’t any small pieces.  I anticipate I’ll need a medium stitch and a slightly-less-than-medium stitch.  Because I’ve performed raw-edge applique for years, I know my go-to buttonhole stitch is 1.8 width and 1.8 length.  This may work for you, it may not.  This is an entirely subjective, how-do-you-want-it-to-look issue.  For me this length and width firmly attaches the applique piece to the background and is an attractive stitch.  If this is what I decide to go with, I stitch out a few inches of the stitch with the thread I will use on some fabric, and under it I write the length and width.  Then I shorten the length and width a little to come up with a slightly-less than medium-sized buttonhole stitch. 

If you don’t have a buttonhole stitch on your machine, a single stitch zigzag works just as perfectly, and the steps are the same.  My favorite way to keep up with my stitch length and width is with scrap pieces of binding.  Whenever I bind a quilt, I always have a few inches left over.  I keep these rolled up and in a small plastic tub near my sewing machine.  Whenever I need a leader or ender, I reach for the leftover binding.  With raw-edge applique, I can cut a few inches of this binding, stitch my practice stitch, write the length and width on the edge of the strip with a fine-tipped marker and then attach it to my pin cushion with a straight pin.  It keeps all my needed information handy.

Once the stitches are decided, it’s time to begin appliqueing everything down.  I generally begin in the middle of the piece and work my way outwards.  I stitch down all of the same color at the same time – all the greens, then all the blues, then all the pinks, etc.  However, I use the same bobbin thread throughout – usually a light gray, beige or white (if my background is white).  You want to make sure your tension is balanced so no bobbin thread pops through to the front. 

It’s easiest to begin on a straight edge or gentle curve.  You don’t want to start in a sharp curve, a deep V (like the center of a heart), or at a point (like the end of a leaf).  Line the needle up with the edge of your applique motif and begin slowly stitching, letting the needle stitch forward, swing to the left, then back to the edge of the applique piece.  The straight stitches should fall in the background and the swing-stitch (or “bite” as it’s sometimes referred to) sinks into the applique.  Each bite should be perpendicular to the edge of the motif. 

Inside “Bite”
Once the inside “bite” is completed, the needle should swing back out to the right and line up with the edge of your applique piece.

In this technique, speed is not your friend.  Sew slowly so you have control over your fabric and your needle.  If you must stop to reposition the fabric, make sure your needle is down on the outside of the applique piece, and not at the bite.  When the needle is down, lift the presser foot and reposition your fabric. 

You may notice I didn’t tell you to knot your thread when you started.  I don’t knot mine.  I let the final stitches go over the first stitches, so they stay locked into place.  I do knot off when I finish stitching.  I pull my fabric out from under my needle, leaving a thread tail of a few inches.  I cut my thread, then with a hand sewing needle, thread the top thread tail and bring it to the back of the fabric.  Then I tie off. 

Shapes Which Require Special Attention

Circles, points, tight curves, and deep vees need a little extra care.  They’re not any harder than any other applique shape, but there are a couple of extra techniques you can use to make them easier to handle and look polished.


Circles are one of my favorite applique shapes.  They can be berries or buds or fruit.  They can be larger than a grapefruit or smaller than a dime.  They add movement and fun to a block. 

I’ll be upfront here and tell you the larger the circle, the easier it is to machine stitch, because the bigger the circle is, the gentler the curve.  And this means you can pretty much buttonhole or zigzag without too many hiccups.  However, if you notice nature, most of her circles are small – blueberries, cherries, grapes, currants, flower buds or flower centers – they all fall on the petite side.  These circles aren’t any harder, but may take you a few minutes longer to stitch than say…appliqueing a grapefruit. 

With every stitch, the bite still should be perpendicular to the edge of the motif.  However, the smaller the circle, the trickier this becomes.  When I stitch anything the size of a quarter of less, I take a Frixion pen and draw a smaller circle about ¼-inch away from the edge of the applique circle. 

The circle you draw doesn’t have to be perfect. It’s there as a point of reference to aim your needle.

This line gives me a place to aim my needle.  I sew slowly and stop with the needle down on the outside of the circle every time I need to reposition my fabric.  And with smaller circles, this happens a lot.  I’ve sewn circles smaller than a dime, and I literally used my needle up and down position to sew each individual stitch.  Yes, it took time, but when I was through, those circles looked really good. 

Small circles may seem like a real pain in the beginning.  But I can tell you from experience, the more you sew them, the faster you become.  While they’ll never be a shape you can Nascar through, they do become easier with time.  Put on some good music or audio book and power your way through them.  Don’t Netflix…you need to keep your eye on the needle. 


There are so many points in applique…roofs, buildings, triangles, and leaves.  No matter what the pointy shape is you’re stitching, there are a couple of hints to remember if you want those points to stay sharp and not turn up at the ends. 

The first word of caution with points is this:  Don’t begin stitching at the point. 

You want to approach the point gradually, and perhaps even shorten your stitch length and width if the point is narrow.  The closer you get to the point, the slower you should sew, maybe even take it a stitch at the time. 

When you get this close to the tip of your leaf, you will want to sew super-slowly or even take it one stitch at a time. You don’t want to overshoot the point.

When you get to the tip end, stop and make sure your needle is in the down position.  Raise the presser foot and reposition the fabric so the needle is perpendicular to the point and take a small stitch, making sure your needle is perfectly (or as close as you can) lined up with the point.  Take one bite stitch in the point and then let your needle swing back out. 

Pivot exactly at the point, take one “bite” stitch in, and reposition your fabric to sew down the other side of the leaf.

Leave your needle down, raise the presser foot, reposition the fabric and continue sewing down the other side.

This sounds really complicated, but it’s not.  Let me show you:

Tight Curves

It’s an unwritten applique law, if there’s an applique pattern made, it’s going to have curves.  Sometimes these curves are sloping and gentle.  Other times they’re tight and small.  As a matter of fact, it’s only the slightest bit of a slope which keeps them from making a deep V.  Like points, these curves aren’t difficult, but if you can keep a few ideas in mind, it will make appliqueing them down a lot easier.  First, speed should not figure into these types of applique motifs.  Slow and steady wins this race.  Don’t begin stitching in the narrow valley.  Begin on a hill and slowly stitch your way down to the base of the curve.  Then slow down a bit more as you ease into the base.  If the curve is really tight and narrow, I’ve taken it one stitch at a time until I’ve cleared the area and then resumed my regular (but slow) stitching speed.  I can also tell you this – if you’ve been kind of sitting on the fence about stabilizer, you won’t after sewing a few tight curves.  The stabilizer makes managing the curves and the feed dog traction much easier.

Deep V’s

If you’re a bit confused about what I’m talking about here, think about a heart.  Where the two top curves meet form a deep V.  There are lots of other applique shapes which do this, too – tree limbs, leaves and stems, and all kinds of right angles.  These are the “innie” to a point’s “outie” tip.  The method is similar to how you handle a point.  Sew your way to the deepest point of the V.  Slow down as you approach it.  When you get to it, stop.  Raise the presser foot and reposition your fabric to allow your needle to be next to the V, and perpendicular to the fabric.  Take one bite stitch in and then let the needle swing back out and into the background fabric.  Leaving the needle down, raise the presser foot and reposition the fabric and continue to stitch. 

And there you go.  Raw-edge applique isn’t difficult.  Personally, I think it’s a lot of fun.  You get to play with different fabrics and textures.  You can use almost any thread available.  It doesn’t take a lot of time.  I’d really like to encourage you to give it a try. 

I will cover finished-edge machine applique soon.  Blogs such as this take a lot of planning, photography, and videography.  Bear with me, and I promise we’ll get to it in a few weeks.

So, until next week, Make Your Quilt Yours (with machine applique!).

Love and Stitches,

Sherri and Sam


Most Applique is Like Ogres — It Involves Layers (or How to Begin Raw Edge Applique)

This week, after all the discussion of fusibles and stabilizers, threads and needles, we’ll get down to the nitty gritty of raw edge applique.  I chose this pattern:


To begin our raw-edge adventure.  Why this particular one?  First, it met the criteria beginners need to learn before they attempt any other pattern.  There are curves, points, valleys, and circles in this block.  This pattern also has “layers.” Like some ogres we know…

What this means is some parts of motifs are behind other motifs.  If you take a look at the line drawing of the pattern below, you can see what I mean.

Part of the stems are behind the pomegranates and another part falls behind the flower – which also has layers.  The larger, lighter flower is on the bottom and the smaller, darker flower is on top.  The center is on top of the darker flower.  Many applique patterns are like this, and a good pattern will number the applique pieces, so you know which shapes are fused down first.  I only plan on making one minor change to the pattern.  Look at the flower again.  You’ll notice the center has lots of little wavy edges.  If you’re new to the raw-edge applique game, all those curves and dips may be difficult to maneuver. Instead of making the flower center like the one on the pattern, I’ll use a circle, which will go well with the rest of the circular-ish shapes.  This quilt block is also large – 14-inches square.  A block this big means the fabric applique motifs aren’t so small they’re easily lost or difficult to stitch around.  It also allows the block to be used as a center medallion for a small quilt or wall hanging or made into a really nice pillow.


This is my fabric pull for the pattern:

I went with all batiks (except for the background), which is usually what I do with raw-edge applique.  Remember, batiks have a high thread count – much higher than regular quilting cottons.  They won’t fray, or at least very little.  The only issue I think I may have with any of these fabrics has to do with the yellow batik, as the darker pink may shadow through. 

In the end, the darker pink didn’t shadow through the yellow, so I didn’t have to line my circle at all.

Right now, some of you may be thinking, “Why don’t you use the dark pink as the outer flower and the light pink in the middle?”  Because flowers don’t bloom that way.  If you look at a pink flower:

You notice the outer edges of a petal are light and the flower grows progressively darker the closer it gets to the center.  However, I have a couple of different strategies in mind to avoid the shadowing.  First, I could line the yellow fabric with either another piece of the same yellow fabric or a piece of white fabric.  Second, I may choose to cut away the center of the dark pink flower so that only the edges of the yellow center rest on the darker fabric.  Or third, I could make the center a prepared edge circle via Karen Kay Buckley’s Perfect Circles.  This will give me a little extra fabric on the wrong side of the circle, and this may be all I need.  I’ll decide which strategy I’ll use when I get to this part of the pattern. 

Why I Make Two Copies of My Layout

While we’re talking about fabric, let’s also discuss why I make two copies of my layout pattern.  And I’ll be frank with you on this point – this is a Sherri thing.  You may opt to only use one copy of your pattern.  By now, you probably realize you need one copy of the pattern to use as you lay out your applique pieces.  So why do I need two copies?  I use the second copy to audition my fabrics.  If, like the pattern I am using for this raw-edge demo, I pull it from EQ,  I can colorize the pattern and print a copy of the colored edition.  I can change and re-colorize the pattern with a click of the mouse.  I can continue to do this until I’m happy with the results.  However, with a pattern you purchase or draw out yourself, this is a bit more complicated.  I’ve used that second copy as a “coloring book page.”  I take colored pencils and play color placement, tints, and tones until I’m happy.  Then I glue or tape my chosen fabric swatches down to the same piece of paper to remind myself what fabrics go where.

Marked Up, Working Copy of Pattern

This may be overkill with a simple applique project. However, if you’re working on something as complicated as a Baltimore Album Quilt, it can a lifesaver – especially if you set the project aside for a while and your memory is as bad as mine.

One last fabric issue before we move on to the templates:  the background fabric is not a batik.  There is a little more leeway on background fabric.  It doesn’t have to be a batik, as it doesn’t hold the fray-factor as much as the motif fabric does.  However, just like with the hand applique background, I do cut it larger than the finished project – more on this later. 

Dealing with the Templates

Now on to how to handle the templates.  I wish I could tell you all applique patterns are truly, perfectly wonderful.  I would like to tell you they all number their pieces and that all the patterns are reversed.  I want to tell you every applique pattern actually has templates, and you don’t have to draw your own from the black and white line diagram of the applique piece. I would like to tell you all of these are in every applique pattern you’ll purchase.  But if I did, I would be lying.

Not all applique patterns are created equal.  With some, you’ll simply get a line drawing and from this, you’ll have to reverse your own templates.  Others will have the templates already drawn out, but they’re not reversed.  Some are numbered.  Some are not.  There are no absolute standards for publishing applique patterns.  Here’s how to handle the template situation.

  • Read over the pattern carefully to see if the pattern is already reversed.  If it is, this is probably either somewhere in the instructions, written on the template page, or on the templates themselves.  If the templates are reversed, you’re good to begin tracing.
  • If you’re printing a pattern from EQ, when you access the print dialogue box, there’s a line directly under the print preview of the pattern which reads “Mirror Block.” 
  • Check this and your templates will print in reverse.  Word of warning – this will not return to the default after you print.  The next time you print from EQ, and you don’t need the block reversed, be sure this box is unchecked. Ask me how I found this out. 
  • If the pattern has templates, and they’re not reversed, you’ll need to reverse them manually.  The easiest way to do this is with a light box – either one you make or one you’ve purchased.  This is super-easy to do.  Flip the pattern over so the right side is against the surface of your light box.  Position your fusible over the paper and trace.  If you have a difficult time seeing the templates through the fusible, you may want to trace over the templates with a fine-tipped, black Sharpie.
  • If there are no templates and the pattern itself is not reversed, you’ll need a light box.  Flip the pattern over so the right side is against the surface of the light box.  Then trace each individual applique motif.  If you have a difficult time seeing the pattern, you may want to trace over it with a fine-tipped, black Sharpie. 

Lastly, let’s talk patterns which multi-task.  And honestly, the longer you applique, the more adept you’ll become at picking up any applique pattern and altering to the technique you want to use.  However, some patterns you download or use off EQ will have templates which look like this:

There will be two lines.  With EQ templates, there’s a solid line and a dotted line.  Any pattern with a template which has two lines is set up for either raw-edge applique or finished edge applique.  For raw-edge applique, you are cutting your applique pieces out true-to-size, so use the inside line.  We don’t need a margin to turn under like for finished edge applique.  So, ignore the second line – in this case the dotted line – and trace the solid line, or the smaller applique motif. 

The Fusible of Choice

The next step is tracing the applique templates on the fusible.  Since I’ve already written a blog on fusibles: I won’t get into the nitty gritty fusible options here.  What I will do is walk you through the process of deciding which fusible to use.  I’m not using any specialty fabrics such as a sheer material, so I don’t need a specialty fusible like Misty Fuse.  There’s a bit of layering, but not a lot, meaning a light-weight fusible isn’t necessary.  With all of these factors figured in, I will stick to my preferred fusible, Soft Fuse.  It should do the job just fine.  Now I can trace the templates to the fusible.  I position the pattern paper with the templates on them on my light box, lay the fusible paper on top (rough side touching the pattern) and trace with a soft lead pencil.  As you trace, be sure to leave at least a half an inch between templates.

After all the templates are traced, I “chunky cut” them from the fusible. 

Don’t cut them out directly on the pencil line but leave about ¼-inch paper margin around the drawn lines.  Position the templates on the wrong side of the appropriate fabric and press. 

Love me a lime-green batik!

Let cool – and while this may seem obvious, cutting the applique motifs out before the fusible has a chance to cool and set can dislodge the fusible web as you cut.  After everything is cool to the touch, cut out on the drawn line.  Leave the paper in place for now.

Prepping the Background Fabric

There are a few background concerns which should be addressed before fusing the applique motifs in place.  The first is the size of the background piece.  This particular block finishes at 14-inches square.  This means we need to add a half inch seam allowance all the way around, which would bring the block to 14 ½-inches.  However, it’s important to remember no matter what type of applique technique you’re using, the background generally pulls up a little as you stitch down the motifs.  I usually add an extra inch to allow for this shrinkage, so I’ll cut my background fabric 15 ½-inches square.

Another concern is fraying.  The fabric will be handled, moved around, twisted, and turned beneath the needle.  Some fraying will take place, but you don’t want it to be so bad it alters the size of your unfinished block.  There are a couple of actions you can take to prevent excess fraying.  The first is use a batik as a background.  Sometimes this works since batiks have a higher thread count and are more closely woven.  However, my background is not a batik, so I can either take one of three steps.

  1.  I can stay stitch the edges of my fabric – stitch a small straight stitch about 1/8-inch in from the edge of my fabric.
  2. I can run a zig-zag stitch around the edge of my fabric.
  3. I can use a product such as the one below around the edge of my fabric.

Whichever you use, remember the block will be trimmed down to 14 ½-inchs before it’s sewn into a pillow or quilt, so the edge finish will be removed.  It’s also worth mentioning some applique artists like to use spray starch or a starch substitute on the wrong side of the background fabric before fusing the motifs down.  If my background was prewashed, I definitely do this to give the fabric a little more body.  However, if it’s straight off the bolt, I usually don’t.  This is a personal preference issue and there is no right or wrong answer.  It’s whatever works best for you.

Now we have to think about how we will place the applique pieces on the background.  Since we have to use heat to fuse the those into place, we can’t use a heat-erase pen, such as a Frixion marker, to draw the pattern onto the background fabric.  The lines will disappear as soon as the heat from the iron gets near them.  Neither can we use a water-erasable pen because heat can permanently set them in the fabric, and they will never disappear.   

To be honest, this is one of those steps in raw-edge applique that everyone seems to have an opinion on.  And I think the more you work with this type of applique, you’ll find the layout process which works best for you.  I’ll walk you through the ways I make my layouts and hopefully you can take some of what I know and use it in the ways which work best with you.  There are three methods I use, but all of them start out the same way:  Find the X and Y axis of the piece of background fabric.

There’s a simple way to do this.  Fold your fabric in half.

Then fold it in quarters.

And finger press it.  As tempting as it may be to use an iron to set the creases, don’t.  Sometimes the heat-pressed creases never relax, and you have this ridge in your background fabric.  After you’ve found the center of the background, find the center of your pattern.  You can mark the pattern’s center with a pen or pencil.  Then place the fabric over the pattern, lining up the center markings. 

You may find it helpful to tape or pin down the fabric and the pattern, so they won’t shift while you’re laying the applique pieces out.

Next week we will finish up this block and for the very first time in the history of my blog, there will be video, because no matter how hard I tried to explain the process in written words, videos did it so much better. This is the very first time I’ve filmed my own video work and edited it. Woooo-boy.

Until next week, Make Your Quilt Yours!

Love and Stitches,

Sherri and Sam