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

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