Finishing Your Photo Applique

Okay… If you have your supplies and your sewing machine is in good working order, it’s just about time to start having some serious fun. 

First give your quilt top a good press on both the right and the wrong sides.  This will not only make sure it’s wrinkle free, but also ensure all the applique pieces are still firmly attached.  Square up all the corners and then layer your quilt (backing, batting, top) and pin, spray baste, or Free Fuse into place.  Be sure your batting and backing is at least two inches larger on all four sides than your top.

Second, let’s talk about your sewing machine’s tension.  Every sewing machine comes with its tension pre-set at the factory, but that doesn’t mean you can’t change it.  And chances are, you may have to, especially if the thread on top of the machine and the thread in the bobbin are two different weights.  Adjusting the tension will not hurt your machine – just remember to return it to its regular settings when you’re through.

The key with any tension is you don’t want the bobbin thread to show on the quilt top and you don’t want to see the thread used on the front to pop through on the back.  Usually your tension is factory-set in a neutral position (generally somewhere between four and five).  When you move the number higher, you increase the top thread tension and when you lower the number you decrease the top thread tension.  To change the bobbin’s tension you must work with the bobbin case.  Normally with this type of applique quilting you only need to worry about the thread on top of your machine, since it will be heavier than the thread in the bobbin.  I have used a 12-weight thread on my machine – which is pretty thick – and I’ve lowered my top tension to almost zero.  Which is fine.  The main idea is to keep the tension between the top and the bobbin thread even.  If you see “pops” of bobbin thread on the top surface of the quilt, lower the top tension gradually.  Sudden moves with tension adjustment are not a good thing. 

If you’ve lowered the top tension as much as you can, and you still see the bobbin thread peaking through, you may need to switch to a heavier thread in the bobbin.  Usually if the same thread weight is on top and in the bobbin, the tension issue goes away.  However, there are always exceptions to this and if even after you’ve played with the tension and changed bobbin thread and you’re still seeing “pops,” you may want to check your needle to make sure you have the correct size and type inserted.

So….what if the opposite is happening?  What if the top thread is showing on the back of the quilt?  You reverse the process.  Slowly tightened the top tension, number by number, until the tension evens out and there are no more “pops” of top thread on the back of the quilt.

Now we’ll get to the part of the actual applique quilting (it’s a type of thread painting, but don’t let that term may you anxious).  If you’ve free motion quilted on your domestic machine before, you can skip over the next couple of paragraphs.  If you’ve never free motioned, have only done it a few times, or it’s been a while since you’ve tried it, stick with me here.  Before you begin working with your “real” quilt – the one you’ve spent hours of effort on – let’s make a practice sandwich and try work on it first.  Take a square of fabric at least 12-inches square (it’s helpful if you have a scrap about this size of the actual fabrics used on your “real” quilt) and fuse a few leaves and petals on it.  Using the same batting, make a quilt sandwich.  Drop the feed dogs on your machine and practice free motion quilting.  Get comfortable controlling the speed of your stitches, quilting the background, outlining the petals and leaves, and making sure your tension is correct.  Once you’re satisfied with your quilting, load up your “real” quilt. 

Stitching in the ditch. It’s straight quilting stitches done by a walking foot or regular sewing foot as close to the seam as you can get. Do not stitch in the seam, as this weakens the piecing stitches.
  1.  Step One – If you have added borders, put your walking foot on your machine (a regular straight stitch foot will also work if you don’t have a walking foot) and stitch in the ditch near the seam where the border joins the background.  If there is a second (or third) border, stitch in those ditches, too.  This will help anchor the quilt layers together.  Even if I don’t have borders, I stay stitch the edges my quilt to add some stability to them.  I also stay stitch the outer edge of the last border.  
Stay stitched edges. This is simply a line of straight stitches about 1/8-inch from the edge. Sometimes it’s called edge stitching.
  •  Step Two — Remove the walking foot or straight stitch foot from your machine and attach the darning foot/free-motion presser foot.  Make sure you have the correct size needle inserted and the feed dogs dropped.
Almost ready to rock and roll….but first I add this….
A Supreme Glider. This fits over the bed of your sewing machine and makes the surface super-slick and smooth so it’s effortless moving the fabric. It comes with a hole cut out for your feed dog area. In my opinion, this is a “must have” for free motion quilting on a domestic machine.
  • Step Three – The edges of the applique pieces need to be sewn down first.  Thread your needle with a color of thread which will blend with the shapes in the middle of your quilt (because that’s where we begin). 
  • Step Four — Lower the presser foot and if your machine has a needle-down option, engage it. 
  • Step Five — Position your needle over the edge of a piece of the applique.  Using the handwheel or the needle up/down function, lower the needle and then bring it back up.  A loop of thread from the bobbin should come up with the needle.  Pull the bobbin thread up to the front of the quilt.  Then holding both the top thread and bobbin thread behind the presser foot, take a few stitches in place to lock the threads.  Then clip the thread tails behind the presser foot off, even with the quilt top.  If you repeat this process every time you change thread, you will avoid those ugly “thread nests” on the back of your quilt.
Outline stitches around applique pieces.
  • Step Six — Begin sewing around the edges of the applique pieces to permanently adhere them to the quilt top.  There are a couple of thoughts to bear in mind as you do this.  First, these stitches may be a bit longer than you’re used to.  This is fine, but you don’t want them as long as basting stitches.  Second, speed is not your friend.  If you’ve watched videos of quilters quilting with their domestic machine or long arm, you know it appears they are quilting super-fast.  This is not the case.  The videos are sped up on purpose.  Watching someone quilt for longer than 10 minutes can get boring.  Video producers speed up the quilting in order to keep viewers’ attention and to move the video to the next part.  You do want your hands to move at the same rate as your needle (remember your feed dogs are down and you’re moving your fabric).  If you’re uncomfortable with the speed, take your foot off the petal and allow the machine to come to a stop.  Then try again.  Give yourself a few minutes, but soon you’ll pick up a rhythm and be happy with it.
Pull the bobbin thread up by lowering the needle and then bringing it back up. Stitch in place for a few stitches to lock the threads, then snip the tails.
  • Step Seven — When you’re finished with tacking down the edges of the first piece of applique, stop with the needle in the down position.  Lift the presser foot and use the handwheel or the needle up/down button to raise the needle to its highest position.  Gently pull the quilt towards you so you can see where you stopped sewing.  Tug on the top thread so it pulls a loop of bobbin thread to the top.  Clip the top and bobbin thread off.  This will prevent the threads from forming a “nest” of threads on the back. 
  • Step Eight — Continue working around each piece of applique in this manner, until each piece is tacked into place.  Always work from the middle of the quilt out towards the edge and change thread as needed to match the fabric. 
I used varigated thread with the entire piece. This meant I only had three thread changes: Pink, green, and the goldy-brown I used over the flower centers.
I purchased a yellow eyelash yard, thinking I might use this to couch the center, but decided it actually detracted from the flower, so I didn’t use it.
I’m pretty satisfied with this little quilt. I still have to echo quilt the flowers or meader around them (haven’t decided which one I’ll use). And also need to determine how to quilt the borders. I know it looks as if this quilt has a pink and a black border, but the black is actually black batting.
  • Step Nine – Once all the pieces are tacked down, now it’s time to add highlights, shadows, and other details you can’t add with fabric.  This time begin working from the outside edges in and concentrate only on what’s under your needle.  Don’t worry about any other area of the quilt.  Go over the area as much as you need to in order to make it look like you desire.  Change thread colors as needed, being sure to bring the bobbin thread to the top of the quilt each time so there won’t be any thread nests on the back.  Use darker thread for the shadows and lighter thread for highlights.  When you’re working on petals, follow the curvature of the shapes.  At first, you may need to mark the areas with a chalk pencil or Frixion Pen.  For the leaves you can quilt in veins as well as add highlights and shadows. 
  1.   Step 10 – Once the appliques are tacked down and detailed out, now we must quilt the background.  Generally I tackle this in one of two ways.  I will either echo quilt the applique by stitching about ¼-inch away from the shapes and then without lifting the presser foot or cutting my thread, stitch another ¼-inch away from the first stitching.  I’ll continue echo quilting this way until the background is filled.  Or I may decide I want to meander quilt the background.  Sometimes the process I decide to use depends on my mood…at other times I’m way more practical.  If I have a lot of open space, I usually echo quilt.  If everything is tightly spaced or the piece is small, I tend to meander quilt. 
Echo Quilting
Meander Quilting

And that’s it.  That’s all there is to applique quilting.  Once the quilting is complete, you’ll need to square the quilt up (trim off the extra batting and backing and make sure the corners are 90 degrees), press it, and bind it.  Then add a label and a hanging sleeve and step back and admire your handiwork. 

I hope you enjoy this process as much as I do.  If there is any quilting technique where you can truly make the quilt you want to make and enjoy adding all the details to, it’s this one.  I encourage you to give it a try.   I would also advise beginning with medium sized wall hanging.  A small one can be difficult because it takes some time to realize what details you need to keep in and what you need to leave out. A small space just compounds that problem.  A large quilt may be too taxing for the first attempt. 

Until Next Week, Remember the Details May the Difference!

Love and Stitches,



The Next Steps in Photo Applique

As promised, today we’ll get to the fun part of photo applique – the fabric.  Like I stated in the first blog about this process, the best thing about applique is it doesn’t take a great deal of fabric.  You don’t have to break the bank purchasing lots of yardage.  However, this also can be the worst thing about applique quilting.  You’re not buying huge amounts of fabric, but you may end up with forty 1/8-yard cuts.  I will tell you in all honesty, you do need a lot of variety for this process.  Keep in mind, you’re “painting” with fabric.  You will not only need a lot of colors, but you will also need some shades, tints, and values of each color.  Let’s review these terms before you start pulling fabric for your project.

Hue – This term is used interchangeably with the word color.  Hue is the purest form of a color and contains no white, gray, or black. 

Value – Value is the lightness or darkness of a color.  For this type of applique, you will need a good range of values in order to make it look more realistic and give it dimension.  Remember way back in the first blog on this topic, I told you to go for a walk and take pictures or examine photos on Google.  Go back and look at those now.   You’ll notice not all the leaves are the same color of green. Sometimes stems and stalks aren’t green at all.  Flower petals can run the gamut from the lightest value of a hue to the darkest all in one petal.  You will need a range of values to realistically reflect this. 

It’s also important to remember that value is relative to the fabrics surrounding it.  For instance, let’s say we have this stack of purple fabric.  We can see the stack has a nice range of values, from light to dark.  However, if we place one of the light purples next to a medium purple, the medium will actually work as a dark.  If we placed one of the lighter medium purples next to the darkest one, the medium could work as a light. 

Tint – A tinted color occurs when you add white to it.  Most of us call tints “pastels.”  I use tints to indicate areas where sunshine or another light source is hitting.  If I am working with fruit, a tint could be used to show unripen areas:

Tints will also make an object look closer.

Shades –  A shaded color occurs when you add black to a hue.  Shades are used to represent areas of an object distant or in the shadows.  Shades recede into the background, making the object look further away.  If you only need a slightly shaded hue, add gray instead of black.

Shaded Fabric

As you’re auditioning fabrics, it’s a great idea to have the original picture in hand, and keep imagining the photo in 3-D.  As you examine the photo closely, ask yourself these questions: 

  • What is the background?
  • What elements are in the foreground and most prominent?
  • What elements are in the background?
  • What are the objects between the foreground and background (if any)?

The elements which are most prominent will require the most detailed work, the objects between the foreground and background, not so much detail, and the background elements require little or no detail.  And in some cases, they can even just be hinted at, not directly dealt with. 

Fabric Choices

My cardinal rule of fabric shopping for any quilt is use what you have first.  If you have fabric in your stash which will work for a project, use it first, and then fill in what you need with additional purchases.  However, there are certain characteristics all the fabric needs to have, regardless of where it came from.

First it needs to be tightly woven.  The fabric will be subject to heat (sometimes through several pressings) and needle abuse.  A homespun or other loosely woven fabric will be difficult to work with.  They simply won’t hold up to the heat and quilting.  Because of this, one of the most ideal fabrics to use is batiks.  These are tightly woven due to the dye process used to create them.  And the undulating colors can give the impression of tints and shade all in one fabric.  Over the last several years I have discovered ombre fabrics, which are equally wonderful. 

Ombre Fabric

These are some apricots I appliqued for a quilt. Every one of them were cut from the same half yard of ombre yellow/orange fabric.

You can have several tints and shades in a single yard of fabric.  Other cotton fabrics work equally as well, just as long as they’re not loosely woven.

Second, generally speaking, a solid or a fabric which reads as a solid works best.  This means tiny prints, tone-on-tones, and small geometrics will work well.  Most of the work in photo applique is small.  Large prints would lose their integrity in such small places.  However, don’t count large prints totally out. Parts of the print can work really well.  For instance, several years ago I purchased this Tula Pink print.

Peek-a-Boo…see the elephant?

If you look closely, you’ll see elephants.  And I can’t tell you how many times I’ve used the elephant ears as flower petals.  They work fantastic! 

The largest piece of fabric needed is the one for the background.  Just like with all other types of applique, you will want that piece to be larger than needed.  The applique process will shrink the background just a bit.  My rule of thumb is I like a generous inch of extra around the top, bottom, and sides.  If you’re piecing the background (which is a great way to add interest to your quilt), the same rule applies – make sure it’s bigger than needed. 

How much fabric to purchase is sometimes difficult to determine.  This is an easy question if you’re working with a pattern.  Someone else has done all the math for you and you know how much yardage you need.  Working from a photo is different.  You really don’t have a solid idea of exactly how much fabric you need.  This is where a flexible stash and knowing what type of photos you gravitate to come in handy.  If you know you like pictures of buildings or barns, you will want to collect fabrics which reflect those colors and textures.  If photos of lakes, streams, and oceans are your thing, blues and greens will probably dominate your stash.  I like animals and flowers.  I have fabric in lots of colors and textures, but I don’t have a lot of yardage.  I have found fat quarters are great for this technique and half-yard cuts are even better. 

However, if I had to pick a dominant color for nearly any of these, it would be green (unless you settle on applique portraits, which is an entirely different blog).  In my experience, I have found a large palette of greens is necessary.  Grass, stems, leaves, trees…so much green.  And these run the gamut from the yellow greens of early spring to the almost black greens of some evergreens and pines.  One other tid-bit about greens occurring in nature – most of them are shades of greens, not hues or tints. 

With your original photo in hand, pick out your fabrics and set them aside while we consider the last fabric issue:  Do you prewash or not?  My regular readers know I am pretty much a devout prewasher for several reasons – primarily to stop any fabric bleeding.  However, my stance about prewashing fabric for wall hangings is not so devout.  Wall hangings are usually not washed.  They’re vacuumed or wiped down, but not thrown in a washer.  They may get dusty, but generally not stained or heavily soiled.  Fabrics which are not prewashed are crisper, and for this applique method, you may actually prefer this over the softness of a washed fabric.  The only caution flag I would throw in would be this – do a test swatch of the fabric with the fusible webbing.  Sometimes the finishes manufacturers put on material keeps the fusible from adhering to the fabric securely.  If you find this happens, you may need to change fusible, prewash your fabrics and then starch and press them, or plan to use a little basting glue to securely adhere the applique pieces to the background.

The Process – Step One

For this first step you’ll need the original photo and one of your enlarged line drawings.  Remember earlier when we were discussing fabrics and I told you to think three dimensional?  You’ll need to do this again as we prep our applique pieces and see our quilt take shape.  This is easiest to do if you make your appliques in order, from the bottom to the top.  Start by making the shapes which will be fused closest to the background fabric and then work forwards to the ones in front.  Remember, nothing is permanent until you fuse it down, so if you need to adjust something or make an additional applique, you can. 

A light box is extremely helpful for this process. And I will walk you through the way I perform these next steps.  As you work with this applique technique, you’ll fine-tune your own method.

  1.  I cut my Steam-a-Seam into manageable “chunks”.  I use a lot of this fusible in my quilting, so I purchase it from Joanne’s by the bolt with a coupon.  Having a piece of that’s 5-inches x 18-inches is a lot easier than wrangling with the whole bolt. 
  2. Taking one copy of my enlarged line drawing, I place it on my light box with the right side of the copy facing the surface of the light box (you’re reversing the image).  I keep my photo and the second copy of the line drawing next to the box.  I start tracing the objects from the background out and numbering them in sequence (be sure to leave about a half-inch of space between pieces).  I write the number of the applique piece on the fusible and the second line drawing.  I continue doing this until I’ve finished making fusible drawings of all the applique pieces.
  3. After everything is traced, I rough cut the pieces from the fusible webbing.  I don’t cut directly on the drawn line, but about ¼-inch away from it, leaving some margin outside the drawn line.  I have found it’s easier and less confusing to do a few pieces at a time.  When you have lots of these fusible pieces laying around, it’s easy to lose one.
  4. I fuse the primary piece (such as a leaf or a petal) to the wrong  side of the fabric.  Once the piece has cooled, I then cut it out on the drawn line.  Then I repeat the process for all the detail pieces which go on the primary piece.  Once I’ve arranged all the detail pieces so that I’m happy with it, I press those into place.
I cut my fusible web pieces out with about 1/4-inch margin around the drawn line.
I press these to the WRONG side of my fabric and then cut out along the drawn line.

It’s easy to see why it’s important to have some kind of tag line on the back of the main piece to know which flower each petal belongs to or where each leaf is placed.  If you don’t, laying out your photo applique gets super confusing really quickly.  Once I have all the pieces for one unit (such as a flower) prepped, I bring out my Teflon pressing sheet.  I slide my second line drawing under the Teflon pressing sheet (most of these are sheer enough to see through), I carefully peel the paper backing from the first piece and lay it in place.  Then I proceed to the second, pressing with a hot iron as needed.  You can continue this way until the entire unit is made.  Let the unit cool completely before lifting it off the Teflon pressing sheet and set it aside.  Continue this process until you’ve made all your units.

Begin my pressing all the small, detailed pieces on the petals and the flower center.
This is the final line drawing of my coneflowers. Notice all the smaller details on the petals. Those will have to fused to the petals and then the petals fused together.
I have positioned the Teflon pressing sheet over the first coneflower. An opaque Teflon pressing sheet is really necessary with this technique. I know there are other great types of pressing sheets on the market, but in my opinion the Goddess sheets are the best.
I begin by pressing small groups of the petals together, overlaying them. I have personally found using a smaller iron, such as the one in the picture, gives you better control. A large iron can send everything flying off the pressing sheet.
After I’ve pressed the small groups of petals together, I fuse them together into the flower ring.
Then I add the flower center. The center is what holds the entire flower together, so it’s super important to make sure all the tops of the petals are beneath the center.
After the flower has completely cooled on the pressing sheet, you can carefully peel it off and move it somewhere else while you fuse your other units together.
This is the second cone flower.
  • The next step is to mark your background fabric.  Depending on the complexity of your design, you may only need registration marks or (if you’re OCD like me), you want a bit more preciseness and want to mark more details on your background.  First, mark the finished size of your quilt on the background fabric.  Remember, we’ve cut our background fabric at least one inch larger than the finished quilt.  This marking will serve as a framework for our applique placement – all the pieces should fall somewhere in the finished size marks. 
  •  Grab your light box and position the background fabric on it.  You may not be able to fit all of the fabric on it at once, so you may have to work in sections.  Anchor the background fabric with some tape so it won’t wiggle out of place.  Then place a piece of transfer paper (usually shiny side facing the background fabric – you want the side which will transfer the markings in contact with the fabric) on the background fabric.  On top of this, place one of the line drawings.  With an embossing tool or similar object, trace the main parts of your applique onto the background.  You don’t have to draw every petal, leaf, or feather – just a rough outline so you know where to place all the units.
  • Once the line drawing has been transferred, take the background fabric to the pressing area and arrange your units.  Press into place.  If some pieces don’t want to stay fused in place, use a little basing glue on the back of the piece and repress.  If you’re not a basting glue fan, you can always use glass head pins to keep them in place. 

Now you’ve got to make some decisions.  The first decision concerns borders.  If you decide you want borders on your quilt, now is the time to trim your quilt along the lines you drew on the background fabric in step 5 above.  Make your borders and sew those onto your background fabric.  If you’re not so keen about adding borders, you can trim your quilt now or wait until after it’s quilted.  It’s entirely up to you.  If you decide you want to wait and trim after it’s quilted, once the top is sandwiched with batting and a backing fabric, stitch along the framework lines prior to quilting.  Then trim after the quilting is complete.

The second decision we need to make concerns thread.  If you are a regular reader, you know I’m a thread snob.  I like long-staple cotton thread to piece with and micro thread to quilt with (usually).  However, this type of applique is different.  In this type of applique, the thread is a co-star along with the fabric.  The thread will serve as sort of a “paintbrush” to give your photo applique a finished look.  It will add shading, highlights, and details (such as the veins of a leaf), as well as hold the quilt together.  For this reason, you will want a heavier thread than you may normally use.  My beloved micro thread would get lost in this type of applique.  I generally use 40 weight thread or even lower (remember with thread, the lower the number the thicker the thread) and I have used polyesters and rayons to give glints of shimmer.  Also, unlike a lot of quilting, you will be switching thread colors.  So, just as you auditioned fabrics for this quilt, now you’ll need to audition thread.  Pick the colors which are in your applique units.  Unspool a few inches and lay them on your applique.  Thread looks so different when laying flat against the fabric.  Value is also important when choosing your thread, so pick lights, darks, and mediums of each color.

Audition as many spools of thread as you did pieces of fabric! Thread is defintely the co-star of this applique event and needs just as much consideration as the fabric.

If all this thread choice is a bit overwhelming, you may want to use variegated threads.  These swing throughout the values of one color on one spool of thread.  The only cautionary statement I would issue is this:  Avoid variegated threads which have large areas of white as they switch values.  This white will stick out like a sore thumb on your applique.  Allow me to name drop here – Tula Pink has some wonderfully gorgeous, variegated thread. 

Tula Pink Varigated Thread Set

You will need a lighter weight thread in the bobbin, and this thread should match your backing fabric (which we will discuss in detail in a bit).  I usually use 50-weight my bobbin.  This lighter weight thread allows me to wind a lot more on my bobbin than a heavier thread, which means I won’t be stopping to change out bobbins as frequently.  However, depending on the tension and your machine, you may have to use the same thread on top of your machine and in the bobbin.  You’ll find out if you need to do this in the sample we’ll work with before quilting the actual quilt. 

Along with your thread choices, you will need a few more supplies before we begin quilting the top. 

A busy quilt back hides a multitude of quilting sins.
  • Backing fabric – If you don’t remember anything else from any of these blogs, come away with this fact:  a busy quilt back covers a multitude of quilting sins.  Stay away from solid-colored backs or backing fabrics with lots of wide, open spaces.  These will show every stitch.  And unless you’re just a master quilter, you probably don’t want every quilting stitch to show.  Fabrics with strong color contrasts and geometric designs may not be the best choice either.

It’s really tempting, at this point when you’re so close to finishing this project, just to riffle through your stash and pick something – anything – just to be done.  Or to use the cheapest, available fabric option.  Let me encourage you not to do that.  A good backing allows your quilting stitches to melt into it and it will help your quilt hang better.  A cheaply manufactured backing won’t do either of these. 

  • Batting – Choosing batting for a wall hanging is a bit different than choosing batting for a show quilt or a one which goes on the bed.  With a bed quilt, I’m concerned about drapability and durability (if the quilt will spend some time on the inside of a washer).  With a show quilt I’m concerned about a batt which highlights the applique and stand up to heavy quilting.  Batting for a wall hanging should help the quilt hang flat against the wall and be thin enough it doesn’t cause too much bulk for a domestic machine.  For those reasons, I tend to lean towards 100% cotton batting for wall hangings.  One hundred percent cotton battings are generally low loft and work very well for photo applique quilts. 
  • Sewing machine – You don’t need a super-fancy sewing machine with 10,000 different stitches to work with photo applique quilts.  You do need a sewing machine with a good, straight stitch and has the ability to drop the feed dogs.  You will probably want to clean your machine before starting this process and again after it’s complete, as well as make sure it’s oiled (if it requires oiling).
  • Sewing machine needles – This depends a lot on the individual quilter.  Personally, I prefer 90/14 or 80/12 denim or topstitching needle.  The super-sharp point allows the needle to penetrate all three layers of the quilt sandwich without missing a beat and the wide eye easily accommodates heavier weight thread.  If I’m working with a photo applique top  which has a great deal of fusible webbing, I have used Schmetz nonstick needles – the fusible won’t stick to these.  If the applique has some specialty fabrics which may be a bit fussy in the applique process, I’ve turned to Organ’s silk needles.  If the needle in your machine has been there for a while, you will probably want to change it before beginning the quilting process.  And if the stitch quality changes, the needle begins producing large holes, or the thread starts breaking, stop and change it again.  Normally sewing machine needles are good for about eight hours’ worth of normal stitching (twice as long for titanium-coated needles), but this process puts some serious stress on the needle.  Just keep the picture below in mind as you stitch.
  • Scissors —  Curved scissors or embroidery scissors are handy to have with photo applique because they will let you clip threads close to the surface of the quilt.
  • Safety pins or Spray baste or Free Fuse – Again, this is a personal choice.  You will need something to hold the quilt sandwich together, so it won’t slip as you stitch.  Some quilters like safety pins, others like spray baste, and still others like Free Fuse.  There are no wrong choices here – it’s whatever works best for you.  Personally, for small quilts such as these, I reach for the spray baste or free fuse.  I dislike stopping to remove pins.
  • Free motion or darning foot – When I decided to upgrade from my Janome 7700, I was chagrined to find lots of different feet now claim these titles.  What you need is a foot which looks like this:

Or this:

You want a foot you can see around, but you don’t want an open-toed quilting foot such as this:

The toes will catch on the fabric edges and threads and make a mess.  If you machine didn’t come with a darning foot, google your machine to see if there’s one available.  Sometimes local dealers will carry them and generally you can always find them on a web site somewhere.  If your particular brand of machine doesn’t have a darning foot, you can order a generic one – just make sure you know if your machine is a high or low shank, so you’ll get one which fits. 

  • Quilting gloves – One more time with the personal choice disclaimer.  Some quilters find they can’t quilt without these, others never use them.  Personally, I find the gloves allow me to have a better grip on my quilt so I can manipulate it where it needs to go. Quilting gloves have something on their surface which allows them to hold onto the quilt sandwich better than just your bare hands.  Sometimes it’s the fabric the gloves are made of:

And sometimes it’s these plastic-y dots. 

Some quilters have told me they simply go to a dollar store and purchase gardening or work gloves and use those.  My personal favorites are these:

Admittedly these are a bit pricey, but they do allow my hands to breathe better and when I’m not using them, I can pull my three fingers out of the gloves and allow them to hang around my wrist (so no looking for the gloves when I go back to quilting).  I also use quilting gloves when handling yardage – such as when sewing on borders or blocks into rows. 

Get all this stuff together, because next week we start the quilting process. 

Until Next Week, remember the Details Make the Difference!

Love and Stitches,



The First Steps in Photo Applique

When I began to applique, I approached this technique just like any other new quilting method:  I used a pattern.  I used a pattern and followed instructions until I became really comfortable with it and then began to change it up.  I’d add things – like butterflies to my flower appliques – or take away things if I didn’t like them.  Eventually, with time and practice, I started drawing my own applique patterns with a pencil and paper.  Then I was introduced to Electric Quilt and that added another layer of preciseness to my quilting.

However, there came a time when I would take a picture of something.  Something special – a sunset, my daughter’s wedding flowers, my grand darlings – and I longed to reproduce them in a quilt via applique.  First I tried enlarging the picture.  I would take the enlarged picture, lay it on my light box, and cover it with a piece of paper.  I would then try to roughly outline the picture to make my applique pattern.  Sometimes this worked, but more often than not, it didn’t.  The pictures were complex, and I’d get bogged down in the details.  After a while, I gave up and returned to easier appliques, but in the back of my mind, I knew there must be some way to turn some of my photographs into line drawings and then turn those into an applique pattern. 

As time passed, cell phones became more and more sophisticated. App engineers eventually came up with several programs which could take the photos I have on my phone and turn those into the line drawings I needed.  Below, I’ve listed what I think are the best five apps which can convert those pictures on your phone into easy line drawings for applique.  Most of these give a free trial period before hitting up your credit card. 

Photo Director — Is the best app to use to turn photos into sketches, mainly because of its ease of use. Just select a picture and an effect to transform an image into a drawing. Turning photos into sketches is fun with PowerDirector because it provides a simple user interface and gives you plenty of creative options.

Prisma — Prisma is a fine choice to turn pictures into drawings, but you may not find it as easy to use or as versatile as PhotoDirector. However, Prisma comes with a nice assortment of effects for customizing photos.

Clip2Comic — If you want to turn photos into sketches that look like cartoons or line drawings, Clip2Comic is a good choice. After applying your drawing effect, this app takes you from image to drawing with a high-resolution picture you can share with friends or colleagues.

BeFunky — BeFunky is a photo editing and graphic design app that lets users turn any photo into any favorite kind of drawing with a single click. It uses AI-powered photo editing tools and an intelligent auto-collage feature to produce professional results that even beginners can create.

Photo Lab Editor – This is the one I use most often.  Photo Lab Editor is a filter app that also comes with awesome effects, photo editing tools, and classy styles. Putting all of these together, it’s a good app for turning photos into sketches. The Photo Lab community also has over 230 million fans to share sketches with.

Personally, I think working with these on my iPad is easier than using the small phone screen but I’m 61 and my eyes aren’t what they used to be.  If you’d rather use your DeskTop or Laptop to edit your pictures, check out what’s pre-installed on your hard drive.  Most computers come with photo editing software with varying degrees of editing abilities.  If you have a program which can turn your photos into line drawings, that’s great.  If you don’t have those capabilities, you may want to check out some of the software available for computers.  There are lots of programs which will convert a photo to a line drawing.  Most offer a free trial, and I honestly wouldn’t suggest purchasing one which didn’t offer the free trial period.  And during this time, I would load up several pictures and play with the software to see if you feel completely comfortable with it.  Some are more user friendly than others. 

The one I use is Sketch Drawer by Soft Orbit.  It’s super user friendly and doesn’t take me hours to turn a photo into a line drawing.  Bonus – it’s super affordable. 

No matter if you’re using an app on your phone or software on your computer, you must take the time to play with it a little in order to find what works best for you.  You’ll want to get as close to a line drawing as possible without a lot of background “static.”  In other words, you don’t want the line drawing to look like this:

This sketch of my coneflowers has too much confusion in the background, plus the flowers aren’t too distinct. You’ll want a cleaner sketch to work with. You can get this by playing with the controls on the right side of the screen. Super easy, super fast.

You want it to look more like this:

Much, much better. From this, I can can continue to work with the drawing in Sketch Drawer or use tracing paper and pencil to develop my own sketch.

Because from this, you will want to simplify it a little more.  When you look at the line drawing, ask yourself what is the most important image to you?  I love coneflowers, so for me, it’s the flowers.  I want to emphasize those by excluding all the “extra” images and concentrating only on the coneflowers.  I could do this in a couple of different ways. 

  1.  I could let the background do the work for me.  I could choose a background fabric which would give the idea of a garden, or I could make one.  I could piece a background with half-square triangles for leaves, or I could applique very simple leaves, a few buds, etc., on a background, but allow the coneflowers to be the dominate image.
  2. I could simply let the flowers be front and center.  I could choose a few coneflowers and leaves and nothing else.

Both options are good (and there’s probably a few more ideas floating around out there).  The decision you make depends on the look you want.  I have a definite journey for this little quilt, so I will go with option 2.

Now we have our line drawing…what’s next?  Here’s where the real fun starts.  Let’s go over the basic supplies you’ll need before we talk fabric.

  1.  Fusible Web – I’ve written entire blogs about fusibles (go here: ).  If you’ve worked with fusibles for very long, you probably have your favorite.  I would suggest one which can hold up to the heat of several fusing sessions and one with a paper back – so Misty Fuse shouldn’t be up for consideration with our photo applique.  Personally, my favorite fusible for this is Steam-A-Seam 2.  I have found the 18-inch-wide kind works better than the strips.  Also on a personal note, I have found Steam-a-Seam Lite and Soft Fuse do not work as well as the Steam-A-Seam 2.  The applique pieces undergo a couple of ironings, and the lighter fusibles do not seem to hold up as well under that kind of heat. 
  2. Iron and Pressing Surface – You need an iron with a steam function (most irons have them) and a pressing surface.  This can be an ironing board or any other type of pressing surface, such as a wool mat.  Since you’re working with fusible webbing, you may want to protect the surface by covering it with a piece of muslin. 
  3. Ultra Fine Sharpie Marker
  4. Glass-Head Pins or Basting Glue – Sometimes the fusible won’t stick well in places or it may release if the fabric is repeatedly handled.  Re-adhering the applique piece to the background with a glass-head pin (the glass head won’t melt under the heat of an iron), or basting glue is helpful. 
  5. Scissors for Paper and Fabric – Make sure both pair are sharp and will cut cleanly.  Sometimes the fusible can make the blades a little gunky.  This will wash off, though.
  6. Teflon Pressing Sheet – This is one of the handiest tools any quilter working with fusible applique can have in their toolbox.  The Teflon-infused pressing sheet serves two purposes.  It can keep the fusible webbing off your pressing surface, and it can allow you to assemble applique units together into one piece before fusing them on to the background.  This really makes your applique easier and more precise.  For instance, if you’re working flowers, you can fuse the entire flower together, peel it off the Teflon sheet, and press it onto the background fabric.  This is so much better than trying to fuse each tiny little applique piece into place.  There are several kinds of Teflon sheets on the market, and I own a couple of different types.  All of them are equally good.  However, if I could offer one piece of advice, it would be to go ahead and buy the large/extra-large sheet.  This allows you to work with large pieces of applique or several small units at once. **
  7. Tracing Paper – I will admit, if you have appliqued for awhile and have developed an eye for placement, this may be one of the tools you can bypass.  However, if you’re a little iffy about your placement skills or you’re like me and are just OCD about your applique placement you may find you need this.  You can place tracing paper between your line drawing and your background fabric, trace the drawing with an embosser (or other similar instrument), and the drawing will be transferred to the background fabric.  I suggest graphite transfer paper – that’s my favorite because it rinses out easily.  Whatever you do, avoid the waxed kind.  It’s been my experience that this kind is difficult to remove from fabric. 
  8. Rotary Ruler, Cutter, and Cutting Mat – For squaring up.
  9. A Design Board – This is entirely optional.  However having a place where you can audition your applique before you press it into place is great.  It allows you to move pieces around and make sure they’re exactly where you want them before you fuse them to the background.  I know what some of you are thinking…” I can lay it out on a bed or a table.”  And that’s true.  But usually these types of quilts are made to be hung on a wall.  So it’s really helpful if you can lay them out on a vertical surface.  The design board doesn’t have to be huge.  It can also be temporary.  I’ve used the wrong side of tablecloth taped to a wall with painter’s tape as a design wall.  Once I was through, it came off the wall without damaging the paint. I folded the tablecloth up and stored it to use another day. 
  10. A Copier/Printer and a Good Working Relationship with a Print Shop – When you begin experimenting with your line drawing, you may be working with a small image of what you want to make.  My original rendering of the cone flowers was initially a 5-inch x 7-inch drawing.  I took this to my printer/copier and enlarged it until it filled an 8 ½ x 11-inch sheet of paper.  This was better, but I wanted to turn the picture of my coneflowers into about a 20 x 20-inch wall hanging.  Since my printer didn’t have these capabilities, I went online to my local office supply place and emailed them my line drawing and asked them to work with it and see how close they could get it to the size I needed.  They got it pretty close… 20-inches x 24-inches.  I could live with this.  I also have two copies of the enlarged line drawings made. 

Because this office supply has worked with me for so long, they had a good idea of what I needed.  If they need to print it on several large sheets of paper, I’m fine with that.  Taping the sheets together doesn’t bother me.  And they know this.  However, I also know they could print it on a plotter and give it to me on one large sheet.  If you find you really enjoy this type of applique, you may find developing a good, working relationship with a print shop is invaluable. 

Next week we’ll talk about the fun stuff—fabric.  I’ll show you what kind works well with this applique method and the type you need to save for another project.  We’ll also begin the applique process.

Until Next Week, Remember the Difference is in the Details!

Love and Stitches,


**This is the Teflon pressing sheet I use:

This Teflon pressing sheet is called Fat Goddess Pressing Sheet and it’s a whopping 21″ x 27″. I like it because it can be rolled up and stored in the the canister in comes in. Plus, it’s opaque, so you can see through it, which comes in handy with applique placement.

Cultivating Creativity

I am a sucker for applique.

Of all the quilting techniques out there, my favorite is applique – by hand or machine, it doesn’t matter.  There is something infinitely freeing about it.  It gives the quilter the ability to back away from triangles, squares, and rectangles and produce something realistic.  Instead of lines and sharp angles, you can have curves and circles.  There’s more color play with applique as you strive for bouquets of flowers in every color of the rainbow. In short, applique is fun.  More fun than piecing.  I asked Google how many applique quilt patterns were out there in stores.  It couldn’t give me an answer, although Pinterest helpfully volunteered it had over 900 applique quilt pins.  In this blog, I want to explore a couple of things.  First, how to turn a picture into an applique pattern, and second how to use something I call quilted applique.  This process may take more than one blog, but I don’t have any worries about that.  We’ll start with the basics and move on from there.

A lot of folks think quilters have to be ultra-creative people.  Color choice and design should be as natural to them as breathing.  I’d like to squash that little erroneous piece of information right now.  While most quilters are to some degree creative, extreme creativity isn’t necessary for the process.  And most quilters who have quilted for several years will tell you their creativity expands the more they quilt.  All that’s really needed to get started is the ability to read and follow directions.  Everything else will come with time and practice.  Each applique quilt you construct will not only make you a better quilter, but it will also give you the confidence to go a little further and dig a little deeper in the creative process. 

Another erroneous school of thought is applique quilters must have a huge stash – I mean just look at all the colors we use in flowers and leaves, etc.  It must take hundreds of fabrics to make some applique quilts.  In all honesty, it’s not about how much fabric you have, but that you have the right fabric.  Overall, applique may use several different fabrics, but usually the applique pieces are on the small size.  Sometimes (as in the quilt I’ll be working on later in this blog), you may use less than a fat quarter for the applique.  The largest fabric requirement will be the background, binding, and borders.  Which brings me to this point – one of the best things about applique is that it doesn’t take a lot of fabric.  And one of the worst things about applique is that it doesn’t take a lot of fabric.  Why?  This means you only need a little money to develop a huge applique stash with pieces an eighth of a yard or less…which can lead to storage issues.  Cultivate your applique stash carefully…which brings me to my next point…

Also cultivate your creativity.  If you’re one of my readers who think you don’t have any real creativity, I also want to squash that little negative and erroneous school of thought.  Everyone is creative in some way.  Creativity is a part of everything we do.  It plays a part in how we dress, how we cook, how we plant flowers…even the way you balance your checkbook.  No one escapes this life without having some form of creativity.  However, what I really want to do is help you grow your creativity.  There are lots of ways to do this, and no one way is right or wrong.  I want to offer some general suggestions and then you need to fine-tune them, so they work for you. 

  • Take walks.  This is a two-fer.  If you need to take so many steps per day as part of your fitness routine, you can grow your creativity and increase the number of steps all at the same time!   However, as you walk, I want you to pay close attention to a few things.  Notice the sky.  Notice it’s not all one shade of blue.  Neither are the clouds all one shade of white.  Look at the grass, leaves, and stems.  Observe they are not all one shade of green.  As a matter of fact, some of them are not green at all.  Some are brown.  Others are yellow.  Look at the flowers or trees in bud.  A rose isn’t all the same color red or pink.  Dandelions are yellow, orange, and white.  Take pictures of a few of these.  When you get back home, enlarge these pictures on your phone and look closely at all the shades, hues, tints, and tones.  It’s even better if you can upload the pictures from your phone onto a computer and look at them on a large screen.

If you can’t take a walk, Google some images of flowers, leaves, and butterflies (actual Google photos are better than paintings or drawings for this exercise).  Notice the leaves aren’t all one color.  A purple pansy can be numerous shades of purple.  Nothing nature produces is all one solid color.  Neither is anything perfect.  Leaves can curl or be lopsided.  The petal on a flower can be a bit crushed.  Notice all of the imperfections nature brings to the table, yet we don’t get upset at them.  We accept them as part of the whole.  When we focus on the rose or the leaf, we don’t necessarily zero in on what’s wrong with it.

  • Doodle.  Draw.  I don’t mean major works of art and certainly nothing to hang in the Louvre. I mean little swirls and curlicues.  Straight lines and curved ones.  Cartoon-ish figures.  Graduate to flowers and animals.  It really doesn’t matter.   However, what all this doodling is doing to your brain is highly important.  It’s engaging your memory to reproduce something you’ve seen (perhaps on your walks).  And repeatedly drawing your favorite curlicues and swirls trains both your brain and your hand to draw and redraw them from muscle memory.  This is important – trust me.  I’ll tell you why in a bit. 
  • Be disciplined in your pursuit of creativity.  I realized, even as I typed this, that discipline and creativity sound like polar opposites.  Zone of truth here – when someone mentions the word creativity  to me, I tend to picture someone in long, flowy, multicolored skirts with gray hair down to their waist, flowers in their hair and beaded necklaces and bracelets.  My mind conjures up this person who is free-thinking and artistically uninhibited who can take paints and fabric and create these wonderful works of art right off the top of her head – gorgeous works which everyone loves. 

However, except in rare cases, this is not how creativity works (although I totally could get behind the long, flowy skirts and gray hair down to my waist and beaded necklaces and bracelets). Creativity requires discipline – the ability to work every day at your art.  Just like any other talent we want to develop, creativity takes steady practice.  The more you do it, the better you become at it.  Picasso got up and painted every day, whether he felt like it or not.  At his peak, Beethoven practiced 14 hours a day.  And while it would be disingenuous to think any of us could practice our quilting 14 hours every day, it’s not so hard to work in a few minutes here and there or a few hours on the weekend to work at the craft we love so much. 

In my opinion, I think all of us are born as creative beings.  Unfortunately, the school system can work that right out of us (I can say this freely, since I am a former educator).  We are taught to follow the rules, color inside the lines, and hold our pencils and crayons a certain way.  Some of these learned behavior literally strangles the creativity right out of people.  Rejuvenating, revitalizing, and resurrecting our creativity comes with the freedom of realizing there are no rules.  There is no right or wrong.  What you like is right. 

I’ve taught quilting for years.  I was a French heirloom garment instructor before that.  And I think I can say with a lot of honesty, a fairly large number of quilters get stymied on color theory and placement.  They will read books, articles, and blogs.  They will invest in apps for their phones and color wheels.  After all these years of teaching, I want to let you in on a secret:  Nine times out of ten, most of what is involved in color theory, etc., is already innately built into our brains and intuition.  Yes, all the information on color theory and placement is exceedingly helpful, but you’re already engaging most of the principles.  Don’t get hung up on somebody else’s set of rules. 

Another thing which can kill creativity is not believing in yourself.  Don’t compare your creative journey with someone else’s.  Some people seemingly can turn their creativity tap on at will and it rushes out at that person’s bidding.  Some folks (like me) find their creative journey slower and more methodical.  Don’t judge the way your process works with anyone else’s.  Each method and journey are different for each person.  Neither is ever wrong.  It’s what works for the individual.

Negative self-talk is also a sure creativity killer.  Whenever I hear any quilter say, “Oh, I could never do that,” or “There is no way I could ever make a quilt that beautiful,” I cringe.  Sure, you may not have the skill set now, but in 18 months or two years, you may be perfectly able to make the quilt.  Allow me to share with you a personal experience I had several years ago when I was an educator.

Some of you may know, teachers are required to take so many enrichment classes every so many years to keep their teaching certificates up to date.  These classes can be related to the direct subject matter you teach, or it can be information about things you would like to integrate in your classroom.  One particular summer, I was late getting around to signing up for a class at my local community college.  The only thing left was creative writing – which I did hold a personal interest in but wasn’t so sure I could integrate that into physics and chemistry.  However, it would fulfill my certificate requirements, so I signed up and paid the fee.   As I settled into the first class, I was wary the tiny, conservatively dressed, gray-haired lady leading the workshop could teach any of us anything about creativity.  Frankly she looked like a woman my grandmother would be very comfortable sharing a church pew with on Sunday morning.  Then she volunteered the information she was writing a book about the brothels in California during the Gold Rush.

Well, that certainly wasn’t what I was expecting.  Sunday school material, maybe.  But Houses of Ill Repute? No.

I had a lot of fun in that class.  I wrote a children’s book about kittens.  But the main thing I came away with was this:  When you jump into your creativity zone, you have permission to set the very critical part of you – the part which doubts what you’re doing, worries about what other people will think – outside the room.  Ms. Berensby told us she would physically set a chair outside the door of her office and tell the critical part of herself to take a seat and make itself comfortable.  Then she shut her office door and got to work.  The actual act of this somewhat ridiculous motion set her creativity free. 

You may need a chair and a closed door.  Or just maybe you and the critical part of yourself just needs a come-to-Jesus meeting.  I’ve learned to let everything go the minute I step inside my quilt studio. 

As you develop your creativity, you’ll change as a quilter and as a person.  The biggest changes you may note are these:

  1.  You realize every mistake is a potential success, even if you have to start over.  Several times.
  2. You let your mind and eyes look outside the box.  Sometimes you don’t even acknowledge a box.
  3. You don’t mind digging through the trash, the scrap bins, or anywhere else you think you can find what you need to make your quilt perfect.
  4. You play more with your art.
  5. You’re not afraid to try new things.
  6. You realize it’s the process which counts, not the finished product.
  7. Most importantly, you learn to persevere.  That doesn’t mean you don’t mess up, get mad, or even have a good cry now and then.  It means after the crying has stopped, you go back and try again. 

Wow!  I’ve written slightly over 2,000 words and haven’t even begun to talk about the applique process I want to use for this blog.  Next week we’ll start by looking at some apps which can turn your pictures into line drawings and how to simplify them.  And then we’ll talk about fabric.  Meanwhile, take a walk, doodle, and be creative…everywhere… Spread that stuff like sunshine.

Until Next Week, Remember the Details Make the Difference!

Love and Stitches,



The Emporia Phenomena

Every once in a while, we are lucky enough to experience a phenomena.

 Phenomena can be defined in two ways.  The first definition deals with scientific observation — a fact or situation that is observed to exist or happen, especially one whose cause or explanation is in question.  The second definition is a little less scientific and a bit more personal:  a remarkable person, thing, or event. During the mid-to-late 1920’s until the 1940’s, quilting experienced a fantastic growth period.  Quilt shows were established.  Techniques were changing and expanding, trending away from the traditionally pieced quilts to include applique.  And over in the sleepy, small town of Emporia, Kansas, there was a quilting phenomenon taking place.  As a matter of fact, it was such a bright spectacle quilt historians call it “The Emporia Phenomena.”

First, let’s take a brief stroll through Emporia.  Emporia was founded in 1857 and drew its name from ancient Carthage – a city known as a historical place of commerce.  It is nestled between the larger cities of Wichita and Topeka and became the county seat for Lyons County.  Living up to its name as a city of commerce, it attracted several railroad lines during the 1800s.  One of the railroad executives, John Byers Anderson, donated his entire library of books to the city in celebration of his 50th wedding anniversary.  Not to be outdone, his friend Andrew Carnegie donated the funds to build the library.  Nowadays it’s home to about 24,139 people (according to the 2020 census) and it’s known as the Disc Golf Capital (each year it hosts one of the largest disc golf championships in the world) and the first weekend after Memorial Day, it hosts Unbound Gravel.  Unbound Gravel is a dirt bicycle race through Flint Hills.  The bike routes are 35, 50, 100, 200, and 350 miles long, if you’d be so inclined to register for the event. 

The Emporia Phenomena took place between 1925 – 1950, with most of the creativity hitting its peak in the early to mid-1930’s.  Three quilters were responsible for the phenomena – Rose Francis Good Kretsinger, Charlotte Jane Whitehill, and Hannah Haynes Headlee.  This blog will look at each one of these women and then try to explain why the Emporia Phenomena happened.  We will begin with the most well-known quilter, Rose Good Kretsinger.

Rose Francis Good Kretsinger

If this quilter’s name sounds vaguely familiar to you, it’s probably not because of her -quilts, but the book she co-authored with Carrie Hall, The Romance of the Patchwork Quilt in America.  This book is considered to be one of the classic quilt history books, and even though copies can be difficult to come by (it was first published in 1935), the book is still out there, especially if you’re  content with an e-version.

Rose was born in Hope, Kansas on November 29, 1886, but lived most of her adult life in Emporia.  Interestingly, her father was a partner in Good & Eisenhower, a dry goods store.  Shortly before Rose was born, her father sold his share of the store to David Eisenhower and moved to Abilene.  However, the store didn’t prove to be profitable, so Eisenhower moved to Texas, where he and his wife had a son, Dwight David, who grew up to be President. 

From Abilene, Rose’s family moved to Kansas City, Missouri.  By this time Rose was in her teens and she headed to Chicago to study at the Art Institute in 1908.  After graduation, she spent a year in Europe before returning to Chicago where she designed jewelry.  In 1914, she retired from design work and married William Kretsinger, an attorney and rancher.  She had two children, a boy named William and a girl, Mary Amelia.  During this time she attended all the meetings and activities the women in her set did and became an influential leader in her group of friends.  Her life rocked along until 1926.  This year was a watermark in Rose’s life.  First, her mother died from injuries sustained in an automobile accident.  Rose was close to her mother and her grief was deep.  Second, this was during the Colonial Revival, which promoted arts and crafts such as quilting.  Partly to deal with her grief and partly to participate in the Colonial Revival, Rose took up quilting.  She was now forty years old and had inherited an antique bed from her mother.  After consulting with some of her friends and magazines, she decided a quilt would be just the thing the antique bed needed to set it off. 

Not finding a quilt pattern to suite her tastes, Rose copied an antique quilt.  She found the handwork soothed her and provided a form of grief therapy for her.  Her friends made quite a fuss over the quilt and encouraged her to enter it in the local fair.  She did, and to her surprise, she won first place.  Both shocked and pleased, she began a second quilt and over the next two decades produced a remarkable group of quilts which ignored the current commercial trends.  Rose didn’t follow commercial patterns, instead focused on antique quilts.  She didn’t like the patterns or kits of the day, which produced the same type of quilts over and over.  “Women are depending more upon the printed pattern sheet to save time and labor.  These having been used time and again often become tiresome,” she stated.  Rose instead turned to old quilts, finding her inspiration in them.  She borrowed family heirlooms from friends and sketched museum quilts.  And while feed sack prints and other new multicolored dress prints were available, she preferred to use calicoes and antique fabrics to get the look she wanted. 

The characteristic which made her quilts so different from others was their design.  While Rose did copy old quilts, she only copied them to a certain point.  They were her inspiration, but not her destination.  Her gift to the quilting world was her reworking of the old designs.  Because she was trained as an artist, she knew how to add drama with vivid colors and black accents, how to add line with an overlay of quilting and a scalloped edge, and how to add a touch of sophistication by reorganizing compositions by tightening up some items and filling blank spaces.  Then she would finish the quilt center off with bold borders.  Her unique combination of traditional standards and modern design earned her local and national fame, as she won contests from the Lyon County Fair to New York City. 

After the Kansas City Art Institute held an exhibit of her quilts in the early Thirties, she earned national attention as a quilter.  So much so that Carrie Hall asked Rose to co-write The Romance of the Patchwork Quilt.  Rose’s contribution was the section on the history of quilting, and she added photographs and diagrams of both antique and contemporary designs to augment her writing. 

Orchard Wreath by Rose Kretsinger

Rose’s only original quilt design was The Orchard Wreath.  Designed in 1929, this quilt was inspired by a Coca-Cola advertising card she picked up at a soda fountain.  Rose’s daughter, Mary, asked for an orchid quilt to match her bedroom and this time instead of finding inspiration from antique quilts, Rose found it in a Coca-Cola ad.  All of her other quilts were either inspired by antique quilts or were redrawn from older patterns.  Regardless, they all were outstanding quilts and garnered lots of attention in the national quilt shows in the Thirties and Forties. 

Calenduia by Rose Kretsinger

The 1942 National Needlework Contest (sponsored by Woman’s Day) awarded her quilt Calenduia second place.  The first-place winner was Pine’ Hawkes Eisfeller and her medallion wreath quilt called The Cottage GardenThe Cottage Garden was a variation of a quilt made in 1857 by Arsinoe Kelsey Bowen and was featured in Ruth Finley’s Old Patchwork Quilts and the Women Who Made Them. To say Rose was a little disappointed (and maybe even a little miffed) about second place would be an understatement.  Beneath the picture of The Cottage Garden in Woman’s Day, Rose tersely wrote, “Poor Design.”  However, not to be outdone, Rose designed her own version of Eisfeller’s quilt and called it Paradise Garden.  ***

Paradise Garden by Rose Kretsinger

Many people consider Paradise Garden to be Rose’s masterpiece.  This quilt, along with Orchard Wreath, were selected by a panel of experts for the exhibit America’s 100 Best Quilts of the 20th Century.

It is interesting to note that Rose didn’t quilt her own quilts.  Like many of the “professional” quilters of her time, Rose hired local quilters to quilt her tops.  The names of these quilters are long forgotten, but Rose’s children remember her designing her own quilting motifs to send along with the tops to her quilters.

Locally, Rose was generous with her time and talent.  Her quilts were displayed in Emporia and inspired other quilters to attempt their own designs or request her patterns.  She readily shared both her patterns and her knowledge and assisted others in making quilts.  She was in every way, the heart of the Emporia Phenomena.  Rose appliqued most of her quilts between 1926 and 1932.  In 1940, she became a widow when William Kretsinger died of heart failure.  Paradise Garden  was begun shortly after his death.  In 1949, Farm Journal Magazine sold two of her designs, Oriental Poppy and Old Spice.  Rose continued living in Emporia until her own death in 1963 at the age of 76. 

Oriental Poppy by Rose Kretsinger
Old Spice Quilt by Rose Kretsinger

In 1971, Rose’s daughter, Mary, donated twelve of Rose’s quilts and two of Rose’s mother’s quilts to the Spencer Museum of Art at the University of Kansas.  Rose, along with Carrie Hall, was inducted into the Quilter’s Hall of Fame in 1985 – which in a way was bittersweet.  The women had a sort of falling out over the royalties of The Romance of the Patchwork Quilt in America.  Whether Rose felt slighted or if it was something else, was never made clear.  It’s ironic one of the events which propelled both women into the Quilters Hall of Fame (besides their quilting) also battered their friendship. 

Rose Kretsinger’s influence did not stop after her induction.  In 1992, the Wichita Art Museum and the Kansas Quilt Project organized the exhibit Midcentury Masterpieces:  Quilts in Emporia, Kansas, which featured the work of Rose and her Emporia friends.  In 1998, her quilts toured Japan and were featured in the publication American Quilt Renaissance:  Three Women Who Influenced Quilt Making in the Early 20th Century.  The other two women were Carrie Hall and Marie Webster.

Charlotte Jane Whitehill

One of the most frustrating things about quilt/quilters research is the fact quilting was considered “women’s work” for so long and didn’t merit the attention and documentation granted to anything men did.  Even though the Emporia Phenomena occurred after women received the right to vote and were gaining recognition momentum, some of the ones who left truly indelible fingerprints on our art received little to no attention by newspapers or other publications.    Charlotte Jane Whitehall is one of those quilters, who despite leaving behind beautiful quilts, little is known about her.  We do know she was born in 1866 in Wisconsin and lived in Emporia during the 1930’s.  Like most of us, Charlotte picked up quilting as a hobby and made her first quilt when she was 63.  She was a district manager for an insurance company and found quilting was a great stress reliever (sound familiar?). 

Charlotte was known for several of her quilts.  The Album Quilt:  Lennartson Family Album

Indiana Wreath named one of the top 100 in The Twentieth Century’s Best American Quilts. 

The Rose Tree

One very important fact set Charlotte apart from the Rose Kretsinger and Hannah Headlee – her job required her to travel.  This allowed Charlotte a much more varied fabric stash than the other two women.  She would arrive in a town and visit dry good stores to find fabric not available in Emporia. 

Like Rose, Charlotte copied antique quilts.  She preserved many 19th century and museum quilts (perhaps she also visited museums when she traveled?) by reproducing them.  Whether Charlotte did this on her own, or was prompted by watching Rose Kretsinger, we don’t know.  We do know, that like Rose, Charlotte eschewed the kits and patterns available to her. 

Charlotte moved to Denver, Colorado in the 1940’s and continued to make quilts for about another five years.  She remained in Denver until her death in 1964.  In 1955, she and her daughter donated 28 of her quilts to the Denver Art Museum.

Hannah Haynes Headlee

Of the three women who sparked the Emporia Phenomena, I consider Hannah Haynes Headlee to be the rebel. 

Like the other two women, Hannah came to quilting a bit later in life.  She was born in Topeka, Kansas about 1867.  She was an artist, quilter, teacher, and china painter.  She supported herself primarily through teaching and painting china.  She was married three times and is remembered as the first woman in Topeka to own (and ride) a bicycle.  In 1914, she accompanied her niece (Hannah had no children of her own) Paulina Haynes Shirer to the New York School of Fine Arts and paid their living expenses by teaching and painting. 

She is renowned for this quilt:

Iris Garland.  There is some school of thought which suggests Hannah was inspired by Rose Kritsinger’s Orchard Wreath.  If she was, she left no written record of such inspiration, although Hannah and Rose were acquaintances. 

To me, the characteristic which sets Hannah’s quilts apart from both Rose’s and Charlotte’s is their almost watercolor quality.  Hannah was a painter and came from that artistic background.  She used fabrics which were subtle in contrast, but her borders were nearly gothic in design. 


Basket of Roses


Many of her quilts were given to her nieces, nephews, and cousins, although seven eventually found their way into museums.

 One interesting side note about Hannah Haynes Headlee.  She was one of the needlework judges who gave Pine’ Hawkes Eisfeller’s The Cottage Garden the winning vote over Rose Kretsinger’s Calenduia.

Rose Kretsinger, Charlotte Jane Whitehill, and Hannah Haynes Headlee are the three quilters whom history claims are responsible for the Emporia Phenomena.  There are several characteristics all three quilters have in common:

  1.  They bucked commercial patterns.  All three eschewed the readily available patterns found in magazines.  They found their inspiration from antique quilts or quilts in museums.
  2. They did not use many (if any at all) of the fabrics available to them at their local dry goods stores.  They preferred antique fabrics, unusual fabrics, or calicoes.  All three had the means to get those fabrics.
  3. They all preferred applique medallion quilts.
  4. All three began quilting later in life, and two of them had art backgrounds.
  5. All three gained national and international attention in the quilt world during their lifetimes.

You have to wonder, especially with the quilts bearing similar designs and fabric choices, if they were inspired by each other.  History does tell us Rose’s quilts were predominantly displayed throughout Emporia.  Did Charlotte and Hannah draw inspiration from them?  Did the three actually ever meet in some capacity and talk quilts?  Did they know of Marie Webster — who was designing her beautiful applique quilts during this same time period – and were they inspired by her quilts?  Regardless, to have so much quilting talent concentrated in one small area at one time was indeed unique and wonderful. There is no wonder they caused a phenomena.   However, there still is so much we don’t know about these women and their quilts.  The sad part is, we may never know.  We can imagine.  We can speculate.  But we may never know the entire story behind these three amazing women and how they and their quilts sparked the Emporia Phenomena. 

Until Next Week, Remember the Details Make the Difference!

Love and Stitches,


***One last footnote about The Cottage Garden Quilt.  When I write quilt history blogs, I often refer to Barbara Brackman’s writings, as I did in this blog.  She is one of the best cataloguers of quilt blocks and quilt history.  However, when researching this blog I found a contrasting article about The Cottage Garden Quilt and its maker from the Kansas Historical Society. 

The KHS lists Josephine Hunter Craig, not Pine’ Hawks Eisfeller, as the maker of the quilt and calls the quilt The Garden instead of The Cottage Garden.  It also lists Josephine Hunter Craig as one of the top contenders in the fiercely competitive quilting environment in Emporia.  This is her quilt The Garden:

The article goes on to state:  “Along with other top Emporia quilters like Rose Kretsinger and Charlotte Jane Whitehill, Josephine Craig’s quilts often swept state fair contests as well as captured national awards. 

The Garden is one of the best examples of Craig’s skill and artistry.  Appliqued and quilted in Emporia in 1933, it was inspired by an 1857 version of the garden medallion which appeared in Ruth Finley’s book, Old Patchwork Quilts and the Women who Made Them (1929).  Finley called the garden medallion the ‘acme of the branch of art’.  These quilts became the standard of excellence for Emporia quilters, who were inspired to create their own medallion designs.

Friends Elizabeth Goering and Maud Leatherberry collaborated with Craig on the pattern and quilting for The Garden.  Although Craig was a contemporary and competitor of well-known Emporia quilter Rose Kretsinger, Craig was a farm wife and therefore not in the same social circle which involved membership in the Garden Club and other city organizations.

Craig’s version of the garden medallion won numerous local and national contests. In 1934, Hannah Haynes Headlee (herself an award-winning quilter) was one of the judges who awarded The Garden first prize in a national contest sponsored by Capper’s magazine. It also captured First Place at one of the first national quilt contests, the Eastern States Exposition at Springfield, Massachusetts in 1936. Other honors for The Garden included first prizes at the Kansas Free and Kansas State fairs in Topeka and Hutchinson, respectively.

This spectacular quilt was donated to the Kansas Museum of History by Paul and Frances Carpenter of Kansas City, Kansas. Dr. Paul Carpenter is Josephine Craig’s grandson.  Four other quilts by Josephine Craig also were donated to the museum by the Carpenter.”

In my opinion, when you compare the two quilts, it’s easy to see where Rose pulled her inspiration and yet changed the design.  Both quilts won numerous awards.  Both quilts are (in my opinion) equally lovely.