It always take me a bit to get back into the swing of things after a trip - so much catching up to do and the lovely lingering afterglow from a great vacation to savor. But I did get back into the studio last week, if only for a few days. Rather than store away the projects I took with me and dive back into any of my art quilt projects, I decided to take another step on the applique project I worked on at the retreat.
Although I still have a few design details to work out in the borders, the sashing pattern is ready to go. I was curious to see if a method I learned a few years back would work on this project, so rather than complete the designing process, I went straight to preparing the applique for stitching.
As I often do, I'm combining methods from several experts. The idea to design the vine and leaves as one unit comes from Elly Sienkiewicz in her Baltimore Beauties and Beyond book. It appealed to my lazy nature in that I wouldn't have to figure out how many yards of bias to cut for the vine and I wouldn't have to trace and cut out tons of individual leaves. One rectangle of my applique fabric per sashing or border strip background is all I need. Simple, simple simple.
Wreath of Strawberry Leaves rendered by Jean Stanclift
However, Elly has you trace your pattern on freezer paper, cut it out and iron it to the right side of the applique fabric where it stays as the guide for turning under the seam allowance as you sew. On the Wreath of Strawberries Leaves block I made using this method, I struggle with the freezer paper popping off, and eventually used sequin pins to hold the freezer paper in place. Not the best method for a project that may be a long time in the making. So I wanted to try Jeana Kimball's method which, under her class supervision, worked beautifully. It's a little labor intensive, but once all the prep is done, the appliqueing is a breeze.
You start by tracing the entire applique pattern on the back of the background fabric using a lightbox. Then you position the applique fabric on the right side, pinning in a few places to hold it in place, and stitch a short running stitch exactly on the drawn lines from the back. This is done with cotton hand quilting thread and one of her larger straw needles - a size 8. (See picture at beginning of the post.) Yes, this is time consuming, but the beauty of it is, when these basting threads are removed, they leave holes that act like perforations, and the seam allowance rolls right under along them. Even Jeana was skeptical when she first saw this method, but once you try it, the advantages over other ways to mark and turn applique becomes obvious.
I appliqued just enough of this sashing piece to be sure this method is right for this project, and it seems to be working as planned. The basting stitches come out just far enough ahead of your stitching to allow turning under, and as both Elly and Jeana recommend, the excess applique fabric is trimmed back to a narrow seam allowance also just a bit ahead of the stitching. This helps keep fraying of the applique edges to a minimum.
Even so, I didn't have to take too many stitches to realize I'd done it to myself again, staying true to my subconscious motto of, "Wait! How can I make this harder for me?" The dark blue on the medium blue is reminding me of when I hand quilted a black background with black thread - so hard to see what you're stitching, even with really good light. And yes, those leaves are pretty small, there are a lot of them, and the turn into the stem is pretty tight. This is fussy work and isn't something I'm going to complete any time soon, even if I work diligently at it. However, I really am all about process, I love hand stitching, and I know I wouldn't be happy with the look of a faster method like fusing. For me, it's as much about the journey as it is the destination. Good thing, huh?