The Billboard Quilt-Along is open to anyone who wants to participate and has no set start or finish date. I’ve compiled a list of posts here.
Today's post includes general machine applique instructions that can be applied to any machine applique project. Please note that the fusible web used in the sample appliques (patchwork letters) makes it unnecessary to pin the appliques in place. If you're working with appliques that don't include fusible web (for instance, Dresden Plates) you will want to pin your applique shapes in place before attempting to sew them down.
Now that your letters have been fused to the block bases, it's time to finish the raw edges by stitching around each letter using some form of a zigzag stitch. The idea is to encase the raw edges in stitches by sewing one half of your stitches (the left side in the above photo) through all layers, just inside the edge of your applique shape, and the other half (the right side in the above photo) through just the background fabric, just outside the applique shape.
Doing this accurately takes practice, so don't be discouraged if you don't get a feel for it right away. Remember that, even if your stitches don't follow the edges of your applique shapes as perfectly as you would like, the letters are very unlikely to fall off your quilt!
Start by choosing thread to match either your applique shapes or your background fabric. Which you choose is up to you. My letters were very big, very monochromatic, and much brighter than my background fabric, so I chose a different thread color to match each letter. If my fabrics had been more muted and/or more multicolored, I would probably have chosen to use a single thread color that matched my background fabric.
I recommend either 100% cotton or 100% polyester thread. I've found that both work equally well. However, if your machine is fussy about sewing through fusible web, I recommend the thinner, stronger polyester thread.
If you're feeling confident about your machine's tension, you don't necessarily need to use the same thread in your bobbin. However, using a matching bobbin can definitely hide imperfections in your stitch.
I like to use Microtex/Sharp needles for machine applique. I typically use 80/12 but, if your fabrics are especially thick and/or you find that your thread is breaking, you may want to bump that up to 90/14.
Once you have your thread in order, adjust your machine's settings. What kind of stitch you use will depend on what kind of machine you have and what kind of look you're going for and could include any of the following:
A simple zigzag stitch
This is my preference for machine applique. It's simple and no-nonsense. On most machines you can adjust the width and density of the stitch to suit your project.
A decorative/fancy applique stitch
Many electronic and higher-end machines have different options for decorative stitches, some of which are specifically designed to mimic the look of hand applique stitches. If you have trouble accurately zigzag stitching the edges of your letters, you may find that using a decorative stitch with softer edges may be easier.
A buttonhole stitch
If you have a simple, mechanical machine, using just the first step of a 4-step buttonhole system can produce a nice, narrow zigzag perfect for smaller appliques.
A satin stitch
This is basically just a really dense zigzag stitch, often used in conjunction with machine embroidery. I'll admit that I don't care for the look of satin stitching in general but, more importantly, I think it's a bit bulky for use on a quilt.
To achieve a balanced look, adjust the width of your stitch to match the size of your appliques. For larger letters like mine, I set the width of my stitch to be about 1/4" wide - much wider than I would have used for smaller appliques.
If you're using a standard zigzag stitch, you will probably also want to increase the density of the stitches (how close together they are). You don't want a solid mass of stitches, but you want something more that the "standard" zigzag stitch.
Now that your machine is ready, it's time to start sewing! Start on the right side of the applique. If your machine has an automatic knot function, go ahead and use it. If not, backstitch one or two stitches and trim loose threads before continuing.
Note: I'm using my machine's applique foot because the clear plastic is easy to see through. If you don't have an applique-specific foot, your machine's standard foot should work just fine.
Continue sewing down the next side. Notice how putting the needle down in the right-hand position resulted in perfect stitches at the corner.
With the needle down, raise your presser foot and turn your project.
When sewing around curves, use your hands to gently pivot the fabric as you sew.
Stop and readjust as often as you need to, always making sure your needle comes down to hold your place. If your machine doesn't have an auto-needle-down function, get in the habit of using the hand wheel to put your needle down every time you stop. Remember that, when you're sewing around convex curves and angles, your needle should always stop in the right-hand position (or outside of the applique shape). When sewing around concave curves and angles, like the one shown above, the needle should always stop in the left-hand position (or through the applique shape).
Continue sewing around to the point where you started, overlapping your earlier stitching by several stitches. If your machine has an automatic knot function, use it. Otherwise, backstitch one or two stitches. Remove your project from the machine, and use a seam ripper to carefully pull any loose threads to the back (wrong side).
Use thread snips or embroidery scissors to trim any loose threads from around the edges of your applique.
If your stitch is looking bad, first check to make sure that you're using a lightweight (or "lite") fusible product, not a heavy or "no sew" product. The latter is not designed for this purpose and will cause trouble on even the nicest machines. If you are using a lightweight product, consider the following:
- Try putting a few drops of Sewers Aid lubricant on your needle. This can be especially helpful if you notice your needle is covered in debris from the fusible web.
- Make sure your needle is new and sharp.
- Try a different kind of thread.
- Make sure your tension is balanced. (Refer to your machine's manual for instructions on how to adjust tension.)
Finish your letters with machine applique
Tuesday, August 30 - Making the Quilt Top and Back