So, after last month’s inspiration and introduction, are you ready to begin sewing? Do you have your supplies ready? Did you choose all you fabrics? Are you dying for me to just hurry up and get on with it? Yeah. Me too. Let’s do this.
This month we will tackle our first block: Quarter Opals.
The shape for this block was inspired by the simple oval shape of the opals in one of the inspiration pieces (see last month’s post for a refresher). It is a smooth, gentle curve, which is a great way to ease into applique.
For this block of the month we will be using needle-turn applique. It is my favorite technique, but like many things in sewing, this particular way of doing things may not suit everyone. So if you try it and are frustrated, or it just doesn’t seem to be working, please ask and I will happily (okay, giddily) help you in any way I can. I love this stuff. Can’t get enough. So really, ask. Please. I’m looking to convert you here. (Cue the maniacal laughter…)
Tip: If you have a preferred method for applique (or if conventional needle-turn just happens to be your own personal kryptonite) please use the method you are most comfortable with. There are a couple of different freezer paper methods or raw-edge applique, which can all deliver excellent results. (Use the gift of the internet and You Tube to look for options to try.)
But anyway, let’s get started.
Because there are two size options for the finished project, the number of pieces will be given for the wall hanging first, followed by those needed for the lap quilt in parenthesis. All photo examples will be for the wall hanging size.
- From background fabric(s): Cut 3 (or 9 for lap size) 5 ½” squares
- From applique fabric(s): Cut 3 (or 9) rectangles 3 ¼” x 4 ½”
Next, take 2 ( or 5) of your applique pieces and trim off the upper left corner, rounding it into a quarter oval-ish shape. Keep your curve long and extend it over the rectangle so it takes off more than just the tip of the corner. You want it to feel like a hill, not a speed bump. Aim for something like the shape of the first two pieces below:
You’ll do the same thing with the remaining 1 (or 4) applique pieces, this time rounding off the upper right corner, like the piece on the right above.
Tip: Notice how the one in the center is smaller? I trimmed a bit off the top as I rounded the corner. And I trimmed some off the right side of the far right pink one too, making it a bit narrower than the others. The goal here is to make them a little random. Organic. Improv-y. Just be free with it. As long as your curve stays smooth, you can’t go wrong.
I generally eyeball it on a shape like this and do not mark a stitching line. If you prefer to use one, you can draw it on with your favorite marking tool. I’m a bit wary of Frixion pens as a universal tool, but find that they work well for this step. Since the line gets folded under as you sew, there’s no risk of marks showing up on the quilt surface.
Mark your line along the curve, leaving a seam allowance that is more than 1/8” but less than ¼”. I like to think of it as a “fat eighth”.
Tip: If you make it too wide, there is extra bulk to ease under and it results in a sewn edge with little bumps and points instead of an even, smooth edge. A narrow allowance can be a bit scary at first, but it truly makes all the difference in the finished look of your applique.
Now layer each of your quarter opals on a background square in a corner, matching up the edges like this:
I typically pin or use a few drops of glue to hold pieces in place. (Mainly because I’m in too much of a hurry to get to the sewing part to bother with anything else.)
Tip: There are many other methods for this too. Hand-basting is what Carolyn Friedlander uses and explains in her book Savor Each Stitch. While Anna Maria Horner uses her sewing machine to baste pieces.
Thread your needle (I use a size 10 milliner) with about an 18” length of thread, knot the end, and run it through thread conditioner if you’re using some. (It is not essential, but if you find your thread keeps knotting and twisting up on you, check first to make sure it’s not too long then give conditioner a try. It can really make a difference.)
Start at one of the straighter ends of the applique curve.
Tip: I am right-handed so I always sew with the applique to the left, working counter-clockwise around the piece. If you are left-handed, you’ll do the reverse, working with the applique to the right and sewing clockwise around it. I’ve found it easiest to get started by finger pressing the seam allowance under for the first inch or so.
Bring your needle up from the wrong side of the applique piece in the crease you made, about 1/8” away from the bottom edge like this:
Use the crease you made to tuck the seam allowance under the applique. To make the first stitch, your needle goes down into the background, right next to where it came out of the fold, perpendicular to the edge of the applique:
Then, in the same motion, bring it back up through the background and out through the center of the fold (or on your drawn line if you’re using one) about 1/8” away from the first stitch:
You’ll only need to catch a couple of threads on the applique with each stitch. If you get much more than that, the stitch will show. The stitch itself is essentially a tiny tack stitch, on the very edge of the applique’s fold.
Work the next stitch the same way, using the length of your needle to push the seam allowance under before you stitch. I could not get a great photo of this step as it’s more of an action (and a two handed one at that) but hopefully this will give you an idea of what I mean. (If not, there’s always Google, right?)
Tip: On a shape like this, you can continue to finger-press the seam allowance under as you go, or use your needle to push/turn it under along the marking line. (That’s why it’s called needle-TURN, get it?) Or use a combination of both. Find what works for you and be patient with yourself while you are learning. Keep working your stitches one at a time all the way around the shape. Because your curve is gentle, and your seam allowance is narrow, you don’t need to clip anything. It will lay nicely for you without it.
With practice, your stitches will be nearly invisible:
Tip: If you find that the stitches are showing more than you like, make sure you aren’t catching too much of the applique- a couple threads is all you need. It may also be that you are bringing the needle out toward (or on) the surface of the applique, rather than on the edge of the fold. Aim to come out right in the center of that crease and your stitches will disappear.
When you get to the end of the curved edge, knot your thread on the back and trim it. The back will look like a slightly wonky running stitch:
Applique the other 2 ( or 8) pieces to their backgrounds.
They will go surprisingly quickly once you get into the stitch/turn under rhythm. Blocks like these also make great portable sewing for school pick-ups or waiting rooms or just TV watching.
The following are not to scale, but so you have an idea of where this block of the month is heading, here is where your just-completed blocks will go in the final layouts: (wall, then lap size)
If you have any questions about anything here or would like more information, email me at email@example.com or come find me on Instagram at @bespokeoutlaw. I will continue to post hints and tips there too.
Next month we start using templates! Hooray!