2017 BOM: Minimal Day Sampler
When I was asked to create this year’s block of the month, I might have had a tiny panic attack. Then when the word “applique” came up, I was intrigued. Since I don’t typically work in a modern style, (tiny pink flowers, anyone? No? Just me?) I wasn’t exactly sure where to begin. So after I stopped hyperventilating, I started looking around for inspiration and ideas. At some point in that process, I came across these two pieces in my jewelry box:
They are the marvelous work of my great uncle, Russell Day. He was an art professor at Everett Community College. A designer and jeweler. Entirely obsessed with color and light. And he made some truly amazing things with beautiful and interesting forms. Sounds like the makings of a quilt, right? Right. So here we go.
Knowing that applique may be new, or even terrifying to some of you, I’ve tried to keep it very simple. You are not in for a Baltimore Album here. I promise. It’s a relatively small quilt that incorporates a new applique skill each month. So if you hang in there with me throughout the year, you will learn all the tricks to be able applique absolutely anything you want. (This is where you cheer, clap, happy dance, whatever. Go ahead. I’ll wait…)
Ok. That’s done.
Now, let’s talk about what you’ll need to get started.
- Milliner (or Straw) needles size 10 or 11. I especially like Bohin as they are very fine but have a larger eye. Richard Hemming works well too. The advantage of the milliner needle is the length. It allows you more needle to hold on to while you’re using the rest to sweep your seam allowances under.
- Fine weight thread to match your appliques. Aurifil 50wt works brilliantly, though I have had success with most threads. If you can’t match the color of your applique, go a shade darker or choose a medium neutral, like grey or tan.
- Thread conditioner. Thread Heaven (or something similar) may be helpful depending on the kind of thread you use.
- Applique pins. Glass head pins seem to tangle threads less, but short and fine are the most important things to look for. OR – if you regularly glue baste as you sew, you can use that same washable glue, with a fine tip applicator in place of pins to hold your appliques in place.
- Either a sandpaper board or just a plain old sheet of fine grit from the hardware store. It will hold your fabric securely so you can trace your templates without pulling or puckering the fabric.
- Marking tool(s). Use your preferred tool here. I will use Frixion pens in this case because the lines get turned under with the seam allowance, so there is no worry over it leaving visible marks on your quilt. I would avoid chalk though, as the marks may disappear too soon from handling your piece as you are stitching.
- Template material. Since we will generally use each template only once, you can use paper or cardstock (or junk mail or whatever) for these. Of course, template plastic will work beautifully too if you have it.
- General sewing supplies. Thimble, scissors for fabric and templates, rotary cutter, mat, sewing machine, etc.
Circa 15 Fabric Studio in Kirkland has all of the supplies I’ve mentioned above. www.circa15fabricstudio.com
You may choose to make either a 9 block, 30” x 30” wall hanging, or a 12 block, 56” x 69” lap quilt.
- For the wall hanging:
- About 1 yard or a pile of scraps for your appliques*
- 1 yard for block backgrounds
- For the lap quilt:
- About 1 yard or a pile of scraps for your appliques*
- 1 ¼ yards for block backgrounds
- 2/3 yard for sashing
- 1 2/3 yards for borders
*If you are new to applique, you will likely get the best results with a tightly woven fabric for your applique pieces. Lawns, batiks, fabrics by Art Gallery, and Michael Miller Cotton Couture all work well. (Circa 15 had a nice selection of all of these too.) Avoid anything that has a loose weave, unravels easily, or is heavy or stiff.
If you would like to look ahead to the stitching part, YouTube has a wide array of tutorials (hooray for the internet!) and of course there are lots of books available too. (My favorite for the actual “nuts and bolts” of needle-turn applique is called “Jacobean Rhapsodies” by Patricia B. Campbell and Mimi Ayars. The designs are not modern, but the diagrams and explanations for exactly how to stitch the general types of shapes are excellent. It is out of print, but good, used copies are available on Amazon for around $10.) There are many, many, many methods for doing the applique itself, so if one doesn’t work for you, please try another. I will happily answer any questions you have along the way. You can email me at email@example.com or find me on Instagram (@bespokeoutlaw), where I hope to be posting helpful photos and tips each month as well.
For a little extra information about the source of my inspiration and more insight on the style of this project, take a look at this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l_361S1onRQ.
I hope you are as excited to get started on this as I am!
Minimal Day Sampler – Block One: Quarter Opals
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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!
Minimal Day Sampler – Block Two: Fringe
It seems like everyone is off to a good start with last month’s Quarter Opals blocks. How did you find it? Any trouble with the appliqué at all? The blocks I’ve seen look fantastic! What’s even better still, is that none of you have sworn directly at me (at least not yet), so I take that as a good sign. Ready for more?
This month’s block is called Fringe, based on the elongated teardrop shape of the metal pieces that dangle from the inspiration pendant. (You can see it in the photo on the January post.)
All of the remaining blocks will use templates in some way. Don’t worry though! They are really simple to use as long as you know a few things ahead of time:
- Appliqué templates DO NOT include a seam allowance. So when you are transferring them to your fabric, you need to leave space around them for the seam allowance.
- Always trace them on the RIGHT side of your fabric. The line you trace is your stitching line and it needs to be visible.
- Don’t use chalk to trace templates on your fabric. Because the piece will be handled quite a bit while you’re stitching, chalk often wears off before you’ve finished and then you have to wing it. (However, if adrenaline-fueled quilting is your thing, by all means go for it! You are the boss of your process.)
Feel better? Excellent. Let’s get started.
Begin by printing out a copy of the template, making sure the scaling on your printer is turned off. The cut-out template should be around 7 ½” long.
Tip: I’ve simply used copier paper for all of the templates for this quilt, which has worked fine. None of them will be used more than a few times and they don’t need to be terribly precise. But if you prefer something stronger, feel free to transfer them to cardstock, template plastic, or whatever you like.
Whether you are making the wall or lap sized quilt, this month’s block is the same for both.
- From background fabric: Cut one 10 ½” square
- From appliqué fabric: You’ll need 3 scraps that are at least 2” x 8”, though you don’t need to trim them down to that size. Just be sure they are at least large enough to allow for the template and seam allowance.
On the RIGHT side of an appliqué fabric, place the narrow end of the template on a cut edge and trace around it, using whatever pen/transfer method you like. Be sure you are leaving enough space around it for a seam allowance that is more than 1/8” but less than ¼” (i.e. a “fat eighth”).
Repeat this process on a second appliqué fabric.
Flip the template over and trace it on the RIGHT side of the third appliqué fabric. The template isn’t symmetrical so this adds a nice bit of variation in the finished block.
Tip: Use a sheet of fine grit sandpaper (from the hardware store) under the fabric while you trace. It holds the fabric smooth and prevents those little skips and drags that the tip of your pen can cause. You’ll get a nice clean line without the struggle.
Cut out the appliqué pieces, adding a “fat eighth” seam allowance.
Lay out the appliqué pieces on your background square as shown:
The top edge of all three appliqués should line up with the top edge of the background square. They should be grouped off-center toward the left side of the block, roughly 1 ½” from the left edge and nearly touching at the widest part of the appliqués. When you are happy with the placement, baste or pin the piece on the left (setting the others aside).
Starting at the top edge of the block, stitch down the left straight edge, around the bottom curve and back up the right side of the appliqué. Do not stitch across the top of the appliqué. That edge will be enclosed in the seam when the blocks are joined later.
Tip: I found it easiest to finger press the seam allowance under on the long straight sides before stitching. It gives a nice, crisp edge that is easy to stitch. Then I used the needle-turn technique to go around the curves at the bottom. These are much tighter curves than we did in the last block, so it is especially important to only turn under enough of the seam allowance to take one stitch at a time. Turning under too much at once or working with a too-wide seam allowance will cause little points and bumps along the edge instead of a smoothly rounded curve.
Add the other two pieces back to your block, according to the above layout, this time basting or pinning the middle piece down. Set aside the third piece and stitch down the middle one.
Finally, add the third appliqué in the same manner as above. Your finished block should look something like this: (you may want to actually iron yours before taking any photos of it though…)
Your new block will go here in the final quilt layout (wall, then lap size):
As always, 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’ll add bias strips!
Minimal Day Sampler – Block Three: Bias Curves
Most of us, as quilters, have used bias strips or bias tape at some point in one project or another. (A fabric’s bias runs diagonal to the grain, at a 45 degree angle to the selvedge.) Love it or hate it, nothing else will give you a smooth curve, or a rounded finished edge, quite like bias tape. Often in appliqué, it is used for vines, stems, and basket handles. Yeah. We’re not going there. Instead, we’ll be making a simple arc to mimic the center wave-like portion of the inspiration pendant. (Look back at the January post for a reminder.)
There are lots of methods for making bias strips. Gadgets are widely available, like bias bars and bias tape makers. But if you don’t have any of those, there are online tutorials for making it with everything from paper templates to just a couple of straight pins. If that seems like too much bother, you can go old school and just press your strip in thirds, with one raw edge on the inside and one underneath. It doesn’t matter which technique you use as long as you are careful to cut your strips on the true bias of your fabric so they have enough stretch to curve nicely, while still lying flat.
We’ll start this month’s block by printing out a copy of the template, making sure the scaling on your printer is turned off. The cut-out template should be 5 ½” wide across the top straight edge.
- From background fabric(s): Cut 2 (or 3 for lap size) rectangles 5 ½” x 10 ½”
- From appliqué fabric(s): Cut 2 (or 3) strips 1” x 12” on the bias of the fabric
Tip: I’ve used a bias tape maker which turns a 1” strip into ½” bias tape, because it was what I had on hand, but if you have one that makes another size, feel free to use it. Just be sure to cut your strips to the correct width for your bias tape maker or chosen method.
On the RIGHT side of your background pieces, align the template with the 5 ½” end of each piece and trace the curve onto the fabric. (I’ve marked the right one below with chalk to make it easier to see in the photo, but I don’t recommend using that method as it can wear off before you’ve finished stitching. For more tips on using templates, take a look at the March post.)
Press your bias strips, using your preferred method, so all the raw edges will be enclosed when stitched.
Tip: After making the bias tape, use the iron to press it again a few times (being careful not to stretch it), while slightly curving it a bit more with each pass. It makes easing the strip around the curve much quicker since it will already be partially bent for you.
Align the top fold of one of your bias strips with the line on a background fabric, easing it around the curve so it lays flat without stretching it. Pin often as you go.
Tip: Let the bias tape ends extend a bit past the edge of the background, rather than trying to match them up at the sides. It’s much easier to just trim them even with the edge of the block after stitching.
Beginning with that top fold, which runs along the inner curve, appliqué the bias strip to the background. Then stitch the outer curve.
Tip: Stitching the inner side of a bias curve helps ensure that it lays flat. If you begin with the outer curve, the inner curve often puckers and doesn’t finish as nicely.
Trim the ends of the bias tape flush with the edge of your block and press.
Your finished blocks will go here in the final quilt layout (wall, then lap size):
As always, if you have any questions about anything here or would like more information, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or come find me on Instagram at @bespokeoutlaw.
Next month we’ll learn how to manage appliqué shapes with corners!