Friday, April 12, 2013
Tutorial: How to applique perfect circles
I've been sharing a little bit of a new quilt project over on Instagram the last couple of weeks, and I've had a lot of people ask how I manage to applique the perfect circles I'm getting. So here's a tutorial.
You'll need three nifty tools, but more on that during the tutorial.
First tool is this - a packet of Mylar circle templates. Yes, you can use your own cardboard templates, but they have to be perfectly cut with no jagged, uneven edges, and they may get a little bit warped and soggy by the end of a quilt, so be prepared for that.. For this project I'm using both the biggest circle in the Big packet, and the biggest circle in the little packet. I freaking LOVE circles so none of the other sizes in the packets will be wasted and you can use them again and again.
Select your template and trace the shape onto the back of fabric. Normally i use a pencil, but I'm out of leads so I'm using a white gel pen. It's on the inside of the fabric so no one will ever see it.
I do a few layers at a time - usually 4. I pin the layers together on the inside of the circle and trim to a suitable seam allowance. I probably make my seam allowance bigger than most - it's certainly over a 1/4 inch, but what you do is up to you.
Now it's time for a gather stitch. Make sure the tails of the gathering thread are on the right side of the fabric.You'll thank me later.
You can use the sewing machine on the largest stitch length if you like - I did the first part of my quilt that way but I found I was having too many thread breakages and frustrations with the 4 thread scenario. So now I hand baste. It takes me 2 minutes tops and I find it much faster when it comes to the next process.
I use a big long sashiko needle and ordinary Gutermann cotton sewing thread and take many stitches at once. I usually can get a quarter of the circle on the needle before I pull the thread through. Make sure you are inside the seam allowance. You don't want to have those threads inside the circle line.
Finish the last stitch just past the first stitch, so they overlap.
Now grab your template, put it on top of the wrong side of fabric.
Grab your gathering threads gently and pull (gently!) so the seam allowance comes over the side of the template. See what I'm getting at here?
Now take the whole shebang over to the ironing board. You can tie a single knot here if you like but it doesn't really matter, or make much of a difference. Not a double knot though - you need to be able to get that template out later and you won't want to cutting your gathering threads just yet.
Here's where tool number 2 comes into play.
Yes, it's just Crisp spray starch from my local IGA. Shake it up, and spray an amount into the lid. And grab either a little paintbrush or a cotton bud.
(I use a cotton bud because all my paintbrushes were sold at the trash and treasure a couple of months ago. Silly me.)
Hold onto the ends of your gathering thread tightly (but gently!) so the fabric is firm against the template, and start brushing on the starch. It doesn't matter if the foam has dissolved - just brush the liquid starch on to the edges until the fabric is soaked through, like so.
Then get your iron ready, but MAKE SURE YOUR IRON IS ONLY ON DRY MEDIUM HEAT.
DON'T USE STEAM. DON'T TURN IT UP TO HIGH. Ask me sometime how I already managed to ruin one template already because I didn't read the instructions on the packet.
Gently press the edges until just damp. Don't move the iron around too much - you don't want the seam allowance to move. Just press down, lift, and move to the next starched spot.
Flip the circle over and press on the other side, until the fabric on that side is dry.
Flip it over again and do the underside one more time.
Wait until the template and the fabric are both cool. This is important. Then flick the gathering threads loose at the start (and end) of your stitching. And pull your template out gently.
With the template out, go back and give your gathering threads a very gentle tightening again, so the circle sits flat. Too much tightening and you'll have a bulge in your applique. You should notice by now how lovely and stiff your edges are.
Go back and press it again, on top and under, until it is dry. You may notice a little watermarking and shine on your fabrics - don't be concerned. This is just the starch and will wash out.
Head back to your work space with your circle, and admire how bloody perfect it is.
Trim the gathering thread tails. You can leave the gathering thread in.
And now for tool number 3.
I use this basting glue because I couldn't get my applique pins to lay flat. Also this is a perfect portable project, and the less pins I have to deal with the better.
Dot a little teeny (TEENY!) bit of glue at periods around the circle, on the seam allowance.
And then lay it on your background piece. Press flat with your hands. The glue dries pretty quickly, and you can start appliqueing pretty much straight away, or go and make a lot more perfect circles at the ironing board.
Here's how I do applique so it's almost invisible.
When I first learned to needleturn applique, fine silk thread reels were recommended to me. They just sink straight into the fabric. A few years later and those silk threads are getting harder to find in Canberra. I experimented with a few different brands - Gutermann silk, Superior Bottom Line poly, Aurifil 50/2 cotton - but none of them really hid in the fabric, and they were a bother to pull through the different layers most of the time.
And then I discovered Superior Egyptian Cotton in the form of a Frosted Donut. Friends - this stuff is sensational to applique with! It sinks into the applique piece, is easy to pull through and comes in every imaginable colour.
Also. Donuts. And no, this is not a paid advert (I maintain an ad-free blog). I just really, really like this stuff.
So back to the invisible hand applique. Seriously, practice makes perfect. I can't emphasise this enough.
Knot your thread and start from the back. Catch only a couple of threads of the very outside of the circle. Pull your thread through.
Insert your needle directly behind where you just went, into the background fabric, and slightly under the applique piece. And then come back up through your applique piece again. Like the photo above.
Here's another perspective. See how I've just caught a couple of threads on the edge of the circle? And how the needle has gone behind and under, into the background fabric? (See how much I desperately need a manicure?)
This photo was taken in the sunlight so you could see the first inch of stitching to the right of the needle. But you can't actually see the stitching. Clever huh? Like I said - practice.
Here's a different perspective again to show that first inch of stitching. You can only really see it from the sideof the piece. Of course the colour matched thread helps. But I also used this purple thread on the yellow and blue edges of the block, and you know what?
Can hardly see it.
This is the back of the block. My stitches aren't too close together, and they aren't pulled super tight (otherwise you get puckering).
Each one of these blocks takes me 20 minutes tops. It's less than 10 minutes to cut out, do a gathering stitch by hand, starch and press, and attach to the background piece. Then it's another 10 minutes for the applique, but like I said I've been doing applique for a long time, and practice really does make perfect.
So what are you waiting for? Give it a go! And if you have any questions please ask in the comments and I'll answer there.
Right after I've given myself a manicure.