Applique Blocks- Episode 1

For me, ideas start with a small sketch.

Then, it's time to figure out how to turn the idea into reality. And next thing you know, I am learning how to make an applique quilt block. And sharing it with you...

There are many different types of applique quilt blocks. Just do a Google image search for them and you will see beautiful floral motifs, cute animals, and, as always, some odd stuff that makes you remember that there are all kinds of tastes out there. What they all have in common is this, layers over layers of shaped pieces of fabric.

What do I mean by that? To put it simply, when you have a design in front of you, take note of what graphic elements are on top of one another. Take a look at the detail of this sketch below. If I wanted to create this in fabric, I have to start with what element is in the back of the drawing. In this case, that would be the hill on the horizon. (Look for the light, horizontal line behind the trees.)

From there I build up my image. Tree trunks, then greenery, then boat parts, etc. You can sketch it out and work in free-form like I am here, or you can get yourself a pattern and work more traditionally. Either way, the process of constructing the applique is the same.

I find it easier to work on applique blocks if I give myself some room beyond the finished size. (Partly because I am prone to adding embroidery elements on the block and I need some extra fabric around the edges so I can use a hoop.) I cut a piece of backing fabric larger than I need and I use a water-soluable marker and mark off the "live area" on my block (what will show on the quilt front) and the seam allowances. Like so:

Depending on your pattern, your backing fabric may be a design element or not. Pay attention to that when choosing your fabrics.

Once you have your backing fabric ready, and have decided what order the pieces need to be layered to create your image, and have shopped for the most gorgeous fabrics you can need to run to the grocery store and buy yourself something called Freezer Paper.

This magical stuff has one side that is like white deli paper and the other side is some sort of waxy plastic. This is what you will use to create the shaped pieces that make up your design. You can draw your image on the paper side, cut it out, and then iron the waxy side on to your fabric...and it sticks and removes without a film. Told you it was magic.

I drew on the paper and cut out the shape of the hills in the background of my sketch (You may have noticed that the finished block is a different shape than the original sketch. That is how I roll.) and ironed the waxy side onto a piece of fabric. Please note: it is more effective to "press" your iron in a stamping motion when you want the freezer paper to stick to the fabric. Running it across like you were ironing a shirt will just make the paper curl.

Using the attached paper as my guide, I cut out my hill in the fabric, leaving about a quarter inch seam allowance around the edges. Then I peeled off the freezer paper.

Turning my piece of fabric wrong-side up, I placed the same cut piece of paper I just peeled off (this time waxy-side up) on top of the fabric (making sure the seam allowances are even) and started pressing the seam allowance over onto the waxy paper.

It is important to clip seams as you go so that your design looks smooth.

Then, I placed the hills piece on my backing piece, and pressed the two together. It only stuck so well so I pinned too.

Then I stitched the two together leaving about 1/8" seam allowance.

When edges were stitched together, I took the block over to the cutting table and flipped it over. It was time to remove the paper trapped inside. I carefully cut away the backing fabric (leaving about a 1/4" seam allowance) from behind the hills applique.

Then, I grabbed hold of the paper and tugged it loose:

This green piece anchors the bottom of the design, so I did not stitch the bottom edge because it gets caught in the seam allowance. Otherwise, I would have.

Flipping the block back over, I pressed it out and began preparations for adding the next piece. Which, I will tell you about next week... :)


PS - Click here for Episode 2!

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