Thursday, March 18, 2010

And now, HOW MACHINE APPLIQUÉ TECHNIQUES SCORED based on my personal criteria….

Pattern by Mary Sorensen, Simple Gifts

I hope everyone had a wonderful St. Patrick’s Day! This year’s celebration took on an international flavor when my Cuban born Mom surprised my Southie husband (Irish descended South Boston native) with an incredible meal including a homemade cake with “from scratch” custard filling and green meringue. Thankfully, Mom’s incredible cooking – which we all have known since childhood has magic powers – is one of the few things that can cure Jim’s homesickness so he was a very happy Irishman yesterday.
AP Photo/Orlando Sentinal, Red Huber


I too am very happy but for a different reason. I have made progress on my search for the perfect machine appliqué technique. Here is the link to the original blog if you missed it …

Before I get into the details, I want to stress that this test and scoring process is all based on PERSONAL PREFERENCE. We are each the sum total of our experience and physical abilities. What works for me may not work for anyone else and vice versa. The only way to know what works best for YOU is for you is to try it things for yourself. I’m sharing my experiences with you to help you on your own path of discovery.

By the way, this is a long one so it’s probably a good idea to get a hot/cold drink before you settle in to read. On second thought, you had better go get a sandwich.

So far, I have tested 5 different techniques. Sadly, no technique so far meets all of my criteria. However, several have potential and one works especially well. Below is a quick description of each. Google each teacher to learn more or to order their book/DVD that teaches the technique.

1. Freezer Paper Prepared Edge - Technique 1 is freezer paper underneath with the fabric edges glued down. After stitching with either a blind hem or tiny zig zag stitch, the background is cutaway and the block is dampened with warm water to loosen the glue and the freezer paper is removed. I learned it from Beth Ferrier’s books.

2. Foundation Paper Prepared Edge - Technique 2 is Sharon Schamber’s foundation paper underneath with the fabric edges glued down. However, the paper is left in the quilt block. After sewing the appliqué with either a blind hem or tiny zig zag stitch, and the quilting is complete, the entire quilt must be washed to dissolve the foundation paper. I have taken several workshops with Sharon and highly recommend them because you learn so much about quilting, creativity, design, etc. Her books and DVDs are very good.

3. Liquid Stitch Raw Edge - Technique 3 is another Sharon Schamber technique. The appliqué fabric is starched stiff and the piece cut right to the edge. Then a small bead of either Liquid Stitch or Elmer’s School Glue is applied to the back edge and the piece is ironed down to the background. The edge is finished with a zig zag, buttonhole or other decorative stitch. Again, Sharon Schamber .

4. Fused Raw Edge - Technique 4 uses fusible web (BTW - I tested several different brands and Soft Fuse by Shady Textiles is my absolute favorite – probably the subject of another blog). I TINY bit of fusible is left around the perimeter of the appliqué and the shape is fused to the background. The edge is finished with a zig zag, buttonhole or other decorative stitch. I have taken several of Sue Nickel’s workshops highly recommend them. She is an excellent teacher. Her book is Raw Edge Applique and is also very good.

5. Templar and Starch Prepared Edge – Technique 5 requires a template be made from Templar (or other heat resistant template material – again tried several but Templar won hands down) for each appliqué shape. The appliqué fabric is cut out with a seam allowance. The template is placed on the back of the fabric. A small amount of Magic Sizing is used to wet the seam allowance and then ironed dry over the edge of the template. The appliqué shape can then be stitched to the background using either a tiny zig zag or a blind hem stitch. I learned this from Karen Kay Buckley. I have taken a few of her workshops and she is an EXCELLENT teacher. I have also viewed her DVD several times.

And now, HOW MACHINE APPLIQUÉ TECHNIQUES SCORED based on my personal criteria….

Was the technique enjoyable or did it feel like a kindergarten art class?

Did I feel like I was sewing or was it too crafty/messy?

Did it create a beautiful edge?

Did the finished appliqué feel soft in my hands?

Was it faster than hand appliqué?

Technique 1 - Freezer Paper Prepared Edge - failed on almost all criteria. For me it was excessively messy. The glue stick was difficult to control. In our South Florida heat and humidity, it would get too soft too fast. I had to keep switching it out with another glue stick I kept in the freezer. I had glue all over my hands, the iron, my hair, the dog, etc. I could not get past the mess and my hands constantly wet and sticky. The method did create a beautiful edge. However, I was very uncomfortable cutting away the background fabric and leaving a moistened towel on the back of the block to loosen the glue so the freezer paper could be pulled out. I couldn’t get through this technique enough to prepare a single sample.

Technique 2 - Foundation Paper Prepared Edge – also failed for extreme messiness and stitches showing. The advantage over Technique 1 is that the foundation paper does not need to be removed because the fiber dissolves when the quilt is washed. This technique also creates a nice edge but I noticed that the combination of glue and fiber stiffen the appliqué so that the stitching, which should be invisible, shows more. The monofilament was invisible but the hole made by the size 60 needle was still visible even after washing. In one sample (the pink bird pattern from Best of Baltimore by Elly Sienkiewicz), I went over the stitching with a hand embroidery to hide the holes.

In the second sample (the red rose pattern Victorian Rose by Sharon Schamber) I ended up stitching the appliqué by hand with cotton embroidery thread.

Technique 3 - Liquid Stitch Raw Edge – scored much higher than Techniques 1 &2 because there was no glue stick – Yippee! Plus it was much faster to execute. The appliqué shape is cut right to size and a very tiny bead of Elmers Glue or Liquid Stitch is applied right to the edge. The appliqué shape is ironed to the background. I had difficulty squeezing the bottle of glue hard enough and keeping my hand steady enough to get the glue only on the very edge. My hand kept cramping up. In addition, the fumes from the Liquid Stitch were strong enough to bother my allergies. The Elmer’s Glue was less toxic but because it washes out, I was worried that that any points would fray after washing – and they did. The appliqué edges were soft and clean but the overall appearance of the block was very flat.

Technique 4 - Fused Raw Edge was the fastest to prepare for stitching (one evening to prepare an entire block of complex, tiny shapes). However, it took the longest to stitch! It was very neat, no glue or wet hands. It was very precise. It worked for even the tiniest pieces. I tried several paper backed fusible products and was quickly frustrated by the paper peeling off the adhesive before I was ready (Steam a Seam). I also found some gummed up the needle during stitching (Steam a Seam 2). Some were just too stiff after ironing (Heat n Bond). My favorite turned out to be Soft Fuse by Shades Textiles. No gumminess and the paper stayed on ALMOST until you are ready to remove it. If you handle the product too much the adhesive and the paper will separate so be careful. I like to stitch raw edge appliqué very precisely and I am meticulous about hiding thread tails, start and stops, etc. For me it’s extremely time consuming. I can embroider a buttonhole stitch by hand in half the time. I can hand appliqué as fast or faster. Like technique 3, the overall appearance of the block is very flat - see the bird in a heart wreath example (pattern Summer Heart by Shirley Bloomfield).

Technique 5 - Templar and Starch Prepared Edge is definitely the front-runner! Preparation time is about the same as technique 1 & 2. Templates need to be traced and cut out of heat resistant template material. Until this experiment, I had only used Mylar sheets. Mylar is thick and for me difficult to cut accurately. For this experiment, I loosened the purse strings and bought a package of “The Original” Templar by Heirloom Stitches. A little pricey - $13 - $16 for a package of 6 - 81/2 by 11 sheets - BUT OH MY GOD! What a difference. Templar is only a little thicker than construction paper so it was VERY easy to cut accurately. Moreover, if tracing is not your thing, it can be run through a laser printer and it’s already cut to size! Another plus over the other methods is that the others require you to make a mirror image of your shapes or your finished piece will turn out backwards. That means you need a light box in order to trace from the back of the pattern or you need a fancy copier that will reverse and image. With this method, the template can be trace from the front of the pattern and cut out. Then to use the reverse image, all you have to do is turn the template over! How easy is that? It took me an evening to trace and cut the templates for THREE blocks. I don’t think that was excessive. The next step is to place the template on the back of the appliqué fabric and trace around it with a pencil. Cut it out with a quarter inch seam allowance. Place the template back on the shape. Paint the seam allowance with liquid starch or Magic Sizing or Best Press and use the edge of the iron to press the seam over the edge of the template. I worked very slowly to make sure my shapes were perfect. My sample is the first block from Mary Sorensen’s pattern Simple Gifts. It took me one evening to complete the dragonfly and one evening to complete the violets and their leaves. Again, what I feel is a reasonable amount of time. I believe the edge turned out beautifully. It’s soft with no glues, paper, etc. No mess and the Best Press/Magic Sizing smells so nice and clean. To me it looks exactly like a traditional needle turned edge. Only better because I can then stitch down by machine using a monofilament thread. The stitching goes very fast because there is no need to stop and change threads.

ONE HUGE PLUS that I never even considered before I started was that with this method I am able to use non-cotton or other non-traditional quilting fabrics for appliqué. Notice the iridescent fabric used for the dragonfly. That is a Mickey Lawler Sky Dye fabric I purchased years ago and then gave up on because I it was so difficult to needle by hand through the dyes.

I used several hand-dyed fabrics in this sample and they were all very easy to manipulate with this technique. Another plus I didn’t anticipate is that with finished edges and the color/fabric selection complete this becomes a very portable, no-brainer, sit with the family project that can also be very fast and easy to hand appliqué.

I like the Templar technique quite a bit. I may even do a head to head test between it and back basting for hand appliqué. Maybe. I will keep you posted. But until then….

Best stitches,

Mercy in Miami

aka The Savage Quilter

PS - Thaddeus turned 1 year old on Saturday, March 13th. To celebrate he learned a new trick - he climbs on to the sofa in the family room, covers himself with a quilt, and watches TV. Okay - I admit it - he's spoiled beyond redemption.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Color Theory for Quilters Exposed

If you ask the average quilter what is the most challenging part of the quilting processes, nine times out of ten, the answer is “selecting the right color fabrics to go together.” Let’s call this challenge “seeking harmonious color combinations.” Take heart brave quilters – you are not alone in this quest! Humankind has been seeking color harmony since the first attempt to draw on a cave wall. All artists in all media – paper, paint, photography, printmaking, metals, clay, found objects, etc. – struggle to find and use “just the right color.”

Ok, so by now you are asking yourself – why this blog entry and why the alternate title “Color Theory for Quilters Exposed.” It could be just too many years of Catholic school or it could be that I’m a Libra and fairness is everything. But the main reason is that I see my fellow quilters taken in by dozens of books and magazine articles about color geared specifically to quilter makers – and their wallet. The articles range from the light-hearted to the militant – from suggestions geared to selling a fabric line or color tools to “if you don’t follow this formula you and your quilts are wrong!” Yes I have had more than one workshop instructor tell me that if I did not use a specific color tool ($29.99 please) then my colors would be wrong and my quilt weak. Good grief! Your credentials are what exactly? Then there is the sprinkling of just plain wrong information. Not too long ago I picked up a very popular quilting magazine and flipped right to the article on color only to read in the first paragraph that the reason blue and yellow are a pleasing combination is because they are complimentary colors. WHAT???!!!! Last I checked blue and ORANGE are complimentary colors. Again I ask – your credentials are what exactly? I am writing this for the quilter that is trying to absorb all this information – the good, the wrong, and the expensive – and instead of being educated is simply more confused.

I am NOT a color expert. However, I have just enough of a fine arts background (Bachelors of Fine Arts in Painting and graduate work in drawing and color) to know that color is color. There is no such thing as color for “quilters.” The colors of the Emperor’s New Clothes were selected using a Color for Quilters tool!

All color theory applies across the board regardless of medium. In ancient Greece, Aristotle developed the first known Color Theory. Later, da Vinci challenged Aristotle’s theories and added more information in his Treatise on Painting. From da Vinci until the mid twentieth century color theory was for the most part static. Color theory was concerned with the color wheel and the classic color wheel harmonies; Complimentary, Split Complimentary, and Tertiary. Then comes Johannes Itten, a Swiss painter, part of the Bauhsaus movement, and the twentieth century’s premier color theorist. Itten was able to demonstrate that color wheel harmonies have very limited practical application simply because the impact of the color combinations is quite different, depending on the colors involved. He demonstrated that for every pleasing color combination that occurs in nature that follows the “rules,” hundreds of naturally occurring color combination exist that debunk these same rules. Itten was able to determine that the color schemes proven effective are those with a contrast between warm and cool hues, contrast of value between light and dark, contrast of saturated and unsaturated colors, or contrast of extension - when one color is used over a large area and the contrasting color over a very small area. Amazingly, he proved that the most effective schemes and successful harmonies have very little to do with the color itself but with contrast. Hence the phrase “Value does all the work and color gets all the glory” attributed to unknown.

What does this all mean to a quilter? It means that the COLOR you pick doesn’t really matter to anyone except to you. Stick with the colors you love and you will end up with a quilt that you love. Look around your guild and pick out the quilters whose quilt color combos really sing to your soul. Ask them how they pick their colors. Usually the response is “I just pick what I like!”

Interpreting Itten’s theories, here are a few things quilters can do to maximize the visual impact of their quilts:

1. Choose both warm and cool hues. Even when creating a monochromatic quilt (all the same color) choose both. For example, if you want to create an all green quilt – think scrappy – then pick both cool (blue green) greens and warm (yellow green) greens.

2. ALWAYS vary the contrast of your fabrics. Pick lights, mediums, and darks in varying amounts. For example, balance a quilt made of mostly light fabrics with just a bit of medium value fabrics and even less dark value fabrics. Remember, value is relative – is determined by what is placed next to it – a small bit of light blue will read as a dark in a mostly white quilt. Any combination of light, medium, and dark will work as long as you vary the amounts of each value.

3. Contrast bright and dull. If all your colors are the purest, most saturated, they will compete visually and the brain will read chaos. For example, bright cherry red, bright blue, bright orange, bright yellow, bright turquoise – all in the same amounts in the same quilt - yikes! Art quilters that want to represent chaos with fabric would choose this combination. The opposite extreme would be all greyed tones or pastels - picture only pastel pink and green – boring – even for a newborn baby. Mix up the bright with the subtle.

4. Use different colors in different amounts. Another example, use mostly violets, purples, fuchsias and only a little bit of green as an accent. Take your cues from nature - picture a lush green garden with just a few pops of colorful blooms here and there.

5. Any color combination is valid. The closer the colors are to each other on the color wheel the more subtle and harmonious the effect. The further apart the colors are on the color wheel the more jarring the effect. “Jarring” in very small bits can be very exciting visually so don’t dismiss it as a tool.

Below are a few links to, in my opinion, some of the best colorist working today. They all just happen to be quilt artists. Mary Sorensen’s lecture on color is especially good and I highly recommend it. Take a little time to look at these artists’ work and I think you will be able to see most of Itten’s principles translated into fabric.

Mary Sorensen   

Karen Kay Buckley

Diane Gaudynski

Sandra Leichner

Charlotte Angotti

Ricky Tims         

Thanks for putting up with my soapbox-style rant. I should be fine now for several months – or until the next time I read, “blue and yellow are complements” or I see a new Quilter’s Color Tool and I am forced to defend my fellow quilter’s right to use any color they darn well please!

Best stitches!

Mercy in Miami

Aka The Savage Quilter