Friday, May 14, 2010

SCROLL DOWN FOR UPDATED PHOTOS - "There is a woman at the beginning of all great things." Alphonse de Lamartine French Poet, Writer and Statesman, 1790-1869

My work in progress block from the Elly's workshop - Peacock Pastoral.  The tree is Cut Away Applique (a la Template Free), the "Eyes" are all Reverse Applique (a la Template Free), and the eggs are Stuffed Appliqué (a la Template Free).  

In my case, there have been "several" women at the beginning of all great things.  This past week I was fortunate enough to spend four wonderful days stitching away during a series of workshops taught by Elly Sienkiewicz at our local shop - Quilt Scene - in Miami, Florida. The photos throughout are from the workshops.  
Elly Sienkiewicz May 8-11th, 2010 Quilt Scene Miami, FL

Elly began by asking each of us to introduce ourselves to the group and to tell the story of how we became acquainted with quilt making in general and appliqué specifically.   In my case, the question is the answer.  I first stepped into a quilt shop because I was inspired by Elly's writings and the ensuing Baltimore Album Quilt Renaissance.  The first person I met when I stepped into the shop turned out later to be my first applique teacher.  Recalling and telling my “appliqué Ah Ha moment” brought back many fond memories of a dear friend who is no longer with us.

An ancient Egyptian tomb inscription: "To speak the name of the dead is to make them live again."

In 1999, I had the good fortune to be dragged kicking and screaming to an appliqué workshop taught by Jeana Kimball. The “dragger”, Bernice, was my first appliqué teacher. We were a perfect pair. I was an enthusiastic, but unsuccessful student. Bernice was a talented, cheeky soul. Of Lithuanian decent, she grew up in the Chicago stockyard district of Upton Sinclair (The Jungle) where her parents ran a rooming house/restaurant/bar. She was twice my age when we met (older than my Mom at the time) but still insisted on calling my mother “Mom.” Her children were a succession of Whippet dogs, she only drove expensive foreign convertibles (German roasters were her favorite), she ALWAYS spoke her mind, and she could needle turn appliqué like an angel. Bernice was also determined I that I was going to learn to needle turn appliqué so she took me under her wing. I progressed to the point that I was OK but struggled for perfect placement and nice, FLAT, layered appliqué. About this time, the Piece O Cake ladies were introducing the clear vinyl overlay method. It was better than of marking placement lines on the background fabric but I hated the feel of the vinyl – just too many memories of sitting on my grandmother’s plastic covered sofa on hot summer Sunday afternoons struggling to be a good girl.

LaVerne (on the right) and me (on the left) enjoying the workshop.  My friend Nancy is in the background - we had not seen each other for almost 5 years and re-found each other again at the workshop.  Friends are the best part of quilting!

Jeana introduced the class to a technique she called Template Free Appliqué. As I recall the story, Jeana told us how, while teaching at a California quilt shop, students and maybe the shop owner too, kept telling her about this awesome technique one of the appliqué teachers used. The teacher would draw the pattern on the back of the background and then baste the appliqué fabric in place by stitching right on the drawn line from the back. Jeana, told us how, just to be polite, she agreed to watch the demonstration. After all, after a lifetime of needlework and a few decades of teaching appliqué there was nothing new left to see. Guess what? THERE WAS!!! She described her joy at finding this method and how it completely changed her work. Out where all the marking tools, the plastic, the cardboard, the overlays, the worry about covering your placement line. In was total freedom to begin stitching almost immediately, PERFECT placement, and SMOOTH, FLAT appliqué!!!

Jeana describes her version of the technique in her book Forget-Me_Knots . It is still available at:

Even if you’re on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there.   —Will Rogers

It has been almost 11 years since I learned this method from Jeana. Since then, I have continued to take workshops from every appliqué teacher I can as often as I can. I learn something valuable from each one. Out of courtesy, I always try their method in class. Then I go home and incorporate what I learned into the Template Free method. For me, it’s still the quickest, most accurate, most portable method for preparing needle turn appliqué.

During the past several years, I have travelled extensively for both work and pleasure and have met many quilters. I have run into many devotees of this method and I have run into many detractors of this method. If I exclude the appliqué purist –they can usually be found lurking just behind the quilt police – from the population of detractors I am usually left with a small group of folks that did not receive a good tutorial on this method. The best tutorial I have seen on the web is by Connie Sue Haidle at Apple Blooms quilts:

There are two important points to keep in mind as you check out the tutorials and cyber information available on Template Free techniques. Basting is key to this method. ‘Basting’ does not mean big stitch, fast, or sloppy. Basting means ‘Temporary’. The size of the basting stitch is very important because the basting line must define the appliqué shape accurately enough for your eye to fill in the blanks between the dashed stitches. Another tutorial I have seen on the web recommends a blue washout marker to trace the pattern on the back. The idea on marking on the back is that you DO NOT have to remove it – ever! So don’t use a marking tool that will show or bleed onto the front of the fabric. For this method, an inexpensive, .5 mm mechanical pencil is still the best marking tool for all backgrounds except very dark color fabrics.

If you are new to this method or if you are already a Template Free enthusiast then stay tuned to this blog. I plan to publish several posts over the course of the summer sharing how I have refined this technique to make fine, hand appliqué SO MUCH easier.

Coming soon
• Extra Skinny Stems
Padded Appliqué
• Reverse Appliqué
• Peaks & Valleys Versus Rolling Hills
• Perfect Embellishment Placement
• Cutaway & Papercut

…and more.

In the meantime, you may enjoy re-reading a few blog entries that included advanced applique technique tutorials using the Template Free method.

Baltimore BOM Split Leaves 

Graceful Over Under Applique

If you have a question about the Template Free method or if you would like to see more information about how I apply the technique to fine appliqué, please leave a comment below. I will do my best to answer your questions.

Until next time...

Best stitches,
Mercy in Miami
aka The Savage Quilter

More photos added per readers request...

The white of the eye is reverse appliqued.  The dark eye is a satin stitch oval using 1 strand 50 wt. cotton machine embroidery thread.  The white highlight is a small straight stitch with a colonial knot at the end using 1 strand DMC off white embroidery floss.
The "eyes" on the tail feathers are reverse appliqued.  I plan to follow the pattern of the hand-marbled fabric to add embroidered highlights.

The eggs are stuffed with a very thin layer of wool batting.  I had to line the egg fabric anyway because it is very light on a dark background.  I thought the extra loft added some visual interest.  I really like how they turned out.  I plan to add texture to the nest by embroidering "twigs".

My friend Linda and Elly.  Linda took several of the photos here.


  1. Great blog!! I have been waiting for you to post, I am working on a Baltimore Halloween Album, and there are very tiny spiders, very tiny. When I encounter such mini shapes, my first approach is suede, if appropriate- but I will keep reading and learning and if you can do "bird eyes" I should be able to do spiders! Sandy

  2. Hi Sandy! Of course you can make teeny tiny spiders! I agree ultasuede is a lifesaver for very small things but I just don't care for the texture. I think it looks very flat - almost as if I cut out a piece of construction paper and pasted it to the block. Instead, I really prefer embroidery. I will post a close up of my peacock's eye. I reverse appliqued the white of the eye and then satin stitched an oval using 1 strand of cotton machine embroidery thread. I then made a single straight stitch with a colonial knot at the end using 1 strand of off white DMC embroidery floss. I think your spider would look amazing embroidered in a fuzzy (maybe wool) thread; satin stitch the body and then straight stitch the legs. If you want examples of how smashing embroidery mixed with hand applique can look, take a peek at Sandra Leichner's blog, Sandra's Snippets (link is on the left hand side of this page). Let me know how the spider's turn out!

    Best stitches!

  3. Hello again Mercy. Thank you for a wonderful blog. I have added your blog to my google reader. I mailed my registration for "Applique Academy 2011" and am now waiting on pins and needles. (Excuse the pun!)Do you have any other tips or advice for me in anticipation of this wonderful event? Please visit my new blog at Marci