Addy's Favorite Method for Accurate Appliqué

... Without Templates or Foundations

Addy Harkavy (© 1997)

If I have any criticism of templates for marking appliqué pieces and backgrounds, it's that fabric tends to stretch around the templates, no matter how carefully one marks. Light tables certainly have their place, and in my hands they are more for finding the exact *area* for pattern tracing than they are to facilitate marking.

Given that I design all my own appliqué, my process has tended to be anything that works from the initial marking to the actual stitching down of an appliqué piece. I usually prefer invisible appliqué, also known as ladder stitch appliqué. This was taught to me by one of my late grandmothers, and its overwhelming advantage so far as I'm concerned is that there is no way any stitches can show on the surface of the work. A variation of this technique has been popularized by Ami Simms.

The technique: why didn't I think of it earlier?

The new technique came about after I had designed an appliqué piece that relied upon a sense of motion and very tight proportion. Some of its pieces were small; others very precise in their curves. My design in its entirety had already been traced onto tracing paper from the paper on which I had drawn it. Without thinking, I used my Dritz tracing wheel and wax-free transfer paper to *transfer* the whole design onto my background piece. Then I realized what I had done.

From here, I doped out which pieces needed to go down first, which could be preassembled into units before stitching down, and so forth. After reinforcing my traced design with Scotch Tape, I traced each piece onto the appliqué fabrics, again using the tracing wheel and transfer paper.

It works with conventional or invisible applique

Invisible appliqué works beautifully with this technique, since it is easy to mark landmarks and match them up prior to stitching the appliqué down. And the dotted mark for appliqué and background pieces adds a new precision and evenness to stitches, as one can move two or three dots along the line with each stitch. The technique can, of course, be used with conventional and needle-turned appliqué.

The finished product reflected the delicacy of my original drawing, unlike many template-driven appliqués that seem to "grow" wider more like pictures in kids' coloring books, and this method is now a permanent part of my "how to" repertoire.

For what it's worth, the tracing wheel and tracing paper can also be used to mark a circle for reverse appliquéing designs such as the Mariner's Compass into a background.

The technique has undergone a few further refinements since my initial foray. First, I purchased at an art supply store a set of "pounce" wheels, all of which are considerably smaller than seamstress' tracing wheels. These smaller wheels are great when tracing intricate shapes. I also retrieved from my art supplies a ball-tipped burnisher and a bone burnisher, both of which are useful tracing tools under some circumstances.

I'm now thinking about using this technique to transfer quilting lines to quilt tops and to outline areas for specialized forms of surface design. The possibilities seem endless.

 World Wide Quilting Page * Appliqué How-To * PineTree Quiltworks Catalogue