Appliqué Methods – From Tribal to Contemporary Quilt Techniques
Featured image above: Rose Hughes
The term “appliqué” in the quilt world comes from “apply”, meaning that one fabric is placed on top of another and secured, a process where curved and detailed shapes are much easier to define than through piecing, where one shape is attached next to the other in the body of the quilt. Historically, this was either done by turning over fabric with a needle, or “needle-turning appliqué” or by using a piece of paper to help define the edges and then pulling it out once the stitching was almost done. Stunning designs continue to be made using these techniques or adaptations of them.
This is one that I got to see here at the Paducah AQS Quilt Show:
Here is a quick video on how to use the needle to turn over the fabric as you stitch:
Raw edge appliqué
Shortcuts have been developed to make the process faster. Joanna Figueroa shows how to use starch as a way to make a crisp shape in this tutorial, making the sewing process much more stable. But, this method still involves hiding the fabric edges. Raw edge appliqué dumps this approach, embracing the unfinished edges as part of the “look”. One of my favorite examples of this comes from Alabama Chanin.
You can buy this skirt on Alabama Chanin’s site for a mere $2,360. Or, you can buy all of the materials from them and make it yourself. The story behind this social enterprise (yes, it has a mission!) is fascinating: Read it here. In an effort to make the look available to those who could not afford to pay for the all-organic-made-in-usa-fair-wages that go into these garments, Natalie Chanin decided to offer all of the supplies, tutorials, workshops, and publish books on how to design garments using her signature techniques. Her peers were aghast! “What! Nobody will buy the finished garments anymore!”
On the contrary…. As people started making the work themselves, they realized all of the work and skill that went into them. Sales for the finished pieces went UP AND now there was a whole separate business that was also thriving. Chanin’s dream of employing locally has come true.
The point here is that even with shortcuts (bold stitching, showing the edges), hand work will still take time and vision in order to come together as a cohesive and finished piece.
There are now many adhesives and fusible fabric that can be applied to fabrics so that you basically cut and paste your shapes down and then iron or sew. Caution! Be aware of two things:
- Some of these products have not been on the market long enough to really know how they will hold up over time. If the final work cannot be washed, will it yellow over time? Is the adhesive corrosive? Will it eat away at the fabrics? Do some research before you jump on to something that might seem wonderful, but might not hold up after a few years.
- Some iron-on fusibles can make a piece really stiff. If that is the look you want anyhow, then go for it. But, experiment first just so you know how it will affect drape and texture in a finished piece.
This video shows a nice trick to get rid of the stiffness, in case you don’t want that look or feel:
Amanda Richardson, one of our TAFA members, uses fusibles to create her mind boggling collages. She dyes her own fabric and works mostly with silks and velvets. I can’t get over the size of the scissors she uses to cut delicate pieces…. Because she is not using batting or sewing these down, her work is called a textile collage, but it is the same basic technique a quilter would use to work with fusibles on a quilt top.
Fast piece appliqué
Rose Hughes developed a raw edge technique that is fun and allows you to work on complex designs that may have a lot of curves. She uses freezer paper to create the basic design, cuts it up, irons it on to fabric and then sews it all together in a most delightful way:
She has several books out there with step by step instructions and teaches classes online.
Also known as cutwork appliqué, this process does the opposite: you cut into the fabric to show what is underneath. The same methods of finishing the edges, turning under or leaving raw, are used, along with fusibles, glues or other tools. The photo to the left is another Alabama Chanin example, this time with cutwork and couching. I have one of her books and it is LOADED with great surface design ideas. Gotta get them!
There are many, many ways to use appliqué and there are loads of videos and resources out there. My advice is to do some keyword searching for inspiration and then when you find results that you really like, try to find out how they did it. Then, DON’T COPY, but instead, try to interpret that into something new that is yours. Of course, there are basics that we all have to stick to when using needle and thread, but this is such an amazing time that we live in where we have access to so much knowledge, tools and a supportive community where experimentation is embraced and encouraged.
Around the world
The US can probably lay claim to transforming the quilt industry into an art and craft form that sustains billions of dollars of production in the supplies arena. Yet, many of the techniques that we recognize as rooted in the American quilt tradition have also been practiced in other cultures for decades, if not centuries. The images below come from some of our members who carry ethnic textiles that use appliqué in a manner that has become a signature for that part of the world. I find it fascinating how colors, fabric choices and designs can use such similar techniques, yet achieve a completely unique voice. Many textile traditions are disappearing around the world as they are so labor intensive and we still do not pay a fair price for the work. Yet, we are also seeing more designers collaborating with indigenous people to find a middle ground where those skills can find appreciation and financial support within a contemporary context. Exciting to see!
Click on the images to go to their profiles where you will find their links:
There are many more examples of appliqué methods and techniques on our site, but this is enough for this post, eh? Go visit our TAFA Members page for loads of inspiration! Our profiles flash there and click on any to learn more. When you get to the bottom of the page, wait and more will load. It might take a while depending on your server…
How about you? Have you used appliqué in your work? Any tips or tutorials that you want to share? Feel free to post links to your sites and work as we would love to see! Happy stitching!
About Rachel Biel
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