Friday, March 7, 2014

The prepped anatomy of a "Belle"...

The "belles" are beginning to materialize to go with the finished "blossoms" for my the most recent brain leakage called "Belles and Blossoms."

There will be only six blocks and they will finish 8 x 8.

I do applique in a sort of unconventional way, and Judy S (no blog) recently emailed me and asked me to do a "really detailed post explaining how...and why...I do what I do, with lots of pictures."

I am not the best photographer, but here we go...


I work over my pattern (or a copy of my pattern - sometimes I lay a sheet of blank vellum/tracing paper over the pattern to protect it from glue bleed through the fabric).  

I trace the individual pieces on freezer paper.  For pieces that tuck behind other pieces, I draw little dash lines along that edge(s).  That will remind me later to cut that edge of the motif out with a little extra fabric allowance. 

I cut all these little freezer paper traced pieces out with paper scissors RIGHT ON THE TRACED PENCIL LINE.  If I am pausing at this step, I put all the pieces in a labeled envelope or a clear sheet pocket protector for safe keeping until I start working again.

I then press my freezer paper patterns on THE RIGHT SIDE of my little fabric scraps.  This is where I differ from people that reverse their patterns when tracing then press the pattern to the wrong side of the fabric.  

My freezer paper patterns/guides are always EXPOSED and EASY TO PEEL AWAY TO REMOVE when difficult and fussy surgical removal of paper here!

You can see the dashed lines on my little pieces in the picture below.  For example, THE LONG EDGES of the arm pieces are cut out with a smaller turn under allowance...about 1/8 inch.  Then the ENDS OF THE ARM PIECES, where the dashed lines are drawn, are trimmed more least 1/4 inch.  This more generous allowance is where other pieces will overlap.  The rest of the pieces are cut out paying similar attention to the dashed line edges.

I like to handle these pieces (and my little scraps) with my forceps. My fingers tips are clumsy and my nails short, and the forceps allow me to pick up, move, and manipulate things quickly and crisply.

I am holding the arm piece with my forceps in the picture the exact position where I will clip with my sharp little scissors before gluing the edges under.  I only clip on inside corners and inside rounded areas.  For this elbow corner, I clip right to the edge of my paper.  (For more gentle curves, I don't clip all the way to the paper.)

I always apply my Elmer's Disappearing Purple Glue Stick while working on a washable surface.  This is a great place to use those specialty rulers you don't use very often.  Using the edge of the glue stick, I apply glue to the wrong side of the turnover allowance.

I don't run the glue stick parallel along the edge...that will make things unravel and that makes me nuts.  Rather, I make little glue strokes perpendicular to the edge of the piece.  This is not as quick, but will keep you happier as you work.

After applying the glue to an edge, I have recently been pulling the piece off the sticky work surface to turn the edges, working on another ruler or right on my table surface.  I find that once I have applied the glue, the piece is not messy and will not get glue on my clean surface.  (If you can find a clean space on your ruler, feel free to continue working on it.)

Using a left hand finger (I am right-handed) and my stiletto in my right hand (or a toothpick, a seam ripper...anything sharp, as long as you feel comfortable), I fold the edge over using my sharp implement, and press the glued area with my finger tip (the tip of my stiletto is not in the picture because I put it down to pick up the camera...). 

I use my paper pattern, adhered to the right side of the fabric as my guide.  I find it helpful to work on a dark surface, or slip dark fabric or paper under the ruler I am working on so that the edge of the paper is easily seen.

I will often take the rolled shaft of my stiletto to roll the clipped corner toward the wrong side to make sure no stray little threads are poking out.

I first worked up to where I clipped at the "elbow," then turned under the longer section on the same side.  Especially when just learning this technique, ONLY GLUE AS YOU GO so the glue won't dry out while you are working.

Here is the first side, all glued under...easy-peasy.

After gluing the outside edge of the arm, I turned that under too, rounding at the elbow with tiny little pleats.  I have tried to blow up the wrong side of some of the pieces so you can see how I pleated the outer gentle corners or notched inner ones...

The smaller the turn under allowance, the easier to ease and pleat those outer curves.  A scant 1/8 inch works best for me.

I get the most questions about tiny little pieces.  Admittedly, the little hand piece that represents the curled fingers holding onto the blossom is harder.  I just use the ends of my forceps or my "purple thang" to press instead of my fingertip as I glue the edges under.  It does seem fussy at first, but gets MUCH easier with experience...I promise!  Sometimes I trim this a little smaller that 1/8 inch. 

This is also what I do when making grapes or other tiny circles.

Here is the finished piece, front and back.  notice that I did nothing with the ends of the piece...yet.

Here are all my pieces, all prepped and ready to assemble.  Designs with overlapping pieces may be more difficult than just one free-standing motif, BUT notice that you don't have to glue under every edge, which I think makes the prep seem easier and some of the pieces seem larger. 

See the piece above labeled "chest?"  Notice that only the shoulder edges are glued under.  To ease those graceful curves, I again made little clips with my scissors, but stopped halfway between the outer edge and the adhered paper pattern.  This will help you make beautiful, smooth curves that don't look hurky-jerky.

(The "R" on the pattern pieces indicates that they are "reversed." Two of the six blocks are reversed, with the blossoms on the opposite side of the belles' bodies.)

Now we start ASSEMBLY, glue basting the prepped pieces together WITHOUT THE BACKGROUND, working over the pattern.  

You can work on the background if you want, but I can work without the light table if I build motifs first.  Sometimes I even hand stitch these larger, glue basted motifs BEFORE putting them on the background...that enables me to trim the background away later in preparation for heavy hand quilting.

It also makes the stitching step a little more portable (motifs are smaller and easier to stitch WITHOUT the bulk of the background  (and means I only have to stitch around the outside after glue basting the motif to the background).  

I like glue basting with Roxanne's Glue Baste, but lately I have been experimenting with plain old white Elmer's Washable School Glue.  Even though Roxanne's is advertised as "washable," it sometimes takes a while to soak out the little dry glue dots.  When my finished block is soaking in water, I can turn the piece to the wrong side and see the glue dots through the wet background.  The Elmer's glue tiny dots melt away faster.

I transferred the Elmer's glue into a little bottle fitted with a needle tip applicator so that I could make tiny little dots of glue.  When gluing, it is always best to remember, "dot-dot-not-a-lot."  Tiny dots of glue can really hold well and will be easier to remove later.

Using my forceps, I place the neck piece over the neck in the pattern, trying to line things up as carefully as possible.

I am going to glue the face and hat first, so I carefully place a pattern weight on the bottom of the piece, out of my way.  This keeps things from shifting.

Now I apply TINY dots of glue, not near my paper pattern, because the squashed out glue dot will hinder my hand stitching later.

I pick up the face piece with my forceps and lower it into place, I then press down with my finger.  You can set a pattern weight on it, or continue on, carefully.

Now I apply tiny dots to the part of the face piece that is under the edge of the hat.

Using my forceps, I pick up the hat piece and put it in place.

I press down with my forceps or finger, then place a pattern weight.

Now it is time to apply glue dots and place the dress.

I press together well and keep going, applying glue to the tuck under allowance on the right arm...

...then I slide it under the edge of the dress in the right place.  Then I set the position of the other arm and hold it in place with a pattern weight.

Now I am ready to apply glue in four places and place the dress sleeve puffs.

Now I am ready to attach the iris stem to her arm, then put her hand/fingers on top.  I already have the iris all glued together, so it should be easy.  First I glue on the stem...

Then I glue on the hand piece...

Ta da!!

Once the glue is good and dry, I gently peel the papers off, again, using my forceps and the tip of my stiletto to help.  I save the freezer paper pattern pieces in a sheet pocket protector in case I want to make the block again.  Freezer paper can be used over and over until the unexplainable "stickiness" ceases to stick.  

Freezer paper is such a useful quilting tool!

Then, I used my light table, my slightly over-sized/pressed background, my pattern as a guide, and glue basted everything in anticipation of stitching.

You don't have to leave the freezer paper on during the glue basting, but it doesn't hurt and keeps me from confusing similarly shaped pieces (like the blue oval sleeves).

I really love this method.  It may seem tedious at first, but speed and joy come with practice.  Practice with something simple like a simple heart on a small square or can always use it later as a label for the back of your quilt!

In stitches,
Teresa  :o)


  1. You did just a fantastic job with the tutorial and as always - I am amazed!

  2. This is an amazing tutorial. You work so precisely and the photographs show it so well. Thank you for sharing!

  3. fantastic explanation of your work. I really need to try to be more precise as I always enjoy seeing this process but never seem to have the patience to do it myself. Thanks for sharing how you do it.

  4. I've told you before that applique has always stymied me. A friend from guild showed me this exact method and it does work. Course, better results with practice, but at least I can do applique. NEVER could get that needle turn method to work worth a flip. Perhaps you've inspired me to try a little more. Bigger pieces, though. I mean, let's get real here!! :)

  5. Your method of handling small pieces works well for me to. No pins for portable work is a good thing. I need to look for the mini tips for the glue bottle. These blocks will be so refreshing after our harsh Winter. Thanks for sharing this great tutorial. Chris

  6. Great tutorial and another great quilt pattern.

  7. Wonderful pictures and explanations for your applique process. You are a master at this and your work proves it. Thanks so much for the tutorial.

  8. Great tutorial, really appreciate all the photos.

    I have seen several appliqué tutorials that use glue as basting. My question is, doesn't the glue alter the fabric and hinder making stitches into the glue fabric? I once used glue basting on a wool felt project and it totally changed the feel of the wool causing discoloration and an inability to penetrate the glue spots with a needle.

  9. Every time you show us how you work I get closer and closer to doing this kind of applique.....and I'm even thinking with small pieces! Thank you for all the thoughtful instructions and pics to match.

  10. Awesome tutorial! Thank you for sharing! This will be a fantastic quilt! Love your progress.
    I use a similar method and I love it!

  11. i learned some new things today. thanks for sharing. i can't believe you put the whole thing together first. i am going to have to try that.

  12. A wonderful tutorial on your method of applique. It does look like a lot of prep work, but the end result is fantastic. Your little Belles and Blossoms are priceless sweethearts! Thanks for sharing.

  13. This is a great tutorial -- your photos are so nice and clear. But I'm with Karen (above). The few times I did this method, my fabric was so stiff it was not fun doing the applique. There was some discoloration of fabric after the soaking, especially reds. It's needleturn for me -- even though it's not as perfect as yours.


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