Last time we looked at preparing fairly simple shapes, such as circles, leaves, and Scottie dogs, and appliqueing them onto a background. We briefly discussed using fusible web, raw edge applique and how to turn the edges under on these simple shapes so they could be stitched using a decorative stitch or an invisible stitch to make them appear hand-sewn.

This time we will look at sewing more complex shapes – in the form of a traditional Tulip Tree block and Sunbonnet Sue (love her or loathe her, she has her uses for teaching purposes!) – and even more complicated pictures. An extremely long time ago I went on a weekend course to learn machine applique with Linda Straw. It was a very intense two days, which involved designing our own picture – we were sent to wander the gardens during coffee break for inspiration – (bearing in mind I cannot draw for toffee, this was almost a challenge too far) and then stitching it using sari silks, not dress-weight cottons. However, I learnt a lot, including not to be put off by my lack of artistic skill (it’s why we have colouring books) and not to be afraid of using silk. It is Linda’s method (and the one which cropped up on the video that came with my new machine a few years later) that I’m going to show you. You can find an example of Linda’s work ‘All the World’s a Stage’ on the Quilters’ Guild website as they have recently acquired it for their collection.

Once you have a design you will need a background, pieces (scraps or chunks) of fabric in suitable colours/patterns, threads to match those fabrics and some light-weight sew-in Vilene. First trace the design onto the Vilene – use a pencil or a marker pen, something you can see against the background and that won’t transfer its colour to your thread. Pin the Vilene to the wrong side of the background. Remember that it will be a mirror image on the right side, so you may want to turn it over before you start, especially if you are doing lettering. Look on this method as the Foundation-piecing version of applique.

As with all applique methods, the first piece of fabric to be stitched is the one that goes under the others – in the case of Sue it is her boot and for the tulips it is the stem(s). Place it on the right side of the background fabric, right side facing out. Pin it in place from the back, otherwise the pins can get stuck in the feed dogs. Straight stitch, with a shorter than normal stitch, on all the lines outlining that shape.

Take the pins out and turn to the front. Trim the fabric back to leave a narrow seam allowance at the point where the next fabric will be going over the shape and trim the rest back to within a thread of the stitching line. Put your matching thread in the machine and satin stitch over that trimmed raw edge. You don’t need to stitch the part that will be covered. If, as is the case above, you haven’t managed to hide the light stitching underneath then go over it with a matching felt-tip pen (not a wash-out one)! It helps to check your satin stitch settings on a piece of scrap first.

If you prefer you can trim back each piece to about ¼ inch after straight stitching and then just trim back to the stitching where the next piece overlaps. Finally trim everything back and satin stitch over the raw edges, in sequence again. This means you don’t have to keep resetting your machine from straight stitch to satin stitch every few minutes.

If you want to have a go you can download the free patterns for Sunbonnet Sue and the Tulip Tree block that we used in class from my shop. They will fit a 12 inch block. Because of the way EQ prints PDFs there are rather a lot of pages for the patterns – you only need the one page for Sunbonnet Sue (her boot is repeated on page 2) and the Tulip Tree spreads over four pages but again you can trace most of it from the first page as it is symmetrical.

Don’t forget that you can also download a brief summary of all the machine applique techniques I have described. And those Sunbonnet Sue angel table mats in the header? They were a pattern in Quilters Newsletter magazine back in about 1989.