August 27, 2011

In the Call for Topics, Debbie asked,

I need to know how to tackle (handle the excess background fabric) of an appliquéd ‘whole cloth’ piece — in other words, one design on a large (say 36 x 42) background. Do you start at the top, middle, random, where? How do you keep that background fabric stable? Do you appliqué the vines first?

Debbie, there’s a reason that appliqué projects are usually done in block format LOL! Working on blocks is more manageable than working on a big honking project, with all of that excess fabric to deal with.


If you do have an appliqué project that’s one design on a large background, never fear… it can be done! I’m thinking we’re talking about hand appliqué here, and your question ties in with the recent post Support for your appliqué. The information given there on support for the background fabric is totally relevant to tackling large appliqué projects.

What area to start in? It’s not like machine quilting, where the conventional wisdom is usually to start in the middle and work your way outwards. I use the back-basting method, which ensures that your motifs end up stitched exactly where you marked them, so no worries about migration of pieces. Using this method, I personally wouldn’t be worried about what section I started on, but knowing me, I would probably work all over as opposed to finishing one section and then moving on to the next.

As for what order to go in, it would be the same as any other appliqué pattern. Start with the motifs that are in the back, and work your way forward. Vines are often the first things to go down, because they are usually behind other elements. You’ll need to study your pattern to see if this is the case.

Another tip about handling appliqué projects: Hold the work from the bottom of the target area. Make sure your wrist is not twisted or bent. Fold or roll the project in your non-sewing hand until you can get a good over-and-under grip on the area that you’re working on.


If your project is large, there’s the true challenge. You might have quite a bit of fabric rolled up in your hand, and that’s why the block format is so popular! You’ll need to unroll, reposition, and reroll as you work.

Suzanne recently wrote and asked, “Please review for all of us how you mark the pattern on the back of the fabric w/o using templates. Very interesting approach that I must try.”

Suzanne, go the the back-basting link above and that’ll give you all the information :).

Until next time,
By Kay Mackenzie


4 Responses to “More on stability”

  1. Karen Beigh on August 27th, 2011 8:54 am

    I try to avoid the extra large block applique patterns because it wears my hands out dealing with all the fabric. You give some good information. I cut the block larger than needed in case there is raveling in so much handling. Or serge the edge of the block to avoid the ravel. That’s the best solution for me.

  2. Debbie St.Germain on August 27th, 2011 2:17 pm

    Wonderful tips for doing applique, thank you for answering.
    I usually do things in blocks, but love the look of a while quilt too.


  3. Donna A on August 29th, 2011 2:50 am

    I think I might give this a try. I try so hard to keep all the applique pieces (one at a time) exactly where they are supposed to be but, when I finish, they are off just a little bit. Surely this will help.

  4. Diane Culliney on September 3rd, 2011 9:31 am

    I love your site, but have been looking for some tip on avoiding neck pain while appliqueing by hand. Am I the only one who has this problem.