January 4, 2008

When it comes to stems or vines, there’s more than one way to skin a cat. (Just an expression, I’ve had three cats for seventeen years and haven’t skinned any of them yet :) .)

Here’s a photo tutorial on stems and skinny stems, two ways each. That’s four stems! In all cases this is hand appliqué, however, they can be adapted to be sewn on the machine.

Here’s how I was first taught to do stems.

Cut a bias strip 1″ wide or wider and press it in half, wrong sides together, lengthwise. Mark the stem or vine on the front of the background fabric.

Sorry if you can’t see the pencil mark too well… there’s a big storm in California today and there’s no good natural light.

Place the folded bias strip over the marked line, kind of averaging its position. Fold over the raw edges to where they fall short of the other side and crease to give yourself an idea of the stitching line.

Stitch the vine to the background fabric using a small running stitch (left side of picture). Then roll the folded edge over the stitching, covering the raw edges of the other side. Appliqué the fold down (right side of picture). Disregard the position of the needle in this picture; I laid it down in haste.

To make a skinny stem the same way, just stitch much closer to the fold.

Trim away the excess, very close to the stitches. Roll and sew the same as before.

A pretty good skinny stem.

Now, on to the method I use most of the time now, with my trusty green gadget, the Clover® ¼” bias tape maker. Cut a bias strip that is 5/8″ wide. Yes, just 5/8″! Cut the top so that it angles upwards to the left — it seems to feed through better this way.

Poke the strip right-side-up into the wider end of the gadget until you can see the fabric in the slot at the top. Use the tip of a pin to pull the strip through the slot until it sticks out the narrow end. Pin the strip to the ironing board. Use a glass-head pin, so you don’t have to worry about melting a plastic pin.

Using a hot iron and plenty of steam, pull the gadget along the strip in one smooth, fairly rapid motion, following it closely with the iron. Don’t stop part-way through, or try to back up. Smoothness is key.

Important: Hold your iron so that the steam vents are not directed at your fingers.

You can make bias strips fusible by applying thin strips of paper-backed fusible web. I do this as a second step. I actually cut the strip of fusible in half lengthwise to make a very thin strip, which I find is enough. The product comes on a roll and is found alongside the bias tape makers.

Using a dry iron, press the fusible strip to the back of the bias strip. Remove the paper backing and steam-press the stem over the marked line. Then it’ll be ready to stitch.

To make a skinny stem this way, make another bias strip with the gadget, and press one side out flat again. Trim along the crease.

Get out your glue stick and run it along the wrong side of the strip. Pick up the strip and pinch the raw edge back over to the center. It should stick with cheerful obedience. It if doesn’t, use a little more glue or make sure the glue stick is fresh.

If you prefer to skip the gluing, you can use a hybrid method! Appliqué the folded edge first, then tuck under the raw edge on the other side as you stitch.

All four, placed improvisationally on the background and, for some strange reason, from bottom to top!

I hope this has helped you if you were looking for information on how to make stems or skinny stems. There are other methods too… remember those cats I mentioned?

Over at the Quilter’s Newsletter website, I did a quick search and came up with several tutorials on how to make skinny stems. Check them out as well!

Until next time,


6 Responses to “Stems and skinny stems”

  1. Ernestine Russell on July 16th, 2009 3:55 pm

    How do you finish the ends of the stem if they are not under another piece of fabric.
    I am a rank beginner and am teaching myself the needle under method by reading and looking at teaching videos on the computor. Thanks Ernestine

  2. Kay on July 16th, 2009 5:34 pm

    Ernestine, welcome to appliqué!

    At the end of the stem, trim away a tiny bit of the turned-under fabric, like a triangle-shaped piece on each side at the very end, to reduce bulk. The just tuck the end under and appliqué around it. It will want to splay out but just keep pushing it back into shape and use very small stitches.

    Keep going!

  3. Lourdes on September 11th, 2012 9:27 pm

    I am just learning to hand applique. I have appliqued some boots and horse heads onto blocks for my nephews wedding present.
    I would like to put some “rope” around the border of the quilt. I want it to be 1/2″. Would I use the same method as your stems? Would it loop around to look like rope?

  4. admin on September 12th, 2012 9:44 am

    Hi Lourdes! No, I’m sorry, these bias stems won’t make a complete loop, especially in the 1/2″ size.

    Thoughts that come to mind are making a border that’s more of a curved rope, perhaps appliquéing some lassos on top. Or, look for some pre-printed lariat fabric.

    Good luck! Sounds like a very cute quilt.

  5. Sylvia Merryman on May 16th, 2013 9:08 pm

    Thank you for your tutorial on applique of vines. I have a dark backing on of my quilts that I think is no attractive so I decided to applique a vine with flowers on the back to try to make it more attractive. This will be my first try at appliqueing vines .
    thanks again for your help

  6. admin on May 16th, 2013 10:17 pm

    You’re so welcome Sylvia! K.