In the recent Call for Topics, Marcia wrote, “Inspirational shapes… I see your wonderful designs, and the beautiful shapes you appliqué, and I am inspired to try to draw some designs myself (isn’t everyone). But then you begin to draw and you realize your shapes aren’t perfect… so you stop. Where do you come up with your perfect shapes? How do they become perfect? Do you have a collection of shapes? What is the process of drawing a design? Are you drawing by hand, computer… help us create new designs please!”

Christy chimed in as well. “I’d like to join Marcia in asking for more information on how/what you use to design your projects. There are so many appliqué quilts that I’ve tried to draft on my own and I get so frustrated with my lack of drawing ability.”

Marcia and Christy, thank you so much for your nice words about the appearance of my designs. You’re going to laugh when I tell you the honest truth… I can’t draw worth two cents!!!

With my HAND that is.

Several years ago I sent in a pattern for the newsletter of The Appliqué Society, and when the editor saw that I use the computer to render my designs, she asked me to write an article about it. I’m reprinting that article here. It’ll gives you some insight into how this particular designer goes about it.


Designing on the Computer
by Kay Mackenzie

I cannot draw. That’s the truth… put a piece of paper and a pencil in my hands and I can’t draw a stick figure as well as a first grader! Yet I’m an appliqué designer. How can this be?

Computer illustration came to my aid. Somehow, being able to use the drawing and modifying tools on the computer circumvents the hole in my brain where sketching ability is supposed to be. Computer illustration handed me a career.

edna-broke broke

You certainly don’t have to be a professional designer to use computer programs to draw appliqué patterns. Anybody who’s computer-friendly can give it a whirl!

Here are some of the things that I can do with ease on the computer.

• I can draw perfect circles, ovals, spirals, squares, rectangles, and triangles, and move them around. I can align shapes just right. I can make shapes bigger or smaller, with thicker lines or thinner lines, or tweak a shape any way I want to.

• I can play, experiment, mess around to my heart’s content until I’m satisfied. Thank goodness for the heavenly “undo” feature! If I don’t like something I’ve done, I can make it go away instantly.

• I can take my own photo and use it as a template.

• I can drag and drop, duplicate, rotate my shapes, or turn them mirror-image – even keep the original the way it is and make a copy that’s bigger or smaller, rotated or reflected.

• I can easily add text to a drawing.

• Once I get a block drawn, I can make it an 8” block, a 9” block, or any size block with just a couple of clicks.

• And, most importantly for appliqué, I can create graceful curved lines! This last feature is the key to appliqué design on the computer. With this ability I can render any curvy motif.

scotty little-scotty

If all this sounds fun and intriguing to you, then maybe you’d like to take up computer illustration too!

In considering a computer program to use for appliqué design, what you want to look for is one that includes vector drawing tools. Vector graphics create smooth controlled curved lines, which are what you want for appliqué. Another term that’s used in vector graphics is “Bézier curves”… that’s the name of the curves that the vectors are defining. The great thing about vector shapes is that they do not “pixelate” or become blurry, no matter how much bigger or smaller you make them.

The program I use is Adobe Illustrator®, a high-end professional program with a steep price and a steep learning curve. In Illustrator, the Bézier tool is called the pen tool. It’s the hardest but most important tool in the whole toolbox. The freehand drawing tool is called the pencil tool. That one gives you less graceful shapes right off the bat, but they can be edited.

There are several other programs that include vector drawing. CorelDraw is a very good program, and from what I understand, more affordable than Illustrator.

The quilting-dedicated programs Quilt-Pro and Electric Quilt also have vector drawing tools, equivalent to the ones I use in Illustrator. These programs designed for the quilter also have some handy features that a general illustration program doesn’t include.

I contacted Quilt-Pro to ask about appliqué features. Their answer gal Linda responded with the following information: “Quilt-Pro has both the freehand curve and the Bézier curve. Quilt-Pro also features the Patch Stamp tool, which has over 50 predesigned appliqué motifs including flowers, leaves, stems, flower pots, hearts, stars, fruit, grape & leaves, birds and butterflies. You can also add your own motifs to the patch stamp tool to use over again.

“The program comes with a manual and what we call the Quilt-Pro Assistant, a help tool built into the program. It’s very useful. We have a message board to pose questions, plus email support and phone support. “

During a Quilt Market trade show, I stopped by the Electric Quilt booth to chat about appliqué drawing. EQ has the same equivalent tools, and also a companion lesson book available called EQ6 Appliqué Drawing by Angie Padilla. Here’s a blurb from EQ advertising about the book: “No prior drawing experience required. Start a beginner – end up an expert! Learn to draw vines and leaves, invent appliqué folk art, import photos to trace… draw a wedding cake with flowers and so much more!”

All of the programs have built-in help functions that explain how each tool works.

I got my start in digital media classes at my local community college. That’s another great way to dip your toes into the exciting world of computer illustration! I didn’t even have to own a copy of the program in order to learn the basics of how to use it.

sm-r-basket little-rose-basket

However you get started in computer drawing, just remember that it takes three things to succeed: Lessons, Practice, and Determination. The lessons could be simply reading and following the print or on-line manual, or purchasing one of the many third-party tutorial books available. The practice part is true of anything new. The determination is something that I pass along to you from Sue Nickels, who gave this advice in a machine quilting class when we were struggling to achieve anything like her masterful work.

It could be that you already have one or more of these drawing programs on your computer. Or maybe now that you’ve read more about computer appliqué drawing, you’re ready to choose the program that’s right for you.

Whatever program you try, learn those vector tools! My best piece of wisdom is this: Strive for the smooth curve afforded by mastery of the pen tool.



Interesting and very geeky, no? I do have a weird combination of interests in my strange brain that makes computer illustration perfect for me. It’s not going to be for everyone, though. At this point I’d like to issue an invitation to anyone out there who draws their own original appliqué designs by hand. Come on down and do a guest post for us! Give us the flip side! Contact me at kay at kaymackenzie dot com.

Until next time,
By Kay Mackenzie

In the recent Call for Topics, Bertha asked, “I would like to know more about how to quilt lovely appliquéd tops. Any suggestions would be helpful.”

Great question! Oh boy, this is gonna be a long one. Bertha, there’s no one right answer. I’ll present a variety of information for you to consider.


In my own hand appliqué life, I’m heavily influenced by Jeana Kimball. One of my favorite all-time designs is her Fairmeadow. Here’s my Fairmeadow book from like 18 years ago, long out of print, battered, scuffed, and much loved.


As you can see, Jeana quilts on top of her appliqué motifs. In her later book she makes the point that hand quilters from bygone eras quilted on top of their motifs to make them more secure and better supported against wear. I love it. There’s an old-timey charm about the way this looks, and when I quilt by hand I do it some too.

Not only is Jeana a very special talent in appliqué design and execution, she’s a hand quilter extraordinaire. Her book Loving Stitches: A Guide to Fine Hand Quilting is one of my go-to resources.


Jeana says, “The focus of this book is to help you recognize your own criteria, to point out considerations, traditions, and options, and to help you with your decision of how to quilt your top.” I studied this book when I was trying to decide what to do for background fill quilting on my Growing Hearts.


I chose the “uncrossed lines” pattern.



Not everyone enjoys quilting on top of their appliqué motifs. My pal Pam always tells her machine quilters, “Do whatever you like, but stay off the appliqué.”

Anne Sutton of Bunny Hill recently wrote a blog post about the very subject of quilting appliqué tops. Go see her post entitled One Week and Counting. She’s of the same opinion… viewers should see the appliqué, and “the quilting should add to the charm and finish off the quilt.”

A few years ago, I made a series of 8 x 10 quilts to give as gifts. They were simple daisies, machine appliquéd, and when I went to machine quilt them, I wanted to try something new for myself. I quilted everything! I changed threads to match or complement the colors of the motifs, and I had a blast with it!


Cute, no?

I think we all develop our own quilting ways. This experiment helped me progress as a machine quilter and define my own quirky quilting style. When I needed to finish a magazine project in a huge hurry, I fell back on this experience.

Detail of Mini Mixed Bouquet, McCall's Quilting Nov/Dec 2009

Detail of Mini Mixed Bouquet, McCall's Quilting Nov/Dec 2009

Yes, this project is hand appliquéd. Yes, I machine quilted it. No, I didn’t go to jail.


You’ve put a lot of time and love into your appliqué. Let it be the star. I’ll tell you a little anecdote. In my book Inspired by Tradition, the author’s page is adorned with a huge photo of a four-block sampler quilt. Now when you look at a flat shot of this quilt, you don’t see the quilting much at all. But the way that they lit the project for this photo makes the quilting show up in high relief.

Coming Up Roses by Kay Mackenzie

Coming Up Roses by Kay Mackenzie

I tell you what, I’ve answered more questions about that quilting than about the appliqué LOL! I’m like, wait a minute, I’m an appliqué person, not a quilting person! Goes to show you that the quilting really should be the supporting character.

Hope this gives you some good food for thought,

Until next time,
By Kay Mackenzie

At Market, I picked up a sample packet of a product called Retro Clean.


The instructions say that this product “safely removes yellow and brown age stains in vintage and antique washable fabrics, linens, and laces.”

Ooh, I couldn’t wait to try it out! When I got married 22 years ago, I asked for and was given several pieces of old family furniture. One of them was a humongous chest of drawers that I remember being at the top of the stairs in one of the houses I grew up in. It actually came from the generation before, from my grandparents. The family called it the ‘highboy’ but my husband refers to it as ‘the sarcophagus’ and every mover who ever had to lift it uttered things like “Jimminy Christmas.”

A couple drawers in the highboy were filled with old linens. Nothing fancy, nothing valuable, but, you know… they’re family linens, and they have sentimental value. I bet you have some of those too.

All these years those linens have stayed in the drawer. A lot of them look like this.




Okay guys, you’ve waited 22 years, now you’re going to get soaked!

The sample pack contained about 5 tablespoons of the powder, so according to the formula I mixed it up with a gallon and a half of warm water. I gave the linens a quick wash and rinse in the sink and dunked them into the solution. You’re then supposed to stir and soak in direct sunlight for two days, so I set the tub out on the patio.


For the next couple days, every so often I swished and turned, swished and turned. After about 48 hours I dumped everything out (including the dead bug, oh well, he died clean) and gave the linens a quick wash and rinse in the sink.

O…M…G and a half! Check it out!




I’d say that’s one big improvement! Especially in those rusty old white damask linens. You better believe I’m ordering a regular package of Retro Clean.

Until next time,
By Kay Mackenzie

I found out about a new magazine devoted to projects for the primitive quilter, rug hooker, and stitcher.

Called Primitive Quilts and Projects, this magazine is going to feature at least 15 projects each issue from leading designers across the nation. They’ve already got such luminaries as Jan Patek, Janet Nesbitt, Kathy Schmitz, Cherie Ralston, and many more lined up!

Go see the gorgeous appliqué quilt on the cover of the first issue at

Until next time,
By Kay Mackenzie has declared that the winner of Annie Smith’s Ultimate Appliqué Guidebook is… Barbara! Congratulations! Barbara reports that she is a beginner and has been enjoying the blog for introducing her to different ideas and artists. She says, “I wish I had discovered appliqué earlier in life. It is so relaxing.” Barbara, I know you will enjoy the book.

I wanted to let you know that I just added a couple of items to my website. First off, if you haven’t had a chance to get Quiltmaker’s 100 Blocks, Volume 3, I have it available now on my Patterns page.

And, I’ve created special intro packs of SoftFuse paper-backed fusible web, so that you can try out the product. This is my favorite kind of fusible web for raw-edge fused machine appliqué. The intro packs are on the Kits & Notions page.

Which leads me back to the recent Call for Topics, in which Paulette C. asked:

“I would like to see a review of the different fusibles available for appliqué. On the blogs many quilters have given reasons why they have their favorites. But a real time review of the 3 major brands with pros and cons and photo examples would be interesting.”

In the November 2010 issue of American Quilter, fuser extraordinaire Frieda Anderson presented an article called Choosing and Using Fusible Web. If you can get your hands on this issue, you will find a comprehensive comparison of 11 different types of fusibles in varying weights.

Frieda does share on her blog, in this post called Fusing that her favorite is Wonder Under regular weight. Be sure to go read her post, and while you’re there on her blog, type “fusible” or some variant into the search box and you will come up a bunch of other good information. Note: I believe that Frieda, like other members of the Chicago School of Fusing, pre-fuses large pieces of fabric, whereas I use fusible web to make templates for individual shapes.

A few years ago I embarked on a whole determined expedition to try out every kind of paper-backed fusible I could get my hands on. I tried them all. Some of the reasons I was not satisfied included the following:

• Too thick, like gauze
• Didn’t work as advertised (supposed to stick without fusing, didn’t)
• Too many types within brand, some on a bolt, some in a package, similar names, way confusing
• Separated from the backing paper before I had a chance to use it

I finally zeroed in on Wonder Under #805, regular weight. It became my go-to fusible web. Back in 2009 I wrote a blog post giving my tips for fusible web management.

Continuing my fusible web saga, at some point after that I started having trouble with the Wonder Under. After I fused it onto the back of my appliqué fabrics, the backing paper would not come off. I had to wait until the following day to peel the paper off and continue with my project.

At a quilt show, I bought a pack of SoftFuse from the Shades Textiles booth. What a relief! It’s very very lightweight, it doesn’t separate from the paper, it fuses to the fabric like lightning, and the paper comes off immediately! So that’s why it’s my current favorite. It acts the way this type of product is supposed to act! What a concept.

Here are some other articles that you may find of interest:

Hand Vs. Machine Appliqué: A Timed Experiment

Ink Jet Printable Fusible Web

Trying a New Fusible Web

Hope this helps!
Until next time,
By Kay Mackenzie

Remember this photo, of me and Annie Smith holding each other’s books?


The Ultimate Appliqué Guidebook from C&T Publishing is our featured book this month.


Full disclosure: Annie is a buddy of mine. For years we’ve followed one another’s progression as we strove for and attained career goals. A goal that we each held dear was the publication of an appliqué book. I’m so thrilled for Annie that her wish came true last fall when this gorgeous book came to life.

I’ll start by telling you that this is not the ultimate guide to every method of appliqué that’s out there. It’ something very important, a sourcebook of appliqué design elements and a gentle guide through the process of finding inspiration, encouraging it, recording it when it strikes, and translating it into your own unique appliqué quilts.

Starting with the basics, Annie goes through choosing fabrics, playing with fabrics, employing a focus fabric, and determining value. There’s a comprehensive section on tools and supplies for appliqué.



Then she moves on to detailed instructions for her own favored appliqué methods: raw-edge fusible machine appliqué and Holly Mabutas‘s prepared-edge method for hand appliqué, where freezer-paper templates are ironed to the front and the turning allowance is glued to the back. All through the book there are specific, detailed photographs to help you see exactly what Annie’s talking about.

Then comes a section on the basics of design for blocks and quilts. These are important concepts that in my experience are not covered all the time. A beautiful gallery of quilts follows, to give you even more inspiration. Check out an earlier blog post of mine that shows Annie’s gorgeous coat and accompanying quilt, both of which are pictured in the book.

Following that are several lovely quilt projects to get you started, with pull-out patterns in the back Then comes a whole long catalog of appliqué design elements! A 50 page appliqué shape-a-palooza! Mix and match these as you like!


Many of the elements are given in a variety of sizes, and you can always enlarge or reduce on a photocopy machine. And, you can use any method of appliqué that you like. Another great thing about this book is that it has a lay-flat binding, so you can smooth it out flat for tracing without worrying about breaking the spine. Very cool!

Annie gave me an autographed copy of her book to give away to one of my readers in a drawing. Thank you Annie! If you’d like a chance to win, leave a comment by 7:00 p.m. California time on Saturday, June 4. Contest open to U.S. and Canada addresses only. Good luck!

Until then,
By Kay Mackenzie

P.S. In case you might not know, Annie does a podcast for quilters. Check it out at Simple Arts.