June 23, 2011

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


4 Responses to “Quilt as desired”

  1. Susan Lorenz on June 23rd, 2011 8:45 am

    Thanks for the post on quilting the applique quilt. I too machine quilt my hand appliqued quilts – and I quilt on top of the applique pieces. You are right that it helps hold them down more securely. With hand quilting I don’t do that mainly because my hands are not strong enough for quilting thru so many layers! And I love Jeanna Kimbal’s book on hand quilting, it is my “go to book” as well.

  2. Leslie McSorley on June 23rd, 2011 11:48 am

    Great comments on the “quilting on applique” controversy. I am a longarm quilter and agree whole-heartedly that the purpose of the quilting is to enhance the quilt, not steal the spotlight. In general, I leave applique alone, but sometimes a touch of texture here or there is just right.

  3. betsy on June 23rd, 2011 4:47 pm

    Kay, I too am a fan of Jenna Kimball and I just ordered the loving stitches book this week. Fairmeadow looks like a delightful pattern and if I ever come across it, I will get it. Like you, I hand applique using the basting method I learned on your site and then I machine quilt it. I have never quilted the applique but it makes sense to keep it tacked down.

  4. Debbie St.Germain on June 23rd, 2011 5:47 pm

    Love the applique she does, wonderful blocks.
    I won your book, still waiting for it, so hopefully I will get it soon. I have been practicing on small pieces too, to get better at machine quilting, it is fun and I can give them as gifts.