A few months ago a quilting friend called me to ask if she could send Jenny along to the Studio. Jenny, a beginner quilter, was having trouble with a block-of-the-month quilting project and needed some help. Sure I said, not asking anymore questions.

Jenny walked in the door with the Dear Jane book under her arm… a challenge for any quilter! A stunning design of miniature applique and pieced blocks measuring just 4½” square, for those not familiar. It’s not for the faint-hearted and definately not a beginners quilt. No wonder she was feeling some frustration.

She saw it, fell in love with it and just wanted to make it. I totally understood, my first quilt was a Wedding Rings quilt and I am so glad my first teacher didn’t discourage me from making it, otherwise I may not have become a quilter.

Jenny was not happy with her needle-turn applique (photo 1) and we now have a chuckle when we look back at this first block. The second photo is what Jenny was achieving after her first lesson at the studio. It’s a close-up just so you can see (or not) her lovely stitching. Photo 3 shows the full 4½” block.

Dear Jenny Collage 1

That’s what I like so much about the turned-edge applique technique I now use. The template takes all the frustration out of achieving perfectly shaped edges and points. Even a beginner can achieve great results in a short period of time.

The tradtional needle-turn applique technique still has its place in my quiltmaking but I find I only use it for tiny or complex shapes and multi-layered designs now. I find stitching is a lot more relaxing when you don’t have to concentrate on trying to turn perfect edges as you go and it’s so convenient having all the applique pieces pre-prepared, particularly when travelling.

Dear Jenny Collage 2

Jenny has attended a few ‘Studio Sessions’ now and is doing a great job with her applique, including reverse applique (photo 4). We are now working on blocks that contain applique and piecing. The challenge for a beginner is not only learning the techniques but reading how to deconstruct a block/quilt and knowing what technique to use where, particularly with a project as complicated as the Dear Jane quilt. Often there is more than one way to do something and once you learn the different techniques you can then choose what best suits the project and how you like to work.

With the block below we have used my template applique technique to applique the quarter circle shapes onto squares, the excess background fabric is then trimmed away and then we machine pieced the four squares together. Photo 8 shows Jenny’s lovely small applique stitches from the back, look how they compare to the machine stitches next to them. Photo 9 is entirely English paper pieced, Photo 10 is English paper pieced and appliqued.

Dear Jenny Collage 3

The block below has a lot going on and my main concern here, apart from accuracy, was to try and reduce the bulk that would be created by all those seams coming together in the center. Those strips are only ¼” wide. Previously Jenny had tried American hand-piecing some of the blocks and found it difficult to be accurate with such tiny pieces and found the seam allowances difficult to deal with. So with this block I suggested we use both applique and reverse-applique in the central area, while the outer pieces could be easily machine pieced.

Dear Jenny Collage 4

After trying many techniques in my own quilt-making over the years, I found that I was often drawn to using English paper piecing and turned-edge applique, probably because they tick the number 2 box for me and that is accuracy and with a design like this that is critical.

Number 3 box to tick for me is being efficient with my time. Some would say the two hand-sewn techniques I specialise in are far from being time efficient but they are if you are doing them when you would otherwise be doing nothing. I have been known to hand stitch almost anywhere… kid’s sport, waiting rooms, in hospital, cars, trains, planes, airports and in front of the biggest time-waster of all, the TV (evenings only, of course!)

They say invention is born out of necessity (read personality) and that is true for how I now work with these two techniques. I hated the time I was wasting tacking, unpicking, glueing and starching seam allowances so I developed my way of working with heat-sensitive paper templates which eliminates all that. I have also learnt where I can use machine piecing and applique in my work to save more time while still retaining the hand sewn look I like

… and the number 1 box we should all endeavour to tick when doing anything in life is… ENJOYMENT!

I’m really enjoying helping Dear Jenny with her Dear Jane and I think Jenny is enjoying her project much more now she is getting the results she was after.

Currently I’m busy writing patterns so I’m only running Studio Sessions at the moment. Technique and project based workshops will be coming but in the meantime I can help you get started and guide you along the way using my templates and techniques in your next English paper piecing or turned-edge applique project. Please contact me with your preferred times/days and when I have the numbers I will run sessions to suit.

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