Expert quilter, Lynne Edwards, shares her unique technique for creating beautiful blanket stitch quilts here. You can use Lynne’s blanket stitch appliqué technique to create stunning quilts using your choice of pattern and templates.
When using this blanket stitch appliqué technique which Lynne calls the ‘stick-and-stitch technique’, the appliqué shapes must first be reversed. The design is then separated into the various shapes that make up the final image. Any shape that is overlapped by another will need an extra amount added, about 1?8in (3mm) wide to the edge that will be overlapped. This should be included when the shapes are traced on to the paper side of the fusible web.
Using Fusible Web
1. Place the fusible web smooth side uppermost over the reversed shapes of the design as given in each project. Trace each section including any dashed areas. Mark the grain line arrows and the numbers on the tracing, keeping these at the very edge of the shape rather than in the centre, as the centre area of fusible web will be removed later. The shapes can be traced closer together but leave about ½in (1.3cm) between each traced shape to make cutting out easier. Cut out each traced shape roughly ¼in (6mm) beyond the outer drawn line.
2. Carefully cut out the central area of fusible web and remove it, leaving only about 1?8in (3mm) inside the drawn line.
The removed pieces of fusible can be kept for later projects.
3. Place each cut piece of fusible web rough side downwards on the wrong side of the fabric, matching the grain line arrow with the grain or weave of the fabric. Press with a hot iron to stick the web to the fabric. Now cut accurately along the drawn line through both the paper and the fabric.
4. If you have overlapping appliqué pieces take the first piece remove the paper backing and position the piece right side up, glue side down on the background. Add each fabric shape in turn until the design is complete.
5. When you are happy with the arrangement, press everything with a hot iron to fix the pieces in place. For a more complex design where you need to be very accurate with the positioning of each fabric shape, use an appliqué pressing sheet or non-stick baking parchment paper to help. Lay the pressing sheet or paper over the drawn design — you will be able to see the design through the plastic sheet. The non-stick baking parchment paper is less transparent, but should still allow the design to show through well enough for positioning the pieces on to it. The whole design is assembled piece by piece and ironed on to the pressing sheet or parchment paper. Once it is complete, only then will it be carefully peeled away from the background plastic or paper and re-positioned and ironed in place on the background fabric.
You can now decide whether to blanket stitch the appliqué pieces to the background fabric by hand or machine.
Blanket Stitching by Hand
These guidelines for stitching the design by hand are for right-handed quilters. Start at the end of a piece of fabric, preferably where it is overlapped by another appliqué piece. Once you are more experienced, it can be your choice where you begin and finish, but this makes for an easier and less obvious starting point.
- Turn the work so that the appliqué fabric is to the right and the background fabric is to the left. Keep the edge of the appliqué running straight towards you at all times at the point where you are stitching.
- Make a knot at the end of the thread. Begin by bringing the needle up from the back in the background fabric close to the edge of the appliqué.
- Make one stitch at right angles to the edge of the appliqué and bring the needle back up in the same place as the thread. The needle should be horizontal when making this stitch. The stitch length is your choice. I like to make a stitch a generous 1?8in (3mm) with spacing between about half this. Don’t worry too much — become comfortable with the stitching action and as you find a stitching rhythm your hand will settle into the spacing and size of stitch that it likes best.
- Pull the thread across to the left to tighten the stitch.
- Hold the thread flat with your thumb. Bring the needle back to the appliqué, making a thread loop.
- With the edge of the appliqué running towards you, place the needle into the appliqué to match the end of the first stitch above it. Aim for a distance from the first stitch of about half the length of the first stitch. Keep the needle horizontal and at right angles to the appliqué edge and bring it out in the background fabric close to the appliqué.
- Pull the thread to the left to tighten the stitch. The second stitch should be about the same length as the first stitch, at right angles to the appliqué edge.
- Repeat steps 5–7 to make another similar stitch. This will be your pattern for making the stitches along the edge of the appliqué. As the design curves, turn the fabric in your hand so that the edge is always running straight towards you. This will create some curve and movement in the stitches, which will complement the curve in the appliqué design.
- To turn a sharp corner, following the principle of turning the fabric as you would on a sewing machine should result in an attractive mitred look in the corner stitches. To prevent the corner stitch from slipping to one side, leaving the fabric point vulnerable to fraying, make one extra tiny stitch on the spot at the corner to keep that long corner stitch in place.
- To finish off, take the thread to the back of the work and make two or three tiny stitches in the background fabric, below the appliqué layer so that it’s not visible on the front.
Blanket Stitching by Machine
For stitching a blanket stitch by machine, most instructions recommend using a clear plastic foot that is cut away at the front to give good visibility. I often stitch around an appliqué after the quilt has been layered with wadding (batting) and a backing fabric so that the blanket stitch acts as quilting though the layers. A walking foot is essential for this, preferably one that is cut away at the front like the plastic appliqué foot.
Choosing the Stitch
Sewing machines are very sophisticated now and often have several variations of blanket stitch. As always, you need to get to know your machine thoroughly before you dive into a project. A piece of firm cotton fabric with a few pieces of plain fabric bonded on will allow you to experiment with each variation of stitch and to assess which one is best for your design. Use a normal cotton thread on the top and in the bobbin to start with so you can see just what each stitch does. Fabrics in solid colours are best so that every stitch can be clearly seen as you try them out. First, you need to assess the repeat pattern of stitches that is being made.
If you have a computerized machine, you should be able to alter the width and the length of the chosen blanket stitch, which will fine-tune the dimensions of the stitch. Changing the stitch width will affect the length of the horizontal bar stitch that goes across the appliqué. Changing the stitch length will affect the length of the stitches that run along the edge of the appliqué, making the horizontal bar stitches closer together or further apart. Play with the settings and once you have decided on the best settings for the job, make a note of them directly on to the test fabric alongside the sample of stitching as a reference for later.
Practising the Stitch
Once the stitch is selected, do some practice to get to know the rhythm of the machine’s ‘dance’ pattern to make each stitch. If you have an up/down facility on your machine, use it here. If the ‘needle down’ setting is used when stitching, whenever the user stops the needle will automatically finish down in the fabric, so the work does not slip to the side — especially useful if you want to lift the pressure foot to adjust the direction of stitching slightly, as when stitching along the side of a curved appliqué edge.
Get comfortable stitching along straight edges and gentle curves first. For keeping snug to a curved edge, stop occasionally, raise the pressure foot and adjust the fabric so the appliqué edge is still running towards you. Try to stop and adjust the direction when the needle is stitching in background fabric. I have found I can control the machine to stitch just one stitch at a time when negotiating tricky areas by tapping the foot pedal once to make the machine do a single stitch and then finish down in the fabric again, which keeps me more in control.
Find this technique along with patterns and templates for 12 stunning blanket stitch quilts in Lynne Edwards’ book Blanket Stitch Quilts.