The Free Motion Quilting Project: Experiment #1 - Textured Applique and Trapplique

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Experiment #1 - Textured Applique and Trapplique

Today is the first Experiment Sunday and I must say, I wish I'd given myself permission to do this a LONG time ago!

It was so much fun to just walk into the studio and ask "What do you want to play with today?" and actually allow myself to follow that whim. Too often, I disregard my curiosity in favor of getting stuff done with the tried and true, fastest methods I know.

But after only one experiment day, I already know there's going to be some serious game changing as far as what techniques are actually faster and more effective for creating the quilts I want to make.

And when it comes down to it curiosity is a powerful and amazing force, and I plan on digging into it, listening to it, and following it where ever it leads from here on out.

So what did I make today?

free motion quilting | Leah DayIt's no secret that I'm passionate about texture. All of the free motion designs I've created have been out of a desire to create more textures for our quilts.

But sometimes, quilting stitches just cannot convey what I want. Dense stitching is by it's very nature very flat, stiff, and often recedes on the surface of the quilt.

Sometimes I want texture that stands out, that raises the surface of the quilt considerably so that when you run your hand over the surface, you feel the twisted, pleated channels under you fingertips.

In essence, I want to play with a new form of applique that adds dynamic texture to the surface of your quilt.

I'm calling this Textured Applique because that's really the best description. I'm layering fabrics and securing the edges just like traditional applique, but with excess fabric to create ridges and pleats within each piece.

Here's the step by step process:

free motion quilting | Leah DayFirst, I started with a black 10" square and layered it with a piece of black polyester felt. I also pulled a good supply of red, purple, blue scraps of fabric.

free motion quilting | Leah DayNext, I sketched a rough drawing. I kept this really simple with just flowing lines and a basic heart shape in the center.

Now for the fun part! I pulled out a lot of scraps and first cut narrow strips. In free motion, I stitched down one side of the strip along the line marked on the black fabric.

free motion quilting | Leah DayI broke thread and returned to the top of the block, then wrinkled up that narrow strip like crazy and stitched down to secure it. Because I tried narrow strips to start, it took a few passes to fully fill the first section.

Keep in mind, I'm not using fusible web here. This is raw fabric on raw fabric. The polyester felt is on the bottom, acting like a stabilizer to keep everything flat and stable.

My first attempt wasn't my favorite. I didn't like having to stitch down multiple times because the thread on the surface kind of ruined the effect in my opinion.

So I tried again, this time clipping small pieces from a wider strip. I wanted to see if stitching multiple small 1" or smaller scrapes would achieve the look I wanted.

No, this didn't really go well either. I found it much easier to hang up my presser foot and had to break thread a lot. While the texture was more like carpet (which is interesting if that's what you're going for) it wasn't my goal.

So I moved on to another line and kept trying new ways of creating texture with layers of fabric over the original drawing. That's really what experimenting is all about!

Finally, I found the way that worked best for me. This time I cut a much wider strip, double the width of the space it was going in.

I stitched down one side, intentionally creating pleats where the curves created bunches in the fabric.

I broke thread and returned to the top and stitched down the opposite side, intentionally twisting and curling the fabric so it created noticeable ridges throughout the space.

This was not only the easiest way of creating instant texture, it was also the fastest!

Of course, it looks pretty rough right here when the fabric has just been stitched down:

free motion quilting | Leah DayI'm not a huge fan of leaving rough edges to this extent. I just don't think it looks good, so I decided to cover up these areas with satin stitching. I set up a wide 3.5 satin stitch zig zag on my machine and stitched down slowly, covering the areas where the different fabrics matched up.

free motion quilting | Leah DayLooking back on it, I know there are many other ways of covering up these sections. I could couch special wider threads, or I could hands stitch beads or more fabric. These alternatives will definitely have to be investigated in another experiment!

Now, I'd set aside the space in the center of the block for my heart shape, but after playing with textured applique so much, I wanted to play with something different for the heart.

A good quilting friend, Nina Pailey, has been blogging about a technique mixing trapunto and applique which she'd dubbed Trapplique.

The basic idea is you can take any quilted fabric, cut pieces out of it, then satin stitch those pieces down onto a quilted background.

I had a sample I'd stitched from working on Hot Cast that was just going to end up in the trash so I marked and cut out a simple heart shape.

free motion quilting | Leah DayI laid this in the center of my block and first zigzag stitched it down loosely. I just wanted the first set of stitches to secure the heart to the surface.

free motion quilting | Leah DayThen I continued around again, changing to a dense, wide satin stitch. And since I was still seeing white threads after ward, I widened my satin stitch even more and went around a third time.

I still had a bit of light blue threads showing up from the quilting in the heart. Because I'd used black thread to satin stitch, I just took a black permanent magic marker and colored those threads. Instant fix!

free motion quilting | Leah DayBecause the edges were so raw, I trimmed down my block to 8" and did a rough satin stitch along the edges. Since I'm not sure what I'm going to do with these experiments, I'm not too worried about the edges being finished perfectly.

free motion quilting | Leah DaySo that's it! I'm extremely happy with my finished block, not because it's gorgeous or perfect (it's neither), but because it pushed me out of my typical focus with applique being perfectly flat with perfectly turned edges.

Life is just too short to keep trying to make every aspect of every quilt perfect when it just never works out that way no matter what I do.

I really want to use this Textured Applique technique in my next goddess quilt. I've always had issues with the hair of my goddesses being so flat. Hair is an expressive, uncontrollable force and I've long struggled to quilt these areas satisfactorily.

If the fabric over theses areas was textured, all wrinkled and pleated, there would be no need to quilt the area, the texture of the fabric would do all the work!

But how to use this form of applique in a real quilt? Should I apply it before the quilting using a layer of felt as stabilizer? Should I make the hair completely separate and attach it at the end?

These questions have sparked even more curiosity, and I can't wait to follow where it leads!

Let's go quilt,



  1. Wow! That's really lovely! Great technique. Thanks for posting.

  2. Leah,

    Think about donating experiments to the Alzheimer's Art Quilt Initiative project. Project just needs to be letter size and registered. Check out

  3. 'Play time' is the best time - I keep coming up with some weird ideas and so far each I've tried has been a success, maybe not 100% but not a complete disaster - it's amazing what you find works if your prepared to let go a little

  4. Leah, thanks for sharing your fun time in the studio. I love the little piece you created. I think I need to go play now.

  5. I really like that technique! I hate things that are even and standard, so this is a perfect one for me to play with. Thanks for the inspiration!

  6. This is such an inspiring post - the piece is stunning, the idea of the background and the texture and flow is really impressive.

  7. Leah, you share so much. This is great. And here's a variation on a plain satin stitch binding - it's called a rattail binding. Check this out:

    Perfect for small art pieces!


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