Lisa Woolfork: Hello Stitchers. Welcome to Stitch Please, the official podcast of Black Women Stitch, the sewing group where Black Lives Matter. I'm your host, Lisa Woolfork. I'm a fourth generation sewing enthusiast with more than 20 years of sewing experience. I am looking forward to today's conversation. So sit back, relax, and get ready to get your stitch together.
Hello, everybody, and welcome to Stitch Please, the official podcast of Black Women Stitch, the sewing group where Black Lives Matter. I am your host, Lisa Woolfork. Join me once again from Charlottesville, Virginia. Today's topic is fusible applique. We're going to talk about what fusible applique is. We'll talk about the materials that you need to use it, why you would want to use it and what some of the benefits and pitfalls of using it are. We're going to get into all of that in this episode of the Stitch Please podcast.
To begin, fusible applique is a dressed-up word for what's something you already know. And that's iron-on. Yes, iron-on. Those embroidery patches that you can buy that have that slick texture feeling on the back of the patch that allow you to flip the patch over, put it on a fabric, and press it. It's the same stuff; that is the fusible part of fusible applique. If you've ever purchased a set of curtains from IKEA, they often include this white tape that feels like a rough spiderweb, but much more dense and that is included with the curtains as a no-sew solution for shortening the curtains. And that is exactly the stuff that we're going to be talking about today because that is the fusible in the fusible web, or the double-sided or single-sided fusible web that is the core of this wonderful no-sew medium.
One of the reasons that I like fusible applique is that it is a very satisfying project to do that incorporates lots of different elements. So there is the part with the pressing, where you press your fusible web to your fabric, it becomes stiff, it goes from a fabric that's floppy and then it becomes interfaced, but interfaced so stiffly, that you can cut it like you're cutting construction paper. And that always brings me back to a feeling of nostalgia for the type of arts and crafts that I once did when I was younger and carefree. Not that I'm not carefree now. So taking something that's fabric, turning it into paper, cutting it out manually to create a shape, layering those shapes on a foundation. That is something that I think appeals to a variety of people who are already practicing crafts. And for this reason, I think that fusible applique is a wonderful gateway into the larger world of quilting, that by practicing with fusible applique you get to do something that's very quilt and has very much the effect of a quilt especially if you quilt it. We'll talk a little bit about that. That it is a nice introduction, it doesn't require a sewing machine, so if someone knits or crochets, and doesn't want to make an investment and just wants to practice, this is a good way to get started. And for those who do have a machine, it's a way to take the project to the next level without over-investing in what might be required for a pieced version of the same thing.
So just a little bit of definitions here. Pieced, I'm saying pieced, p-i-e-c-e-d, which is when you put two fabrics fast together and sew them and then you do that again and again.That is stitched together and it's called piecing. It's often described as piecing because you're putting all the pieces of the quilt together to make a whole quilt. On the other hand, there is applique and that is when the fabric is applied on top, when it is on top of the fabric, so you have a big fabric canvas and then you apply the pieces on top. Usually people who are very skilled at this would do something called needle-turning, where you would put the raw edge right-side up on your quilt top and when you turned it, the head of the needle that you were hand-stitching, curled it under. In apparel, what I would do is take a piece that I wanted the raw edges turned under and I would press it with an iron and then I would put it on. And that's not something that folks might have been able to do hundreds of years ago, but there are these amazing quilts that are appliqued from that era. I believe Harriet Powers, who is, was, an enslaved woman who ultimately bought her freedom and some of her family members' freedom with her quilting skills and I believe one of her quilts is in a Boston museum. I'm not sure if it's the MFA or the Isabella Stewart Gardner, I'm not sure. But it's a stunning quilt, the Harriet Powers Bible quilt, so look that up, if you get the chance, it's really splendid. This is really powerful. And I believe a lot of her work was appliqued. and raw edges are turned under. This is something that's also really popular in a quilt like a Baltimore album. That design, people want the raw edges to be covered and that's the traditional method of doing it, but what I'd like to talk about today is the much easier, it's more immediately satisfying, and it's also a lot of fun.
So we are going to be talking today about fusible applique and let me tell you what makes it fusible. And it's essentially as I said early, earlier, it's an iron on, and it uses heat to permanently attach fabrics to each other. The heat fuses the fusible web that I described and the applique part is when you apply heat and pressure to get it to stick to the other the fabric surface beneath it. Let's talk about some of the materials that are required to do fusible applique. There is double-sided fusible web, that's a required thing, and double-sided fusible web comes in a variety of forms, of a variety of brands. Wonder-Under is one, HeatnBond, Steam-A-Seam, these are all more or less this, the same product. I mean, what they serve the same purpose and I often find that the HeatnBond is a strong, strong seal, but it sometimes makes it difficult to sew over if you wanted to go back and sew they have lighter and heavier versions of this product, so that makes it nice and adaptable for your needs. In addition to getting the fusible web, I highly recommend that people also get parchment paper. Parchment paper, that is something that they sell in the grocery store, it should be in the same section as the foil and cling wrap and what parchment paper will do is it will keep you from ruining your iron when you sew, when you, it will keep you from ruining your iron when you iron the fusible to the face of your iron. Now, if you use if you put always the parchment paper between your project and the iron, then you don't, you won't have any problems, but sometimes accidents happen, that's okay. You just don't want that accident to be having to clean adhesive from your very hot iron, though we do have solutions for that. And that solution is Iron Off, keep some Iron Off nearby. It's very easy to remedy any type of sticky situation, so to speak. Another part of the supplies that you'll need are scissors and a pencil and then your fabric. And it's that simple. I recommend using a pencil to trace the design onto the fusible web because it's a bit softer and you don't want to puncture the release paper that comes with the fusible web. One side of the fusible web is going to be rather rough, like a spider web or like some type of textured material, and the other side is going to be smooth as glass. It's not glass, of course, it's paper, but it's really smooth. It's really slick and that's the part you're going to write on. I've had difficulty with pen and pens also smear. It makes more sense to use a pencil. You can also erase it more easily and also I suggest a soft pencil a number two is fine, just not super sharp, you're just trying to get the outline and you don't want the residue of the pencil to smear and pencil doesn't smear as much as pen. Also, you're going to heat it up and you'll want to be careful of getting that residue on your iron. In addition to working with your iron, you need a good ironing board or an ironing surface. If you don't have an ironing board, you can try folding up a couple of towels on a firm surface. Also, there's wool-felted mats that are about an inch thick and they're good for needle-felting as well as for pressing for quilt blocks. If you are pressing each seam, as you should, that's another option, but you want to make sure that your, whatever, if you're using your dining room table or something and, don't let it be some heirloom, you want to be very careful because the steam of an iron can be hotter than you think and it could stain a table. If you don't have an ironing board, perhaps sitting on the floor with carpet. Again, y'all, I don't know what you can use exactly if you don't have an ironing board, but you can make something very similar with a wooden TV tray, batting, ironing board cover fabric, and, voila, you have an ironing board. You want some firm surface, that's what I want to be clear on that, you'll want to firm surface so that you can do this and you don't want something that might tip over, especially with an iron. You're going to have your iron, you're going to use it as you normally would. Sometimes I use steam to use when I'm fusing the fabrics together, but sometimes that's also not required, so let's start out with no steam and then if you start to notice things aren't holding up or sticking on, you could add a little steam to help it along. I'm never sure if that really makes a difference, but my brain thinks it makes a difference, so it's true for me.
Now what you're going to do is construct a quilt sandwich, you get fabric on the front, batting in the middle, and fabric on the back. For this project, you're only going to use one layer of fabric as your background and then you'll have multiple colors or designs to put on top of it. An exception to this is, if you know exactly what you want to do, and if you're feeling confident, you could purchase a premade pillow sham, the kind that go on throw pillows or decorative pillows, and you could take the pillow out, if the pillow can come out, and then design it right there on that pillow and you will have a nice accent piece and a memory of your fusible applique experience. And I had one more about, oh yeah, lots of different crafts stores sell premade canvases and the ones that are like wrapped around wood. Again, I don't know what the heat tolerance for those things are. I don't know what gets activated in them. I'm just thinking that could be a possibility, but, again, I'm not sure. But something I know for sure will work because I've done this a couple times is make your own little quilt sandwiches ahead of time. You put your fabrics right side together, you put your batting, and then you put a piece of denim on the other side, so when you sew it together, the batting and the denim is facing one side and then you have a top. And it's essentially as if you've made a really small, flat, unquilted quilt, then you can apply the process that we're about to describe about how one creates a fusible applique design. And then you'll have something that's ready to go.
I think one of the most important parts of the fusible applique process is the fabrics that you choose to do your appliques. Now there's lots of different types of fabrics that you can choose that will work. Cotton and cotton blends work best in my opinion, that includes denim. I've had great experiences with denim. Also, some of the home deck fabrics work, but you have to, I believe, wash them first. I'm not sure, some of them have been treated for some resistance and I don't know if those would respond well to heat. But essentially, you need a fabric that can respond well to high heat. And so, for that reason, I tend not to use things like leather or pleather because those don't have a high heat tolerance. But I've recently saw that one of the companies is making a fusible web for leather that would allow you to cut the leather out and then press it, fuse it, and include it in a project like the one we're going to talk about. And so maybe leather is an option. I don't know I'm not good at not tried it. That was pretty exciting to see. Not that I have... I guess I do have some leather lying around that I could practice with, but why though? I'm going to work out what I'm working on. I'm enjoying this. We're going to take a quick break and when we come back, we will talk about how to get started making the actual project. Stay tuned.
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Welcome back. You're listening to the Stitch Please podcast, we are the official podcast of Black Women Stitch, the sewing group where Black Lives Matter. And today we are talking about fusible applique. In the previous segment, we talked about what fusible applique was, an iron-on, and what kind of things you needed to use it effectively- an iron and a good ironing surface. So now we're going to transition and talk about how do we actually do this. The thing to remember is, this is where right side and wrong side become important. Fabric has a right side that the factory has indicated is the right side based on where they put the selvage, which is for example, in quilting, you'll often find the designers print on the selvage and that's an indication that's the side you should be looking at and that's the right side. On the other side of that is the reverse image that's usually a different color and has a different texture, or it looks to have a different texture, I don't think it really does, but that's the wrong side. You want to be very careful, especially with the fusible web, you don't want to trace your design on the wrong side. The right side of fusible web is the smooth side, so you'll want to make sure that you're writing on the smooth side. You're going to assemble your materials- you've got your fusible web, you have your parchment paper to protect your iron and protect your project. You have your iron, fabric, scissors, pencil or pen. If you choose pen, I recommend a Sharpie because those also have kind of a soft point and won't puncture your paper and you're ready to go.
The first thing you're going to do is find your design and either tape it to your writing surface or just make sure to keep it in place and you're going to trace this outline. Now as I'm speaking to you, I'm envisioning the design called crown, which was created by Latifah Saafir for the Social Justice Sewing Academy's Block of the Month Club that began in 2020. And this is a beautiful image of a black woman with hoop earrings and her shoulders are bare and she has his crown tilted on her Afro, it's lovely. And so I'm imagining each of those components of that design broken down by color, so you have the shoulders, you have the afro, you have the earrings, which is two of the same thing, and you have the crown. All of these are the things you're going to assemble and lay onto your surface. So now you get to decide what colors do you want for each piece. One way to do that, I believe, is after you've traced, everyone has gone through and traced the designs, as you put them on your Wonder-Under or your fusible web, make sure that you're leaving enough space in between them, so that when you cut them out, there'll be a margin around your tracing. You don't want to cut your tracing on the exact line because, when you put the fusible web down, there is a chance that there could be shrinkage or there could be that the fabric contracts in a weird way or that it doesn't stick all the way. And so I always like to leave a margin around the tracing, then fuse it down to the fabric and then cut on the exact line at that time. But it's po-tay-to, po-tah-to. Another thing to do before you decide to cut out your fusible web, you want to make sure that any directions for your placement are clear to you. So afro in the block that we're discussing is oriented at a certain angle. It's not a perfect circle, which if you twist it 45 degrees one way or 90 degrees the other way, it's not going to matter because it's all the same. This doesn't have that type of symmetry, so if you turn it the wrong way, or if you flip it 90 degrees, for example, it's not going to fit within the frame of the block, which means it might overrun its boundaries and the design won't look balanced. That's something I found out when I made the block the first time and I didn't indicate the direction, the pattern does tell you the direction, but you have to remember to write it down, which was something I did not do. And so that's why I recommend if you're looking at the pattern, for every piece, you'll want to indicate this is the direction, because some fabrics have directions and some fabrics are directional. And it could be really interesting to do the piece on an angle, but if that's not your intent, then you won't be satisfied, so if you want your block to look like the block that's pictured, then you should indicate the direction so that you can get the proper place you can always of course be more abstract and not want to follow the pattern, but, if you do, you should pay attention to how the pattern itself is laid out.
So you're ready. You have your big piece of traced designs. You're going to cut around them and lay them in their separate places. So you should have, for example, for the piece that I'm describing, it should have about five pieces, I believe. One is skin color. One is hair color. One is earring color and one is the crown. So I think there's four pieces, right, earrings, crown, fro, and body. Yes, four pieces. And now you get to do the fun part. You've got everything separated, you know which piece goes where, and now you get to choose your fabrics. You get to decide: What color am I going to make her skin? What color am I going to make her hair? How does this correspond to the background fabric that I chose? Should I change the background fabric to something different? It's a lot of fun. It really is building a jigsaw puzzle with all these different pieces that you didn't know were going to fit and they end up fitting. You've identified your fabrics, you make sure that your fabric is situated beneath the wrong side of your fusible medium. If you have traced your design with a soft pencil and you can rub on that surface, like back and forth with your finger, and some of the pencil comes off, that's a good sign that you are in the right direction. I want to reiterate, you do not want to put the face of your iron on the wrong side or the fusible glue side of that paper. You can definitely get the stuff off, especially if you have the Iron Off that I described. It's a specific product made to get glue and residue off hot irons, but if you don't have that nearby, it's a challenge to get it clean, so don't frustrate yourself. Make sure that your hot iron which should be hot, is going to smooth over and do its job and not get stuck. So just to be clear.
Now that you've got that you are going to iron your fusible web, paying attention to getting all the edges and, as you look down, you should start to see the paper beneath your iron change in color a little bit and you should be able to, once you've stopped ironing and you put your iron to the side, you'll want to look, you want to peel up one of the corners or any of the edges of your design that you cut and just make sure that it's sticking. Make sure that your fusible web is sticking. Now if it's not sticking, if it's sticking in the middle, and not sticking at the end, then don't iron the middle anymore and concentrate on the perimeter. Also, if the fusible web when you go to pull it up, ideally, when you peel away that paper, it's like peeling the shell off of shrimp or something, it should come off, it should come off very smoothly, right? It should come off very easily. If you're, if it's stubborn or if, when you peel up the edge of the fusible web and you rub your finger on your fabric, and there's no adhesive there, that means that adhesive is still on the fusible, so just flip it back down, press it again, give it a little more heat, a little more pressure that area, and then it should stick and that way, when you peel off the paper. it peels away smoothly. And that's what you want. But you're not going to peel it yet. You just want to test a little corner to make sure it works.
After you have your fusible web ironed on to the wrong side of the fabric that you've chosen, now it's time to cut it. You're going to cut on the exact line that you drew and, as you do, you'll be paying attention to the edges to make sure that the adhesive is on there because that's what you need for it to fuse on to your final project. You cut your pieces out and, because your pieces are labeled, you know where they all go. Something that I like to do is to assemble the puzzle of the piece on top of the quilt block before I even remove the paper because that gives me a chance to see, like, how I might want it to be when it's a little bit easier to move. It's much easier to move the pieces that have the fabric and fusible web stuck together than it is the fabric pieces that just had the adhesive on them because they're a bit more floppy. Now, your pieces are all cut out, they're ready to go and, as I said before, you have marked them and you know where they go. You're going to peel away that paper, just peel it away gently. If you notice that some of the adhesive isn't sticking or that it's somehow trapped between the bottom of the paper and your quilt block, just pull that adhesive off and tap it down manually onto your onto your fabric and then cover that piece up with the remaining release paper and press it. You just want it to stick. If it's sticking on the edges, I think that's the most important, but you can just distribute the adhesive as well independently in order to get a good adhesion.
So you've laid it out, you've got everything pressed, it all looks great, you have your pieces assembled, you're paying attention to what you're doing, you're always using that parchment paper, right, you put that parchment paper between your project and the iron. It'll protect your iron and protect your project, so just keep using that parchment paper. And you can iron on it, it's meant to withstand a lot of high heat, it's not going to do anything, especially if it's the kind that I'm describing- the just the standard parchment paper in a blue box, not wax paper, parchment paper. I don't know about the bleached versus the unbleached. I've never used unbleached for this purpose, but the one that I pick is a bleached product from the same companies that make foil also make this. What is so interesting is, now that you have it all together, you think you're finished, your design it looks lovely, you are not yet finished. I'd like you to flip it over and put the right side face down on the ironing board and press it again from the back, just to give it another angle for making sure that it's stuck there and then flip it back. And now you're golden. You have this beautiful design that you have fused and cut and created and put right there. and it's really fun because you can do this with other things. You can make banners, you can make larger quilt blocks. You can do all sorts of fun things. You can put letters and numbers and all sorts of things on these.
Now, here's just a few suggestions for if you want to finish the piece that you have made. Right now you probably have a 14x14 inch square with your design on it and that's perfectly fine as it is, it's not going to do anything unless you put it in the washing machine and then there's a risk of it coming apart, so you can leave it like that if you just wanted it to be a wall-hanging and that's what this is the first thing I ever made, this is my first quilt and that would be a wonderful thing to have for posterity. Now if you wanted to make it a bit more permanent, you could then you could go around your design with a zigzag stitch, a very narrow zigzag stitch. Also a straight stitch would work, the zigzag stitch tends to give more coverage and so it's also a bit more sturdy and strong for putting it in the washing machine with the agitation and stuff like that. That's one way to do it. Another way to do it that's more detailed is to use a satin stitch on the sewing machine. And that requires a good deal of excellent driving skills to make sure that you can cover with a tight, narrow zigzag all these tiny curves. Another option is to not use a sewing machine at all, but to hand embroider, and they're lovely stitches that you could use to finish these designs- the buttonhole stitch or the herringbone stitch- all of these could be really good ways to practice. And because of this density, you probably wouldn't need to hoop it. You could hand stitch this without a hoop. And one last suggestion that I remember reading about was if you wanted to, instead of stitching each individual piece on the machine, you could cover that piece with tulle or some sheer illusion mesh, and then just quilt all over it in an all over design. And that the mesh would keep everything together not a knit mesh like a woven mesh. And I thought I was like wow, that's a really interesting idea.
I hope you've enjoyed today's conversation about fusible applique and that you can use it sometime this month in March, which is National Quilt Month. And I hope you've enjoyed the episode. It was really fun talking through this and go try something to fusibly applique. Alright, you all take care. Thanks. See you next week. Bye bye.
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