Friday, July 31, 2015

REWIND: Back Basting Applique

Welcome back to REWIND! Every now and then I "rewind" and republish one of my older posts that you may have missed! Today I'm going to share a post from November 2014  in which I write about back basting applique.

I used this applique method to make fruit and flower blocks in the border in my Gardens of a King quilt designed by Missie Carpenter of Traditional Primitives. It is a great technique to add to your skills set so why not give it a try? You'll be surprised at how easy it is and the great results that you will achieve.

Gardens of a King by Karen H
Pattern by Missie Carpenter of Traditional Primitives

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TUTORIAL: Back basting applique

I am not an expert when it comes to applique but I enjoy doing it and I think that sometimes just a little bit of applique can add so much to a quilt. There are lots of different ways of doing applique and each has its own place. One of the methods I like is back basting applique. There are small applique blocks in Gardens of a King quilt that lend themselves perfectly to back basting applique.
So what is back basting applique? Simply put you baste your applique fabric to the background but you baste it from the wrong side. Once it is basted you do needle turn applique that is surprisingly easy!

The first step is to draw the shape on the wrong side of your background fabric. I will use a fleur de lis shape. I place my design on a light box or tape it to a window. I place my fabric over the pattern  with the wrong facing side up and I trace the shape with a fabric safe marker that makes a fine line. I like to use a mechanical pencil or a Frixion pen.

Cut a piece of applique fabric that is large enough to cover the entire shape.

I place the the applique fabric on the right side of my background fabric and hold it up to the light to make sure that it is correctly positioned which means that the applique fabric extends beyond my drawing on all sides. Depending on the size of the applique I may place a few pins to hold it in place. I then take a needle and thread and run basting stitches on the lines.

I turn the fabric over and on the right side I draw on the lines of the basting thread with a fabric safe marking tool. I like to use my mechanical pencil or a Frixion pen. If you use a pencil be sure that you can see the line but you don't want it do dark that it will show after the applique is finished. A chalk pencil would work equally well. Use the marking tool you have in your tool box that you like and that works for you!

Trim the excess fabric leaving a narrow seam allowance. I like to leave somewhere between 1/8" and 1/4". If there are inner points or curves you will need to clip them to make it easy to turn the seam allowance. In fact I like to clip all the way around the shape. I find that it makes turning the seam allowance much easier. I do not clip right to the line; I stop a few threads short of the line because I can always clip more but I can't clip less!

Now it is time to applique. Remove a few basting stitches and tuck the seam allowance under on the drawn line with the tip of your needle. Stitch until you reach the point where you need to remove another couple of basting stitches. Continue in this manner until the applique is completed removing only a basting stitch or two at a time. I like to use Superior's The Bottom Line thread for my applique. A soft taupe colour seems to work on virtually all colours!

This is the fleur de lis from the front.

This is the fleur de lis from the wrong side. When I press the piece all of the Frixion pen marks will disappear!

This method works well for simple shapes like the fleur de lis but it is even better for more complex, layered designs and small pieces! As with any applique work you have to give thought to the order of sewing pieces. For example in the picture below I stitched cherries before the stems because the stems sit on top of the cherries. The leaves were stitched before the branches. I'll often write the order of sewing pieces on the wrong side of the fabric so I know what to do next. I marked all of the leaves and most of the cherries as "1" because there were stems and branches that had to go on top of them. I back basted all of the pieces marked "1" at the same time and then I appliqued them in place. At the bottom of the picture you can see there is a cherry that is on top of another so the top cherry was marked "2". I continue numbering all of the shapes in this way. The back basted piece in the picture is the last stem that I need to applique and then the piece will be finished.

HELPFUL TIP: One of the tools I keep in my sewing kit is an orange stick (just below the scissors in the picture). It is great for turning applique edges especially if there is an inner point or inner curve to be turned. The wood just grabs the fabric and tucks it neatly into place! And it does it the first time so if the seam allowance is narrow there is little or no fraying. A needle is slippery so if I have to poke the fabric a few times it might start to fray and that will make the applique more difficult!

An important consideration is if your pattern is oriented the way it should look when it's finished your will need to create a reverse image for tracing on the wrong side of the background fabric. If you just trace it onto the wrong side of your fabric the final applique will be a mirror image of the pattern. To eliminate this problem I trace my pattern on the wrong side of the pattern with a fine Sharpie marker and that is what I use to trace the design on the wrong side of my fabric. Problem solved! Another option is to use your printer to print a mirror image.

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I adore the Gardens of a King pattern by Missie Carpenter of Traditional Primitives. In fact I like it so much that I am seriously considering making another. At first glance you wouldn't think so but it is English paper pieced just like my hexagon quilts! These blocks measure about 6" across and they were a great way to use up some really small scraps.

Look at this block with the tiny little hexagon in the middle! Love it! I used Missie's starch basting method to prepare all of the pieces.

When I made the Gardens of a King quilt I made it exactly as per the pattern because I was testing the pattern for Missie. I don't get any compensation for testing or promoting this pattern nor do I have a commercial interest in the pattern - Missie just asked me if I would be willing to test the pattern for her and I thought that it would be a fun thing to do. I enjoyed making Gardens of a King and am so proud of my quilt top that I can't resist sharing it with you!

Some of the applique blocks are challenging and if applique is not your thing you may think that this isn't a quilt you could make. My applique work is far from perfect and I had to work really carefully on this block; the purple flowers were very difficult because I used cotton fabrics but the pattern is based on wool applique which I understand is fast, fun and easy. When you are making a quilt from a pattern you can change it up to suit your skill level or design sense. I think that if you had a large pretty print you could just skip the applique and frame the fabric with the oval. How quick and pretty would that be? Very quick and pretty and it can be just as effective as the applique!

I would like the next Gardens quilt to have more a Canadian flavour to it! I'm already jotting down ideas about how I might do that. I also bought a fabric challenge kit so I may combine the challenge with this quilt pattern and come up with something similar but uniquely my own.

I know that some readers have purchased the Gardens of a King pattern and have had some questions. I'm always happy to answer/help and I know that Missie too is always available. What you may not know is that she has set up a help page on her blog and I encourage you to visit Missie's help page on her blog. She has developed some very unique approaches to piecing that you will find helpful and worth adding to your skill set. She is also working on a new quilt design that has fleurs-de-lis! It looks very interesting and I can't wait to see the finished quilt!

Well people, I've got stuff to do so I had better get on with the doing. Until I post again, happy sewing!
Karen H


  1. Oh thank you so much for the "back basting" tutorial. I have never tried it; I usually do the freezer paper on the back, iron the fabric over it, applique and remove FP after.
    I will give this a try--sounds like fewer steps...and I actually own a lightbox which has never seen the "light" LOL of day...hugs, Julierose

  2. Thanks for the rewind post. I have not tried back basting appliqué ever. I think it is time to give it a whorl! Thanks for de-mystifying it!

  3. Well Karen, its fortuitous that you re showed this post as I am about to start prepping some applique to take with me on holiday. I WAS going to do it with freezer paper, starch then glue, but now am wondering whether I'd be better doing it the back basting way. No washing needed after sewing? Have you done it the other way? Do you still prefer BB? thanks Karen :-)

  4. I love BB appliqué. It's my main technique. I like to do a rough cut around the shape after I baste it, then trim my seam allowance closer as I work. Since I don't work nearly as fast as you do, that keeps my pieces from fraying too much as handle the project, or if I carry it around for a while before getting back to that piece!

  5. Great tutorial Karen - so thoughtful of you to demonstrate! Back basting is my usual prep method. I love it and find it very quick and accurate . But I don't bother with marking the front of the applique piece - one step less for the lazy appliquer and no marks to remove :)
    I find it not needed as the basting stitches 'mark the path' to be needleturned.

  6. Thank you so much for this great tutorial !
    Your blocks are very cute ..... Love the fabrics you used !
    I wish you a lovely weekend !

  7. Karen, these blocks are so encouraging to me. I'm so glad you tested this because I know for sure it will be correct. Frustrations with patterns that are correct lead me to designing my own. Ad usual excellent tutorial and newsy bits too makes me make time to keep in touch. Hugs from cloudy Bulkley Valley!

  8. I meant incorrect patterns lead me to designing my own.

  9. thanks for reposting this, Karen -- it reminds me I need to try this!!