A Material Difference: 6 Answers to Questions About Wool Appliqué

Wool appliqué is a perfect take-along project for when you are traveling, or just NEED some tranquil time to escape from the whirling world around you. Wool appliqué projects can be the best with a good audio book or when you can grab some time to binge on a good movie or TV series. To give you some ideas for wool appliqué projects two of the Quilting Company’s March/April 2019 publications, McCall’s Quilting and Quiltmaker, feature wool projects and color options. We guarantee these projects will give just the time you need to take care of YOU!

One of the most fun things about quilters is that we are all so unique. We have a variety of interests outside of quilting. We don’t have to like the same style of quilts to enjoy the same types of quilting methods. And, we have unique ways to approach making the same quilt design or similar styles of quilting, whether it’s choosing different fabrics or a different technique to make them. Erin Russek, Associate Editor for many of the Quilting Company magazines, and I frequently talk about the differences between our preferred quilting styles.

We both love appliqué and taking the time to enjoy the process. Compared to me, (note, it’s my observation), she is the one who is more deliberate with her designs and contemplative about the outcome. She’s an incredible designer and her work exemplary. By far, she has way more experience and has refined her approach for appliqué. I can’t even begin to share how much I’ve learned from the techniques she has developed. While we both enjoy a whimsical design, I’d say I’m more about taking an organic approach to designing and quilting in general, more improvisational at best. And, I just love adding embellishments to quilts! While I also strive to make the perfect quilt, I don’t often have a plan up front, mostly an idea of a design or something I want to try, before I begin.

Bloomin' Botanicals

Bloomin’ Botanicals, Designed by Erin Russek
Quiltmaker May/June 2018

Terra Cotta Gardens, Designed by Tricia Patterson
McCall’s Quilting March/April 2019

Our conversation led to talking about the different approaches for wool appliqué. We talked about some of the techniques Paula Stoddard (a former co-worker of ours who shares an enthusiasm for working with wool), presented in the October 2017 post, Wool Appliqué. In the blog she describes the technique she used to make Peek-a-Boo-Bunnies. And, that led to comparing notes about our approaches for the March/April wool appliqué projects, and eventually to this blog post to document some of our responses to questions we think quilters might ask about wool appliqué.

1. What kinds of projects are best for wool?

Erin: Wool is extremely versatile! Felted wool can be used for appliqué and un-felted wool can be great for piecing. It’s probably best to start small to see if you like working with it.

Tricia: I’ve used wool in a number of projects: wall hangings, placemats, pillows and throw-size quilts. I agree with Erin that it’s best to start small. I also think it’s easiest to select larger projects that can be pieced in smaller sections. Look at Paula Stoddard’s Dreaming of Spring design below. She added wool appliqué to her project one block at a time.

Dreaming of Spring, Designed by Paula Stoddard
Quiltmaker January/February 2017 through November/December 2017

2. What are the different kinds of wool people use?

Erin: The most common type of wool used in appliqué is felted wool. Craft felt, made of bonded fibers, is also available at many craft stores. You won’t find it as durable for a quilted project as you will an un-felted natural wool, or felted wool you can find through your local quilt shop or online.

Tricia: I can’t say I’ve ever used craft felt for a quilted project. It seems like it would be too lightweight to get the dimensional effect I want to see if I’m adding wool appliqué to a project. I look for a fabric made of 100% wool, either un-felted or already felted. It’s becoming easier to find already felted wool in a design pattern such as a check, plaid or floral pattern. If I’m looking for a patterned fabric I generally purchase un-felted fabric and felt it (see the “washing wool” question below for one felting method). Personally, I just love a hand-dyed felted wool. Many dyers have perfected their dye process to produce a felted fabric with even color saturation. I’m really attracted to felted fabric where the dye process produced a nice subtle variation of shades, caused by color settling unevenly over the surface of the wool. Check out suespargo.com and woolylady.com to see some more examples of wonderful wool fabrics for appliqué.

Examples of felted and un-felted wool fabrics.

3. How do I choose the best thread for my project?

Erin: It depends on how much you want your stitches to show and how confident you are in your stitching. If you are new to this technique you may want to choose a thread that matches your appliqué patches while you are learning. That way any irregular stitches won’t show up as much. If you really want to have your thread be part of the design there are a myriad of lovely threads that will really stand out.

Tricia: I love to use a variety of threads for wool appliqué because they add texture to my designs. Right or wrong, sometimes irregular stitching can also add to the whimsy–if that’s the impression I’m trying to achieve. When working with a variety of wool weights and textures I make a small test piece made of a sampling of the backing and wool fabric. I use the tester to try out threads if I’m planning to use a variety of weights in the project.

4. Do I wash my wool before I appliqué and can I wash the project after I’ve finished?

Erin: Your wool needs to be felted for this type of appliqué so it won’t fray. If you select un-felted wool run it through the washing machine with hot water and dry with a high heat setting. Once your block is done you can hand wash it or run it through the gentle cycle on your washing machine. Wet wool is very heavy so it might not be a good idea to wash a large quilt with lots of appliqué. Felted wool won’t fray but should still be treated gently.

Tricia: After using the method Erin described above for washing wool fabric, you might also ask about ironing it. I know when I’ve felted wool it comes out of the dryer looking a bit puffy and uneven. Un-felted wool can certainly be used straight from the dryer, but if you want a smoother look to the fabric it does need to be ironed. I never place a medium or hot iron directly on wool, because it can leave a shiny finish or change the nice texture. Instead, I place an ironing sheet, tissue paper, or even a slightly dampened handkerchief between the iron and the wool to flatten the fabric before I cut out the appliqué patches for my projects. And, as you add appliqué patches to your project you might want to consider a wool pressing mat to help keep shapes nice and even, to prevent flattening them so you keep the lovely dimensional effect of wool appliqué.

5. What is the easiest method to use for stitching appliqué to a backing fabric: fusible web, glue or pins?

Erin: I chose fusible web for my Quiltmaker color option because I wanted to place each appliqué shape precisely and fusible web is the best way to do this. The one drawback to this is that the fusible web gets on your needle as you stitch and you have to keep cleaning it off. Basting glue is also a good option although it can be difficult to place pieces precisely with this. I’ve seen some people use staples to baste their patches before stitching. This sounds like a good way to be precise and eliminate your needles getting all gummed up.

Tricia: I used small dots of Roxanne Glue-Baste-It (recommended by Erin for an earlier cotton appliqué project) for my McCall’s Quilting wool appliqué project, spread approximately 1 inch apart. I placed the glue dots a bit more than ¼” away from the edge of the appliqué patch so it was held in place, but far enough away to keep my needle from catching on the glue.

6. What stitches do I use for wool appliqué?

Erin: I used a blanket stitch to attach my appliqué. I’m pretty new to wool appliqué and the blanket stitch is the most common stitch I’ve seen for these projects. For embellishing, however, the sky is the limit. You can get as fancy as you want!

Tricia: I also most often use a blanket stitch to sew down the edges of my wool appliqué. I’ve been studying the work of Sue Spargo and Wendy Williams lately and have broadened my repertoire by experimenting with a variety of stitches on wool for appliqué. I’m discovering there are many embroidery stitches that can be used for wool appliqué that add interest and fun to any project. Check out the progress I’ve made on the wool appliqué project I’m currently working on below.

The start of Tricia’s current wool appliqué project.

Have we enticed you to start a wool appliqué project? Get your copy of the 2019 March/April issues of McCall’s Quilting and Quiltmaker for a collection of wool appliqué projects and projects you can make with wool. But…you don’t have to wait! Paula Stoddard’s Dreaming of Spring design, created with a mix of quilter’s cotton and wool, is the perfect wool appliqué project to begin now. Download each of the block patterns for the 45″ x 45″ project in the 6-part series, or purchase the kit to get the fabrics she used in her quilted wall hanging.

Dreaming of Spring, Designed by Paula Stoddard
Quiltmaker January/February 2017 through November/December 2017

Click on a link to download each of the Dreaming of Spring block patterns: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, and Part 6.

Make Happy With Appliqué!

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Comments (2)

  • Kathie P

    I love wool applique and look forward to the two magazine issues coming up. Tricia and Erin, you say you use a variety of threads and it depends on the project. Can you give examples of the threads you use? I always use Perle cotton, but I am curious what else, if any you use. Thanks!

    January 18, 2019 at 10:19 pm
    • Carrie Sisk

      Hi Kathie! Erin just picked up some DMC floss from Michael’s, while Tricia took a different approach. Because Tricia has been studying Sue Spargo’s work, she’s relied on her book and website to guide her in types of threads that work well for wool appliqué. In her wool projects found in this blog, she used a variety of threads and weights. Some examples:
      Ellana wool appliqué thread: 12wt 2 ply, 50/50 Merino Wool/Acrylic Blend
      – Efina cotton thread: 60wt 2ply 100% Egyptian Cotton
      – Oliver Twists hand dyed 100% Mercerised Egyptian cottons
      – A variety of Perle cotton weights and embroidery floss
      Let us know if you have any more questions!

      January 31, 2019 at 7:40 pm

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