Appliqué with a Longarm

Applique on the longarm machine

Most people think of longarm machines only as quilting machines but they can do much more. We made Serengeti from start to finish on a longarm: the appliqué, the embroidery, and the quilting.

Serengeti by JoAnn Blade and Kim Diamond

Serengeti by JoAnn Blade and Kim Diamond

The timing was just right; the balance of technology, artistry and technical skills blended and a perfect partnership was formed. Serengeti is a one-of-a-kind piece of art and our fourth collaboration. While it would be impossible to describe our creative processes and everything that goes into making an art quilt, and a show quilt at that, we have learned many tips and tricks for appliquéing using nothing but the longarm. We’d like to share these techniques that can be used by any longarmer.

The specialty tools we use include the following:

A computerized longarm
4˝ sharp-pointed, curved-blade scissors
A pressing plate for the longarm
Top thread spool holder
Multi-thread spool holder for the back of the machine

First, we come up with the idea and the computerized patterns are drawn using a two-dimensional AutoCAD program. Because we are using a computerized longarm, we can place every single stitch. For example, for the baby giraffe, we generated an outline of the entire giraffe. (1)

1. Computer-generated outline of design

1. Computer-generated outline of design

We decided on the various spots and body parts and added the quilting stitches we needed. (2)

2. Computer-generated outline with quilting stitches added

2. Computer-generated outline with quilting stitches added

Our sewing space with a longarm is only about 22˝ deep so we formulate the patterns with that in mind. We choose not to be limited by the machine’s parameters and stretch them all the time. We spend a considerable amount of time auditioning fabrics and threads. (3)

3. Auditioning fabrics and threads

3. Auditioning fabrics and threads

We love to find interesting textures. We look deeper into the fabric, past the big picture and find texture in unexpected places. (4)

4. Looking for fabrics with interesting textures

4. Looking for fabrics with interesting textures

Typically we use a whole-cloth background for our show quilts but with Serengeti we wanted to show rays of sunlight streaming from the background so we pieced it. We find if you do all the overall background quilting first then remove the quilted background piece from the longarm and block it, it will help the finished quilt to hang straighter. Quilts with a lot of dense quilting tend to bow. By blocking a quilt mid-project we have a chance to square the quilt before we do all of the extensive appliqué.

As in any other appliqué, you must determine the order of the objects background to foreground and start stitching with the pieces in the back. (5)

5. Start stitching background objects first

5. Start stitching background objects first

The brilliance of our process is that we stitch the appliqué piece, with fusible web applied to the back, onto the background fabric that is already on the longarm. (6)

6. Stitching onto the background fabric already loaded onto the longarm

6. Stitching onto the background fabric already loaded onto the longarm

Then we trim away the excess and press down the raw edges to seal them. We find the pressing plate on the longarm is extremely helpful for pressing ease. Using this method we don’t have to try to follow a cutting line; we are able to do very intricate patterns and do all the quilting at the same time.

For example, we stitched down a basic outline of the mother giraffe, but she was bigger than one pass on the longarm. The piece of fabric needed to be big enough for the entire giraffe even though we were only stitching 22˝ at a time. We stitched what we could, advanced the fabric, stitched some more and continued until the entire outline was stitched down. Then we rolled the quilt back to the top and began putting on the giraffe’s facial features and spots. We used hand-dyed fabric and tried to position it so that the light from the sun was reflected accurately on the giraffe. We ran out of dark fabric so we had to use some lighter fabric. (7) We were able to go in and darken the lighter blocks using Tsukineko inks. (8)

7–8. We used light fabric when we ran out of dark fabric (left), then used Tsukineko ink to darken it where needed (right)

7–8. We used light fabric when we ran out of dark fabric (left), then used Tsukineko ink to darken it where needed (right)

We also darkened the mama giraffe’s eyes. (9)

9. We darkened the mama giraffe’s eyes.

9. We darkened the mama giraffe’s eyes.

We do the majority of the trimming while the quilt is on the longarm machine. In many instances we have to trim away excess fabric before we can put down the next layer.

Over the years we have found many quilt judges look at the beginning and ending tie-off stitches very closely. We have determined that we need to bury our threads so we leave long tails. (10) After the quilt is removed from the frame we use curved needles and bury every single thread.

10. Long thread tails to be buried later.

10. Long thread tails to be buried later.

After all the threads are buried we press the entire quilt again to ensure that all the raw edges are completely fused.

Then comes the scary part. We place the entire quilt in a bathtub full of cold water with several color catcher sheets. After the quilt is soaked, we drain the water out and press the quilt against the bottom of the tub to remove as much water as possible while not damaging or raveling the edges of the fabric. We have two 4-by-8-foot pieces of insulation board with sheets on them on the floor in an out-of-the-way place. We center the quilt on the boards. Using a tape measure and t-pins we stretch and square the quilt. We place a large fan so it blows across the quilt and leave it to dry undisturbed for several days.

The quilt is now ready for any painting, embellishing or other handwork. Then we trim, bind and put a hanging sleeve and a label on the quilt. Our completely longarm-stitched quilt is now ready for display.

Tips and tricks for success:

Don’t be afraid to use unusual fabrics. On one of our previous quilts, Bell Star, we used organza to create bubbles. We applied fusible web to the organza and then fused it to cotton fabric. We put more fusible web on the cotton fabric to attach it to the quilt.
Remember that all threads are not created equal. For fine, metallic threads we run a matching cotton thread through the needle alongside the metallic thread to get more stability and less breakage.

JoAnn Blade is a longarm quilter from Sedro Woolley, Washington. Kim Diamond of Columbia, Missouri, is an established longarm teacher and businesswoman. Diamond started Sweet Dreams Quilt Studio in 1998. Her website is www.sweetdreamsquiltstudio.com. Blade and Diamond have won many awards for their other collaborative efforts.


From the Vault: This feature  written by JoAnn Blade and Kim Diamond was originally published in the December/January 2015 issue of Quilters Newsletter.

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