Shortcut to Dresden: A Visit with Aby Dolinger

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Shortcut to DresdenHello Quilters! I am excited to share a behind-the-scenes look at the applique techniques used to make the first version of my applique quilt Shortcut to Dresden, which is included in the April/May 2018 issue of McCall’s Quick Quilts.

Shortcut to Dresden

In the design phase, I wanted to make a simple Dresden Plate block with stubby wedges and a large center circle. As a result of sketching and experimenting, there are 12 wedges in each plate, and the wedges can be cut from 3½” charm or scrap squares.

Before I made the quilt you see in the magazine from lovely Flower Mill fabrics designed by Corey Yoder for Moda, I began a 12-block Dresden Plate quilt using stashed Civil War shirtings and prints. Here’s a closer look at the hand applique techniques I used and the differences between the two quilts.

Dresden Plate finishedFirst of all, instead of 12½” background squares, I pieced backgrounds from four different 6½” shirting squares for each of the 12 blocks. Are you wondering why? I had a pack of eight different shirting fat quarters from which I could have cut only one 12½” background square each. I determined a better use of fabric was cutting six 6½” squares from each. Thus, I had enough pieced background for 12 blocks. After sewing the squares together, I pressed the seams open to reduce bulk in the hand applique phase.

The second major difference between the two quilts is the method of applique. Shortcut to Dresden relies on fusible web and machine applique techniques for a quick finish. If you prefer to use hand applique techniques for a more traditional approach, you can add ¼” seam allowances to the sides and top of the wedge template as printed in McCall’s Quick Quilts.

For my Civil War Dresden Plate, I machine stitched the wedges together in pairs, pressing seams open. Then I sewed pairs together, pressing seams open again. Three sets of four wedges made the circular plate. I centered each plate on a pieced background square using the seam lines as guides. After pinning well, I hand appliqued all around the pointed outer rim of each plate.

Instead of appliqueing a large center circle of a different Civil War fabric over the interior wedge edges, I used shirting background fabric cut from each patchwork block. First I hand basted the plates to the background about half way between the outer and inner edges of the plates.

Dresden plate basted

Using small, sharp scissors, I carefully cut out a circle about 3/8” below the basting.

dresden plate circle cut away

To make this rough-cut fabric circle into a smooth, perfect circle for applique, I cut a circle (Template C included with the pattern) from lightweight cardboard for a form. Then I hand sewed all around the pieced fabric circle, leaving several inches of thread at beginning and end.

Dresden Plate circle gathering stitches

I placed the pieced circle beneath the cardboard circle (wrong side of fabric to cardboard) and pulled the tail ends of my hand stitching. This caused the seam allowance of the pieced circle to wrap around the edge of the cardboard circle.

Dresden Plate circle prepared for applique

I pressed with a dry iron, removed the cardboard circle by loosening threads, and then pressed again. I rotated the pieced circle a quarter turn from its original position in the block before pinning it on top of the plate and hand appliqueing in place.

Dresden Plate circle pinned

As you scrutinize pictures of both quilts, I am sure you will note other differences: 13 blocks vs. 12 blocks, on-point set vs. straight set, different fabric/color palettes, planned scrappy wedges vs. only two contrasting prints, and different sashing designs.

Quilting is an art form with endless possibilities. The design ideas and hands of each maker determine the outcome. For me, it was an intriguing challenge to style and sew this classic block design in two very different ways.

How will you make your Dresden Plate quilt?

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