Early last year my closest friend told me she was getting married. I knew I had to come up with a really great gift. I combined two things she really likes; art and warmth, and decided on a quilt. She’s Anne McCaffrey’s biggest fan, so I knew it would have to have a dragonrider in there somewhere. I reread Dragonflight to get a scene in my head and then came up with a design:
I had a slight problem though. I had no idea how to use my little sewing machine much less make a quilt with it. I have a bad habit of choosing the most difficult thing I can come up with when trying something new. I took my design to my esteemed mother-in-law to ask if it was possible, and she suggested using applique might be best. To the internet I went! I read tutorials and watched videos to learn of this mysterious applique technique. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any examples of projects larger than a place mat, so I knew I would have to adapt as I worked.
I began by printing out my design in full size, taping together several 8 X 11 sheets of paper (R.I.P. my ink cartridge). I think it might have been worth it to use a projector and trace or even pay a copy/print service to do it, but let’s not dwell. I kept a stack of notes handy along with my original design to help me select the ~80 colors of fabric I used. I only needed small pieces of most, so scraps came in very handy. My design was fairly busy, so I used only solids or very subtle textures.
This was the hard part. I went through and numbered each of my notes, lowest layer to top layer to keep track of which shapes would need to be laid down first, and which would be saved for last. I used a very thin, plain white sheet as my base. Then, I cut off a piece of my paper-backed fusible webbing large enough to cover my first piece–the yellow background sky–leaving an inch or so outside the lines for extra wiggle room. I traced the approximate shape I needed onto the glue side of the paper. Next, I cut out a piece of the yellow sky fabric large enough to fit the webbing, and ironed them together glue-side to wrong-side of the fabric. After it cooled, I cut out the shape using the lines I had drawn on the transparent webbing.
After ironing the backing onto several shapes and cutting them out, I laid them in place with the paper still on to make sure I didn’t have any gaps through which the white sheet could show. Once I had all my pieces cut out, it was time to glue them down.
I laid my white sheet over my printed template and marked the corners with a pen so that I could take it up and put it back in the same place every time. I marked the positioning for my first layer (the yellow sky) and then put it up on the ironing board. I removed the paper backing from my piece, situated it according to my marks, and steam-ironed it into place. I closely followed the directions on my fusible webbing for what settings to use on my iron.
Layer by layer I glued down clouds and grass until I had it looking like the original design, pausing here and there to make sure it all still lined up.
I really wanted the dragon and rider to look right, and this was the most intricate couple of pieces in my design, so I saved it for last. I traced the shapes with a marker to make them show through the back and traced from there onto the paper side of the webbing. That way it was easy to carefully follow my lines and fit the pieces together.
Trace each piece onto the webbing and iron onto the wrong-side of the fabric.
Cut out each shape, peel off the webbing, fit into position, and iron down.
With everything cut out and ironed on, I was ready for the next big step. I chose to use solid, dark blue for borders and backing to hold my busy design together. I squared up the edges, sewed on the border, and put together the top, batting, and backing. I decided to sew them together in one go instead of doing the top by itself because I didn’t want to go back over and clutter the design with a single color of thread if putting the backing on later. Plus, just sewing the edges of each shape was plenty to secure the whole thing well.
My mother-in-law gave me a rundown on how sewing machines work, and I pored over the instruction manual to mine before beginning. I collected thread of each color I would need to match or nearly match each color of fabric, I threaded my bobbin with dark blue for the back, and I zig-zag stitched the life out of that quilt.
Difficulties! My machine was quite small, so I really had to roll and bunch up my quilt to fit it in there and turn it this way and that. I’m lucky I had a nice big dining table on which to work. The number of layers of fabric my needle was punching through varied from three up to eight or so, so I had to adjust the tension quite a bit to make sure my bright top thread wasn’t showing through the backing and vice versa. The glue between layers also added some stiffness, so I bent three needles and snapped another clean in half along my way. Nevertheless, after some problem-solving and perseverance, I successfully finished all the major sewing.
All that was left was to trim it up and add the binding. It was strange switching to a straight stitch after months of zig-zagging, but finally it was complete. The thicker layers of applique and lots of ironing made the quilt a little stiff here and there, but I picked a nice soft fabric for the backing to counter that issue, and it seems to become more flexible the more it’s folded and bunched. It would make a nice weighty bed quilt or look great hanging up on a wall.
I’m pretty proud of my first quilt. It was fun and challenging, and I’m probably never doing all that again. Whew! Maybe this will be useful if someone out there needs help figuring out a large applique project. Oh, and my wedding gift was very well-received!