February 2024 Studio Hours Recap: Helen Mawdsley

28 February 2024
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For the February Studio Hours get-together, we were treated to a short introduction to appliqué from Alberta-based quilter and wood worker Helen Mawdsley. As is often the case with our presenters, Helen has recently written an article for D&T about the subject. As members, during the Studio Hours session, we get a behind the scenes look at the topic of the article, enjoy candid comments from the author, and participate in lively discussions, sharing our insights into the subject as well.

Helen’s article provides an introduction to appliqué, which can be simply defined as fastening a layer of fabric on top of foundation fabric, usually in some type of artistic way. There are many ways to attach that upper layer, and Helen led us through two of them. Her first example is often used for angular shapes, where you turn under the edges (also referred to as “press over”), iron those folds, then pin or baste into place, and then fasten with a straight running stitch. These folded edges contain all the ends and prevent the edges from fraying with use.

For circular or curved appliques, this method is more challenging, as your circle can end up looking like a hexagon! For those pieces, Helen suggested using a double-sided fusible layer such as “steam-a-seam” to fuse to the piece, and then using a tight zigzag seam around the edges for the most clean look. She shared a well-used quilt with a cone flower appliqué that was completed with just a straight seam with a 3 mm (⅛ inch) seam allowance, and all you can see is a slight fuzziness at the edges. The “steam-a-seam” does a good job at capturing stray threads. She did caution us to watch out for getting adhesive on the iron!

Helen then shared some other hybrid methods used for other beautiful pieces. Her houses quilt used the pressed-under technique for the angular brown buildings, but then she used fusible to work the white windows, attaching them with a variegated brown thread and letting the edges of the windows fray for a softer, textured look.

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She also shared a cut-away, window method, which is almost a “reverse appliqué.” This can be a fun technique for children’s quilts. You simply cut away a “window” in the top fabric, revealing an interesting fabric below. Helen suggested a flannel fabric with a seam 6.3 mm (¼ inch) from the edges, allowing for a nicely frayed edge that sets off snowflakes and starry nights. These quilts end up being quite cozy and heavy, as there are two full layers of fabric used to make the pattern.

After this brief introduction, the Studio members were eager to share their examples of appliqued quilt blocks as well.

Fran shared a stack of squares that she recently received from her mother’s stash. All of them are exquisite examples of needle-turned appliqué, a more advanced attachment method, and show detailed flowers, hearts, and leaves in colourful fabrics on roughly 20 cm white squares.

She then shared two of her own pieces. One was a larger wall hanging depicting a bicycle with a basket of flowers. She draws the leaves onto the double-sided fusible before cutting them out. The basket was an example of yet another technique—she wove fabric strips to make it! She also shared a blue silk piece that used thread-painting techniques to depict the moon and appliqued falling leaves.

Bobbie shared an example of needle-turned appliqué, showing a white square with blue flowers and dark patterned fabric for leaves and stems. Bobbie used her sister’s stash to make pieces for all her nieces and nephews after their mother’s death.

Carla shared a beautiful pastel quilt that her grandmother made and showed the use of appliqué to mend the hole that her puppy made in the quilt. She used two fabric hearts with a layer of interfacing in between to cover over the large hole.

Danielle shared in the chat that she used to make stoles for her mother, a United Church minister, and used assorted appliques (for everyday, for communion, for Easter, and for Advent/Christmas). She used fusible web and machine zigzag stitch techniques.

Lia then shared her liver embroidery, where she used appliqué techniques to layer two silk organza fabrics; the sheer fabric allowing the viewer to see through the layers. She’s hand-hemmed the pieces. She also shared a mending project where she attached folded-under patches to her dishtowel with shashiko stitching, increasing the durability of the patch.

In the chat, one member asked if Helen could comment on using appliqué as a method of visible mending. We’d seen two great examples already—Carla’s quilt and Lia’s dishtowel. Helen suggested using patches on both sides of a hole to enhance durability, avoiding puckering and damage from continued use.

Kim then shared the bag she made to hold her handwoven tallit. When she didn’t have enough fabric to make the entire bag, she used a smaller piece of the yellow handwoven fabric as an accent patch. She mentioned that the threads in this handwoven piece were much thicker than those of the quilting cotton, so getting a good attachment was needed. She used a tight zigzag stitch. Also on the tallit, she added a one-sided patch on one corner to reinforce where the fringes are. Rather than a double-sided fusible, she used a fabric glue stick to stabilize the patch before attaching it with an 3 mm (⅛ inch) straight seam.

We had a wonderful discussion, touching on family and heirloom linens and also textiles for general use.

Show and Tell

In this month’s Studio Hours session we had time for our popular Show and Tell segment!

Carla shared a few new items—her six-week-old son, the Bounce baby blanket (designer: Tin Can Knits) that she is making for him (though the lace pattern is a bit challenging right now through the newborn induced brain fog), and some baby socks she’s knitting using Kate’s baby sock pattern (Ravelry link).

Kathleen is working on a double-knit cowl using grey and oatmeal wool yarn in a celtic key pattern, inspired by a free double-knitted baby blanket pattern.

Lia shared her current embroidery project, her vagus nerve embroidery worked on green fabric with blue nerve pathways. She’s now adding yellow shapes showing visualizations and sensations she feels when doing her polyvagal theory practices. We enjoy seeing the progression of Lia’s work each time we have show and tell!

Sarah shared that she’s finally cracked the code of supported spindling and showed her supported spindle made by Helen Mawdsley. She’s working with some natural colour rolags created on a blending board. Each colour is a different sheep breed leading to some changes in how the yarn develops! She also showed a recently completed cheerful knitted neck gaiter in grey Briggs and Little Regal and a long colour repeat rainbow wool/silk blend yarn, doing a two yarn, faux-isle version of the Which Way Cowl.

Fran then shared her delight at learning to knit backwards and shared the utility of the technique for her entrelac The Laurentian blanket project (designer: Holli Yeoh). Members in the chat also recommended the technique for sock heels. She also showed a textured blue knit cowl/collar to which she added an I-cord drawstring to bring in the neckline.

Cheryl is combining craft skills and fixing sweaters that don’t fit well with tailoring techniques she’s learned in sewing. An interesting fix will be improving the fit of a sweater with a deep yoke that rides up whenever she lifts her arms. She will cut out some underarm fabric and knit a gusset to improve the fit.

Laura concurred that knitting backwards is a great skill to learn. She then shared an intricate Nordic stranded knit sweater requested by her daughter. The white sweater has an all-over dark lace stitch. She also encouraged us to clean our sewing machines after recently cleaning her own!

And as we finished, Kim reminded us of the upcoming book launch for Gathering Colour: Foraging Magic & Making Art from the World Around You, the new book by Caitlin ffrench, published by Nine Ten Publications!

Featured photo by Helen Mawdsley

Copyright © Sarah Thornton except as indicated.
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About Sarah Thornton

Sarah Thornton is a connector - she loves bringing people and ideas together, especially over local fibres and foods. When not teaching college Biology labs, she knits, spins, designs, teaches, and occasionally weaves in her new studio space on Vancouver Island. She's also a cyclist, skier, hiker, and gardener! Find her patterns and classes at sarahthornton.ca and @sarsbarknits on Instagram.

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