Sewing techniques

For these photographic quilts, Lesley uses a reverse appliqué method she has developed from trial and error. Lesley has never been to attended classes for machine appliqué, but did attend a class with Pat Cox on Baltimore appliqué by hand some years ago. The Baltimore method means even the smallest piece is stitched in place accurately. In this project, Lesley utilises some of the Baltimore technique with her own experience of appliqué. You may choose your own method of appliqué when your design is ready to sew.
The Biomes at the Eden Project
The Biomes at the Eden Project, Photographs by Lesley Coles

To prepare for sewing by Lesleys method you will need a foundation surface. This can be StitchnTear Vilene, very lightweight Vilene, very soft washed calico, old sheeting or even household greaseproof paper. The greaseproof paper and stitch and tear are removed, but all other foundations used are left in the finished piece.

Eden II Reflections
Eden II Reflections

The image you work from will be in reverse. If you used a projector or a computer and reversed the image then you carry on with this reversed image. If you have drawn the design the way it will appear when finished, it needs to be reversed at this stage. If you are using your enlarged images with no additional drawing, trace from these using a light box. Alternatively, tape it to a light window with masking tape, drawn side down, blank side up. Using the image you have enlarged or drawn, trace onto the foundation. Use a fine line, black waterproof marker, (0.8 is a good size) or a Pigma pen, so that you will be able to see and sew over this line. Check that you have drawn all your lines!

To sew your project

  1. Work with the original picture and a drawing of the piece beside you these can be on a board with swatches of colour and other relevant images. Lay the drawn foundation, drawn side towards you.
    Drawing the design onto the foundation
    Drawing the design onto the foundation
  2. Number the pieces in a sequence of sewing, think of it as a three-dimensional piece and work out what shape needs to sit behind. Each piece of material that is covered by another piece has to be placed and sewn first start with the background, if there is sky and foreground, the sky is first, the foreground second. The background or sky may only need to be tacked as all other pieces are sewn over it and thus hold it in place. Sew only the edges that are seen preventing bulky edges showing through the next layer.
  3. After all pieces are numbered correctly, decide what fabrics you would like to use. You may decide to choose all your fabrics at the start, or you may chose the main colours and fabrics for the smaller sections will be finalised as you proceed. Iron your fabrics as you work.
  4. Put the background, or the first piece of sky RS facing the work surface. Lay the foundation, drawn side up over the WS of this. Pin and tack it in place.
    Trimming the appliquéd section
    Trimming the appliquéd section
  5. From the drawn side of the foundation put pins all around the edge of piece 2. Turn the work over and lay the fabric for this piece over all the pins. Pin in place to keep it flat, then turn back to the foundation side of the work and reposition the pins around piece 2, through all layers, so that all of the material is in place. Turn back to RS, remove the pins from this side of the work, and check the fabric is completely flat.
  6. For machine sewing, use the same colour in your bobbin as on the top spool, as you will sew from the front later. With a straight stitch, sew on the drawn line around the area 2. If you feel confident to do so, work with the feed dogs down when there are tight curves. If hand sewing, sew with the smallest running stitch around the area you will later turn under to sew. Use bigger stitches around the area which needs to underlay the next fabric.
  7. On the right side of the piece, cut away the excess fabric. If machining, cut as close as possible to the straight stitch, using curved-end embroidery scissors. If sewing by hand, leave a small seam allowance to turn under. It can be cut closer as you sew, rather than cutting too close at this stage as it may fray.
  8. Two of the panels from Eden II Reflections, showing the right side and the reverse
    Two of the panels from Eden II Reflections,
    showing the right side and the reverse
  9. Set up the zigzag to cover the raw edge of the piece you have attached. Lower the pressure on the foot and reduce the top tension, so the top thread pulls slightly to the back of the work. Sew all the edges that will be seen. Hand sewers should clip every other stitch with small scissors just in front of your sewing, needle turn under your seam allowance and stitch with a blind hemming stitch.
  10. Add piece three in the same way and continue to add all the sections in sequence, as numbered, until you have sewn them all.

Finishing edges

Most people are happy with straight or even curved bindings, but you may want to have a different look to your piece. On Eden: The Big Build each appliquéd picture was made as a complete unit. When the appliqué was finished, it was cut to the shape required, with a 1⁄4in seam allowance. Cotton wadding was tacked to the WS of the picture and cut to the same size.

Top stitching the linen
Top stitching the linen

A backing fabric was pinned and tacked to the right side of the picture. Using a walking foot, the seam was sewn all around the outside 1⁄4in from the edge. The wadding was trimmed almost back to this seam and curves were carefully clipped. Two cuts were made in the backing fabric across the centre back in a cross, just big enough to turn the picture through. Once the picture was turned, the edges were rolled and pressed and the layers tacked together for quilting (which is through all the layers). Each picture is sewn to the base quilt by hand.

In Eden II Reflections each panel is sewn with a curved edge at the bottom. After all the appliqué was complete, cotton wadding was tacked to the back of each panel. The linen used for the background was cut to size using the base line drawing, as you would use a dressmakers pattern, with a seam allowance. This was placed RS together with the picture, pinned, tacked and sewn across the bottom only. The wadding was trimmed almost to the seam line and the curves clipped. The linen was then turned to the back of the work, right sides out, leaving a little of the linen backing showing at the front of the work. This was top stitched in place along the seam line.

Lesley added a curved binding at the bottom of the panels and a straight binding
to each side
Lesley added a curved binding at the
bottom of the panels and a straight
binding to each side

The three layers of the panel were then tacked together to be quilted. After quilting, a straight binding was added to each side. The top was turned under last, to create a hanging sleeve at the same time as finishing the top of the panel.

Visit Eden

The Eden Project is a global garden for the 21st Century, a gateway to a sustainable future and a dramatic setting in which to tell the fascinating story of mankinds dependence on plants. This living theatre of plants and people is a vibrant reminder of our place in nature and is a living demonstration of regeneration. In a couple of short years the team have transformed an exhausted clay pit into a stunning lost world reminding us of what we ordinary people can do once we set our minds to it. The Humid Tropics Biome you can experience the sights, smells and sheer scale of the rainforest in the worlds largest greenhouse. In the Warm Temperate Biome you can travel to South Africa and California and walk amongst orange and lemon trees, old olive groves and gnarled vines. And in the Roofless Biome the crescent shaped terraces tell the story of plants that have changed the world and which could change your future. Visit the website for more details.

First published in Popular Patchwork Volume 11 Number 1 - January 2003