Quilting Reverse Applique
Once a customer has finished all their reverse applique stitching, whether by hand or machine, they stand back to admire their quilt top and many realize they aren’t sure how to quilt it. They have experience quilting applique and piecework, but they also realize this isn’t like regular applique.
That’s when they send me an email and ask, “What do I do now?” “How do I quilt my reverse applique quilt top?” “Do you cut away the background fabric?” These are the questions I get asked the most by customers.
“Do you Cut Away the Background Fabric?”
As layering comes before quilting, I’ll answer the question about cutting away the background fabric first. I do not cutaway the excess background fabric. The existence of that background fabric is part of what gives the reverse applique piece its depth; one fabric, the background, where the design is, and two fabrics everywhere else. If it’s a machine reverse appliqued you can’t cut the background fabric away, because it’s fused to the top fabric in our process. If it’s hand reverse appliqued you technically could cut away the background fabric behind the top fabric, but I don’t, because I don’t want to lose the depth. Even if I’m going to hand quilt, I don’t cut away the background fabric. I hand quilt about 10 stitches to the inch, and I’ve had no problems going through the layers.
Reverse Applique vs Applique
Reverse applique definitely has a different look than applique. To make our reverse applique quilt top we’ve spent a lot of time and effort stitching so that the design is revealed in the background fabric peeking out through the cut outs in the top fabric. It has a unique depth as compared to applique. The design is created in the negative space of the quilt top. To me reverse applique has a depth that draws you into the piece, while applique has a dimension that rises up to meet you. The design recedes and I want the quilting to accent that and draw me deeper into it.
How do you Quilt Reverse Applique?
I believe that the quilting should accent, complement or otherwise draw attention to the pattern design. Quilting a reverse applique piece will be a custom job, whether you do it by hand, machine with your feed dogs engaged or free-motion, on a long arm or by check.
For an applique piece your first round of quilting is typically in the background fabric in the ditch or 1/8” around what is appliqued, to make it pop up and out from the quilt. Then you fill and decorate from there. But all quilting decoration will still augment the applique stitch work.
It is the same concept, though in reverse with reverse applique. Your first round of quilting will be in the background fabric in the ditch or 1/8” inside the reverse applique shapes, to make it recede and deepen into the quilt. These are the smaller interior spaces of the design shapes. I then add extra quilting in that negative reverse applique space to further pull the background fabric into the batting. In some pieces it’s been an echo of the lines or sculpting of the shape. In others it’s been a small stippling, and yet in others it’s been specifically designed motifs. Keep reading to see pictures of examples of what I mean. For we quilters are visual creatures, and a picture is worth a thousand words. First, let’s look at Illumination, Medallion X (36” x 36”) with an option to add a border and make it (56” x 56”).
And what about quilting in the rest of the top fabric?
You will need to quilt the top fabric surrounding the reverse applique. But how much quilting it will need will depend upon how much of the top fabric is exposed and the type of batting you are using.
A word about batting.
I’m not an expert on batting, and I’m definitely still learning, mostly by trial and error. Recently I attended a free demonstration by Hobbs on batting at a quilt show and learned a great deal. If you have an opportunity to attend a demonstration, I think you will find it informative and helpful. All battings give instructions about how far apart you may quilt. Please read the batting’s information, think about whether you are quilting it by hand, machine or long arm, and how you want to quilt it before selecting a batting for your piece.
I have successfully used Warm and Natural 100% cotton batting, Bamboo batting, silk batting, Quilter’s Dream 80/20, Wool and I’ve recently purchased some Hobbs 80/20 batting to try out. I’ve experimented with doing some pieces with double bats. Whirlwind, Medallion VI (27” x 27”), seen below has a cotton batting underneath and a wool batting on top, and is heavily quilted in the background space, and a corner motif in the top. As you can see, I have an imbalance in the amount of quilting overall and it would benefit from more quilting surrounding the center reverse applique..
I will not use a 100% polyester batting or this particular batting someone gave me for free. It has been a royal Pain in the Butt every time I’ve used it. I wouldn’t give it to my worst enemy.
In the early years of the business I was simply quilting in the ditch in the background fabric. If a piece was stitched by hand it was quilted by hand. If the piece was stitched by machine it was quilted by machine. That has changed as the business has grown. I now do more quilting on my pieces, but, sadly, less hand quilting, because I don’t have the time.
The heart of my business is still designs for medallions and table runners, but has expanded into blocks and full-size quilts. Many of the medallions have quilt sized variations, and many of the tablerunners and quilts are based on a small block.. My goal early on was to get the sample up on the walls of my booth to help customers visualize the patterns to sell my patterns, so the quilting was basic.
The second design I developed was Rose Window, Medallion II (21” x 21”). The original sample, now gifted to my oldest daughter in England, was stitched by hand and hand quilted in the ditch only. My second sample is also hand stitched and quilted in the ditch but has additional quilting in the edges of the top around the medallion. I used a corner stencil motif by the Stencil Company, a stencil I felt echoed and complemented the design elements of the pattern.
Quilting really is needed in the top fabric surrounding the reverse applique work of the medallion and table runner patterns to balance it out. The challenge is you don’t want to get too close to the reverse applique shapes. Generally you want to stay ¼” – ½” away from the reverse applique shapes to keep the depth of the reverse applique. If you get too close, you will flatten the quilt out.
Our table runners Eternal Spring table runner VII (18” x 43”) and Abounding Grace table runner VIII (20” x 56”)were both stitched by hand. Eternal Spring table runner VII we machine quilted and Abounding Grace table runner VIII was quilted by hand. We stitched in the ditch in the background fabric first and then added further texture in the background fabric, basically echoing the shape of the design. Next we added quilting in the top fabric ½” away from the reverse applique stitch work.
Much of the time I’m taking my quilting design ideas from the quilt pattern or from the fabric itself, as in Remembrance, Medallion XIV (36” x 36”). We did two samples, one by hand and the other by machine, and quilted both of them slightly differently. I rarely quilt the same piece the same way twice. Remembrance, Medallion XIV was inspired by the scripture that says the Lord saves all our tears in a bottle, and there are bottle shapes that go around the center and tear drop shapes. So our quilting of the bottles was an attempt to look like a bottle with a stopper and something in it. The tear shapes were echoed. The circles were swirled in the hand version. The quilting in the center of the hand version swirled in an echo of the background fabric. In the machine version we quilted all the circles of the top fabric, though its hard to see in the pictures.
Reverse Applique Quilting with Piece Work
Basically the same rules apply, as you will see in our examples. You want to quilt in the negative spaces of your reverse applique work, quilt around your reverse applique without getting too close to it, yet sufficiently quilting the rest of your piece so there’s a consistency of quilting so your piece won’t pucker when done. So we’ll look at Snowy Hearts table runner IX (21” x 35”)and Pacific Splash table runner X (25” x 49”), two table runners based on a block design. Each of these table runners can be stitched by hand or machine. You can tell by the pics how we did the reverse applique, and then we machine quilted both of them.
I use a lot of quilting stencils of corner motifs and small blocks by many different companies, ie. The Stencil Company, Full line stencils, Quilting Creations, etc. I rarely use the entire stencil of a block, but will use the corners, half of a stencil that snug up around the reverse applique or fill the corner of the medallions top.
Long Arm Quilting Reverse Applique
First of all, be kind as you look at these pictures. I am a brand new beginner when it comes to long arm quilting. Literally the piece I’m going to show you, Legacy, Medallion XVI, is the first piece I have ever done. But you have to start somewhere. As we’ve established, to properly quilt reverse applique means you have to quilt in the small interior spaces of the reverse applique design. That means a lot of starts and stops, which translates into burying a lot of threads. You want to fill the interior spaces with motifs that accent and complement your pattern design. I chose quilting designs that I felt I did reasonably well, and challenged myself with some others because I felt it was what the quilt needed. I duplicated the two birds from the pattern turned it into a quilting pattern for the corners of the medallion top, and echoed the zig-zag border, too. I did some ruler work and leaf/ flower vine work on the border.
Quilting by Check (hiring out your quilting)
It’s important if you are quilting by check, that your long arm quilter understand what reverse applique is and how it’s different than applique. I strongly suggest that you meet with them in person with your quilt to discuss what you want. It will be a custom job if the full beauty of your stitch work is going to be brought out, and it will be priced accordingly . I want you and the long armer to understand going in what you can expect the price to be.
I’ve worked with several long armers very successfully. Frosty Frozen Wonder Quilt I (48” x 64”) and Fit for a Queen Quilt III (89” x 89”) were both quilted by check. Frosty Frozen Wonder Quilt I was reverse appliqued by machine. You can see the quilting better from the back, with small stippling in the reverse applique space, a sweeping motif in the corner of the center medallion and then quilting in the piecework. It was quilted by Cozy Quilting, Loveland, CO.
I worked with one long armer who did not understand, even though we both thought she did, with a disappointing outcome. We were not able to meet in person because of schedules, but talked over the phone, via email and I shared photographs with her. I shipped her the quilt and backing. When I picked up the quilt, her quilting was stunning… gorgeous. The quilt had both applique and reverse applique, but she had quilted all the reverse applique as if it was applique. This is the result, and shows up what happens to reverse applique when it is quilted like applique. My point in sharing this story is as a teaching opportunity. Since then this same lonag armer has done some fabulous quilting work for me, truly bringing out the beauty of the reverse applique.
When quilted correctly, the rich beauty of reverse applique is revealed in all its deep, rich elegance and beauty.
I hope you have been inspired and to quilt your own reverse applique in some new and individual ways. Be creative and have fun.
If you haven’t tried reverse applique, we invite you to try one of our patterns, from brand new beginner to advanced, and then have fun quilting it. Let’s us know how it comes out. We love to see pictures and share them with our customers on Facebook.
Many of our patterns combine reverse applique with applique, which creates some unique quilting challenges. Look for our Blog “Quilting Reverse Applique with Applique” coming in October.