Bee Blocks and Machine Appliqué

Our local modern guild is running two quilting bees this year with 7 members in each. It works just like online bees except we hand out the fabric and collect the finished blocks in person. I signed up for one of these and here’s what we’ve been up to so far.

First, Katy provided the fabric and asked us to make the Knotty Gnome’s rolling diamonds block. Aside from the black and white fabrics which are constant in all of Katy’s blocks, each block has a different colour combination. These are the two I made.???????????????????????????????

The following month I was Queen Bee and I chose the Scrapbuster block that Corey Yoder featured on her Little Miss Shabby blog. Once I decide how big I’d like the quilt I’ll know whether I need 30 or 35 – 12″ blocks. Eighteen are done so far.

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After that Joanne requested the Japanese-X-Plus Scrap Block (Setsuko Inagawa Block). We were asked to use our own fabrics so that the quilt will be scrappy. Under the rules of the bee Joanne couldn’t prescribe any colour choices, so I happily used these fabrics from my scrap box.

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And this month we are appliquéing. Carolyn gave us the 14″x14″ white background pieces and 5 solid charm squares, and except for that they had to be circles the rest was up to us. The first block I made is on the left below, and as much as I love it I decided to make a less symmetrical block for the second one. Initially I wanted to overlap some circles, but the overlapping designs I came up with left more negative space than I liked. And having used up almost all of the charm square fabric I ultimately had to give up on the idea. As far as I know both are original designs. That said, the block on the left definitely feels familiar.

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After making the two blocks using raw-edge machine appliqué, I have some thoughts about the process. First, it’s challenging to cut perfect circles even if you move the fabric and not the scissors. Second, there seems to be no way to avoid having tiny threads escape from the confines of the circle. To me they’re a distraction rather than a design flaw. Third, I learned that with machine appliqué one should match the thread to the background, not the appliqué fabric (the inverse is true for hand appliqué). Several of these issues are illustrated below. If you click the picture a larger image will open in a new window.

Top left: Arrows point to smoke-coloured filament thread visible on the background fabric. The thread is also visible on both the bright green and pink fabrics, but not the other colours. Top right: Arrow points to a missed stitch.
Bottom left: Back of the block. Bottom right: The green circle with the missed stitch has been completely replaced and this time I used white/clear monofilament thread.

The machine stitches are very small to allow me to closely follow the circle’s curve (bottom left photo, above) and I am undecided as to whether I’ll redo any other circles. Although they don’t look perfect right up close, I think I risk doing damage to the circle and/or the background fabric if I attempt to unsew the appliqué. At least I have close to 3 weeks to make up my mind.