Goes She Round- Reverse Applique Circles
The goal when stitching circles is to make smooth, round ones. Stitching any circle, whether by applique or reverse applique, has the potential for fluid round circles or for stop signs. (See our blog Round She Goes-Applique Circles, too.) Though I stitch applique circles without difficulty, I think that reverse applique circles are easier.
Why? I think its because when I sweep under the fabric, the whole top provides some stability, so I can really push the fabric around into place without it shifting.
Well, I’m getting ahead of myself.
How I think about and really see my circle is as important as my stitching skills. I believe we are training our eye as well as our hands.
This viewpoint comes from my years of dancing. I'm sure you know the old saying ,“Practice makes perfect”. Well, I say, “Perfect practice makes perfect”.
For example, if I applied the same way of doing something in the same or similar situation, that habit will become entrenched in me, for good or bad. But, when I think about something differently, then there’s the potential for change - a new habit.
As a dancer, particularly as I got into my 50's, I couldn’t physically dance out the choreography so many times in a rehearsal. However, I could practice it in my imagination. I would imagine myself doing the choreography, thereby learning it. If there was a spot in a dance I was having trouble with, I could mentally think my way through it, to see it done right. I could even visualize it in slow motion, if necessary, to really get it. In time these mental changes would show up in my physical dancing.
The same is true about stitching circles.
Remember your basic geometry. A circle is made up of a series of points in a curved path that have a line that connects the points. What we see as a circle is actually many, many points. So many points, in fact that we don’t see points with straight lines connecting them, but a smooth, arcing line.
A stop sign, on the other hand, is created by 8 points set far apart on the curved line. When you connect the points, you get 8 flat sides.
How we look at our circle can help us or hinder us.
Really “see” your circle. How big or small is it? Notice the arc of the circle. Is it fast and tight, or slow and gracious?
Take note of your medium: fabric.
Fabric is made up of straight threads- the warp and weft- that are woven perpendicular to each other.
In weaving, the weft (sometimes woof) is the term for the thread or yarn which is drawn through, inserted over-and-under, the lengthwise warp yarns that are held in tension on a frame or loom to create cloth. Warp is the lengthwise or longitudinal thread in a roll, while weft is the transverse thread. (To learn more read “Warp and Woof”.)
No wonder it’s a challenge to get a smooth, steadily curving, round circle. Our medium and tools all operate on straights and angles.
The trick is to make the straights and angles of the fabric bend to an arc and stitch it to hold it in an arc.
Now to the Stitching
I use our Trace, Baste, Snip & Stitch process when I reverse needle-turn applique.
Let’s examine how we baste.
You want to baste along the drawn line of your circle. Using your eye, see where the next peak of the circle is in relation to your last stitch. That’s where you are going to put your next basting stitch. If my circle is large, arcing slowly and graciously, my stitches can be longer and farther apart. If my circle is small, arcing tightly and fast, my stitches will be shorter and closer together.
In my example, the circles are about 1/4" in diameter: fast and tightly arcing. Dark Green is my top fabric and the white fabric is my background.
If you are unsure about how you are basting, flip the piece over to the front and look. As you look at the stitches and mentally connect them to each other, does your mind and eye see a circle? If not, re-baste adjusting the length and closeness of your basting stitches. This gets easier with experience, over time.
Next trim away the excess fabric to create a seam allowance of 1/8” – ¼”. Obviously, my circle is so small, I can barely have 1/8” seam allowance. Using your eye, trim your seam allowance parallel to your basting line. This also helps to create a well-stitched circle.
If this is your first time hand stitching a circle, I suggest you start with a medium to large circle and trim with a generous ¼” seam allowance. You can always trim away more to create a 1/8” seam allowance if ¼” feels like too much as you are needle-turning.
Clipping is another important step.
It makes the fabric sweep under easily.
The clips expose the bias (cross-grain) of the fabric and make it work for you when making the perpendicular fibers of the fabric curve.
Clip into the seam allowance, perpendicular to the basting thread.
Like when you basted, use your eye to see where the circle arcs in relation to your last clip. That’s where you want to make your next clip.
Generally you will clip at the beginning and end of each basting thread. Be aware, though, that you can over clip, leaving you nothing to sweep under with your needle when stitching.
You need to clip deep into the seam allowance. Up to, but not through the basting line. When working on a reverse applique circle, I clip up to 1-2 fabric threads away from the basting line.
If your fabric has a “loose” weave, don’t clip quite so deep now. See how it behaves as you needle-turn first. A looser weave fabric’s bias will stretch open more easily for you, making it easier to get a curving edge, but it will also tend to fray more, with the potential of creating a “hairy” circle. Remember, you can always clip deeper as you go. It will also minimize the fraying if you deepen the clip just before you take the next stitch.
If you clip too deep in the beginning, be prepared to make a slightly bigger circle than you planned so you have no fraying hairs. Don't skip making your initial clips all around before you start stitching. Once you start turning the raw edge under, it’s harder to see the overall shape of the circle, and thus the next arc for an initial clip.
Clip every other basting thread.
One of the benefits of our method, is the little “holes” that are left in the lighter fabric when you remove a basting thread.
When you basted, you were right on the pattern line of your circle. Now, as you remove the basting threads, one at a time, the basting line becomes your stitching line.
Remove one basting thread and use your needle to sweep the seam allowance under the fabric top. Take a stitch.
Where your clip is, sweep under – almost roll under - the fabric with the side of your needle to the stitching line, so the notch of the clip is swept under the top fabric. Hold it with your other thumb and take your stitch. Once you take the stitch in that fold, the fabric will relax flat because of the straight grain of the fabric.
Keep using your "eye" . See the circle you are making. Visualize what’s happening under the fabric top, too. The clips, once swept under, open up to create notches. The fabric between the notches, your seam allowance, will lay flat.
Sweep under and align enough of your seam allowance to take ONLY the next stitch. One of the keys to smooth round circles, is a little bit at a time.
Sweep, then stitch. Pop out the next basting thread. Sweep. Stitch. You will find a rhythm once you get going. Pop. Sweep. Stitch. Pop. Sweep. Stitch.
It takes lots of stitches, close together, to make a smooth, round reverse applique circle. In my little 1/4" diameter circle, I put 21 stitches.
If, when you are done, you see some flattened edges, you can stitch the circle a second time. This time, pull the folded edge between the first pass of stitches back with the tip of your needle and add a stitch. Continue putting your second pass of stitches in the places between the stitches from the first pass.
Pull out a project and give it a try. Don't have one? Check out our shop for a pattern to learn on.
Be patient and gracious with yourself as you imagine and practice. And remember, excellence is the point, not perfection, and excellence is a journey.