Needle turn applique (where you turn the raw edge of the applique piece under with your needle as you sew it to the foundation piece) seems to be the holy grail of applique techniques. Certainly with practice you can achieve some pretty remarkable results. For me, one of the gurus of needle turn is Sarah Fielke - and I am lucky enough to have a DVD (that came with an issue of Quilters Companion magazine) where Sarah demonstrates her technique. The technique for needle turn applique I'll demonstrate here is based pretty closely on Sarah's technique. I have Sarah's permission to share this here - but you can also learn this technique via Sarah's Craftsy class, or by purchasing the same DVD I have used through her website (you'll need to scroll down to the bottom of the linked page) (Disclaimer - I am not affiliated with Craftsy or with Sarah's store at all, I just wanted to let you know where you can learn more!)
One of the brilliant things about this applique technique is that it takes very little preparation, and it is extremely portable.
Making your Templates:
The first thing you'll need to do is make templates of your applique shape. There are a few ways you can do this - trace the shape onto template plastic and cut it out.
Or (as suggested by Sarah) use Quick Laminate sheets (available from office supply stores). I've been using these to make my templates for my hand-pieced Bring Me Flowers BOM blocks, and it is so quick and easy. You just peel back the top clear sticky layer, put your photocopy of the template on the bottom card sheet, smooth the sticky layer back over it and cut out your template. This is such a genius method!
Preparing your Fabric:
Once you've cut your background fabric to size, you'll need to mark both the diagonals on your fabric. To do this, you can use a dissolvable fabric marker, or a hera marker.
To prepare your applique shape, you will need to trace around your prepared template onto the right side of your fabric. Sarah recommends using a silver gel pen for this - which is what I've been doing and it works brilliantly. It makes it easy to see your stitching line since it glitters slightly, and the gel inks sits on top of the fabric and mostly wears away as you're stitching around the shape. Any remaining pen should wash away when you wash the quilt (and honestly it's barely noticeable anyway.) Trim your fabric to a scant 1/4 inch around the edge of the shape.
Once you're ready to start sewing, finger press around the line you've drawn onto your fabric shape - this will make it easier to turn the edge under when you are sewing it down.
Needle Turn Applique:
Find the centre on your background fabric, and pin the applique piece in place. I found by turning under one side of the centre point, I could pin it pretty close to the intended position. Line the other end up as well and pin in place.
To start, tie a knot in the end of your thread (I use this method). Take your needle up through the applique piece (not the background) right on your drawn line. Turn under the first little bit of the seam allowance with your needle, right where you've bought the needle through.
For your first stitch, put the needle down into the background fabric right next to where you came through the applique piece, and travel a small way under the fabric before bringing your needle back through.
Catch a few threads on the applique piece, and bring your needle all the way through, gently pulling the thread tight.
Turn the next section of seam allowance under with your needle, and stitch down into the background right next to where you came through the applique piece. Again, travel a short distance (about 1/4") under the background, before bringing the needle back up through and catching a few threads of the applique piece.
Continue stitching in this way around the edge of your applique piece until you get to the point. Bring your needle out right at the point.
Make an extra stitch right at the point of your applique shape.
Use your needle to turn in the seam allowance at the point - this is a little tricky to start with, but if you turn too much under you can gently tug on the thread to bring the point out again. Then, continue stitching around the applique piece.
Once you've stitched all the way around, take your needle through to the back and either make a small knot, or do a couple of tiny stitches on top of each other to finish the thread.
And that's it! My shapes aren't perfect, but I'm getting better with practice. I didn't think I'd enjoy this part all that much - but it is actually really relaxing. The more I do hand work the more I love it :o)
Any questions please don't hesitate to ask! I'll be back on Friday with a few more ideas for applique techniques you could use.