Thursday, March 31, 2016

Stemming it Up!

At the Lancaster AQS show a couple of weeks ago, I was completely sucked into one of the booths featuring brightly colored fabrics and kits. One particular project drew me in.

Between the workshops I was teaching, I had plenty of time to deliberate listening to the advice from two angels on my shoulders . . . you know how they are. . . Buy it! . . . Don't buy it . . . Buy it! . . .  As luck would have it, the 'buy it' angel won, and I brought the quilt kit home with me. A treat for those times when I really want to work on something just for me.

Well, the project in question has lots of applique and lots of 1/4" bias stems. The other day, I pulled out some of the fabric destined to become stems to make some to have ready when the block is at the 'stem stage.'

I thought you might like to see how I make them. . . so here goes.

Like so many other things in quilting, bias stems can be made many different ways. For wider stems, I simply like to use the back basting applique method I've discussed before. But for the 1/4" variety I like to make a tube first. I like to cut a corner of the stem yardage at a 45 degree angle to start. Then I cut 3/4" strips along the bias. Yep, they're really narrow!

I fold the fabric in half lengthwise, wrong sides together. With the 1/4" foot on my machine, I place the fabric under the foot with the folded edge aligned with the edge of the foot, needle in needle-down position. And sew. I like to use a stiletto, or, as in this case, the pointy end of my Clover Hera Marker, to guide the fabric under the foot. I sew slowly and use both hands to keep the fabric from wobbling as it progresses.

This results is a tube. Notice the really tiny seam allowance. I could have started with a 1" strip, and sewn a bigger seam, but then I would have had to trim the seam allowance before the next step. This way I have less fabric waste. Those seams don't have to hold up over time, they just have to secure the tube long enough for me to applique the stem in place (you'll see what I mean in a few photos).

Next I head to the ironing board with my 1/4" press bars. I've had this particular brand in my sewing stash for years. Karen Kay Buckley has a similar product which I like, but the 1/4" bar is just a tiny bit too wide to fit in my 1/4" tube.

I insert the rounded end of the bar in my fabric tube, and shift the seam so it's on top, so I can see it . . .

. . . then press the seam to one side with the iron, with the stick still inside the tube.

Then I slide the stick out of the fabric tube, and press the stem once more.

The stem is now perfectly flat, and that tiny seam allowance is fully hidden on the underside of the tube.

Here's a closer look.

I keep some made-up stems handy in my sewing basket, ready for action when my block is ready. The bias cut allows the stem to make gentle curves easily. I use applique pins to secure the stem in place, then secure each folded edge to the block with a tiny, regular old applique stitch. I could also use a fabric glue pen instead of the pins, but I like the pins because I can use them as a visual connection to where I left off my stitching.

And there's a close-up of the sewn stem. . .

At some point, I'll share a little more about this project. For now, you just get to see the stems!

Happy Stitching!
joan ford


  1. The "buy it" angel always wins for me! Your hand applique looks amazing. Thanks for showing your bias stem technique. I'm a fairly new follower and really enjoy your Good Migrations. Great tips on the Splendid Sampler blocks.

    1. So, you know that angel, too?! Thanks so much for your nice comments!