Tools of the Trade: Needle-Turn Appliqué (Updated).

applique tools_carolyn friedlander

I have a slight update on my needle-turn appliqué tools since my first post almost two years ago. Actually, if you look back you’ll notice that not much has changed. I still like many of the same things–Aurfil thread, Clover pins, thimble pads, Dritz seam gauge…but, I have changed my thoughts when it comes to scissors.

Earlier this year, I was at a show where I was able to get my hands on some Kai scissors. My previous scissors had failed in a demonstration while I was teaching–which totally bugged me–but it also made me realize that they’d gotten dull after a lot of use. (Understandable). With many of my patterns, I’m cutting through multiple layers of fabric at a time, and so I need a pair that is really sharp and precise. Because of all of this, I was especially receptive to trying something new.

applique tools_scissors_carolyn friedlander

After trying everything on the Kai demo table, I bought a pair of their 9″ professional shears. I was ridiculously eager to go home to try them and sure enough, they were amazing! Cutting through 8 layers felt like cutting through just 1. In fact, they seem a little too sharp to only be cutting through one layer at the times when that’s what I’m doing. But the best part is that if they ever get dull, I can send them back to get resharpened. I’m all about equipping myself with things that are made to last.

Scissors soapbox aside, I always say that the tools for handwork are really important. When your hands are literally in the process, you can feel the difference between something that works well and something that doesn’t.

To recap, here’s my supply list:

(Disclaimer: everyone’s hands are different, so I recommend trying a variety of things to get a feel for what works best for you. Needles are a perfect example of this. Go to the store with a friend and each of you buy a couple of different packs of needles–they usually aren’t too expensive. Then do a trade. In exploring the options, you’ll be able to find one that feels right and will work well for you.)

+ Thread for project (such as Aurifil Cotton 50wt)

+ Appliqué needles (such as Clover Gold Eye Appliqué Needles No. 10, and see disclaimer note above)

+ Appliqué pins (such as Clover Appliqué Size 12)

+ Large fabric scissors (such as Kai 7230 9″ tailoring shears)

+ Small fabric scissors (such as Kai N5100 4″ scissors)

+ Removable marking tool (such as Pilot Frixion pen–always test on fabric before using)

+ Seam gauge (such as Dritz Measuring Gauge)

+ Iron

+ Heavy paper or template plastic (for copying template)

Optional supplies: Thimble (I like the adhesive leather pads), needle threader, thread conditioner (such as Thread Heaven or beeswax)

What are your favorite tools?

And also, who here wants to weigh in on the silk debate? I’ve been using silk thread for the last several months, I like it, but I also recently heard from someone with a lot of experience that over time it tends to stretch out. That scares me.

applique tools_thread_carolyn friedlander

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13 Responses to Tools of the Trade: Needle-Turn Appliqué (Updated).

  1. Sharon Stroud June 3, 2015 at 11:02 am #

    Hi, Carolyn: Your blog and designs are awesome! Congratulations on your continuing success!

    Since you asked…I am not a big fan of silk thread. In addition to stretching, I have also heard that the silk thread (and anything polyester based) is stronger than our cotton fabrics and, over time, will wear holes in the cotton fibers. As an excellent alternative, I use Mettler 100% cotton 60 wt. embroidery thread. I’ve used it for years, and it melts into the fabric beautifully without the problem of trying to keep it in the needle! There are over 200 colors in the 60 wt. Mettler, so finding a match is easy.

    Also, have you tried the Clover pins #2520? They are a bit longer and much thinner than the ones you are currently using. I use them for both applique and for hand piecing.

    You are absolutely right that the proper tools make such a difference. May I also add that needles, both hand and machine, should be changed after about 8 hours of sewing. This is especially important for hand needles, as the duller the needle, the more hand strength it takes to move it in and out of the fabric. Result? Tired hands=less sewing time and enjoyment.

    Thank you for the opportunity to comment. You can tell that I am not opinionated at all! 😉

  2. Darlene O'Donnell June 3, 2015 at 9:02 pm #

    I agree Kai professional scissors all the way!! I live in Canada, and found a wonderful price from my favourite pattern and fabric online store in Texas. Even with shipping it was less expensive. Thread should be chosen for the fabric and the purpose. Aurifil is new to me, and I found it online at a good price they have cotton, wool, and poly, and different weights. I could not find 28, but have 12, 40, and 50 in cotton. For every task, there are the right tools, which allow us the most time and ease to do the work.

    Just recently, I bought the measuring gauge above, and saw the thimble tabs – will buy them to try – thanks! I have at least 4 kinds of pins, for different purposes.

    I learned last week that pin cushions had emery in them, but now they have ground nut shells to replace it – keeps pins sharp. I had no idea. Unscented too 🙂 I bought some. It is great to learn about new/old tools that work best, and the variations for personal needs. Thank you so much for sharing!

  3. Teresa June 4, 2015 at 12:21 pm #

    I found Kai scissors four years ago and haven’t looked back since. I now have five pairs plus their rotary cutter. In all that time I’ve had to have them sharpened only once, thanks to trying to cut through a pin on accident. I feel exactly as you do about cutting just one layer with them…it feels like a waste of their talent. I’ve cut up to 10 layers of linen without the slightest shimmy–they really are wonderful.

    As for the silk thread, I’ve heard the same and have stayed away from it. I use Aurifil for most of my hand-piecing and quilting. We’ll see how it holds up two decades from now.

  4. Karen S June 5, 2015 at 12:21 pm #

    Carolyn, what does the little blue box in the lower left hand corner do–Thread Protectant and Conditioner? Sounds very mysterious and messy! (Obviously, I’m a beginner 🙂

    • carolyn friedlander June 8, 2015 at 8:30 am #

      Hi, Karen! Yes, I initially had the same thought you did, but it’s not messy at all–a big reason why I’m impressed with it. The point of a conditioner is to prevent the thread from breaking/knotting as well as ease it in and out of the fabric. I’ve used this kind and like it.

  5. carol June 5, 2015 at 5:01 pm #

    Any advice on irons? I need a new one but do not know what to get? Thanks for a wonderful post.

    • Darlene O'Donnell June 5, 2015 at 5:40 pm #

      Oliso is my new iron – it is great. I needed the rep to explain how to use it though. I found the included directions to be unclear and incomplete. Now that I know how to use it, it is terrific. I like the legs – not having to sit the iron on end each time saves my hands so much pain. I have the yellow one. I bought it because I had used it at a friend’s house, and loved the steam – failed to ask her how to use it though 🙂

    • carolyn friedlander June 8, 2015 at 8:28 am #

      Hi Carol! I use a Rowenta and love it. It gets hot, presses well and has a good amount of steam. I’ve also tried Reliable irons and was impressed. They are a bit heavier, but they did a really good job.

  6. jemellia June 6, 2015 at 11:09 am #

    I’ve been all about Gingher shears, I’m buying a pair of Kai, STAT.

  7. Melissa Reilly July 2, 2015 at 9:57 am #

    Head is spinning! I discovered Karen Kay Buckley scissors last summer in Sisters (class with Sue Spargo) for cutting all fabrics for appliqué – changed my life. What do you think of those? And now, after so carefully investing in Gingers for 36 years… Time to try Kai! Silk thread for hand quilting? I’m amazed at all this positive feedback – I’ve found using bozzolo reale no 24 (from Spargo’s site) to be maddening- it frays so fast and cannot hold up to more than a few pull throughout before it starts to break- I have to use very short strings at time – and expensive! Guess I need to look at these other brands!
    Question for you carolyn- I’m about to start quilting my first Catenary (perfect project to take to the beach!!!), and would like your recommendation of brand and size for long stitch needles please! I’ve been using clover gold eye #24 for embellishments and embroider but it makes large holes, assuming you have a preference? Also, do you ever use Genziana thread for quilting?
    Last – I won’t make a stitch without Thread Heaven – LOVE it.
    I’m so thrilled with rediscovery of hand work – I did sooo much of it as a young girl and had totally forgotten how wonderful it is.
    I learned to use straw needles as well from Tonye Belinda Philips years ago for needle turn and confess I prefer those too….
    Thank you carolyn for your generosity and talent – you are inspiring such different ways of thinking and its totally reinvigorated the maker in me that’s me set aside during 30+ years of focus on career. Last – LOVE Savor Each Stitch!

    • carolyn friedlander July 8, 2015 at 2:07 pm #

      Thank you so much, Melissa! I really appreciate your note. To answer your question about needles, I use what I describe here, which are the Clover Gold Eye size 10. They’re awesome! Also, I strictly use cotton thread (aurifil) for applique. It’s wonderful. Happy stitching at the beach!

      • Melissa Lewis Reilly July 12, 2015 at 1:53 pm #

        apologies – I meant for the long stitching with perle cotton — found it elsewhere on your site (the package of Colonial needles) but the package doesn’t indicate what the needle sizes are. I have various types/size in my stash, but not sure about the differences… milliner #2, #5, crewel, etc. thanks for clarification. I’m about to begin the quilting on Catenary now. YES – used #10 for all the appliqué and am strictly aurifil girl too (as is my Bernina).

  8. Kris Huber Van Allen July 28, 2015 at 9:17 pm #

    Please do not use those Frixion pens-they are not really removable/erasable! The ink in them is thermosensitive; the friction from the rubber ‘eraser’ causes the ink to change color to white. If exposed to very cold temperatures it will reappear. If exposed to heat, is turns again light. I have found a number of sites on the internet that show the reactions on fabric, and students are advised if notebooks with Frixion ink in them are left in a hot car, the ink will appear to have disappeared, but once placed in the freezer for a while, the notes reappear.

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