The Purple Finch Has Begun!


As I was doing all my prep work for the upcoming workshop, I could see the Purple Finch pattern laying off to the side of my design desk teasing me.  I couldn’t take it any longer and got busy and started the new Finch block.  I was parched for some stitching!


The Overlay is placed over a sheet of white paper so you can see it.


One of the things I seem to assume incorrectly (we all know what that does riiiight?) is that everyone is familiar with the overlay method to place their applique pieces on the background fabric in the correct position.  I am always astonished more people don’t use this method.

Why do I love this method?  Because it cuts down substantially on the inaccuracies and the amount of applique preparation. When I first started to applique, I would trace my design onto the background fabric using a light box and a pencil.  The human hand by nature is inaccurate and the drag of the pencil actually causes imperceptible distortion of the design on the background fabric. I had better match up the applique exactly or the dreaded pencils lines will show when I have finished applique-ing the piece(s).  They never matched up.


The overlay is pinned into position onto the background fabric and my applique pieces are ready to place in position underneath.


Oh and have you ever tried to trace of a pattern that is 45″ square onto a 12″ square area of a lightbox and have it all line up in the end? I never did.  I know some people really like back basting, but with the size of pieces I have, NOT gonna work. Also, you are still going through the same steps only on the back side instead of the front and then the added basting down of the pieces step that quite frankly, would stop me cold from ever getting to the applique bit.  A lot of fuss and prep I am just not into and problematic for my scale and intricacy.  I am not knocking it for others, it just isn’t my personal cup of tea. 


Applique pieces are now aligned and pinned in place under the overlay and onto the background fabric.


Every time a line is traced from the original design to fabric, to templates, then cutting out those template, etc… there is an imperceptible shift due to human error and our inability to achieve perfection that builds up in the end to a very perceptible problem.  The fewer times I have to mess with these steps, the more accurate and easier it is going to be to get my applique to match up. 

 This is why I really love the vinyl overlay.  It is clear, it is easy to line up my pieces on a background (with no markings) and the prep time? minimal. I can also adjust for those human errors before it becomes a problem down the road.  The bonus is I get to the stitching part a lot faster!  Yeah!


Overlay is removed and the pieces are secured in place and ready to be stitched. I already have completed a short side of stitching on this.


The right weight of vinyl is crucial.  I use the 12mm and it withstands a lot of use and resists stretching.  The thinner stuff slides around and stretches with very little handling.  It is a nightmare to use.  Some people use the clear overhead projector sheets.  Size is an issue here for me so I have never used them. 

 The Vinyl also comes on rolls that are really wide.  I have never had a problem dealing with large quilt designs transferred to one complete piece of vinyl. Remember furniture covered in that plastic stuff?  This is that stuff only put to a much better use.

For some of you this is old hat, but I have realized there are a lot of beginning and even intermediate appliquers that have never been exposed to this method.  I have learned not to assume that everyone knows this, at least on this subject anyway.

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About Sandra

I am an Author, Designer, Illustrator and a major international award winning quilt artisan. I love working with fabrics and threads and they have become my medium of choice.

22 thoughts on “The Purple Finch Has Begun!

  1. Dang, I was hoping you’d say you’d been locked in Fabric Depot for a while over the weekend. That brown color looks kinda like nutmeg or lion color?? (little darker than fox?) It’s nice. What is it? Wondering if you solved the greenish white dilemma yet? I came up pretty empty looking around, ordered a small piece of hoffman green tea to have a pale green, but it’s buttercreme rather than whitish. Avlyn cascade in grass color goes from white to a nice green – on the screen – but I’m only batting .500 lately when the UPS guy gets here with my “finds.” So hoped they had what you’re looking for at the store – in person.

    It’s exciting to see this guy started. Yippee. 😀

  2. Thank you for another valuable lesson.
    I use the clear sheets ( for now).
    I think there is another lesson in your pictures : lay the pieces in their proper place with the freezer paper still on. It keeps the pieces sturdier and easier to align. Once a pin is in the fabric, the freezer paper can be removed.

  3. Thanks for thinking of beginners, I appreciate all your tips, where do you buy your vinyl?

  4. Hi Sandra. Have you ever used “Patternease” for your overlays? I love the Purple Finch block. I was at a quilt show last week and found an amazing backround fabric for nature applique. I can’t wait to try it.

  5. I am very excited to see that you have started the purple finch.
    I am also wondering if you have found the white with greenish hue fabric??? I love the color you have for the branches.

  6. Do you use the freezer paper on the “right” side of the fabric, mark around it, then pin in place and then remove the paper? WOW … say that all in one breath. Do you make marks somewhere outside the design for overlay placement also? Sorry about the questions, but even us old appliquer’s need advice that will make our stitching lives easier. Thanks for the tips and pictures.

  7. Lori, I do not use the Patternease because you can not see through it very well. I had a student once that wanted to use it in a class (which is fine) but she finally gave in and used the vinyl because she became so frustrated trying to align pieces while the rest of the class had no problem. Not all applique is alike and with smaller pieces and layered work, the frustration would be immeasurable.

    For me Patterease is like trying to watch TV with a sheet over my head. The vinyl is clear and accurate.

  8. Sara, I peel off the freezer paper before I pin them in place under the vinyl. However, you certainly could lay them with the freezer paper still on, pin and then remove. You might get some shifting though even if the pieces are pinned down. IT would be interesting to experiment with this.

  9. Karen & Denise,

    I have a couple of candidates for the white tinged with green but I don’t know. I may have to change gears and not adhere strictly to what is in my head and in nature. This happens and is all part of the adventure. 🙂

  10. Marty,

    I use the freezer paper on the right side, mark around the template with a chalk marker (not ink) peel off the paper and place into position under the overlay and pin. None of us old stitchers, including me, are too advanced to learn something new. I think that is why I have persevered, I try everything at least once before I “poo poo” it. An open mind is a wonderful thing and pays off exponentially in the end. 😉

  11. Janet, I am using a fine tip Sharpie marker. It does not rub off the vinyl or bead up on the surface. Sometimes with a LOT of usage with a design like Jason’s pumpkin quilt, the lines will will get lighter, but I just re-ink those lines. I think it is more because I am not thinking and set it by the window where the sun comes in and fades it.

    I should point out that the marker in the picture is a dual Sharpie. One end is a thicker width and the other end is the fine tip.

  12. I tried to do an overlay for exact placement and I still messed up, lol. I was thinking I could use my wash away marker and trace the design onto the backing. At least on lighter fabrics.


  13. Sandra,

    Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge with us. One question though – am I understanding correctly that you first pin the vinyl overlay over the background and add the applique pieces in sections? Would the pieces not move once the vinyl is removed? At what stage do you pin the applique to the background fabric?

    Thanks so much!

  14. Tell me more Debbie about your vinyl experience and maybe I can figure out what happened?? Or not. 😉

    The wash out marker may cause you more problems because the line is thick (yes fraction of fraction of inches and millimeters can cause problems). But then again, it may work for YOU which is the whole point in the end.

  15. Zenobia,

    Yes first you line up your overlay’s horizontal and vertical marks with the same markings on your background fabric and pin. I pin as much as I need to secure the vinyl properly. (not massively, just in key areas). Next I take my first applique piece and if needed, un-pin an area of my vinyl so I can slip the piece underneath the vinyl and position in place. A bamboo skewer of approximately 6″ (15.24 cm) will help like magic to position the piece accurately. Then I will pin the piece just enough to keep the piece in postion securely. Position the vinyl back down over the fabric into place and then continue, in order, with the next applique piece.

    The main reason I have the template left on just before I position it under the overlay is for correct numbering and identification. If I peel off the template too early, I won’t know which piece it is and where it goes. Then I really do have a jigsaw puzzle to figure out.

    I will try to show this with pictures in the next post.

  16. I found a whiteish batik with a hint of yellow. Seeing I Don’t live in your part of the country , I don’t think anyone would guess what kind of flowering bush it is. I think I’m going to try that , but ……..
    when I go on vacation I just have to search all the quilt shops ; )
    for just the right one !

  17. Sandra, I’ve used the vinyl overlay method a lot; I agree with you-the less prep the better. My problem is when I remove the vinyl so I can stitch. I roll it up with the tissue paper that comes with it and then I have such a hard time getting it to lie flat so I can position the next pieces. Do you have a solution for that?
    Your Purple Finch is adorable. I especially like the background fabric.

  18. Eileen,

    I keep it flat. I move it off to the side of my work table so it remains flat. I have tried rolling it up and what I found was not only your frustration but…….it can sometimes get out of alignment too. Probably because my window is nearby and the sun warms it up, but still….. Keep it flat while you are not working with it. Some of my really big ones (45″ sq.) I do have to minimize them and I gently gently fold it in quarters without creasing. I generally can get it to lay back down nicely when I smooth it over the background fabric. You just have to be REALLY careful not to stretch it as you fold or lay something on it.

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