Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Applique Grapes

Half of the original and half of my reproduction block
The Noah and Matilda quilt has a lot of appliqued grapes.  I think you should applique in whatever technique you enjoy.  Today I'm sharing a variety of applique grapes.

The green grape block is in set four of the blocks.

I chose to back baste the circles and stuff the grapes as I needle turned each circle.  I think they match the originals pretty well.
I did use a print for the leaves as opposed to the solid in the original.

Hand applique, machine quilted

I like to take classes and try new applique techniques.  This is from one of my first applique classes.  In this class we used a drafting ruler of circles to trace the circles.  Now I back baste - even tiny circles.

We also cut circles from cotton batting scraps and covered them with the fabric circles, then applied the circle to the backing fabric.

These are rather large grapes, about 1.25" each.

I like using a variety of prints in the grapes.
As I recall, the rest of the class used batiks.
Do what you like!

Grape class project

This is the block in the completed quilt.

All hand applique, machine quilted.

I completed it many years ago.  I think the class was monthly with lessons in each of the 9 blocks. The other three months were sashing, borders and finishing.  

I remember the class was very rewarding and I think the patterns were drawn by the instructor.
It was a pivotal year in my applique journey.

Expression of Morris, (Book by Katie Friesen)

This grape cluster was done with a similar technique.

I cut the circles, about 1/2".
I used cotton batting circles cut from scraps.

The finished grapes are about 1/4" - that's my pinkie finger in the photo.

Again, I enjoyed using a variety of purple prints.

I'm taking a little liberty calling these red circles grapes.  They could be cherries or berries.

This maker used contrasting thread and made the stitching part of the design.  The buttonhole stitch is rather deep and acts as an embellishment.  The circles are not stuffed.

This quilt (circa 1845) is in the collection of the Brooklyn Art Museum and is currently traveling in the Workt exhibit.

Again, I'm taking a little liberty calling these circles grapes.  I think we can agree they are appliqued circles.

This quilt is circa 1830.  Buttonhole stitching surrounds each circle.  The circles finish at about 1/2".  The fabric circles were cut from a larger floral print.

Precision was important to this maker.

My personal preference is a little variation in the circles in color, size and shape.  I think the variation gives a more organic look.

Unidentified kit quilt, Goldstein Collection

These grapes are on a kit quilt, circa 1950.

The fabrics are all solid.  The clusters of grapes range from purple and pink to yellow and cream.

Each circle is lightly padded.

In some areas the faint black line shadow from the stamped kit adds a  depth to the circles.

Charlotte Jane Whitehill, Indiana Wreath Quilt
Neuster Textile Collection, Denver Art Museum

The grapes in the Charlotte Jane Whitehill quilt, "Indiana Wreath" are oval shaped and heavily stuffed.

Each grape is at least a full inch long.  She used solid fabrics, gradating the color placement from light to dark.

Stuffed grapes are abundant in antique applique quilts.

In this example the purple printed fabric was gathered, stuffed and tacked down.  Look closely at the background fabric to see a small pucker where the grape is attached.
This technique leaves the grape more dimensional.

I like the slight size variation in these grapes.

So why all this interest in applique grapes and circles?

I made a discovery this morning on the Noah and Matilda quilt!

Grape cluster - Noah and Matilda Quilt
After examining the purple grapes on Noah and Matilda's quilt I thought they looked like a technique new to me.  How exciting!
Don't these look similar to an embroidered eyelet or fabric covered button?

I consulted a few quilt historians, fellow quilt study enthusiasts and applique artists.
No breakthroughs...

Following good advice, I set about recreating the grapes.

I gathered circles, stuffed them then tried to flatten them out and stitch around the outer edge to achieve the uniform swirl on the originals.

To say my results were dismal is an understatement.  It wasn't that I didn't like my little grapes, I do.  I was disappointed because they didn't look like the originals.  They sit high off the backing fabric and being stuffed, do not flatten out.

Time to look at the original again.

Poor worn little grape

I use archival storage for my quilts, even the worn ones.  I brought N&M back out into the light....

I took the liberty to excavate a little more aggressively than I had in the past.  Where the purple fabric had failed I looked under the popped cotton tuft.

Had the cotton fiber come from between the gathers as previously thought?

I had to check a few more grapes...

Detail of worn side of grape cluster

How do the grape sides look?

The tufts of cotton filling stayed so nice and rounded after the purple fabric failed.  Even if I wanted to, I don't think I could pull them off.

The quilt came to me in this condition, so at some point(s) in its life it had some rough treatment.  I am so happy we have been able to document and preserve the story of this quilt.  (Research is still ongoing).

Partial top left on purple grape

Then it hit me!

Or, maybe it was when I saw this particular grape.
All of the gathers are the bottom of the grape, under the filling.  I was disappointed and excited at the same time.
Disappointed it was not a 'new to me' technique.
Excited to solve the mystery.
Stay tuned - did I restitch my purple grape block?
Would you?
What's your favorite grape applique technique?

Have a great week!


  1. This is such an interesting and informative post. It makes me want to sew a berry sampler to try all these different methods.

  2. Do you mean that the maker made a circle, gathered it, put stuffing inside and then attached it to the quilt bottom side up of the gathered circle? I generally cut a circle from card stock and then place it inside a larger fabric circle that I have a running stitch done by hand. then draw up and press with an iron. Maybe a spritz of spray starch. I like to leave the card stock circle inside until I am ready to stitch. Wool is an option for tiny circles.

  3. Thanks for working through the mystery. I doing a running stitch around the fabric circle and pull the thread to gather it around the circle template. With these very small circles they appear stuffed because of the seam allowance. That's as complicated as I can get.

  4. How fun and interesting too! I'm glad you were able to solve your mystery! I still haven't done very much back basting, but I love the results every time.

  5. A fun post! Loved seeing all the different grapes. There were some stuffed berries of some sort in a quilt at the Boston MFA as well. So beautiful. So what are you going to do??

  6. Great discovery. I can see the gathers where the 'grape' used to be. Have you opened one to see the fabric?

  7. I was not aware of all of these different options for making small circles in applique.
    Hmmm, don't know--what did you do? : )

  8. What an interesting post!! I don't actually enjoy stitching grapes much - too stressed trying and not succeeding to make them all look perfectly round. I gather them up over a dime - give them a shot of spray starch, then the iron and pop out the dime and stitch. I will try back basting next time I think.

  9. This is such a great post. Grapes or circles have always been confusing to me. I don’t like the way the seam allowance always seems to show. Can’t seem to decide if I should stuff, line, trim the seam allowance or leave it large enough to fill the circle. Thanks for all the information.

  10. I could spend all morning looking at your blog posts! Wonderful info, tips and images of your own works in progress! Making circles was something to avoid (as was applique in general) but now I use the Perfect Circles & after all the cherries in Beyond The Cherry Tree am totally hooked. Now back to checking out the rest of your postings!! Thanks for sharing.

  11. So interesting this little mini study of grapes and circles appliqued. I had no idea there was so many ways of doing it and none are wrong. I always learn so much reading your post. Thanks Dawn.

  12. What a interesting post. I have a done a lot of stuffed berries and/or grapes. I really like the look and feel.
    My method is to make a yoyo around a card stock circle, starch, remove paper then stuff with polyfil then applique onto a marked circle on the quilt.
    I have had it on my blog. It works for me. I like the look of the smashed small yoyos too.
    It is interesting to see all they different ways it can be done.
    Your project is looking great!

  13. What a wonderful and fascinating blog post! I loved your quilt study topic on grapes and all the fabulous pictures you provided.

    I've only tried stuffed grapes using small batting circles. I'd like to explore the stuffed yo-yo versions.

  14. You are the quilt sleuth! How interesting. I don't applique much and I don't think I've ever done grapes. I also liked hearing about your applique journey. Have we seen the entire quilt from that year long class?

  15. Very interesting post, I love those appliqued grapes!

  16. What a great study of grapes in applique - fascinating to see the variety of techniques up close. Especially interesting to see your diagnosis of the worn little gathered grapes! I'm a back baster like yourself - but I have gathered circles around templates too :)

  17. How fun to examine all the ways to make a berry!!


Thanks for your comments!