About The Thimblelady Method
I can needle turn easily and fast:
A sharp point sharper than your sharp awl,
A tiny circle smaller than a pin head,
A Line narrower than one single angel hair spaghetti,
Not to mention tightest curves or steepest indentations – they are piece of a cake!
Many quilters jokingly asked me how I even dreamed of appliquéing so much finer at the first place, let alone insane enough to actually make it possible?! If you think it is ok to be so crazy about my true first love, here is how it all began…
How I fall in love with needle turn at first sight?
I first bumped into the quilting world accidentally after spotting a book about machine quilting in a book shop. I naturally started quilt making by machine until…
One day in 1996, I saw a big Baltimore Album quilt at a small local quilt show all made by hand! It was not only the first time I went to a quilt show and learned quilts were also made by hand! – I had only seen and made machine pieced top and machine quilted quilts up to then. – it was also the first needle turn appliqué quilt I saw! Even to this day after making many appliqué quilts, perhaps I can say much better in every way than that one, THAT ONE still occupies the most special spot in my memory! It was that quilt that has inspired me the most and set me onto the path of fine hand appliqué techniques, and I am still travelling today! I never looked back. The rest is history as they always say…
What happened next?
Initially, I didn’t even think appliqué was hard. Appliqué to me was just a pretty pattern. It was hand quilting that nearly killed my arm. So I set out to fix my quilting and you know the quilting story…
After I managed quilting, I quickly made a pretty appliquéd top, then put all my effort into hand quilting – ¼ inch cross hatching on the background with my finest stitches…
I entered slides of it to AQS Paducah show in 2000. Soon I got a letter saying in the most diplomatic manner that my quilt was not accepted… I was disappointed! But eventually curiosity overcame the disappointment. I was curious why it was rejected. I reread the letter over and over again and I realised it was my hand appliqué techniques that were holding me back. And excellent hand quilting alone was not enough!
Up till then, I had never thought of what was good or better appliqué. To me, it was just about personal preference.
This rejection letter started me thinking…
What is the point of a juried show?
What does it takes to win?
What are quilters competing for?
What do I want to achieve through competition?
I realised, there are entry rules to quilt shows, but not judging rules around…
I wanted to know the rules of a competition, just like a basketball player needed to know that to score, one should throw a ball through your opponent’s basket not your own! A race of sprinters is to see runs faster not slower… You can’t go into a competition without knowing your goal!
In the absence of clear judging rules, I started thinking myself. Looked at quilts that have won in the past… Finally, I convinced myself that the point of a juried show should be to bring out the best quilt for both its artistic merit and technical skills. If I want to win, I must make the best quilt… Then I told myself, that sounded fun! Competing to make better quilt would challenge myself to improve… But what was better appliqué? I decided not to enter a competition until I found that out…
Since then I had my eyes out everywhere for better appliqué… I came across a Baltimore Album book where the hand appliqué patterns were referred to as the ultimate challenge of needle turn appliqué! I loved the designs but didn’t quite understand why it was more challenging than others. I compared the Baltimore designs to some other hand appliqué patterns.
I noticed that in Baltimore designs, points of leaves were sharper, circles were smaller, basket handles and vines were narrower apart from its striking beauty! It suddenly daunted on me that whenever I was frustrated by and swore at my appliqué, it was either at the point of a leaf or the valley of a heart!
Soon I concluded, no matter what colour or style design I make, no shape goes beyond point, indentation, tight curves of convex and concave, line or band and circle! A leaf? It is just two points connected by two convex curves. A heart? It is one point and one indent joint up by two smooth curves…
This is how my Chart of 6 most basic shapes and 5 degrees of needle skills” in my book of hand appliqué tutorials came about. I realised anything and everything on earth is composed of 1 or multiple of these 6 most basic shapes. It makes no difference whether you learn to appliqué a green heart or a red heart. Make a hundred hearts won’t make me or anyone a better appliquér as the skills needed to make one heart is the same for the rest 99.
The improvement lies in making the heart smaller and smaller… Why?! Because the point is sharper and curve is tighter in a smaller heart… Why sharper point or tighter curve is harder? When point is sharper, there will be less room underneath it to store seams! Therefore, you need to turn narrower seams under! That is the difference between an advanced appliqué and a novice. Once you can turn narrow seams, you automatically know how to turn wide seams.
How I developed my hand appliqué techniques
Once I found the goal and defined my battleground, I started to make great progress. I focused on finding the fixes of seams around the 6 most basic shapes! But it was only at this point, I realised the total lack of theoretical knowledge and scientific hand appliqué techniques in the field for me to learn properly. So I started to make up my own. Experiment until it worked one by one…
As I finally got Baltimore designs under control and was about to start one to entre a competition, a question flew passed my mind: What if another appliquér made the same Baltimore design for the same competition? How could judges decide? Is Baltimore Album still the ultimate challenge? Can I do better than that?
I started to design my own, making sure the 6 most basic shapes are represented in the design and made sure they are all finer than the Baltimore designs. Each time, I tried to make them finer, I got a dose of frustration until I made up new fixes. Techniques for gentle points in Baltimore designs no longer work for much finer points in my designs. Gradually, I found some of the new fixes worked better and are more precise and scientific.
Out of each frustration came the joy of improvement. I grew to love frustration, just like our dog, Snowball, loves the worm tablet because of the cheese following every tablet! Hard work finally paid off…
With determined and deliberate efforts, 2001 saw a turning point in my appliqué skills and my quilt. I no longer randomly picked up a pattern. I design my quilt to demonstrate I had finer needle skills. My quilt “Four Friends” was a demo piecing to test the finest techniques – the fixes for my mistakes – with vines narrower than 1/16 inch; points sharper than 15 degree and the tiniest circle 1/20th of an inch!
In the quest to find the finest possible needle turn hand appliqué patterns, I discovered more!
First, I found some tight weave sheeting fabric frayed less than the average patchwork fabric. I thought, WOW, I could appliqué finer as long as I could get these fabrics!
I started to draw designs with very narrow curvy lines to appliqué. I used my secret technique plus tight weave fabrics… Nope, the stitched part flared, refusing to lay flat, I ironed it and ironed it. It didn’t work… Needle turn hand appliqué techniques are all about seams!
That is right! Needle turn appliqué is all about seams!
The ultimate challenge is how to match materials and tools to designs!
The answer to that challenge is the scientific balance of materials and tools to turn seams easily and store them under each and every shape the designs require!
It was getting more and more interesting! I was totally absorbed by the challenges. Upon a closer look, I realised the flare was caused by too many stitches in the same area… When I trimmed the seams so narrow at a fine point, I had to stitch more closely to secure the seams. By adding the number of stitches without reducing the thickness or the bulk of threads, threads over crowded in the dense weave fabrics!
I started to search threads. Soon, I found the perfect thread when I came across the YLI #100 silk thread – the thinnest thread in the world.
When the perfect thread is found, I started to look for finer needle to go through finer seams when threading such fine thread is no longer a problem for a finer needle. The search was ended by the design of my own fine needles – a thinner and longer needle by the ratio made out of surgical steel that finally satisfied all my needs! And only three sizes to cover all hand sewing purposes – as I found there are mainly three densities in the weaves for quilt materials, therefore, only three matching sizes of needles are necessary. Thinner needle penetrates the materials easily and longer needle makes it less stressful to hold onto…
Now you see why Baltimore design was the ultimate challenge in the past? It is the improvement of technology and improved materials and tools that enabled me to achieve more. Only with the better tools and materials I was able to challenge the past “ultimate challenge”. Invention is the result of making past impossible possible. After I tidied up all the fixes for my mistakes, I gave them a grand name called techniques!
This is also why, I think, it is our obligation to make the most of the best materials and tools of our time and to push boundaries as today’s quilters. That is why I share my secrets with you! We should all be Master appliquérs. This is what we owe to the past pioneering appliquérs who had done their best to create the Baltimore Album!
Why do I say I can turn you into a master appliquér in one day?
First, it is learnable! As I mentioned earlier, needle skills are learned not born! Reading my story of how I turned the fixes of mistakes into “scientific techniques”, you should be convinced now that these techniques are learnable. It is my firm believe and I always make it clear to my students that if I can do it, you can do it!
Second, I have shared once again all my secrets of appliqué. Once you learned all the hand appliqué techniques and the knowledge shared in my book, you will be as good as me. There is nothing more to learn until the day you invent higher skills with newer techniques when materials, needles and threads are improved! That is why I say and I believe every appliqué can, as long as you have a pair of hands and the will to improve!
Third, I developed my trademarked teaching course that will make your learn logically and fast with all knowledge and techniques presented progressively in a day’s course – this is an deliberate effort because success in teaching hand quilt through the trademarked teaching course for quilting has convinced me teaching is not just an art. It is a scientific art.
In 2002, I started teaching my own appliqué techniques as a class. Through teaching, I deliberately experimented on how to present the subjects that students will take in better and improve faster.
If bringing students along with me and encourage them to overcome fear of learning is the art of teaching, then logically presentation the techniques is the science.
By 2003, I worked out an efficient Teaching Course that I immediately trademarked under legal advice. Through this course, I could make you learn smart and fast by dividing the entire needle turn appliqué into 3 parts:
♫ Logical relations between designs and materials/tools and their best match;
♫ Physically how to appliqué the most efficient way, such as how to turn seams exactly with a needle so you can turn 2 inches of seam once, instead of turning one bit of seam 5 times;
♫ Understanding the nature of seams around the 6 most basic shapes and the scientific method of storing seams…
♫ All through making 20 beautiful butterflies incorporating all the above knowledge and skills.
That is why quilters who have taken the teaching course in person through my class or by my book and DVD have had such dramatic improvement!
I am good at appliqué and have appliquéd Baltimore Album several times, do I have anything more to learn?
Plenty! If the best you can appliqué is the Baltimore Album, get my book and learn more. You should be able to appliqué a miniature out of the traditional Baltimore Album hand appliqué patterns. Make the most out of the best today can offer would be my advice! To me, it is simply not good enough to copy Baltimore Album. The Baltimore Album was the evidence of past appliquérs’ effort to improve needle turn appliqué. It is their precious gifts to the present generation quilters. It is also high bench mark they had set for us. What would be our contribution to the future generation if all we did was to replicate past generations work? For the past and future, we are obliged to keep inventing and improving…
I am almost a beginner appliquér, are the master techniques too advanced for me?
No. To progress upwards is not the only way of learning. It is definitely not the most efficient way of learning! Top down learning in this case is most efficient. An imperfect master is still heaps better than a perfect beginner!
The way I teach is the way I want to be taught. I see no harm to learn faster. Striving for excellence can never be too fast. That is why I always tell my class my Teaching Course and all the hand appliqué tutorials therein is about smart learning not just about the innovative techniques. By starting you at the deep end, you don’t need to learn how to handle wide seams any more once you know how to handle narrow seams. Chances are: you will either be a master or almost an imperfect Master! Either way you win! And either way is better than waste your money and time to become a beginner.
Are these hand appliqué techniques harder or easier than the quilting technique?
I’d say both are easy. But they are different in learning process. The quilting technique is about balance the powers on your fingers. If you persevere for one hour, you will learn.
So I’d say it is easier as you won’t have a frustrating first hour. Each and every technique is independent. Once you learned how to handle points, you can appliqué perfect points even if you don’t yet know how to handle indentations… The challenge is how to learn all skills in a logical order in one day! And how you can remember the lot all at once!
Get the learning package that includes a piece of every essential tools and material plus the book and DVD. So you can follow the smart learning course at home or with friends, to make the 20 butterflies designed to incorporate all needle turn techniques from beginner to master. By the time you can appliqué the 20th butterfly beautifully, you know you are one of the best needle turn appliquér in the world!
Can I learn just by your book and DVD with the learning package?
Absolutely. This is the most efficiently way of learning especially in the face of financial down turn. Efficiency is saving! Spend less equals a pay rise!
The book and DVD learning package is better! Why don’t you want to learn from the inventor at a fraction of the cost?! Why would I have put myself at risk of being ripped off by some “teachers” who live off the fruits of other’s inventions if the book and DVD wouldn’t teach you well?!
I put every one of the hand appliqué techniques I developed together with my teaching course with a DVD that illustrated every technique in close up motion! You will be amazed by the difference in how much more you can achieve and how fast you can improve once you take yourself through my teaching course and appliqué scientifically!
If my quilting technique is all about balance of power between hands, needle and quilt, needle-turn appliqué is all about seams. In my 8 years of developing and teaching this subject, I have not seen anybody failed to learn the techniques nor have I seen one who could remember precisely every technique and knowledge in one day.
In fact, the book and DVD are better! As nature dictates, as a middle to senior aged learner, you often understand better but remembers less when your memory is being over taken by wisdom. A note pad and a pen become our second brain as we gracefully age. This book and DVD is your second brain! – believe me you won’t have any problems to learn. Your problem will be remembering every technique precisely! That is why I laid out this book like a dictionary for your handy reference!
It will be your best friend. Because of this nature of learning, I’d recommend the book and DVD before you take my class, since after my class, you still need your “needle turn appliqué dictionary” anyway. Don’t be scared of learning. Don’t be talked into believing you can’t learn unless you attend a physical class.
You are always welcome to my class, even if you already mastered the techniques.
So why not try it out yourself first? Learn one technique at a time!
What if I fail?
You cannot fail if you don’t give up. As a safety blanket, let me give you my unlimited support (just click on the ‘Ask Thimblelady’ button in the website menu) or by emails through Contacts: email@example.com.
The real failure is not to try. I have not had anyone who failed to learn. What we have are more and more quilters who can’t find designs that are good enough for their new found skills – you can applique so much better and so much more!
Get started now.