An applique quilt featuring Chinese characters of auspicious meanings to usher in Chinese New Year 2021 with good vibes.
I think we can all agree that 2020 was blah. This Chinese New Year 2021, I am all set to displace the bad “chi” with all things positive (except certain virus test results).
The idea of making a “Chinese” quilt has been playing in my mind for some time. The design ideas fluctuated from having a single, very-large Chinese character right smack at the center, to having many small characters - perhaps from a classic poem – arranged neatly to give a scripture look. In the end, I chose a more moderate option.
Bring on the Auspicious Quilt.
For those who can’t read Chinese characters, here’s what’s “written” on the quilt:
平安快乐 (píng ān kuài lè) May you be blessed with safety and happiness
吉祥如意 (jí xiáng rú yì) May you be as lucky as you desire
前程似锦 (qián chéng sì jǐn) May your future be as brilliant as embroidered cloth
小康之家 (xiǎokāng zhī jiā) A family of healthy fortunes
陈成玲 (chén chéng líng) (My Chinese name)
林展一 (lín zhǎn yī) (My son’s Chinese name)
林里福 (lín lǐ fú) (My husband’s Chinese name)
Auspicious Phrases Surrounding Names of Our Family Members
CHINESE CHARACTER FONT
The Chinese Characters Used in my Auspicious Quilt
I used this free Chinese character font that I found from the internet years ago. It is most unfortunate that I can no longer recall the source, but you can download the font file below. Note that you will need to know how to input Chinese characters with your keyboard in order to use this font.
To create SVG cut files of your desired characters (or their printer-friendly images), use the method I described in this blog post.
If you choose to use the exact same characters I’ve used in my quilt, you can download the characters' SVG cut files below (my family’s names have been excluded, obviously).
If you want an entirely different font style, check out the existing Chinese fonts that you may have installed in your word processing software, or download from the plethora of choices on the internet (recommended to go here and here). Bear in mind that you will be tracing, cutting, arranging and sewing down each stroke of the characters, so make conscious choices to avoid over-complicating the process later.
The center panel is a 5 by 5 grid with a total of 25 squares – 5 grey, 8 pink, 6 beige, and 6 off-white. I used two different coloured fabrics for the Chinese characters – the red and the black. There are 12 red pieces (appliqued on beige and off-white squares), and 13 black pieces (appliqued on pink and grey squares).
I have also designed the characters to be about 22cm (W) x 22cm (H) so that they fit nicely in the 30cm x 30cm blocks. I feel this gives just enough clearance from the edges of the blocks to achieve an overall balanced look – rather important for a quilt that is supposed to be auspicious, if you ask me.
For the border, I chose a floral fabric (Chinese New Year is also a Spring Festival) that picks up the colours from the center panel. The red binding, which is the same fabric as the red characters, completes the quilt with a festive palette.
My finished quilt measures approximately 186cm x 186cm, with each block measuring 30cm x 30cm, a 14cm-wide border and 4cm-wide binding.
Finished Quilt Dimensions
My quilt top is made of 100% quilting cotton, which I purchased from Spotlight (we Malaysians really do not have as many choices when it comes to quilt shops). I used bamboo batting (also from Spotlight) and the backing fabric is a Japanese cotton I bought from Tewah, a local textile merchant (that sells mainly dressmaking and utility fabrics – not so much for quilting).
Fabric Pulls for the Quilt Top
SOME NOTES ON FUSIBLE WEB:
When it comes to fusible web for applique, most online resources tell us to use brands like Heat ‘n Bond (Lite), Pellon (Wonder-Under), Stitch Witchery, or Legacy (Fuse-Under). These are basically fusible web that is backed by paper that can be peeled off. Plenty of videos on the internet demonstrate their use, but basically, you iron the glue side onto the wrong side of your fabric, cut out your applique shapes, peel off the paper backing, and finally iron the newly exposed glue side onto your background fabric. Sounds like a Godsent for us appliquers. Except where I reside, such paper-backed fusible webs are more expensive than my fabrics, and there is a much, much cheaper alternative (read on).
I have a bunch of regular fusible web (no paper backing) from my dress and bagmaking stash. They are 10 times cheaper (I calculated) and will ultimately function just as effectively as the paper-backed ones. I figured there must be a way to use these no-paper fusible webs. So, I scoured the internet, determined to find a solution – and I found it here! The answer lies in baking paper (a.k.a. parchment paper). Basically, you sandwich the no-paper fusible web between the wrong side of your fabric and a piece of baking paper (which acts as the "paper backing"), and then iron. The baking paper can then be peeled off easily, leaving the fusible web firmly fused to the fabric. The fabric is now ready for cutting out applique shapes and fusing onto the background fabric.
In this project, I used the raw-edge applique technique with machine blanket stitches. Then I used the quilt-as-you-go (QAYG) method to quilt rows of blocks before combining them and the borders to make the entire quilt. More details on the steps below.
My QAYG method below is slightly different from most QAYG tutorial that ask for the actual backing to be quilted together with the top piece and batting. Read on to see how my QAYG method is different and involves no hand-stitching or unsightly machine quilt lines at the quilt top.
In the following steps, I referenced the colours and dimensions that I used in my design. You should adapt these steps accordingly to your own fabric colours and dimensions.
STEP 1: APPLY FUSIBLE WEB & CUT APPLIQUE PIECES
Roughly cut out squares that fit the dimensions of each Chinese character. Since my Chinese characters are about 22cm x 22cm, I cut my squares to about 24cm x 24cm. Then, apply fusible web to the wrong side of each red and black square (see SOME NOTES OF FUSIBLE WEB above).
I used the Canvas Workspace software (for the Brother Scan N’ Cut machine) to adjust the SVG image sizes (to about 22cm x 22cm) and then cut using the Brother Scan N’ Cut machine. If you are going to trace and cut manually, then use whatever software you have that can resize and print images (Microsoft Paint, Word, Excel or PowerPoint can all do this). Remember to select “No Scaling” in the print settings before printing.
Depending on the font style you used, each character cutout may consist of several detached components. I used my handy sewing clips to keep them together so the pieces do not get mixed up.
You now have your applique pieces with fusible web fused to the wrong side, ready for STEP 3.
STEP 2: CUT BACKGROUND SQUARES
My finished background squares are 30cm x 30cm. I cut my background squares at 34cm x 34cm, giving myself 2cm seam allowances to allow for inaccuracies, especially since I will be eyeballing the placement of the Chinese characters later (read on for suggestions on how to place the characters without eyeballing).
STEP 3: FUSE CHARACTERS ON SQUARES
Take one set of your applique pieces (for one character) and lay them out on the right side of a background square to form the character, while keeping it upright and centered. I had my computer monitor displaying the character while I was doing this to help me eyeball the placement.
If you want 100% accuracy, print out the characters true-to-size (i.e. “No Scaling” in print settings) and trace the character image onto the background square - keeping it upright and centered. Then, lay out the applique pieces according to the traced imaged.
Press with iron to fuse the applique pieces to the background squares.
Repeat for all 25 characters on all 25 squares.
STEP 4: SEW APPLIQUE STITCHES
I used the blanket stitch on my machine - 3mm width and 2mm length - to applique the pieces. Zig-zags or straight stitches can also be used. With your chosen type of stitch, sew along the edges of the character pieces.
Applique Using Machine Blanket Stitches
If you are not doing QAYG, then proceed to piece the square blocks together to form the center panel, sew on the border, sandwich, quilt and bind as usual.
If you, like me, choose QAYG, then go to STEP 5.
STEP 5: PIECE BLOCKS TO FORM ROWS
I had decided to QAYG row-by-row (you can also do it block-by-block).
For my method of QAYG row-by-row, first, piece each row of blocks together to form 5 strips of 5 blocks.
Five Top Strips with Five Blocks Each
STEP 6: ADD BATTING & MUSLIN, AND QUILT EACH STRIP
Cut batting into 5 pieces of 30cm x 150cm strips. Also cut 5 strips of muslin (or any thin cotton fabric) at 34 cm x 154 cm. Baste each batting strip and muslin to the wrong side of each row of blocks, making sure they are centered.
Baste Top Strip, Batting and Muslin to Form Strip Sandwich.
Batting should be about 2cm Short All Around.
Then, quilt each Strip Sandwich individually as desired. If you choose to quilt diagonal lines like I did, make sure the lines past through two opposite corners of each block (either top left to bottom right, or top right to bottom left, depending on which side your diagonal lines lean), and that the lines are equally spaced. This is so that when you sew the strips together, the quilting lines will appear continuous.
Quilt Each Strip Sandwich
STEP 7: JOIN ROWS TO FORM CENTER PANEL
In an ideal universe, you would at this point still have the 2cm seam allowance consistently around the batting of each quilted row. But we are not in that universe, so your seam allowances have likely become crooked and uneven. It doesn’t matter. Your batting can be your sewing guide.
First, place adjacent rows right sides together (double check that they are correctly orientated), aligning the edges and corners of their battings. Then, sew along the edge of the batting (you can first mark this line, since the battings are now concealed under the muslin. It is OK if your stitches catch some of the batting, as long as your batting is thin. Press seam allowance to one side. Repeat until the center panel is complete. Then, top stitch very close to each seam on the side to which the seam allowance is pressed, to strengthen the seams as well as to "press" own the bulk for a flatter quilt. (In my quilt, I actually top stitched on both sides of all vertical and horizontal seams for symmetry and consistency.)
Also ideally, if you quilted diagonal lines like I did, the quilt lines should meet at the seams. (But if they don't, I wouldn't worry about it.)
Diagonal Quilting Lines Meeting along the Horizontal Seam, Creating the Illusion of Continuous Quilt Lines.
Also notice the top stitching along all seams.
STEP 8: PREPARE AND SEW BORDER STRIPS TO CENTER PANEL
In the same QAYG method, quilt and sew on the borders. At the corners where adjacent strips meet, you can join the strips using vertical, horizontal or a diagonal seam (mitered corner). I have done mitered corners.
STEP 9: ADD REAL BACKING, QUILT IN THE DITCH & BIND
Baste your real backing fabric to the back and stitch in the ditch along your chosen quilting paths. Make sure your chosen paths provide quilting that is as evenly distributed as possible all over the quilt.
My Chosen Quilting Path
Finally, bind the quilt with your preferred fabric (I used the same fabric as my red Chinese characters).