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Having trouble appliqueing on a large quilt?

What to do with this big wad of fabric?

Pacific Rim Quilt Company Woodland Lei Hawaiian Wall Quilt PatternQuilter's Question: I have been asked to finish a king-size Hawaiian quilt that someone else started. The problem I am having is that when I do needleturn applique, my left hand holds the fabric positioned so that my finger is under where I am working and my thumb can hold the edge of the applique as I sweep the raw edge under with the needle and stitch. But with this king-size project, as I move to the middle of the design, there is too large a wad of fabric for my left hand to do its job. How do people do these king-size quilts?!

Nancy's Reply: There is a very easy way of dealing with this, though it may feel awkward at first.

Thumb placement from under the fabric for needleturn applique on a large quiltPlace your entire left hand underneath the large Hawaiian quilt top, in the vicinity of where you will be appliqueing. Take hold of a small amount of fabric, like pictured at left.
Now, using your other hand, fold the fabric back over your hand and forearm, so you can see the area that you will be stitching. Arrange the bulk of the fabric on top of your underneath hand and arm so that it rests in the crook of your arm, and so that the fabric is held snuggly against the tip of your thumb. (The weight of the fabric resting on your arm helps keep the fabric pulled taught against the tip of your thumb.) Your underneath hand should be in the same position as if the thumb were on top, as you described in your question. The only difference is that there is a layer of fabric over your thumb.
This arrangement allows you to use your thumb just as if there was no fabric on top of it. My thumb is always held so it points toward the applique edge I am sewing (perpendicular to the sewing edge), and my needle is pointed parallel to the edge. That way, the tip of the needle is never pointed toward the fabric covering my thumb, so it never snags that fabric. Look closely at the needle in my right hand in the second photo and you will see my needle at work.Thumb placement from the top when appliqueing on a large quilt
Tip: I always try to get my thumb in a position where it is covered just by a single layer of the background fabric. If possible, I try to avoid having my thumb covered by any of the applique fabric.
It may take some getting used to, but with this method you are only holding a very small amount of fabric in your hand underneath, so you can comfortably applique in the center of a very large quilt.
Another way to see what I have described here is to view my demonstration of this technique on our video Hawaiian Quilting with Nancy Lee Chong.
Quilter's Follow-up:
Thank you for your response to my question. I actually had someone tell me about your DVD, and I ordered it online. It is well worth what I paid! It is an excellent DVD. Thank you so much for responding, and thank you for producing such an excellent DVD. I know it will take some practice to get the hang of this technique, but I now know what to try to do. I was at a loss before this. Thank you.
For a more thorough explanation and demonstration of this technique, plus many, many more tips and techniques for making your Hawaiian Quilt watch our DVD. Check with your local library, your quilt guild library, or order your own copy here.
Originally posted in our January 2013 newsletter.

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