Why Be Creative?

Critter Pattern Works was formed in 1989 as a vehicle to help people think more creatively. We accomplish this through our machine appliqué patterns. In every pattern there is a little art lesson. We want our customers to have an open mind and discover things they can do with their sewing machines (in the bigger picture, in their lives) that they didn't dream possible.

Creativity is problem solving. We all have problems to solve. Creativity is fun. Self discovery is fun. We accomplish creativity by asking questions. We set up a set of principles to work with and then push them to the limits. Everybody has some creativity, like everybody has height or weight or intelligence. Some people have more of an attribute than others. Creativity can be self taught.

When I started quilting in 1972, I was frustrated because of the rigidity I experienced in what was accepted in the quilting world: your points had to be perfect, your blocks had to measure exactly the same. To me, this was not an enjoyable experience. So I started experimenting and came up with some unique results, while my lack of precision began to take center stage. Why make blocks the same size? Make them all different.

So now that you have a combination of different sized blocks made into units, how do you sew these units together? ADD A STRIP OF FABRIC TO THE SHORTER UNIT. Can you see that with this innovative idea that you can make a unique quilt design of any dimension you choose, from place mat size to king size bed quilt? Why would you want to make all the blocks the same? Instead of adding solid pieces of fabric for the non-appliqued blocks, you could add paper piecing.

Critter Pattern Works designs and publishes machine appliqué animal-themed patterns for quilters, but we find that there are other uses for these designs: wood cutouts, cake decorations, appliqués for decorating clothing, school bulletin boards, tote bags, car seat covers, rug hooking, and lace making.

What makes good design?

LEARN YOUR TECHNIQUE -- Make your machine appliqué more attractive by:

Stitching the satin stitch lines completely; do not stitch all around a gorilla and then finish the line which delineates the shoulder and arm. Stitch the arm as one stitching line.

Stitching the lines (or edges) further back first and the ones in the foreground last.

Start and stop on 0 width. It locks your stitches in place. Then gradually work your way up to 2 or 2.5 mm in width. This makes a prettier line rather than starting at 2mm.

Sew all the satin stitches at right angles to the edge of the appliqué. When you need to reposition the fabric, needle down in the outside of the curve (sometimes this is on the inside of the appliqué) then adjust the fabric and continue to sew.

TEACH YOURSELF ABOUT COLOR. We learn by doing and reading about what other people have been doing. There are lots of books on color theory. This is my theory: Try to keep clear, right-out-of-the-paint-box colors in one quilt and muddy colors in another quilt. The muddy colors result after a child has had a paint box and some water for 5 minutes. Practice putting colors together. Look at fabrics and house colors and paintings and rugs and toys and soup cans and flowers. . . to get fresh ideas on what makes an attractive combination. Remember to choose dark, medium and light fabrics, and different sizes of prints.  If you really need to see an expert choosing colors click here.

MIX SIZES of the appliqués so they are visually exciting.

DISTRIBUTE COLORS in an exciting way, and make the Critters look mostly toward the inside of the quilt so the arrangement keeps your eye moving around the quilt.

CHOOSE TEXTURES as opposed to graphic prints. Be aware that not all cotton fabrics are suitable for appliqué. If a print has too much contrast, you will only see the fabric, not the appliqué.

CLASSIFY APPLIQUÉ FABRICS as dark, medium, or light. The appliqués need to be placed on contrasting background i.e.: a dark appliqué needs to be sewn to a medium or a light background. Use a Xerox machine if you can't determine which fabric is darker than another. You can also use a digital camera set on black and white.

As you assemble blocks and then the units, USE CONTRAST in color, texture, size and value (darkness or lightness), so you don't end up with similar value fabrics next to each other.

USE INNOVATION in your choice of stitches. One of my favorites is #5 on most Berninas: the two 2mm zigzags and two 4mm zigzags (super stretch stitch). This stitch looks like blanket stitch but it zigzags. Tighten up the length to achieve satin stitch. Use it for stitching Teddy Bears to make them look fuzzy or sea weed (go up on side and make the width narrower at the top of the seaweed and then turn around and increase the stitch width as you stitch back to normal back to the base of the seaweed). Do appliqué with a honeycomb stitch for texture. Make sea fans, or star fish, or snake skin with the honeycomb stitch.

USE THREE DIMENSIONS: add UltraSuede¨ or felt for ears, tails, flippers, flowers. Children love 3-D. You can fuse two fabrics together and cut out shapes: chicken tail feathers, teddy bear's ears...

USE RAYON AND OTHER DECORATIVE THREADS. They add interest, sparkle, and texture. Make sure the color of the threads contrast with the background and the appliqué. The decorative threads can be couched (zig zagged with clear thread) in place.

WORK WITH SUBJECTS YOU LOVE. I love animals, even as a child and an art student in college, I used animals as subjects for stories and drawings and sculptures. This is why we don't include trucks or abstract shapes or flies (yes, yucky flies) as themes for our patterns. Someone asked for a pattern of cockroaches once.

It was quite a revelation when I discovered that I preferred curved lines over straight. Then I understood why I preferred appliqué to piecing.

Ideas for Appliqué projects:

Make a placemat: This is really a mini quilt about 13" high x 18" across. You teach yourself, using our patterns for inspiration and instruction, all the sewing techniques needed to make a larger quilt: appliqué, sewing blocks together, machine quilting and signing your name with machine stitches. This way you don't overwhelm yourself with too many pattern pieces or colors or prints. You only need about six fabrics.

Make Christmas tree ornaments: Fuse (cut out and mark for stitching) critter appliqués from our Noah's Ark pattern to Warm and Natural batting. Fuse another fabric to the back side of the Warm and Natural, completely covering the batting. Satin stitch the critter. Use pinking shears to cut the batting/backing fabric 1/4" away from the critter edge. Attach gold cording to the middle of the top of the ornament to use as a hanger.

Critter Vest: As an advanced project (for those who know how to appliqué) teach yourself how to assemble a background (using suggestions in our vest pattern) and then sew up the side seams and lay out the critter appliqués and fuse them down and satin stitch the appliqués machine quilt. Sew the shoulder seams. Cut out the lining and sew it together. Pin the lining and the outer shell together. Make bias binding and sewing the edges together from the lining side of the vest. Wrap the binding to the outside of the vest, pin and sew with a decorative stitch. Blanket stitch is my favorite here.

Make a quilt scene: Try making an underwater scene using Tropical Fish pattern and your sewing machine’s many decorative stitches for texture and detail.  Combine patterns to make a larger bed quilt such as adding Crustaceans, Designer Seashells, Designer Seahorses to the Tropical Fish.  Add beads, ribbons and punch needle designs to your quilt.  Make it special.


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