Friday, June 24, 2016

Revisiting Reverse Applique

Little Bug mola
"Little Bug" mola
A few weeks ago (April 11, 2016), I wrote a post about reverse applique, inspired by the molas made by the Kuna Indian women of Panama. I promised you another, more advanced, project. But first, I want to show you a few more molas from my collection. The one at the top of this page is a small one of the type used to decorate the short sleeves of traditional blouses, while the larger ones were used on the fronts and backs of those blouses. Their costumes have changed considerably over the intervening decades. Now they wear blouses with almost elbow-length, bell-shaped sleeves, which do not appear to have any appliqued decoration. I don't know if the small sleeve molas are even made any more. I have always thought of this creature as some kind of bug, but I don't know what it really represents.

capricorn mola
"Capricorn" mola
Many of the designs relate to Cuna folklore. Others, however, derive from things their makers have seen in the urban centers of Panama. Some were faithfully executed product containers so exquisitely done that they rivaled Andy Warhol's Campbell's Soup can. Sometimes the objects in the design are taken out of context. I've wondered if this little fellow was the maker's version of the zodiac sign for Capricorn.

unicorn mola
"Unicorn" mola
The next full-sized applique might be an impression of a unicorn. The artist has added her own special interpretation to the design. Notice the large and small patches of color made by the pieces of cloth inserted between the cut-out outlines and the backing fabric, and then sewn in place from the top.

chicken mola
"Chicken" mola
Finally, here is one artist's depiction of some (to her) familiar birds. I'm not sure what bird the figure on the lower right represents, but the chicken is obvious. The black bird on the left is one of the hundreds of grackles that live in huge flocks around the isthmus. Our children called them “zeeps” because that is what their shrill call sounds like.

Our first reverse applique consisted of a black felt silhouette, a solid colored background, and scraps of two other colors of felt. I added small commercial appliques, metallic thread and small metal fasteners (snaps) to my version. For the directions to prepare the finished piece as the small wall hanging shown here, see the post for April 11, 2016. For our new project, you will need another piece of felt, a back panel, small sharp-pointed scissors (or an X-acto® knife or safety razor blade), a needle, black thread and scraps of fabric with interesting colors and textures. Think about satin, brocade, velvet, lace, ribbon, etc. Look for that silk scarf you never wear or a man's tie that has gone out of style. Collect all those small trimmings you couldn't bring yourself to throw away. If you don't have access to these fabrics, substitute brightly patterned cotton remnants. The colors do not need to be realistic. Let your imagination fly free!

Here are the steps to take in making the “TROPICAL FISH” project:

1. Assemble your materials. Press any pieces of fabrics that are wrinkled.

2. Download and print out the silhouette pattern. I suggest you make at least two copies, since you will be cutting up one of them.
3. There are two basic ways to cut out the silhouette. In both cases, you will need to pin the pattern securely to a rectangle of black felt, pinning the interiors of strips as well as the outer edges. In the first case, you will make a slit in the center of each white section inside the black outline and using small, very sharp scissors cut along the insides of the black lines. This will destroy the white paper sections, so that is why you need the second pattern. While the pattern is still pinned in place, cut around the outside of the entire fish without separating any of the sections.

Some things you may need
In the second case, you would place the pattern on a hard surface that cannot be scratched by a sharp knife: a marble counter top, ceramic tile, smooth metal, etc. Cut out the interior parts of the silhouette with an X-acto® knife or a single-edged razor blade, saving the white sections to use as patterns. (I use a ceramic tile left over from my bathroom floor.) Cut the outer outline of the fish with scissors, separating it from the “frame” where it touches it at the top of the top fin and the bottom tip of the tail fin. Now that the fish is separated from the “frame”, set the “frame” aside to be added to the surface as the last step.

Various fabrics and trim you might use
4. Lay out the fabrics you think you might want to use for your fish. After placing the silhouette over several fabrics, I selected a long silk scarf with markings that reminded me of water for the background. I chose a large, square nylon scarf for the fins and a man's wide satin tie with a pattern for the scaly body of the fish. I also collected a variety of small trimmings for details and a button for the fish's eye.

5. Sew or glue the fabric you chose to represent the water to the background fabric for the entire piece. Sew as closely as possible to the edge so that these stitches will be covered by the “frame.”

background fabric

6. Since I wanted all of the fish's flowing fins in the same color, I placed the fish silhouette on the nylon square and pinned it in place. I cut around the outline of the silhouette. (If you want fins of different colors, use the white paper pieces as patterns and cut about a quarter of an inch or 1.5 cm. outside the edges of the paper.) Using a bright-colored thread that would be easy to remove later, I basted the silhouette to the nylon material. With a permanent marker in a darker shade, I drew in details of the fins. This is optional.

fish silhouette

7. Place the fish silhouette with its inserted fins on your background fabric. Check its position with the black “frame”. Using black thread, stitch along both the outside and the inside of the black strips on all of the fins except the small one just behind the head. Do not stitch around the head or the scaly body. Stitch through the black outline, the inserted fabric, and the background fabric all at the same time. I hand-stitched these pieces, but you could machine- stitch them if you like, or even use fabric glue. Remove the basting thread.

silhouette stitched to background

8. At this point, I went back to my extra pattern and traced the head and scaly body of the fish, all in one piece, on tracing paper. I cut the seam of the tie and opened the fabric flat. I moved the traced shape around over the fabric until I found a design that really suited the fish shape. I pinned the pattern in place on the tie and cut it out about a quarter of an inch (or 1.5 cm.) larger than the pattern. Working one section at a time, I gently pushed the edges of the fabric underneath the edge of the felt outline until it lay flat. I pinned it in place. Then I sewed down the remaining felt edges with black thread, leaving the outline of the smallest fin free. A scrap of the red fabric filled in the small fin and was sewn down.

fish with body scales

9. Continue until all the inserts have been sewn down. Add any additional trimmings, sequins, buttons, surface embroidery or other decorations that you desire. I used a button for the fish's eye and some narrow trim to suggest the fish's mouth.

10. Add the “frame”, sewing through all layers.

I have shown you how I constructed my sample project. (We will show you the finished applique in a future post.) Now you are free to do yours in any way that you want.. Or make a flower, parrot, or colorful landscape. I'm happiest when no two of the projects I suggest look alike. I hope each of you will express your own individuality, and that you will be pleased with the result.


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