*For every project I am going to work on I make a stitch recipe swatch out of the fabrics in the quilt. I try a couple different stitch lengths and stitch widths and mark the one I am going to use along with the thread and the needle size so I know just how to set my machine when I return to a project.
*Know your particular sewing machine's blanket stitch. I have a Bernina and the blanket stitch has three steps: one forward straight stitch, a stitch to the right, and a stitch back to the straight stitch line. If I change my machine from blanket stitch to straight stitch when I return to the blanket stitch it ALWAYS starts with the one forward straight stitch. This is important when I am coming to a turn or a point on a leaf: if I am not going to land on the point or corner I press the straight stitch button and return right back to the blanket stitch button and it gives me one extra stitch forward. On my particular machine this is just a touch of a button and I do this back and forth often while I am appliqueing.
*There are 5 little tools I keep right by my machine while sewing: scissors, seam ripper, needle threader, a large eye needle, and a tweezers.
When I start an applique piece I straight stitch 4 or 5 stitches set on a short stitch length then I start the button hole stitch. After I have stitched a little ways I reach under the piece and pull my top thread to the back (using the seam ripper and tweezers to loosen that first stitch and pull the top thread back). When I get back around to the beginning of my blanket stitching I again switch to straight stitch and stitch 4 or 5 short stitches -over the previously stitched blanket stitch. I then pull the ending stitch to the back of the work and tie the bottom and top threads in a double knot, thread a needle and bring the tails under 3 or 4 blanket stitches on the back.
This sounds like a lot of fussy work and it is, but it keeps the back of the work very neat and you have no thread tails that show thru to the front of your quilt.
* I set my straight stitch to start and end an applique section with a short stitch length and one needle position to the right. This puts the stitch on the background fabric right next to the edge of the applique fabric. This is also where the straight stitch of the blanket stitch is (one needle position to the right). I will sometimes travel for a short distance with a straight stitch over a section of previously stitched blanket stitch to avoid a start and stop. If you enlarge the picture there is green straight stitching next to the brown thread of the stem.
The orange on the left picture is lined up the one on the right will give slanted stitches.
*Turn your work while on the straight stitch part of the blanket stitch not the perpendicular stitch to the left or you will have an open blanket stitch.
*When appliqueing leaves or anything with a point, I will skip a blanket stitch and add a straight stitch approaching the point
When I am right at the point I will do a longer blanket stitch to the left and then another extra straight stitch leaving the point before resuming the regular blanket stitch. (Sometimes even 2 short stitches to hit the point correctly) Remember when you are sitting on the point the stitch will come straight over to the left. In the above picture I am pointing to the point on the machine foot where that stitch will hit - know where it is on your machine and have that positioned where you want it to be on the point of your applique piece.
*I use two products for my applique adhesive: Heat and Bond Lite and Steam A Seam 2.
The Heat and Bond is less expensive but a little heavier. I usually trim the inside of the traced applique piece away and only leave 1/4 inch of the adhesive around the edge of the applique piece. (sometimes called windowing)
The Steam A Seam 2 is my favorite product, very lite weight and repositionable before the final ironing to stick it down to the background.
*Lay out your applique pieces on the bias of the fabric as much as possible for less fray. I also spray starch the applique fabric before I cut it out. I really have no problems with fraying before or after the quilt is appliqued.
*When I was beginning I used black thread for most of my blanket stitch applique and I still like the look of a black outline on some pieces. The big advantage of black thread is if you miss a stitch on a point or corner you can just draw it in with a black pigma pen : ) On my album quilt I am using a variegated thread, I like Superior Thread's Rainbows because the color change is every inch. variegated thread save a lot on thread costs because it blends in with a lot of fabrics.
Well, this is a long post, I hope some of these tips have helped, I truly enjoy this method of applique and the finished project looks wonderful.
Happy Stitching all...