Recently I had the opportunity to do a guild presentation for the Plantation Quilters at Jarrell Plantation in Juliette, Georgia. The program was a mashup of info on curved cutting, piecing, and applique with a discussion on fusibles and pressing aides. One simply led into another.
I was grateful for the experience, as it gave me a chance to discuss fusibles and what the difference is from one to another. There are a lot of products on the market, and I don’t pretend to cover all of the options here, but I just wanted to take a minute to explain the difference between some of the big players.
When someone asks me which fusible I recommend or is my favorite, I’d have to answer with “It depends.” Fusible webbing products all basically have the same end purpose- to fuse fabric and/or fibers to each other, either temporarily or permanently. Fusible webbing isn’t new on the market. I remember when I first discovered Wonder Under, and was thrilled with the possibilities. I think the first projects I made with it were three dimensional flowers, and I think maybe some garlands or something like that. You know, 1995-ish. However, there have been a number of developments in the fusible webbing world over the years, and there are many more options available today.
One of the biggest differences between fusibles has to do with weight, and the feel of the fabric after the fusible has been applied. Some fusibles are very heavy and leave fabrics feeling particularly stiff, and can gum up a sewing machine needle quicker than quick. And don’t even think about hand appliqueing through it. Your hands will fall off. It is important to read the packaging when it comes to which grade of fusible to buy. Heat’n’Bond Ultrahold says plainly on the packaging “No Sew”, and trust me, it’s best to believe them. Having said that, I have found that the Ultraholds of the world are not the best products for how I want my applique to finish. I prefer products that have words like “lite” in the title. They hold my pieces appropriately in place until I am ready to sew them down, and depending on the fabric and the fusible, generally finish with a soft hand, just the way a quilt should.
It doesn’t take a lot of experimenting to learn the difference between weights of fusible webbing, but there are other differences as well. The three products shown above are my current favorites, and yes, I have a need for all three.
Let’s start with Soft Fuse. It is the most similar to what I grew up with in my quilting experience. It is a paperbacked, heat activated fusible. Draw or trace images on the paper side of the fusible, then follow the directions to heat-fuse the adhesive side to the back of the fabric intended to be fused to the background. (Remember- how ever you draw the images on the paper is how they will look when you fuse them to the background. For instance, you must reverse letters before drawing them on the paper, or the letters will be backwards on your project.) Cut images out following the drawn lines on the paper. (I will say this multiple times- nothing beats Kay Buckley Perfect Scissors for this.) Peel off paper backing, leaving the shiny adhesive on the fabric. Again, following directions, use an iron to adhere the applique pieces to the background. So, how is this any different than the traditionals? It is remarkably lighter, but still does the job. No heavy hand to the finished product.
Next in line of my favorite fusibles is Lite Steam-A-Seam 2. Notice “lite” in the title. Original Steam-A-Seam 2 is too heavy for most of my projects, although I use it from time to time on an unusual application. This product is not used in the traditional manner. It is a double-sided fusible that is both pressure and heat sensitive. With this product, the fusible has paper on both sides, very different from traditional fusibles. One of the papers has a blue grid printed on it. The grid makes drawing images, particularly letters, much easier, and also makes it very obvious which is the “right” side. Draw images on the paper with the blue grid, but just like with Soft Fuse, you must reverse images before you draw them on the grid. Roughly cut out images, leaving both papers and the fusible in tact. This is where you can run into a problem. The papers have a tendency to come away from the fusible, and it can take some manipulation to make sure the fusible stays where it is supposed to. When the backing paper is peeled back, the fusible should stick to the blue grid paper. After removing the backing paper, stick the fusible (and the blue grid paper) to the back of the fabric simply by using your fingers to apply pressure. Using the drawn image on the blue grid paper as a guide, cut out the applique shape. (Again, Karen Kay Buckley scissors!) Peel off the blue grid paper. And here’s where the value of Steam-A-Seam 2 comes out- finger press the applique piece onto the background as desired. Don’t like it? No problem. Move it. When it is finally where you want it to be, follow the package directions and use the iron to heat set the adhesive. It has a slightly heavier hand than Soft Fuse, but has the ability to be moved around repeatedly until the desired design is achieved.
Last is MistyFuse, which is a pretty amazing product. Totally different than other fusibles because there is no paper involved at all. The fusible looks something like a gauzy spider web, and comes in white, black and UV. Black is used in a number of art applications, and the UV has been tested for it’s ability to stand up to UV light better than other fusibles, which can turn light fabrics yellow over time as exposed to sunlight. The white is the most commonly used, and what I will focus on here. With this product you must use a pressing sheet, of which there are plenty on the market, but MistyFuse likes the Goddess sheet in particular. I can talk about those sheets as well another day, but what you need to know is that there is no difference (except maybe size) between the Goddess sheet and the Bo-Nash Giant sheet, and that you can essentially get the same effect from a roll of parchment paper. Parchment paper will eventually burn, and need to be replaced with another piece of parchment paper, but other than that acts very similarly to the pressing sheets on the market when it comes to fusible webbing. To use MistyFuse, draw images on a piece of parchment paper using a pencil. Keep in mind that the image will be automatically reversed when using this process. (In other words, write letters the correct way on the paper, they will transfer reversed on the back of the fabric, which will make them correct when fused to the background fabric.) Lay the piece of parchment paper on the ironing surface, drawing side up. Lay a piece of MistyFuse on the parchment paper, covering the images. Lay fabric on top of MistyFuse. Lay another piece of parchment paper on top of the fabric. Following the directions, use the iron to fuse the MistyFuse to the fabric. If done correctly, the fusible will be a very light, shiny surface on the back of the fabric, and the pencil-drawn images will have transferred to the back of the fabric as well- all ready to be cut out and fused to the background. (One more time- Karen Kay Buckley…) The other thing about MistyFuse is that you can prepare large-ish pieces of fabric ahead of time, and if you allow the fabric to cool and cure for about 20 minutes after applying MistyFuse, you can fold it up, put it in a drawer, and return to it at a later time. Then it is possible to rotary cut shapes using templates, or draw directly on either side of the prepped fabric for whatever your heart desires. Pretty cool stuff, if you ask me!
So, there it is. Hopefully it wasn’t dreadfully boring. I just wanted you to know you have options. Now go forth and fuse.