New Orleans House Project

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Machine Appliqué with a Vintage Twist

I guess 2018 is turning out to be my Year of Machine Appliqué!

I finished the first block - Sweet Cherry - in the Gathered Harvest BOM sponsored by my LQS, Quilted Owl.  The patterns are from Fresh Picked by Blackbird Designs.  

I prepped all the appliqué pieces using freezer paper and starch.  Next I laid the pieces out on the background fabric, so I could figure out the order to stitch each piece.  I worked in sections, using fabric glue to adhere the pieces to the background for sewing.  Using invisible nylon thread on top and Aurifil 50 weight thread in the bobbin, I stitched each piece with a very narrow zigzag stitch.  

I have started the prep work for block number 2 - Fresh Pineapple.  I'm only two months behind on the BOM process, but I'd be even farther behind if I were stitching each block by hand!

Since I've been experimenting with different machine appliqué techniques this year, I decided it was time to experiment with a different sewing machine as well.  I've had this vintage Singer sewing machine for years, but it was neglected in favor of other vintage machines.  Unlike all the other vintage sewing machines in my flock, this machine can do zigzag stitching (and more).

The machine is a Singer 503A - which was a new design, introduced in 1961.  The 503A and its cousin the 500A, are also known as the Rocketeer - at least among sewing machine enthusiasts.  It's definitely got that mid-century space age vibe going!  The two Rocketeer machines were the last of the all-metal gear Singer machines.

The 503A sews several different stitches in addition to straight stitch and zigzag.  By changing the cams included with the machine, sewists can create a variety of decorative stitches.  The cams (Singer called them Fashion Discs) drop into the round opening to the right of the thread holders.  

The needle placement can be changed using the triangular knob.  The stitch width adjustment, to the left of the needle placement knob, allows for different widths on the zigzag and other decorative stitches.  The stitch length lever allows for forward and reverse stitching.  There's also a light under the Singer logo.

Probably the best reason to use this machine for appliqué is the slant needle feature.  Singer slant needle machines have a needle bar that is slanted forward, which allows for much easier visualization of the stitching area.  The only thing that would make the appliqué stitching a little easier here would be an open-toe presser foot - which can be purchased online for a few dollars.

So - how did the Rocketeer handle appliqué with invisible thread?  Like a champ!  I used Aurifil 50 weight thread in the bobbin and a polyester invisible thread on top.  I needed to loosen the upper thread tension a good bit, but the machine handled the poly thread just fine.  Going forward, I'll use a finer gauge needle (the machine uses standard 15x1 sewing machine needles) and I'm going to order an open toe foot attachment.  I'm going to keep the Rocketeer at our camp, so I can still do machine appliqué when we're there for the weekend.

I stitched up two more appliqué baskets yesterday to work out the process.  

This may become a project after all!


  1. Glad the Singer enjoyed doing the machine applique. It's nice when your machine completes the task perfectly.

  2. For some reason, I thought this was a handwork project. LOVE that you are using a vintage machine!!

  3. What a lovely block. You can't go wrong with Blackbird Designs. I've started one of the big basket blocks from another one of their patterns and it's going to get machine appliqued too. It was fun to learn about your Rocket machine.

  4. Wow, what a fun post! Your blocks so cute. It must be gratifying to work out the stitching details using modern supplies with a vintage (and so cool) machine.

  5. First of all, I saw your Singer ! Great machine !
    I love your appliqué blocks with baskets but I adore your center with flowers ... So beautiful Angie !

  6. Thanks for the great machine tutorial! I have to agree that vintage machines are often the best solution for the project at hand. Your machine applique is amazing and so inspiring!

  7. Your Fresh Picked block is gorgeous and I love the looks of that Space Age sewing machine--too cool!!

  8. I love that you're using the vintage machine! I have my old Singer that I bought new in 1971, and I still prefer it for zigzag over my new spiffy computerized machine. (By the time I dig out the instruction manual and figure out how to tell the machine what I want it to do, I could have been done with the whole quilt using my old workhorse!)

  9. Love your bird block. It looks so much like it was hand applique. And I like your vintage machine very much. I have some vintage machines and they don't get much use.

  10. Your applique is gorgeous! LOVE the fabric choices. This stuff really gets me going.:)

  11. looks fantastic..might have to give that a mom has a 328k, another old singer gem...