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I'm currently working on wool applique on a pieced cotton background.  Due to time contraints I need to machine applique.  I'm looking for suggestions on how to best adhere the felted wool pieces to the cotton.  The heat n' bond method is difficult.  The wool is too thick to melt into the cotton well.

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Have you tried pinning and then pressing from the wrong side? Steam a sesm is stronger than heat n' bond and doesn't melt the same way as heat n' bond. I used it on my banner (check out my page) and it worked great! I appliqued it with invisable thread using a zigzag stitch afterwards. The letters are just put on with steam a seam. The ladies at fabricland said that unlike heat n' bond it is permanent, although I did have issues until I set it from the back side. You can buy the steam a seam by the meter (cheaper) as well as pre-packaged. Good Luck! Let us know how it goes.
Thanks, I've been wanting to try the Steam-a-Seam, but have been unable to find it locally. I'm definitely going to have to heat it from the back.
If you just need them to remain in place until you can machine stitch them, I'd use Elmer's Washable Glue stick to adhere them to the cotton-way faster and cheaper. I'd apply the glue generously and then stack books or something on top of the applique pieces until they dry to insure a good "bond" with the fabric. You can also "rush" the bonding process by heating/drying the glue with an iron-I'd do it from the backside like christi suggested. I like working with glue sticks because some fusible materials gum up my machine needles and the dried glue doesn't.
I assume I'd have to then wash it when it's finished? It is a tree skirt and I was hoping to not have to wash it before I gift it.
I wouldn't wash it before giving it to them because it doesn't show and no one knows it's there. The "glue" will wash out just fine if/when it's laundered by it's owner...if you've made sure you use the washable kind.

I've owned several "store bought" tree skirts and I don't recall washing any of them! I just shake them off every year or run the dust buster over them and pack them up again.

Check out my photos on my page. My favorite type of quilting is applique and I've made many projects (and sold many) using the glue without any problems or complaints. I started out using the Heat-n-bond/Steam a Seam type products and I still use them occasionally when I'm doing raw edge applique. But I found that I liked the look of needle turned applique pieces better so I use a method that covers the edges whether I'm sewing them on by hand or machine. It works fabulously either way.

I realize you are using wool so you aren't worried about your edges, but here's my method just FYI.

I use a method I learned from Sharon Schamber in her book "Piece by Piece Machine Applique". She uses her own product that washes away when laundered, but I just purchase Pellon products like Craft Fuse (they have "light", Med and heavy duty thicknesses) at my local WalMart (or any fabric store) by the yard. It's cheap (2$ a yard) and I like the fact that my appliques retain their shape perfectly after laundering. It has a slightly sticky side that you can heat fuse onto fabric but it doesn't stick as well as I'd like. So I cut out my shape and then run the glue stick over it before I iron it to "fuse" it to the fabric. Then I cut out my shape leaving a 1/8-1/4 inch allowance all the way around the edge and place it wrong side up on a table in front of me. Then I use a manicure stick (the slanted end) to "dig" a tiny scoop of glue stick out of the tube and "frost" the allowance with it. Then I fold and press the "frosted" edge over onto the back of the piece with my fingers or the manicure stick. Once it's done, I press it with the iron to dry/set the glue. I get perfect, smooth, securely attached edges even on circles. Then I either hand sew or machine sew them unto my quilts. Sometimes I use pins to secure them until I stitch them down, sometimes I just use a dab of glue stick.

Sharon uses the "purple" fading glue stick so she knows where she's applied it and the consistency of it is a little more workable and less messy. It's supposed to vanish completely when dry, but I've used it a couple of times on lighter fabric and found that the purple color can bleed through and STAY even after heat setting/drying which frustrated me. So I now only use the regular Elmer's "clear" washable glue sticks.
Steam a seam isn't suppose to gum up your maching. I didn't have any issues with it at all. Didn't seem to even be there, had more issues with the fabric I was using.
It's been a while since I've used it so I can't remember if it was the Steam a Seam or the Heat and Bond that I used the most in my early applique days. I used the heavier thickness of both, and so it definitely "seemed to be there"and maybe that was why I seemed to always have problems with it sticking to my needles.
P.S. I know it sounds abhorrent to anyone who quilts, but I've also "stapled" my pieces to a quilt top with my regular office stapler, then sewn, then removed the staples! (I turned the finished piece over and gently lifted one side of the staple with a tiny flat-head screwdriver and then just slid the other side out) This works really well with felt pieces-since even the staple "holes" won't show in the texture...so should work great with wool as well. My machine stitched right over them without a hitch, unlike it does when I use pins.

I know, I know...it sounds insane, but it really does the job in certain situations-like when using felt pieces or denim. I would never use it on silk fabric or anything delicate for example.
Well, I have seen stapled hems, so why not use it to pieces until they are sewn on.
You're all a great help...So far, so good. When the heat n' bond gives out I'm using the glue stick with good results. Of course, the more I handle the fabric the less the heat 'n bond holds, so I'm doing just one section at a time. I used to use Wonder Under and liked that but it's gotten harder to find in our area. And I'm not opposed to resorting to stapling if necessary. I just don't want to forget any staple before I start quilting. Knowing me, that could happen :)

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