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Lisa Bongean: Wool—You CAN Take It With You!

Lisa Bongean: Wool—You CAN Take It With You!

Written by: 
Linzee McCray

In 1997, when Lisa Bongean’s children were small, she took them to swimming lessons. While waiting for them poolside, she saw a woman stitching a quilt. “She was hand quilting and I asked her all kinds of questions, like ‘How do you cut it up and then know how to put it back together?’” she says. The woman directed her to her local quilt shop where Lisa says, “I took my first class and fireworks went off.” Today Lisa is the owner of the Wisconsin quilt shop Primitive Gatherings and designs fabrics for Moda under the same name—her newest line is Old Glory Gatherings. She’s also a prolific designer of patterns and kits. “I started designing quilts almost from the beginning,” she says. “I just took to it.”

It was in those very early days that she also took to wool.

“I love wool’s texture, the feel of it, and the way it looks mixed with cottons or flannels,” she says. “It’s very versatile and stitching it is relaxing and meditative. And you can take it with you and work on it—you're not tied to your machine.”

She finds wool appliqué has broad appeal. “I’ve met people who say ‘I’m a piecer, I can’t do appliqué,’ but what they mean is that they don’t enjoy needle turn appliqué,” she says. “But wool can make everyone an appliquér.”
Lisa made this miniature quilt with Old Glory Gatherings and a few bits of wool
Lisa offers these tips to make working with wool even more pleasurable:

1. “A lot of patterns and instructions call for freezer paper,” she says. “But I use fusible web, because it helps hold all the fibers together, keeps the fuzziness in check, and prevents fraying. My favorite is Steam-a-Seam 2 Lite. You can’t overheat it like some of the others, it doesn’t add a lot of bulk, and the steam helps integrate the wool with the background fabric."

2. While perle cotton adds a lovely look to wool appliqué, Lisa says any thread is acceptable. “For your first projects, if you’ve got embroidery floss left over from cross stitching, go ahead and use it,” she says. “Just make sure to scale it to the size of your project. You might want to use just three strands, or two. If you’ve got very tiny pieces, even one strand might be enough. If you decide you love wool appliqué and want to keep at it, then you can build up a thread stash.”

3. Lisa also recommends a number 24 needle. “You need a big eye to thread perle cotton through,” she says. “The difference between a 22 and 24 is significant. Using a 22 is like trying to use a nail!”

4. Wool, especially hand-dyed wool, can be pricey. But Lisa notes that combining wool with cotton or flannel not only provides visual and textural interest, it can reduce the cost of a project. “You can use small pieces of wool for the appliqué, while the largest piece of fabric—the background—can be wool or flannel,” she says. Lisa notes that her Moda Wool and Needle Flannels give the look of wool without the price.

If you’ve never stitched on wool, give it a try. A small project, like a pin cushion, not only gives you the chance to try your hand at wool appliqué, but makes a perfect gift to give during the upcoming holidays.