Charmed by the Charms

When you start a new Esther Aliu applique project, you look at it hungrily! What is in there that I will love? What looks tedious? What will be fun?

Starting Oma’s Blues, I immediately identified the “charms” – the 6.5″ blocks with a circle and little vignettes – as a “tedious” or not-so-fun task of the pattern. The center was a joy to make and I gingerly started on turning the circles for the charms. I glued the outside edge of the charms to my squares, leaving the interior edge unglued in order to tuck the raw edge center elements right under the turned edge.

After considering a number of overly complicated center motifs, and realizing the small space to work in, I rummaged through my bucket of unused applique elements and my stash for inspiration.

My fish! Yes, I need some fishes! If you follow my work, you have seen the fishes swim through several projects. And my birds! Yes, I need some birds! And waves, like the ones I did in the two Red Delicious projects. Hmmm, some “bark” Stonehenge that I was going to use for a planter on Secret Garden and changed my mind…that would make a great twig or stump for one of my birds. Oooh, those flowers would really nice fussy cut and appliqued with a visiting bird.

Now I was off and running. It is wonderful how our everyday sewing room items can reignite our passion for our work in few moments.

Time to confess…I was suddenly absolutely obsessed with these little charms! Beset and Besotted. Captivated. Charmed. I want to make 100, a whole quilt of them, perhaps. I want to make them forever in all the colors of the rainbow with dozens of birds, schools of fish and legions of flowers…

The theme of the charms is Pacific Northwest US…Commencement Bay and the Narrows are right down the road from me. Our waters have abundant fish, so the fishes fit right in. Birds, like our Anna Hummingbird that stays year round and the House Finch, the Lesser Goldfinch, Robins, Junco, Northern Flicker, Wrens and so many others. And flowers.! One of my great joys when I moved here 35 years ago was the abundance of flowers and in particular Rhododendron. Our yard came with 7 or 8 Rhodes and we have now added 5 more, with more to come. Doing 4 each of waves, flower, birds, Rhodie, I still needed one more idea for my theme.

Here is the method to my madness in assembling a charm block…and yes, it is truly madness, or perhaps a bit of applique mania! I adhere Heat n Bond Lite (after starching) to the selected section of fabric and start cutting very carefully, leaving just a thread or two around the motif. Then I start mixing and matching the main elements, in this case, birds and flowers. Like puzzle pieces, I can move or replace these little elements anywhere with the circle. I slide the raw edge under the turned over interior of the circle (remember, the outside edge is already glued down.).

Turned edge with wash away applique media.
Aligning my circle on the light box.
Love the Roxanne Glue Baste! Gluing the outside edge only.
Once my circles are on my backing, I apply some light pressure for a secure hold.
Time to play! Circles plus fussy cut elements that have Heat n Bond Lite on the back.
Sliding the edge of my elements under the inner border to audition different arrangements.
So many choices! And so much fun.

Once I have made my selection of elements, I iron down the pieces that will be entirely within the center. The elements that will over lap the circle, like a leaf, or a bird tail or wing will be added later. I iron down and stitch the raw edge elements. Then I stitch the circle using a 1.6 x 1.5 blanket stitch. And finally, I added the birds and used MonoPoly in a narrow, dense zigzag.

Stitching around a leaf using a 1.4 x 1.2 setting. The needle should be one thread outside the applique in a perfect world.

Now it is time to “accessorize” my birds. What value can I add to each charm? A tiny gold blanket stitch (1.0 x 1.1) around the Japanese print flowers, mimicking the gold in the print. Twigs in the House Finch’s beak. A flower on the branch. Some deco stitch leaves for the Lesser Goldfinch to peek through.

Anna Hummingbird charm. These are frequent visitors to our back yard.
A photo of the Anna Hummingbird male in flight.
Metallic stitching around the Japanese print flowers.
This one looks just like the Lesser Goldfinches at our feeder.
Photo of a Lesser Goldfinch male.
This one reminded me of the House Finches which frequent our yard.
Photo of a House Finch.
She reminds me of the female Anna Hummingbirds that we see in our backyard.
Photo of the female Anna Hummingbird.
Close up of the fussy cut element with MonoPoly and the Japanese print flower with leaves. Deco stitch in metallic.

Yes, the charms have completely captivated me! I will be so sad when they are done. Or maybe I will just keep making them…



  1. Again your work is amazing. Thank you for the close-ups and how you work. These charms have me also smitten though I have yet to begin. I too am in the Pacific Northwest on Vancouver Island and have the same birds and rhododendron.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Your work and imagination are beautiful and inspiring! 💕
    Do you use and embroidery machine for the fine details or do you free motion the leaf and vine details?
    Thank you

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I don’t have an embroidery machine! I sometimes use deco stitches on my machine for special effects, like the twigs in the beak or vines around the Goldfinch.


  3. Hi, Lennea. You make this so magical. Love everything and have loved seeing it grow.
    Your thought process is amazing. No wonder you quilts are fabulous. Send me more xx

    Liked by 1 person

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