Elegant vine appliqué: Yoko Saito’s (astonishing!) technique + video

We are honored to be able to bring you Yoko Saito books in English, published by Stitch Publications and distributed by Martingale. Today, you’ll see why we feel that way!

Ms. Saito is a celebrated Japanese quilter, and we were thrilled at the chance to meet her in person at Quilt Market in October. It’s a rare opportunity to see her actually appliquéing her incredible pieces, and a few lucky quilt-shop owners and Martingale staffers got to see it firsthand.

Did we make sure you’d get a chance to see it too? Of course we did!

In Ms. Saito’s book Yoko Saito’s Strolling Along Paths of Green, she shares her technique for getting the skinniest, slenderest, slimmest stems and vines we’ve ever seen—all by hand, all appliquéd to perfection.

Shepherd's Purse Handbag
Shepherd’s Purse Handbag—see the stems?

The technique is worked by hand with fabric cut on the bias, so it can curve and bend just like real-life stems and vines do:

Barley Handbag
Barley Handbag

Teeny-tiny appliqué stitches hold the stems and vines in place:

Dogwood Pouch
Dogwood Pouch

But HOW? Right? Here’s Yoko Saito, along with translator and Stitch Publications owner Priscilla Knoble, to share how Ms. Saito works her magic:

Reading this post in email? Click here to view the video.

Ms. Saito’s technique works for geometric motifs too:

Peeping Down from Above Handbag and Sunflower Pouch
Peeping Down from Above Handbag (note the interlacing strips on the sides of the bag) and Sunflower Pouch

Along with 19 bag and pouch projects, Yoko Saito’s Strolling Along Paths of Green includes two quilts featuring beautiful plant motifs for each month of the year: appliqué gorgeous renditions of lotus flowers, goose grass, oak leaves and acorns, mistletoe, and more. (Pullout pattern sheets are included.)

Plantain quilt block
Quilt block for July: Plantain

Yoko Saito's Strolling Along Paths of GreenAre you an appliquér who’s up for the skinny-vine challenge? Those of us who saw Ms. Saito stitching at Market think we’d love to try it too! Order your copy of Yoko Saito’s Strolling Along Paths of Green at your local quilt shop or at our website, ShopMartingale. And stay tuned for more peeks of Stitch Publications books coming soon.

How do you appliqué stems and vines?

  • Needle-turn, just like Yoko Saito—practice makes progress!
  • I prefer back-basting appliqué.
  • Fusible appliqué: fun and done!

Tell us your favorite technique in the comments!

53 Comments (leave a comment)

  • I hope to needle turn like Yoko Saito! I haven’t appliqued yet but am reading up and loving this book! (also trying to pluck up courage to have a go!!)

    —Katie Shanahan-Jones on February 19, 2018
  • Needle-turn, just like Yoko Saito—practice makes progress!

    —Kaye Walker on February 19, 2018
  • I really enjoy needle turn applique but I have also done fused back as well. It all depends on what the project is and how I want it to look.

    —Joanne O'Neal on February 19, 2018
  • Yoko Saito is mesmerizing to watch. The skinny vine technique I use is similar, but starts out with a wider bias strip so you have something to hang onto. Then is trimmed down before the second step. It was taught to me by Mary Sorenson. I definitely want to try this.

    —Cheryl on February 19, 2018
  • I learned to make stems and vines with bias bars. I’ve pieced for years and only started applique. The bias bars work well for me.

    —Stephanie L. on February 19, 2018
  • I love applique so this book is a must!

    —Eileen Heinze on February 19, 2018
  • I appliqué stems and leaves using the needle turn method. I’ve made some 1/4 stems but nothing narrower. This is revelatory and inspiring!

    —Jean Blythe on February 19, 2018
  • I needle turn. EVery one of her projects is just outstanding and beautiful!


    —Mary Kastner on February 19, 2018
  • Yoko is a master–thanks for sharing her technique! I love her beautiful designs and workmanship. I wish someone would put together a bundle of her favorite needles, that leather ring thimble and her pretty ring cutter–they are all impossible to find!

    —Karen in Breezy Point on February 19, 2018
  • Hi Karen in Breezy Point, Willow Lane Quilting Company usually carries all of Ms. Saito’s tools:
    Karen at Martingale

    —Karen Johnson on February 19, 2018
  • I use all three methods as some projects seem to dictate the way the want to be stitched! I will definitely try Ms Saito’s method of stitching the stems. Thank you for the video and the chance to win the book.

    —Vanessa on February 19, 2018
  • I love Yoko’s patterns. I’ve done all the methods of applique. Usually depends on what I am working on. Right now I’m teaching myself back basting. Kinda like it too.

    —Judy Purcell on February 19, 2018
  • I’ve done both needle-turn and used fusible. I love applique, yet need a lot more practice. Ms. Saito’s work is exquisite.

    —Diana DeWitt on February 19, 2018
  • I use Clover bias maker for stems & freezer paper method for leaves.

    —Connie on February 19, 2018
  • I use both needle turn and fusible depending on the project. What beautiful patterns in this book! Hopefully I will be a lucky winner!

    Dotti Mondoux on February 19, 2018
  • I usually do needleturn appliqué but have been wanting to try back basting. Friends who use it say that it’s the way to go

    —Donna Merrifield on February 19, 2018
  • The process in the video is amazing. My favorite method is back basting, but I vary methods depending on the project, or part. I have used a very similar method for stems before, but nothing this small.

    —Lynn D in NC on February 19, 2018
  • Great video

    —Jeifner on February 19, 2018
  • Needleturn, the only way to go! imo Love her work.

    —Janet T on February 19, 2018
  • Mostly needle turn, but never as fine as Ms Saito. New technique!

    —Joel Sellers on February 19, 2018
  • Since I’ve learned back basting, I use it most. Will try this method for making stems – still haven’t mastered skinny stems!

    —Sally Atkinson on February 19, 2018
  • I fuse and machine applique. Although I marvel at Ms. Saito’s skill, there’s not enough time left in my life to become so accomplished. Her designs are exquisite!!

    —Sandy May on February 19, 2018
  • I mostly needle turn, but will try anything at least once.

    —Elizabeth P. on February 19, 2018
  • I prefer to fuse thin stems but have done some needle turn applique.

    —Maureen Rawson on February 19, 2018
  • Recently purchased a quilt pattern that has different flowers for each block. It will be my first attempt at something so fine. Loved the video and intend to it her ideas to work.

    Wish me well!!

    —ADKKATE on February 19, 2018
  • I prefer starch, glue and blind hem stitch for applique.

    —Jetta on February 19, 2018
  • I prefer fusible applique but these projects are beautiful!

    —pat kato on February 19, 2018
  • needle turn is the way I go

    —Roz Agulnik on February 19, 2018
  • Fusible applique for me. Haven’t tried the other methods. Maybe someday.

    —stitchinmom on February 19, 2018
  • Cut stems on the bias. Machine stitch the first side with a small seam allowance and right side of stem facing the right side of background. Fold over a small seam allowance on the second side, pin in place and machine sew with a small hem stitch.

    —Linda Ahn on February 19, 2018
  • This applique puts mine to shame but I do try needle turn and fused with satin stitch.

    —Christi on February 19, 2018
  • I typically use a fusible appliqué technique and whip stitch or blanket stitch it to the background.

    —Carol on February 20, 2018
  • Needle turn all the way!

    —Gale W. S. on February 20, 2018
  • Yolo saito’s s
    Work is amazing . I saw her exhibit in November at the international quilt show. Stunning display of talent.

    —Jeanette velardi on February 20, 2018
  • Tried all three, but I want to improve my needle turn technique. Most of the time I am just doing wall hangings, so fusible is easiest.

    —Susan on February 21, 2018
  • Lots of fusible – fun, fast & done! Make a lot of seasonal pillows, table runners, towels, etc. I’m slow with needle-turn, but I’m pretty good at it!

    —Janet on February 21, 2018
  • I use needle turn just like Yoko. But my results sure don’t look like hers.

    —Stephanie Woodward on February 23, 2018
  • Needle turn. Did not like the machine.

    —Linda Christianson on February 23, 2018
  • Needle turn is my preference. Her work is amazing!

    —Darlene on February 23, 2018
  • Fusible applique is my main method–but I would love to try new methods.

    —Janna Lee on February 23, 2018
  • I loved that video! Yolo is fascinating to watch. I do needle turn but not nearly that fast and efficient. I do narrow stems similar to hers but now I will try her exact method. I love her patterns in the book. Thanks for showing us.

    —Sue on February 23, 2018
  • Beautiful book and beautiful projects, I need to learn her methods.

    —Ruth Spencer on February 23, 2018
  • I’ve never done applique – well, not yet!

    —bookboxer on February 23, 2018
  • I like needle turn, hope to get my skill level up to her’s some day

    —Susan MacLeod on February 23, 2018
  • I needle turn, but have not seen a technique exactly like hers. I like it, and will try it.

    —Marcia on February 23, 2018
  • Whoo, haven’t appliqued in so long and at that time it was baste under 1/4″ then pin to foundation and stitch down, so have a lot to learn with the needle turn and other ways to applique.

    shirley marvin on February 23, 2018
  • Ms. Saito is so amazing. I do needle turn stems but am going to try to follow her method for very narrow ones.

    —Glenna D. on February 24, 2018
  • I’m currently appliqueing silk fabrics to a cotton base. So far I have learnt appliqueing shiny silk fabrics can be very positional. Some silk fabrics go down without any issues, while others it’s a real battle! Recently, I’ve found myself wondering why I’m making this project. I have learnt quite a lot and are almost finished the foundation layer and then onto the embellishment process. I’m not sure I will be making many crazy quilts in the future.

    —Julie Beard on February 26, 2018
  • Needle turn! I’ve been working on her pattern called Baskets for awhile now!

    —Tammi Williams on March 1, 2018
  • I have always enjoyed applique, for me it is relaxing and theraputic. I love the ru ning stitch technique as well as how she tucks the edging under the seam allowance. So beautiful. Where can I get those needles? I have not seen them offered in the quilt stores? Thank you for sharing Ms Salto’s beautiful talent. Martha Williams, Houston, Texas.

    Hi Martha, good question! Ms. Saito uses Clover’s Black Gold Needles in various sizes – here’s a link to where you can find them online. –Jenny

    Martha Williams on April 20, 2018
  • I love needle turn applique, have used this technique for years.

    —AnnaMarie Werner on April 20, 2018
  • Depends on what kind of project it is, whether I do fusible or needle turn. I enjoy doing both.

    barb h on April 20, 2018
  • Thank you for this. I’m wondering if anyone knows where one can purchase her leather ring thimble.

    Hi Diane, Yoko Saito does have an online shop; you can order the thimble through it here. Thanks for your question! –Jenny

    Diane on April 28, 2018

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