Surfer dude makes waves in quilt world

“Bengal Tiger” is one of 12 Endangered Species quilts designed by Rob Appell of Morro Bay, Calif. He is a partner in the project with Michael Miller Fabrics, and a portion of the pattern sales are donated to the protection of these animals.

ROB APPELL: Surfer, quilter, quilt shop owner, sewing machine repairman, married father of two



Rob Appell of Morro Bay, Calif., will speak and teach his raw-edge applique techniques next year in Colorado. He’ll be a guest of the Colorado Quilting Council on July 28–29, 2012. The location is yet to be determined and will be announced on as the date approaches.

California surfer dude Rob Appell is a different breed in today’s quilting scene. He’s as comfortable making waves with his manly approach to a sewing machine as he is riding the crest of West Coast curls on his board.

Appell, 38, owns a quilt shop, The Cotton Ball, in Morro Bay, Calif., and designs quilts in a raw-edge appliqué style.

His deep attraction to the ocean surfaced in a book he both wrote and illustrated:  “Making Waves — the Adventures of a Surf Quilter.” It’s filled with quilted seascapes, dolphins, etc.

In the past couple of years, Appell has embarked on another adventure — the Endangered Species Quilt Project.

He has designed 12 quilts of animals that are threatened in their native habitat: giant panda, Bengal tiger, scarlet macaw, green sea turtle and polar bear, to name a few.

Teaming up with Michael Miller Fabrics, Appell and the company are raising awareness and money through sales of the patterns, which feature realistic, large-scale animal faces. They donate $3 from each purchase to help support these animals and those who care for them. To date, that amounts to more than $8,000.

Appell also takes his Endangered Species project on the road, teaching at classes and retreats around the country.

The textile designer and artist will appear on “The Quilt Show” with Alex Anderson and Ricky Tims on Monday at And, Appell will be an instructor at July’s annual outdoor quilt show, classes and events in Sisters, Ore.

I saw him demonstrate his techniques recently at the spring International Quilt Market in Salt Lake City.

All patterns are full size and finish to about 40 inches square. He uses Michael Miller’s Fairy Frost fabrics and jet black exclusively because Appell says he can always find the perfect color for the animals among the 110 choices.

With a broad-tip black Sharpie, he traces the full-size pattern pieces directly onto an iron-on adhesive, preferably HeatnBond by Therm O Web.

“It gives a solid bond that peels off easily,” Appell says, adding that the company offers a new feather light version.

He likes this version, but cautions others not to “over iron it.”

Appell showed his straight up-and-down pressing motion with an iron, rather than vigorously pushing its soleplate across the surface.

Because Appell’s patterns already are transposed before packaging, the consumer doesn’t have to fuss with flipping them over before tracing and fusing. When the fabric pieces are cut, they are oriented in the correct direction.

For precise cutting, he recommends a small 18 mm Olfa rotary cutter for its long, skinny handle that’s easy to maneuver. Appell cuts on the back side of a self-healing mat to prevent too much wear on its front.

“For the really intricate pieces, you’ll need a pair of small scissors,” he advises.

After the cutting, pattern pieces are assembled — largest ones first — onto background fabric.

The instructions warn: Do not press any of the pieces down until the entire quilt top is arranged. (This detail would be wise to remember).

Some of his simpler patterns are easy enough for children to handle, with some help, he says. Appell is a family man who, with his wife, Jenny, has two elementary-age children. He says he hopes kids, as well as adults, can learn to appreciate endangered species through his quilt project.

“After all, the animals’ future will depend on the younger generations, too,” Appell says.

When his quilts are put together, he machine-stitches the surface in free-motion style with Aurifil thread made in Italy.

And suddenly, you’re staring into the eyes of one of Appell’s magnificent creatures.

Email Sherida.Warner


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