Things I thought I knew about some of these products didn't prove true in this "simple test", so I thought maybe it was too simple, and I needed to expand it to get a true feel for performance.
I first tried wool applique when Lisa Bongean of Primitive Gatherings came to the little quilt shop over the mountain (Village Dry Goods) back in January of 2013. Lisa is a die-hard Lite Steam-A-Seam2 user and for 1 1/2 years that was all I knew.
Then I attended a class with Kim Diehl at my favorite quilt shop in Idaho, where we did her method of machine applique, and her wool applique. She uses Heat'nBond Lite.
In January of 2015 I took a couple of classes with Stacy West of Buttermilk Basin, at Village Dry Goods and was introduced to her favorite fusible, Soft Fuse.
Finally, when my friend, Kris (lavenderquiltsblog) asked me to teach a wool applique class for a guild this month, she shared some of her favorite fusible product with me, Trans-Web.
I was so curious to compare the different strengths and weaknesses of these products and see if there was a favorite, but my four birds didn't give me all the info I thought I needed, so I began churning out wool projects to put them to a true test.
These are my opinions alone, based on my personal experiences with these products. Your experiences may be different. I can only shed light on what I know through my previous use and my recent testing. Here we go!
I started with Lite Steam-A-Seam2.This is what I created to test this product, though I have a lot of other experience with it, as well.
I've broken my reviews down into seven areas.
Tracing: This is the only product that has paper on both sides of the fusible, and is probably why, of the products tested, this is the least translucent. But it wasn't a problem. Even when I reduced the pattern for the project above (which left the pattern lines smaller and fainter), I could see well enough to trace it, as long as there was a light source behind it. I usually use a light source with this product, but if your room is well lit and your pattern has good solid lines, you can get away without one.
It had the smoothest writing surface. It was also the most prone to smudge when tracing with pencil--sometimes quite badly. Maybe that depends upon the pencil used.
Cutting: When cutting out the fusible, whether before or after fusing to the wool, Lite Steam-A-Seam2 can at times be troublesome by having layers separate from each other. This is more often a problem when cutting smaller pieces. It didn't give me much trouble when I was making the piece above, but in the years I have worked with it, I have experienced it on several occasions. I wonder if it has anything to do with the temperature of the environment in which it is being used.
Fusing to wool: Since this is the only product with paper on both sides, you must remember to remove the paper backing (the side without the grid) before fusing it to the wool.
This is the only one of the three products that has a bit of tackiness to it (once you have removed the backing). This allows you to position your pieces on the wool and transport them to the ironing board without having them shift out of place easily. When working on your own you may be positioning things at your ironing board, so it may not be an issue. But when you are in a class setting you may not have the luxury of hogging an ironing board all to yourself while you peel off the papers and get everything ready to fuse.
I must mention here that this same tackiness that provides the advantage of keeping things in their place, can come back to haunt you later. If not fused very well, when you are cutting out the wool on the lines, you may get some goo on your scissors, and as you stitch you will find your needle picks up some of that tackiness. Lisa always emphasizes that if this is happening to you, you didn't use enough steam when you fused. Confession time--I never put water in my iron. When I have used this fusible in class settings, no matter how fancy-schmancy the steam irons were that we used, I have usually had some tacky residue. At home I put everything in place on the ironing board, wet a press cloth, wring it out and lay it over the piece and press the iron down, lift it, move it over and repeat. I may go over the surface two or three times to make sure everything is completely fused. When I do this I have not had problems with residue.
Removing paper backing: This refers to the second backing on this, after the product has been fused to the wool and cut out along the lines. Now you need to remove that last paper in order to fuse it to whatever background you are using. The backing paper on Lite Steam-A-Seam2 peels off easily. In all the years I have been using it, this has never been a problem.
Needling: For some reason that I can't quite understand, the edges of the wool pieces seem a bit harder to get through on this product than on the others. As you come up through your background just outside the outer edge of the wool, if you happen to catch the edges of the fused piece, it can be a little tough to push your needle through. The two holes in the tip of my pushing finger are testament to this (I can't stand to wear a thimble unless I am hand quilting). I have not felt it was difficult to needle through the fused wool in all the time I have used this product, but after comparing the four products, I have to say that LSAS2 is the least easy. I say it that way because it wasn't usually hard, but it was even easier with the other three.
Adherence properties: I have never had a fused piece come off before it got stitched down when working with LSAS2. If you are a mobile stitcher, that in and of itself can be a reason to use this product. If you are someone that likes to do wool applique while riding in a car or a plane, or take it to a child's soccer game or while waiting at the orthodontist (or wherever else you find yourself as a lady-in-waiting), you will never have concerns that you lost a piece somewhere along the way. That being said, if you fuse something down and want to remove it, you may be able to pull it off, but something will have to be put in its place because it will leave woolly fuzz that won't pull off, and will most likely ruin the piece you removed (unless you didn't have it fused well).
The lighting on the above photo makes it difficult to see all of the little white berries, but they stayed in place through all of the other stitching. They were the last thing I stitched down, and I didn't lose a single one.
Softness of finished product: For many wool purists, this is the biggest downside of using fusibles. Pins, staples, basting stitches and plain old fingers do not leave behind any evidence that they were there. Yes, there is some stiffness to the finished product, especially where there are layers of wool. It is still flexible--not rigid like cardboard, but it doesn't have the soft drape of wool alone, wherever you have fused. This product would be ranked second for stiffness out of the four, coming in just below the Heat'nBond Lite, which gave me my stiffest results.
You need to ask yourself if it matters to you whether or not your wall hanging or table mat is soft and supple, like natural wool. If it does, then it is a good thing there are options besides fusibles. : )
Soft FuseTracing: This was the most translucent of all of the products. I can imagine that you would not need a light source for this product unless you had some kind of extreme circumstance. It was a little bumpy to trace, but not bad. Some slight smudging occurred with the pencil lines when rubbed, but also not significant.
Cutting: Along with LSAS2, this product also had an occasional problem with separation from the paper backing while cutting out--and most especially with smaller shapes. Not a game changer, but an occasional inconvenience.
Fusing to wool: No problems with the fusing of this product to the wool. There is no tackiness to this fusible, so the pieces can shift if you have to transport to the ironing board after positioning.
Removing paper backing: The backing separates from the wool easily after fusing it down.
Needling: Very easy to needle. No resistance.
Adherence properties: This would appear to be the wonder product up to this point. I need to give a little background. When Stacy taught her wool classes with this product it was apparent to me that she makes her blanket stitch in a very different way than I do. She keeps her work laying flat on a table and stitches in a way that it doesn't need to be gathered into her hand. I tried doing it her way, but she couldn't teach this old dog that new trick. I had to go back to the way I have been doing the blanket stitch for almost 37 years, and that requires bunching the piece up in my hand. This piece we were making had several small parts to it and they weren't adhering well as they were scrunched and squished in my hand. My friend had the same problem, but those who were keeping their pieces flat on their table, as Stacy did, had no trouble.
I have done four large projects with Soft Fuse now and for this test I just did a little piece.
You can see here what can happen.
So this is only a negative if you stitch like I do, and if you may be working on the go.
Also, when I was doing my Mini Warm Winter Blessings quilt, I was using Soft Fuse because it was what I had on hand. At one point I decided I didn't like the snowman wool I had fused down on one of the blocks. I was able to pull him off without ruining him, and there was no trace of where he had been--not even a puddle. : ) I don't know if every wool would react that way, but you can see in the above photo that there is no residue where the star has pulled away.
Softness of finished product: Of the four products tested, this was definitely the softest when all was said and done. You could still tell a fusible was used, but it was the most pliable of them all.
Heat'nBond LiteTracing: This was the bumpiest surface for tracing. The drawn lines did not look smooth when I was finished tracing. Not a big deal. And there was no smearing of the pencil lines when I rubbed them.
Cutting: This product had no separation problems while cutting out the shapes, no matter how small the piece.
Fusing to wool: Fused well.
Removing paper backing: Comes off easily
Needling: This was not hard to needle. It resisted just a hair more than Soft Fuse and Trans-Web, but less than LSAS2.
Adherence properties: H'nBL bonded well on most surfaces. There was one wool that I was able to peel it from after fusing, but that particular wool seemed to release every fusible except LSAS2. It was a looser weave wool that had been in a kit I had purchased. It seemed to have a slicker feel than most wools, too. I have wondered if it had any synthetic fibers, but I didn't want to melt it to find out.
Softness of finished product: This was the least supple of the finishes. In the class with Kim Diehl she recommended "windowing" the fusible (shown here) before fusing it to the wool to reduce the stiffness. I didn't "window" the leaves very carefully, but on larger pieces it does reduce the bulk and stiffness.
Trans-Web:Tracing: The surface of the paper was almost as smooth as LSAS2 and there was almost no smudge to the pencil lines when rubbed. Though a little less translucent than Soft Fuse, it was easy to see through for tracing.
Cutting: No separating of the layers while cutting, and no tackiness to transfer to scissors.
Fusing: Fused well to the wools, except to the one mentioned in the Heat'nBond Lite review. The letters started to come off on their own when I started to handle the piece.
Removing Paper Backing: As you already know, after fusing the one side to wool, you cut out the shapes on the line and then peel off the packing to fuse to your background. This was the only product that resisted separating from the paper after it had been fused to the wool. Happened every time I used it. I only had about half a page of this fusible, but after doing the "bird" in my original test, I then did the little "Noel" design, and the pumpkin on the little Pumpkin hanging. It was consistently tricky to remove the paper. Once I could get the edge to break away, it would peel off well, but separating the edge was not easy.
ETA: After writing this I taught a wool class for a local guild. The piece we worked on had some very small pieces--about 1/4-1/8" wide and about 1 inch long. We practically destroyed the little wool pieces trying to get the paper backings off. It wasn't as bad for larger pieces, but really hard on tiny ones!
Needling: Similar to Soft Fuse in the ease of needling.
Adherence properties: As mentioned above, there was only that one wool to which it would not adhere well.
I worked with this fusible the very least, and only on small pieces, so I don't know if it would lose little pieces along the way if it was a large project that was scrunched up in my hands frequently. Its properties are similar to Soft Fuse in many ways, so I wonder if it would share that tendency, too. At this point I cannot say for sure.
Softness of finished product: Very similar in this regard to the softness of Soft Fuse. When I did the little birds in the square as my initial comparison it was interesting to me that the bird bodies were similarly soft, but where the wings overlapped the bodies, the layering seemed to create greater stiffness in the Trans-Web than it did in the Soft Fuse.
SummaryI did not feel that there was a hands-down winner, and I'm not sure if that was my goal in the first place. I wanted to be able to see the pros and cons of each and decide what might work best for one type of project and if something else would work better for another. Did I want to keep all four of these products on hand, or would I truly find there was one favorite that I would be loyal to for life?
My decision may be different from yours.
To double check some of my findings, I whipped up a couple more small projects using a mix of fusibles.
Personally, I believe I will keep Soft Fuse and Lite Steam-A-Seam2 on hand. Soft Fuse is very easy to use, except for the possible losing of small pieces after scrunching up in my hand as I work. LSAS2 will ensure that I will not lose anything if I am going to transport a project very much, or if there are many small pieces on a large project that will be scrunched up repeatedly as I work.
I have tried stapling and pinning, but I like the ease of fusibles. Yes, I am a lazy quilter, but I have learned to live with it.
Do you have a favorite product that has not been mentioned here, or do you do your wool applique in a "fusible-free" zone?
ETA: I forgot to mention that the first photo, with the "four birds" test, had been hand washed to see how the fusibles would hold up to a gentle washing. You can see that they all behaved.
I have heard both Lisa Bongean and Stacy West say they do not wash their finished wool pieces, but you never know when the dog might slobber on it, or the baby spit up--or maybe you will spill your favorite beverage on it when you set it down carelessly by your stitching chair.