Appliques Away! Three Kings Banner

Things around here have been super crazy as I race towards my Christmas Craft obligations. Wwwwwhat? Isn’t it still Autumn? Why am I being a crazy and starting Christmas projects. Alas, time allocation and logistics make it impossible to do otherwise. Jingle, Jingle Jingle. When is Christmas over?

My Finished Banners

My Finished Banners

My main WIP is a trio of banners for my church’s Nativity play. Each banner is to be carried by one of the Three Kings of the Epiphany. (Or carried by the kings’ servants, depending upon the number of boys that sign up.) I tried to find a good (not country kitsch) patterns to follow while making the banners, but no luck. (It is actually pretty hard to find Christmas quilting or Applique patterns that do not have Santa, snowmen or candy canes in them.) The best source for images of the Nativity is Adoration Quilts by Rachel Brown. It is a lovey book with great designs and loads of great ideas. But I required patterns for a larger scale. So I had to design my own.

Mosaic of the Three Magi offer gifts to the Virgin Mary in Saint Apollinare Nuovo. This Arian church was dedicated in 504 to Christ the Redeemer in Ravenna Italy on November 4 2012

Mosaic of the Three Magi offering gifts at the Church of Saint Apollinare Nuovo in Ravenna Italy. The mosaic dates from 504 A.D.

The Three Kings of the Epiphany (sometimes called the Three Wise Men or Magi) visited the new born Baby Jesus in Bethlehem by following a great star in the sky. Most modern scholars think that these men, the ultimate number is not  known, were Zoroastrian Astrologers from the region of Persia in modern Iran. But European Christian tradition and folklore, especially during the Middle Ages, created a very different narrative.

TOURS, FRANCE - AUGUST 8, 2014: Stained glass window depicting the Three Kings who see the Star of the East in the Cathedral of Tours France.

Stained glass window depicting the Three Kings who see the Star of the East in the Cathedral of Tours France.

The traditional version of the Magi’s Visit depicts three kings from three different kingdoms in Asia, Africa and Europe. John of Hildesheim, a writer and Carmelite friar in the 14th century, wrote one of the most popular folk accounts of the three kings named the Historia Trium Regum. John of Hildesheim was highly educated and traveled extensively within the Holy Roman Empire of Charlemagne, so he was very influential among the clergy. His writings describe each king’s life before the journey to Bethlehem, their lives after reaching the Baby Jesus, and the history of their relics.

Look even Playmobile subscribes to John of Hildesheim's text!

Look even Playmobile subscribes to John of Hildesheim’s text!

The three kings of the middle ages were named: Casper, Melchior and Balthazar. The kings brought valuable gifts fit for a monarch. (Kinda like bringing wine to a dinner party. It’s just rude to show up empty handed.)

Balthazar was an old King of Saba, possibly in Europe or Macadonia, who brought the gift of frankincense. Frankincense is dried tree sap from the Boswellia tree and is used for perfume or incense, particularly in religious worship. So this gift is symbolic of of Jesus’s deity.

Frankincense is still used in many religious services

Frankincense is still used in many religious services

Melchior was a small middle-aged King of Arabia who brought a gift of gold to the Christ Child. Gold is only useful to the living and thus a symbol of Jesus’s humanity.

Casper was a tall young King of Ethiopia who brings a gift of myrrh. He is depicted with dark skin in some European countries. Myrrh is dried tree sap from the Commiphora myrrha tree. Myrrh was used as an antiseptic, an anointing oil and an embalming oil. (nowadays, it used in most all-natural toothpaste. Don’t worry it has antixodent properties.) Additionally Myrrh has traditionally symbolized death due to its use in embalming. Thus this gift foreshadows the suffering and death of Jesus for humanity’s sinfulness.

I wanted to pay homage to the European narrative while not contradicting the logical modern legacy of the Magi. And so the images were simple and recognizable. I fashioned the crowns to look like a turban, an African crown and a European crown. The three landscapes are desert, grassland and snow.

The trees that produce frankincense and myrrh were from the Arabian peninsula and north Africa. So it did not seem to make sense that Balthazar, the European King would bring either of these things. Thus I switched around the gifts to make more geographical sense. The Arabian king brings myrrh. The African king brings frankincense. And the European king brings gold. I hope that historical purists are not too insulted.

There is one banner for each of the three kings. Each banner incorporates a crown, a gift and a landscape. The styling of these elements is influenced by the European tradition. The main method of construction is the use of Applique.

What is Applique? Applique (or appliqué in French) is the method of one material applied to another surface material. The technique is common in home sewing and the textile industry. The method of attachment can refer to anything from painstaking hand-sewing beads to a wedding gown, down to ironing on a 50 cent denim patch over a hole in your jeans. The method that I am going to use is somewhere in the middle.

Making and applying your own Appliquenavityquilt-1


  • Printable Freezer Paper. This material can be bought in any supermarket and is used to wrap food. I prefer the craft specific version which is an ink-jet printable 8-1/2″ x 11″ sheet.
  • Lite Steam-A-Seam 2, Double Stick Fusible Web. (I highly recommend this brand for its durability and the paper placement on both side of the fusible web.) (Very Important! If you are using a web with paper on one side you must place parchment paper under and over the applique material to protect your iron and work surface from the web glue.)
  • Sharp sewing scissors
  • Cheaper scissors for cutting the fusible web paper
  • Iron which is not used for steaming or is totally dry.
  • Parchment paper
  • Ironing board or pressing surface.
  • Pressing starch with sizing.
  • Base fabric (100% cotton quilting fabric) which will serve as “the plate” upon you will serve your design.
  • Applique Fabric in various colors: 100% cotton quilting fabric is needed to stand up to the iron’s heat
  • Sewing Machine with thread to match fabric



nativity patterns myrrh-crown copy

Arabian King’s Crown

  1. Print out a pattern that you like on to a sheet of freezer paper with an ink-jet printer. Print with an ink-jet printer or draw upon the matte side of the paper. The glossy side will lie against the right side of your fabric.

    Step 1 and 2

    Step 1 and 2

  2. On your pressing surface, iron your base fabric. Your base fabric is the foundation upon which the applique gets its strength. It can be cut down to not show afterward but for now it is the land upon which your will build your house. Use the pressing starch lightly to get out all creases. Then iron your freezer paper (again mat side up) to your fabric.navityquilt-3
  3. Use your sewing scissors to cut 1/2″ around your whole design. This may seem like a lot but it can be trimmed down later.
  4. Either print out a second copy of the design on to a new freezer paper sheet or remove the first copy from your fabric to use again.
  5. Iron and starch your first applique fabric. Iron your freezer paper to the fabric and cut out the piece you wish. Repeat from step 4 for all the separate pieces of the design.
  6. Once all the fabric has been cut, put away your scraps. (Don’t throw them out, just yet!) Take out your fusible web and choose a piece which will lie below the others.
  7. Cut your fusible web to the approximate size of your fabric piece.
  8. Peal the lighter paper side off (the side without a grid). (You could draw directly onto the grid side and avoid the freezer paper step. But remember to draw all your designs in mirror or reverse.)
  9. Place your fabric on the fusible web right side up. Re-cover the fabric with the lighter paper side.
  10. Lightly iron and allow everything to cool. Cut around your fabric and leave no selvage.
  11. Remove the paper from both sides of the fusible web and fabric.
  12. Place and position this applique fabric piece on your base fabric piece. Cover with a piece of parchment paper to protect your iron and then press. Your first applique piece should now be secure.
  13. Follow step seven layering your applique pieces as desired.IMG_6238
  14. When all the pieces are secured in place. Use a sewing machine to lightly sew-down all the pieces. Practice first to determine what stitches you want to use. (I use a straight stitch for this.) If you have left a large margin between your finished design and the base fabric, you can use a blanket stitch around the design. (But be very careful to prevent the bunching of your stitches or the base fabric’s edge!) Trim your base fabric as necessary.
  15. Repeat steps 7 through 10.
  16. Select were you want your finished applique.
  17. Remove the paper from the back side. Place your finished applique on fabric in the desired location and iron. Sew to base for a secure hold.