So what am I talking about, you wonder? If you applique traditionally (aka needle-turn), do you subscribe to the philosophy of those that prefer to leave their background fabric in tact, OR do you believe in carefully snipping away the excess backing fabric? When I was a "younger" quilter, I never would have cut the fabric for fear I'd mis-cut or that the piece might fall apart. After all, if the applique were to come off of the quilt, there would be a huge hole, rather than a spot of backgorund. In my more recent years, and because I have done much hand quilting in my life, I firmly believe that trimming away the background fabric beneath the applique is the best recipe for a nice, smooth quilt. But as I said, I want your opinion.
I just finished quilting a lovely applique quilt for a client which had no trimming. Did it turn out pretty? Sure. But was it a bit hard to quilt at times? Absolutely. I had to tailor how I quilted it around how many layers of appliques there were, even though I was quilting on a commercial longarm machine. At some point, too much is just too much. If there are 3 appliques on top of eachother, there are likely places with at least 6 layers of bulk. It is hard to have accurate control of the machine when the thickness wavers from 2 layers to 6 layers and back again.
What you are looking at here is my applique quilt (the back of it!). I showed the quilt a few posts ago, but have just gotten to trimming behind the appliques because quilting is immenent. I have a few places where there are several layers - where flower petals overlap or where the bias strips start and stop. I just want not to be limitted in how I quilt this, and excess bulk is limitting. I leave about 1/4" to 3/16" of the background fabric. This is typical of a normal seam. I also make certain to NOT cut through any rows of hand stitching without going back and taking an inch or so of very close stitches, and ending with knots to properly secure the seam. I also chose to handle the piece very gently until it is quilted. It definitely does help too if you tend to take rather small stitches when initially applying the appliques.
If you notice, too, (below) the area underneath the plum flowers is pieced with quarter circles. If there any seams underneath an applique, then I will always trim that away. Despite quilting this with a wonderfully lofty wool batting, seams will undoubtedly show if the applique is quilted on. The goal is to have a quilt top that has the same number seams as a purely pieced top.