The prize winner from Alabama in the Great Quilt Contest produced a beautiful quilt that was like a garden of three-dimensional fabric flowers. There are all kinds of ways of literally lifting your stitches off their background. "Punto in aria," the Italians called it -- "a stitch in the air." So here's a marvelously simple technique for making appliqued flowers by hand that will have them sprouting off your fabric.

The usual way to make three-dimensional flowers is to laboriously cut out petals, and stuff them. But with this new short-cut method, you don't have to draw the petal shapes first. These flowers are entirely free-standing, so you can make them first and then "plant" them in just the right spot.

These appliqued flowers are the rage in the West, where stichers are making chic clothrs with them -- adding blooming blossoms on wrap-around skirts or blouses in gay cotton with free-form leaves. Once you get the knack of making them, you can put them on a dress, arrange them on a wreath, stitch them on a quilt, or work up favors for your church fair. Make a ring of them on an eyeglass case, or even an entire necklace of them, to applique around the yoke of a sweater like a daisy chain. You'll find you'll have time to whip up loads of them, because all they take are a few folds and tucks, and gathers and, before you know it, you'll have an entire garden.

To make the petals, cut a circle of fabric, fold it in half, then double it over and run a gathering thread along the curved edge. Connect five or more petals with this gathering thread, then draw it up into a circle to make a ring of petals.

For the center, cut four squares, fold in half diagonally, and fit the four triangles together, overlapping each and tucking the fourth triangle under the first, just as you would fold under the last flap of a cardboard box. Hold each triangle in palce with pins and run a gathering thread around the outside edges. Draw it up to form a circle and sitich in place in the center of the ring of petals. Use small scraps of fabric or cotton balls as stuffing. To pad, open the center of the circle and push the stuffing in.

For the effect of high and low relief, you could stitch a base ring of petals or the underlying leaves in padded applique on your background fabric, then attach your flower on top. Or you could add a piece of bias binding as a stem, then stitch a padded applique leaf down the middle, leaving the end free to curl forward. Work a row of these flowers, perhaps winding round a bias-tape trellis, and you'll be off on a floral "flight" of fancy.