Creating with Fabric

Sometimes I’m simply amazed by what you can do with fabric.


One of my top sewing resolutions for 2011 is to experiment more with fabric. It’s easy for me to get mesmerized by all the stunning fabric prints and textures available in stores that I sometimes forget how artistic you can get with plain fabrics if you think outside the box. The creative possibilities are endless, from fabric manipulation, layering, and piecing to surface design and embellishing. You can create your own one-of-a-kind fabrics and textures and turn a simple sewing project into an extraordinary one.


Don't be afraid to cut! Reverse appliqué can yield surprising and creative results. (Sampler by Beryl Taylor.)

When I’m looking for innovative ideas for fabric experimentation, I often turn to Quilting Arts magazine. It offers a wonderful marriage between sewing and fiber arts, so I am constantly putting Post-it notes on techniques I want to try for artistic fabric transformations. And you don’t have to be a quilter to get inspiration from the magazine. I primarily sew garments and wearable accessories, and I find tons of ideas that would be perfect for creating an embellishment on a dress or an accent on a handbag. If you are in search of the next “wow, I never thought of that” idea, you’ll find it here.


Here’s a case in point. Reverse appliqué is a technique I’ve always wanted to try. It would be great as a focal element on a simple shirt or skirt. Mixed-media artist Beryl Taylor offers a tutorial on this innovative technique in a sampler from the December/January issue of Quilting Arts, and I can’t wait to try it:p>


Machine Reverse Appliqué Sampler


At first the idea of cutting away fabrics to reveal the layers underneath may seem a bit daunting, but it’s a very freeing exercise that can yield surprising, colorful results. Here are directions for a small reverse appliqué sampler that can be left as is, further embellished, or perhaps even inspire a series of work.




• Fabrics in a variety of complementary colors and prints (try mixing silks with cotton prints)

• 12” x 12” piece of felt or low-loft batting

• Sharp pair of scissors

• Sewing pins

• Sewing machine with free-motion stitch capabilities, machine thread

• Mat, rotary cutter, quilting ruler




1. Create 9 stacks of fabrics, each consisting of 4–6 pieces of different fabrics. Rotary cut each stack of fabric to be 4" x 4" square.


figure 1: Sew through the layers to create shapes that will be cut away.

2. Take each stack to your sewing machine and using your free-motion foot, start in the center of the square and begin stitching a spiral, making sure the thread touches at various points to create the sliver shapes you will later be cutting out. Repeat until all 9 stacks are stitched (figure 1).


3. Now the fun part! With your sharp pair of scissors, begin cutting away the layers of fabrics inside the stitched lines. For the various parts, cut through different layers: through the top layer, through the 2nd and 3rd layers, etc., but be careful not to cut all the way through to the back or you’ll leave a hole!


4. To replicate the look above, after you’ve completed the reverse appliqué process, rotary cut each of the 9 stacks into quarters. You’ll now have 36 pieces that are roughly 2" square each.


5. Place your 12" square of batting or felt on your work surface, then place the 36 squares on top in a jigsaw fashion so that you create 9 larger squares.


6. When you have a pleasing arrangement, pin the squares in place, and then free-motion stitch to secure them. For added glitz, the sampler above has free-motion stitching using gold metallic thread to make it shimmer. The end result is a fun little project that you can leave as is, or take a step further by embellishing with handstitching or beading. Enjoy!


This cool technique will definitely show up on one of my sewing projects for 2011.


Happy sewing!

Other sewing topics you may enjoy:


Sewing Fabric & Fabric Basics