Making complex appliques – almost a tutorial!

Recently I made this art quilt portrait of Frida Kahlo:
I thought it would be fun to walk you through the process. If you’re inspired, you could create something similar. You know, using your own drawing and stuff.
My way of doing this isn’t by any means the only way, or even probably the best way. (I mean, it’s the best way for me so far, but I’m open to learning new techniques!)
Anyway, it starts with an idea, and then you make a drawing.
If the drawing goes well, you pat yourself on the back. If it’s not a good drawing day, you will grumble and become cranky and use your eraser a lot. I draw first in pencil, then ink it in with a pen, then erase the pencil marks. Then it gets scanned and cleaned up in Photoshop. Print out a few copies and be so excited!
And then…the drawing gets put away for a little while, because you need a background to put it onto first, silly. For this piece, I chose to make a crazy quilt, but you could always just use a single piece of fabric.
It’s a good idea to stitch it all down and add your background embellishments now.
Once that step is done, you might like to neaten up the edges just a bit.
Here’s where it gets interesting. Remember how you print a few copies of your drawing? This is why.
I cut out each piece as I need it, systematically to waste as little as possible. Then, to transfer the images to fabric:

    I pretreat all fabric pieces with one sided fusible web. Preferably Steam a Seam, but one sided Steam a Seam is all but extinct. I shed a little tear for it each day. The basic idea is that you take a pressed piece of fabric, cut it into a square or rectangle large enough to cut your shape(s) out of, and then put the fusible web on the wrong side.
    Then, take your cut out paper piece and lay it on the fabric. Trace around it on the fabric with a heat/water soluble pen. Then cut out the fabric shape.

This varies a little from most tutorials I’ve seen, but it makes sense to me and works really well. Plus, no worrying about reversing images.
Arrange them on the background fabric, and fuse in place in layers.
Baste the top to batting and backing in your favorite way. (Does anyone actually like basting? Yawn.)
You may find it helpful to draw some guidelines on for the quilting and embellishing. (Again, use a heat/water soluble pen!) Or you may like to just stitch it how your whims move you. Whatever works.
Finally, stitch it. I used a lot of free hand machine stitching. Personally, I would rather not hand stitch through layers of fused material. It’s kind of difficult, and whenever I have to use pliers to pull my needle through I get crabby. This is a small quilt, so the decorative stitches are also holding the quilt together. This is officially the fun part. Use decorative threads! It’s probably a good idea to sew on some beads and stuff. Maybe get some paints out, too…
Make or buy some binding, and sew it on. Hey, you’re done!
No wait, almost done. Sign it, of course. I always forget about this part. I hand stitched the signature panel on this one, because that’s true love.
Add something you can hang the art quilt with, too. I used two little calla lily ribbon loops.
Okay, now you’re done. Check out the back stitching! Marvel in your competence!

Then list it on Etsy! Or keep it for yourself. Or something.
(My Frida is on Etsy. Go say hi!)

About Claire

Absolutely Small is textile artist Claire Chambers. Claire Chambers is a crazy-pants artist/crafter who spends most of her time indoors, very near to Portland, Oregon. She likes making people laugh, chickens and pugs, and writing about herself in the third person. She is utterly obsessed with making things out of fabric.

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