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Creating Fabric Collage

Beaded and embellished fabric pins by Judy Gula

Almost a decade ago Judy posted about creating fabric collage and we wanted to share this useful technique again for new readers, or those who missed it the first time around. She began her post writing about finding some surprise free time in her studio, and “really didn’t know what to do with myself.” Joking that she was steps away from having a perfectly clean and organized studio, she instead took the advice of fiber artist Beryl Taylor — start with making bits — and got to work playing with one of her favorite techniques.


Before Artistic Artifacts was a full blown web presence and a bricks and mortar store, I was known for my line of fabric jewelry, including necklaces, earrings, bracelets and pins (pictured above). These were sold at the Potomac Fiber Arts Gallery located in the Torpedo Factory Art Center in Alexandria, VA.

Collaged and free motion quilted fabric by Judy GulaI love to create collaged fabrics. It is relaxing to me, and I have many uses for it, whether cutting it into small bits for my pins or using it to build an art quilt. It’s a great process when you want to be creative but aren’t feeling the pull of a specific project, or if you only have a short period of time to work.

To begin my collaged fabrics, I pick one of the several drawers in my studio that hold scraps of fabric sorted by color and take it to my work surface or ironing board.

Next I cut a piece of Steam-A-Seam 2 approximately 12 in. 14 in. (Artistic Artifacts sells this by the yard, and Lite Steam-A-Seam 2 is available in a package of five 9 in. x 12 in. sheets.) These are double stick fusible webs, heat activated and pressure sensitive. The fusible is sticky and repositionable, so you can “play” with your design before permanently ironing. I love using Steam-A-Seam 2 for this technique since it holds the fabric scraps in place.

I peel one piece of the protective paper off and set it aside. Place the Steam-A-Seam 2 on your work surface, sticky side up. Begin by pulling scraps from your stash, iron them, (honestly, I guess you don’t really have to iron them!) place them on the Steam-A-Seam 2. You can cut them smaller or into shapes as you like. I start my fabric collage in the middle and work out towards the edges. You can begin anywhere you want!

Fused fabric collage by Judy Gula

Completed beaded and embellished fabric pin by Judy GulaThe fabric scraps should be in one layer, with a minimal amount of overlap. Once your piece of Steam-A-Seam 2 is completely covered with scraps and you’re happy with it (remember, you can play with your positioning), replace the protective sheet of paper over it and iron to hold your scraps together as a sheet of collaged fabric. Pictured above is an example after first fusing.

At this point you will need to decide on your backing, depending on what project you plan to use your collaged fabric for. I use muslin if I’m making book or journal covers, and a heavyweight stablilizer such as Pellon 70 Peltex Sew-In Ultra Firm Stabilizer if I’m making postcards, artist trading cards (ATCs) and for my pins. Once you’ve selected your backing, peel off the remaining paper and place the fusible coated side down onto your backing. Iron it to finally fuse.

Fused fabric collage after free motion quilting by Judy Gula

I then free-motion sew/quilt my fabric collage sheet. I sometimes choose to place yarns, ribbon, etc. on top, covering it with netting. I don’t worry if it moves around, this is a collage. I frequently have to cut the netting if I’m using it, because it gets caught on my machine foot, but it doesn’t matter! Choose your thread and head to your sewing machine to being the free motion stitching. The fabrics you used in your collage can help with your free motion simply by following the prints and designs already there. But anything goes, as you can see in my example above. Free motion ‘doodling’ is very freeing and a lot of fun!

Reverse of fused fabric collage after free motion quilting by Judy Gula

Above you can see the reverse of one of my fabric collage pieces that has been free-motioned quilted. The white of the Peltex stabilizer I used is visible shows off my free motion doodling. Since I was going to cut this piece up and finish the back in additional steps, there was no need to have a visible backing fabric in place.

Finished art quilt by Judy Gula

This finished art quilt by Judy Gula began with a fused and quilted base of collaged fabric scraps.

To make my fabric pins, I pull out my vintage buttons, beads, laces, etc., once the free motion stage is finished. I cut the collaged fabric sheet into various shapes and pieces to begin my pins, then start the layering and embellishing steps.

Another example of fabric collage by Judy GulaWhile the fabric collage process can be fast and fun, yes, these pins take a little longer than a free afternoon of found studio time! I face the back with ultrasuede, attach a pin backing (you can see the ultrasuede and pin backing in the photo that opened this post), and finish the edges, usually with rows of beading and beading stitches.

The black and white fabric collage pictured here was used to create the pins below. (You know my weakness for black and white fabrics!) In addition to vintage buttons, I used some wonderful buckles.

Fabric pins by Judy Gula

These are a lovely little piece of art in themselves, and if you don’t wear pins, they also make wonderful quilt or mixed media art embellishments or focal points. A gallery of some of my favorites (click to see larger views):

“The Lady in the Garden” Art Quilt

The Lady in the Garden, an art quilt by Judy Gula using hand-dyed and vintage materials

If you’re like me, one of the things you admire with the arrival of spring are the beautiful shades of green as new growth emerges. I focused on green with this art quilt, which I titled “The Lady in the Garden” and featured four years ago on this blog. I wanted to revisit it and again share insights into my process for creating a fiber collage/art quilt.

Over the last few years I have worked a lot with batiks and batik panels, to the point where I think some of my newer customers don’t realize my first and true love: working with vintage items! Many times a vintage photo is all it takes to spark my imagination. The Lady in the Garden, currently on display in the shop, began with a vintage black and white photo that I found and instantly loved.

Beginning with a inspiration vintage photo and beginning to assemble materials

I scanned it and then modified in Photoshop (you could also use Photoshop Elements or any photo editing program), choosing to colorize the photo with a green hue. I could have left it as is, but since I had visualized wonderful spring green leaves, I wanted to work monochromatically. You can do the same using your own favorite color with any favorite black and white or sepia photo. Once I had colorized my image, I printed it onto Transfer Artist Paper (TAP, developed by fiber artist Lesley Riley — unfortunately due to manufacturing changes this product is no longer available) and then transferred it to 70 wt. Lutradur. You could also print directly onto the Lutradur, or use another of the many products available to print a photo onto fabric. My final colorized image, ready to sew, is shown above, as well as a hint of materials that I thought I would incorporate into this art quilt.

Continuing to refine  my stash of possible materials

I begin my design process by tossing the fabric and embellishments around. I knew I wanted to work with my hand dyed fabrics, and my vintage Trims and Laces. I just pull materials and lay them in a sorted pile. Then I walk away from it. Thus when I come back it after a break, I make my next choice with fresh eyes. Sometimes I have to do this several times each, adding and subtracting new fabrics and trims, until I finally see an arrangement that “clicks” and makes me smile.

Embellishment possibilities for my art quilt

My next step is to finalize my choices of embellishments. Some materials are selected very early in my process, while others are chosen after my main fabrics have been selected. Pictured above I have pulled materials including a mixture of green beads, pearls, vintage millinery trims, and hand dyed vintage trims pulled from one of my Inspiration Packs. Artistic Artifacts sells some great ribbon, including the popular Web Weave seen at the top of the above photo — a great way to add texture and color to any fiber or mixed media project. A substitute for the leaf trim shown above could be our leaf vine ribbon, available in regular or jumbo sizes.

Beading on fabric example and supplies

Another art quilt in progress that featured beading. Beads come in such a variety of shapes, sizes and colors and add the perfect touch to fiber &mixed media projects.

And whenever possible I love to add some form of beading to my art quilts (detail of another project shown here). Beautiful beads add the perfect touch of color, shine and texture. The bead soup mixtures sold at Artistic Artifacts are the same ones that I use in my artwork and are an easy, inexpensive way to guarantee yourself a variety of bead sizes, styles and shades to enhance your jewelry, fiber and mixed media projects. These are favorites of Liz Kettle of Textile Evolution, author of First-Time Beading on Fabric: Learning to Bead in Nine Easy Lessons, my first recommendation for those who want to learn to embellish their quilts, decor and garments with beading. (Don’t let the “First Time” in the title fool you; this is a great resources even for those who have beading experience!) My favorite Tulip needles also come in beading versions of various sizes, flexible and easy to thread, with a rounded tip that does not split thread.

Focal point of quilt mostly completed

At the stage pictured above, I had worked on the focal point of the art quilt. At this point everything was stitched down in the center. My original decision was to not stitch the background, and I came to believe that I goofed by not doing so. Lesson learned, and I now know stitch the backing before layering my photo. In this project I did add quilting… but it would have been easier to do it earlier.

Detail photograph of quilt elements that changed through the design and creation process

As I continued working, there ended up being differences from the materials I originally started with and thought I would use, which you can see in my completed art quilt photo at the beginning of this post. You can also view a larger image to see additional detail.

As pictured here, the vintage millinery used turned out to be beige, not peach. I used turquoise-colored beads, not green. The trims are darker than my original lighter choices. (Of course any unused materials aren’t discarded but go back into the stash, waiting for another project.)

I find that many times you can become paralyzed by the number of options possible when creating, and therefore end up completing nothing at all. There could have been a million options on how to create an art quilt with this —or any — photo as a a focal point. You just have to choose one and begin! As you see from my example, you may end up changing things along the way, but your end goal should simply be that you’re happy with your final product.

And I am! I like the essentially monochromatic color scheme, and The Lady in the Garden still makes me smile when I look at it. One of the key things I love about art quilts is that there are no rigid rules, except maybe just one: begin! Pick an inspiration point, take a look at your stash, and see where the creative process leads you.

Pretty Little Bits….

Diane Herbort teaching Baubles, Dangles & Beads  at Artistic Artifacts in Alexandria, VA

Diane Herbort is visiting Artistic Artifacts (standing, above), teaching her Baubles, Dangles & Beads class. As she unpacked her supplies and samples setting up for class, we couldn’t help but snap a few quick photos of her artful bits and pieces.

Diane Herbort supplies for her Baubles, Dangles & Beads class

From her website: “Traditional needle arts, always considered ‘women’s arts,’ are important to me, both as a source of inspiration and as skills that I can use and adapt to tell my story. I think of my quilts and collages as being sister artworks. They are all assembled from the same things: textiles, paper, embellishments and memories.”

Diane Herbort supplies for her Baubles, Dangles & Beads class

“Being an unreformed collector, I gather bits and pieces that help me touch the past. Old postcards, buttons and bits of lace often become a part of my art. Other times, I simply need to have them around me. They possess a sense of age and mystery, of stories grasped only in fragmentary form, that I hope my work also holds.”

Stitched and embellished heart detail from a quilt by Diane Herbort

Diane will be teaching similar methods in her Crazy Techniques class on Saturday, October 8: “Start a small quilt or evening bag while exploring the ins and outs of crazy quilting. This versatile technique lends itself to a wide range of fabrics, plain or fancy…If you enjoy enriching the surface, machine or hand embroidery, beading and just about any other type of embellishment are all possibilities.“ Join us if you can!

Retro fabric panel beaded and embellished by Diane Herbort
Hand-stitched and embellished cases by Diane Herbort

Diane posts beautiful inspiration photos on her website each week, writing wonderful prose about each. Visit and enjoy!

Detail, embellished art quilt by Diane Herbort

The Beauty of Art Dolls

The National Institute of American Doll Artists, NIADA, founded in 1963 with the purpose of promoting the art of the original handmade doll, is hosting its annual Conference and Dollmaking School this week in Old Town Alexandria. Today (Saturday, July 23) and tomorrow there are events open to the public, including Artist Demos at Torpedo Factory Art Center and an Exhibition and Sale. We’ve welcomed some NIADA attendee shoppers this week, and in honor of their event, and our own class next month, Mermaid Art Doll with Leslie Brier, we wanted to share some art dolls that we have on display in the shop, have been made in our classes, or have been shared with us.

Mermaid Art Doll by Leslie Brier

Mixed media artist Leslie Brier’s Mermaid Art Doll class is suitable for both beginning and experienced doll artists. You’ll cover your own soft-bodied doll (Leslie has dolls you can purchase to use if need be) with your choice of a vintage or batik provided kit, plus your own treasures of fabrics, laces, embellishments and trims. See more of Leslie’s art dolls below.

The below mermaid art doll by Artistic Artifacts owner Judy Gula should be familar to many, as she graces our business card!

Mermaid art doll by Judy Gula of Artistic Artifacts

Art doll by Kathlyn J. Aviles

The above was created by Kathlyn J. Avila-Reyes. In 2009 we wrote about hosting an exhibit/sale of Kat’s work…take a look at the wonderful photos from then! Judy couldn’t resist adding the beauty pictured here to her own collection, and she has been a much-admired resident of the shop since then. Look at the amazing detail!

Detail, fiber/beaded art doll by Kathlyn J. Aviles

Earlier this year Kat held a very successful show at the Art League of Alexandria; over time her work has moved away from pure fiber to ceramics but remains absolutely stunning. Visit her website for to view her gallery.

Mary, Star of the Sea by Sharon McDonagh

The above is by Artistic Artifacts staffer Sharon McDonagh. She began with an unadorned store bought Santos figure and altered it from head to toe to become Mary, Star of the Sea (Ave Maris Stella).

Items used to create Mary, Star of the Sea by Sharon McDonagh

This was Sharon’s submission for a recent Judy’s Altered Minds (JAMs) challenge. Members each gathered 10 items in a paper bag, and the bags were randomly exchanged. Participants could use any mediums and techniques to create their resulting piece of art; the only rule was that at least some of each of the 10 items had to be used. The assortment (pictured right) Sharon received consisted of small sea shells, blue braid trim, blue feathery yarn, a magazine page altered with Citrasolv, translucent printed map tissue paper, blue handmade fiber paper, a piece of woven grass trim, an upholstery fabric sample, painted foil and a silver color Gelato.

Figurative work often results from classes we host here at the shop. In early May we welcomed Leighanna Light of Taos, New Mexico. Leighanna calls herself a “Thingmaker,” and oh, such beautiful things! One of the classes she taught was titled Faux Etching/Surface Design on Metal, and one of the attendees was Linda Morgan, a member of JAMs who is known within the group for her amazing mixed media fiber and assemblage work:

Art dolls by Linda Morgan completed in Faux Etching/Surface Design on Metal class with Leighanna Light

Above, Linda’s work from the Faux Etching class. Below, additional art dolls by Linda.

Mixed media assemblage art dolls by Linda Morgan

Mixed media assemblage art dolls by Linda Morgan

Below, Jello Mold dolls by Linda Morgan.

Jello mold assemblage art dolls by Linda Morgan

As promised, more art dolls from Leslie Brier, from the small, a multi-beaded figure pictured below…

Beaded art doll by Leslie Brier

…to the tall, Leslie’s “Machine Age Santos.”

Machine Age Santos by Leslie Brier

Mixed media art doll by Leslie Brier

Above, “Sugar” by Leslie Brier.

A student at this year’s Art & Soul Creative Retreat in Portland shared the below cloth doll with us: it made us happy to see what she had done with our Hand Dyed Fiber Collage Kits! Art & Soul Virginia Beach will take place this fall, September 26 – October 1. Take a look at the workshops available, which include a number of art doll classes.

Art doll created with Judy Gula's hand-dyed textiles by Art & Soul creative retreat student

Now go play with your dolls!

theresa mARTin and JAMs Challenges

theresa mARTin is very talented fiber & mixed media artist, frequently published, who uses vintage images, hand-dyed fibers, stitching and more when creating. Theresa lives in close-by Arlington, VA, and we are always delighted when her schedule allows for a visit to the store and/or a Judy’s Altered Minds (JAMs) meeting.

In addition to her charming mother-in-law (visiting from Scotland), Theresa brought her finished Box Challenge artwork to the February meeting. (More about the Box Challenge at the end of this post.)

Artwork by theresa mARTin: Artistic Artifacts JAMs Box Challenge

What a beautiful, evocative piece! Theresa used Transfer Artist Paper (TAP) to add a vintage sepia photo to a vintage textile that I had hand-dyed — you can see the texture of the fabric in the dot pattern. (My Hand Dyed Fiber Collage Kits feature such vintage linen pieces: embroidered napkins, textured tablecloths, crocheted doilies and more.)

Artwork by theresa mARTin: Artistic Artifacts JAMs Box Challenge

The portrait was stitched with metallic thread and then topped with a sheet of mica. Theresa used Tentakulum Handpainted products in this artwork; the above view also shows the Rusty for Paper and More (a Viva Decor product suitable for a wide variety of surfaces) she used on the sides of the box.

Detail, Artwork by theresa mARTin: Artistic Artifacts JAMs Box Challenge

Above, this close up view gives you a closer view of the Web Weave Ribbon (in Sweet Pea) Theresa accented with tiny red seed beads.

Theresa’s blog/website is a visual delight as she shares her beautifully photographed art. We learned that she will be in a four person show (joining Meg Schaap, John Mors and Nancy McNamara) at the Glenview Mansion Gallery in Rockville, MD November 6-23. She is creating a nine piece Icon series for the show; Anton is one. We wanted to share: created with similar techniques, maybe he’s a future descendent of her lovely girl!

Anton, by theresa mARTin, Icon series

Per Theresa: “Anton is 6" x 6" x 2" and is made with a photo transfer onto tea dyed fabric, Naga beads for the coat, a reversed vintage French hat label, Japanese Kimono thread and mica.” (Photograph by Theresa Martin, all rights reserved.)

Another JAMs Challenge

Also at the February JAMs meeting, members were asked to bring a plain brown lunch bag that contained 10 different items, plus a list of those items to participate in the group’s latest challenge. If you bought a bag in, you selected another (contents unseen), and used its contents to create a mixed media artwork, the reveal of which will be the presentation at the May meeting.

Mixed media art by theresa mARTin

Theresa bought in a bag to trade (amazing contents, by the way), and so received one in return. She wasted absolutely no time in getting to work and has already finished her piece (see above; photo by Theresa Martin, all rights reserved).

Theresa wrote a February 25 blog posting detailing her creative thought process, techniques and results that you must read. (The bar for the rest of us in JAMs has now been set very high…)

10 item bag challenge contents before use by theresa mARTin

Above is a photo of the bag Theresa selected. The contents of the bags could be art supplies, household items, found objects… virtually any kind of material or resource. Visit Theresa’s blog for additional photographs and to learn how she used these items in her beautiful artwork.

The only rule for this challenge is that you must use at least part or some of each of the 10 items (groups of things, such as beads, count as one item) in your work. Artists can add materials from their own stash; alter the bag contents as desired, etc. JAMs member Diane Herbort wisely thought to photograph many of the bag contents, to be paired with photos of the finished work — it will be so inspiring to see everyone’s creations!

Theresa is also a designer for Paper Whimsy and regularly creates art with their collage images, Amazing Alterables and more. View Theresa’s projects for Paper Whimsy.

One of the original display box frames used in the Box Challenge

More about The Box Challenge

I’ve mentioned in this space that the location for the Artistic Artifacts brick and mortar store used to house high-performance auto parts, with a huge display wall of product photographs on dimensional wood box frames. These frames, most approximately 5×5 inch square (as pictured) were pulled out of storage and used for the JAMs Box Challenge conceived by Barb Boatman of Cut Sew Create studio.

Members used these surfaces to create small artworks that incorporated products from Artistic Artifacts that they had in their stashes, and/or that they had purchased new.

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