Saturday, June 22, 2013

Placing Paper in an Art Quilt

I think I've mentioned here before that many of my friends bring me orphan fabrics, which is exactly like bringing chocolate. When I look at it, I can't even remember a reason to say no.

But this particular delivery was one of the oddest. A dear friend had a mother in her late 90s. She'd been wearing the same heavy wool coat since at least the 1950s. Eventually, the coat's brown satin lining wore out, and my friend had a tailor install a new lining. The tailor gave him back the old lining. And my friend brought it to me.

At first, I thought, "This shredded shmata is the last thing I need in my house." I was finally going to turn away an orphan!

But then I looked at it some more. It was so soft and shiny. It had fascinating frayed areas. And then I found  the patch. It was beige, round, oval patch. It had been ineptly stitched on to the brown satin, using.... that ... could it be...forest green thread? Doubled?

Yes, I said, I will take it in.

My friend's mom died not long after that. So I constructed a quilt about mortality. And maybe because I'm lazy, and maybe because this quilt was built around a tangible relic of a mostly 20th century life, I decided to incorporate authentic 20th century paper, rather than photo-transfering paper images onto fabric.

I dove into my paper stash (not quite as deep as my fabric stash), and came up with classical sheet music book from the early 1900s, a paper printout of a statue (from a copyright-free Dover Book), and a circle of paper that I'd experimentally crumbled and painted with silver-blue acrylic paint.

In general, it's a good idea to strengthen paper before you add it to a quilt. My paper-strengthening secret is Golden Gel medium (regular). I cut out the statue, used the gel to adhere it to the blue circle, and glued that to the sheet music. Then I slathered that paper construction, front and back with several more layers of the gel medium, letting it dry in between applications.

Along with adhesion and strength, the medium gives paper a satisfying leathery feeling. The more layers the better. (Of course, no matter how much you strengthen it, it will never go through the wash )

I did not dare machine-sew the sheet music to the black felt background; the stitching holes would almost certainly have ripped through. I hand-stitched it on with brown cross stitches.
That's an authentic worn spot in the coat lining on the lower right. 
 There was one tear during construction - you can see it in the photo above, between the last two vertical cross stitches. Fortunately, it fits into the theme. In hindsight, if that sheet music had been precious, transferring it to fabric first would have been a much better idea. (As it was, it came from a thick book of sheet music.)

I also did some long running stitches (with white thread), and french knots in the brown satin areas. I machine quilted a paisley design on the far right and lower left.
 This two-tone brown fabric, on the lower left of the piece, came from an upholstery sample book.  
Technically, this is not a quilt - the elements are stitched onto one large piece of black felt. So there are only two layers. Eventually, I'll frame it. For now, it's just tacked to the wall, and has held up quite well over several years.

There are many artists who combine paper and fabric, using lots of different approaches. Beryl Taylor has durable and inexpensive way to turn paper into strong fabric and incorporate it into art quilts, using watered down white glue.There's a wonderful, free article that you can download describing her process and showing her beautiful work, at

I hope this will inspire you to experiment with paper in your art quilts. And if you've already done it, I'd love to hear about what works for you!


  1. Haven't tried this technique. Would be great to add to a keepsake wall-hanging. Like how you put this together.

  2. I like to use paper in my quilts. I fuse single ply napkins or special papers to a piece of muslin using a fusible web. I like Steam-a-seam II because you can re-position things so easily.
    Then I seal them with some liquid matte medium. Sometimes I add some paint to the medium to change the color of the paper or add some glitz. Once it is dry, I can stitch through it paper and all without tearing. If I use modge podge, I have trouble painting or stamping on top. It also takes a long (very long) time to dry. I did that on one quilt and it was months before the stickiness went away. I love using paper.

  3. Thanks so much for the comment. I think you're right about Mod Podge sometimes leaving residual stickiness for a long time. Your experiences are very helpful! I woudn't have thought of using the fusible. Much appreciated!

  4. I also use paper in my quilts and especially love using dressmaker tissue. In a recent quilt depicting a beach scene, I used it for sand. If firmly and completely attached you can easily sew through it without it detaching itself from the muslin base.

  5. How cool, Ann! I've never used dressmaker tissue. Is that different from the paper that printed patterns come on? Thanks for the insight and for stopping by.