Fabric Collage under a Sheer

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    This is one of my favourite layering techniques. All of the pieces in Faces, except for

the icons and brooches, are based on it. Sometimes, the design is improvised. I use

pieces of hand-painted and commercial black silk (pre-pressed). For stabilisation, they

might have been either triple-starched* or lined with Lanier* before cutting. I prefer

Lanier because it is cotton. I dislike synthetic interfacing, which can shrink and distort

with the heat of pressing.

    In painting terms, the sheer-covered collage becomes the under-painting or


    I compose the collage on a piece of fusible Pellon larger than the finished

dimensions of the piece (to allow for shrinkage and distortion in the embroidering).

I leave the edges of pieces unstuck so that, as I develop the design, I can slip other

pieces under them. After the principal elements of the design have been assembled and

the Pellon has been covered with fabric, I might cut further pieces (details, accents,

embellishments) from silk backed with fusible web. These will be firmly stuck in place.

For the fusible web, I use a brand called Vliesofix, which is firm but light. Some of the

popular fusible webs are too heavy (as in "could stick an elephant to the ceiling".) My

experience is that, with heat, they come to the surface of thin silk and make the piece

hard. I haven't used Mistyfuse, but you could try that. It's designed for use with sheers,

so it should stick fine silk without coming through. But test it first! Don't just take my

word for it.

    Sometimes, if the design has to be related to a specific shape or size - as with a

pattern piece or a piece in which the dimensions are fixed, as with Jack the Lad - I

will develop the major elements of the design on paper first. I do this on either layout

paper, which is semi-transparent (and much cheaper than tracing paper in Australia) or

on baking parchment.


    Both of the above designs were done in soft pencil on two A2 sheets of detail paper

held together with masking tape. The first is the original idea (to size) for Jack the

Lad, the second the final forms for the figure, the face, the table and the letter. If you

enlarge the second one, you can see that it is assembled from the background and

cut-out pieces. The resulting shapes then provide templates for executing the design.

The final version of Jack's face has undergone seven progressive stages of distortion

and development. I have left other details (borders, etc.) for later.

    Once the shape and the features of the face have been established, I transfer the

design to the back of a piece of flesh-coloured silk backed with thin fusible interfacing

(vilene). This is then stitched (from the back) with Serafil (a 120-thickness fine synthetic

thread, often used for interlocking/serging). Serafil is so fine that it is easy to obliterate

with subsequent embroidery.

    Then, leaving extra beyond the hairline so that the pieces for the hair will overlap

when added, I cut the shape out.


    The first of the two images here shows the baking parchment template for Jack's face.

Traced from the master, it is then reversed for transferring to the back of the interfaced

silk. The broken line indicates the extension of the face under the hair and the

cap - showing that the cut must be made there rather than on the design line! The

second shows a "two-face" teaching sample - the outline and details  have been

stitched on the two collage pieces. Each has been cut out and then stitched together,

ready for collaging.

    When a design is complete, I attach (as a backing) a layer of fusible stabiliser to the

back of the Pellon. Then a whole layer of sheer (with an extra allowance on all sides) is

placed over the collage. I pin (* See below.) it very carefully in place, working from the

centre out. Coverage needs to be smooth and the grain straight.

To minimise distortion, I pin only through the sheer, the collage, and into the Pellon - not

through the whole sandwich. I make sure that the edges are all pinned. too, but I don't

stitch them down yet.

    Then, again with Serafil, I stitch the main lines of the design through all layers, having

firstly pinned more carefully around the areas I'm working on. This avoids distortion of the

sheer. You can see these lines on Jack's partly worked face (below left), and compare it with

his finished face (below right).


    Then, when all is stitched together on the main design lines, I re-smoothe and re-pin the

edges and sew round the edges (freehand), using long stitches (I might wish to undo them at

some point.)


    Why cover the brilliant silks with a sheer?

For two reasons. First, the practical reason: once the layers have been stitched in place,

first against the cut edge and then on the underlying piece, fraying raw edges are not a

concern. Second, the sheer (remember: the sheerer and the darker the better) acts in the

same way as over-dyeing a number of patchwork fabrics with a single tone in order to

unify them visually. The sheer tones the colours down or adds a filtering tone. Then, by

contrast, the colours of the embroidery threads become even richer. In places, it can be cut

back after embroidery, as on Jack's sleeve (the above image, lower-right corner). The sheer

on the second cushion cover (Faces) and Winnipeg (Layering) is silver nylon crystal organza.

You can see how it shows through the embroidery and lends a sparkle to the pieces.


* Triple starching: cover the ironing board with a layer of unbleached calico/muslin.

Place your fabric on the ironing board and spray with starch till wet. When the bubbles

have subsided, turn the piece over. Iron dry on wool setting, with steam. (If you have a

shot-of-steam iron, press the shot-of-steam button before touching the fabric with the

iron.) Repeat the above process twice more, turning the fabric each time. This will stabilise

finer silk (e.g., 8m/m Habotai) for cutting for collage pieces or for stitching shapes where

you want stabilisation without the extra bulk of an interfacing.


* Lanier: an interlining/interfacing used in tailoring. It is like a fusible fine cotton voile,

and comes in black and white in at least two weights. The glue is firm (though still gentle)

and does not bubble when washed. It makes a wonderfully soft interlining for the facings of

silk garments. Again: I prefer it to the synthetic, knitted types. It's in a natural fibre, and

so won't melt if your iron is too hot, and it feels pleasant.


* Pins: my preference is for stainless-steel small-headed pins, usually known as silk,

lace, or wedding-dress pins. They neither rust (unlike steel pins) nor tarnish (unlike

brass ones) and, with layered work and fusible backings, you don't have to pin through

all layers in order to hold the piece together - just enough to attach the movable layers.

The small head also means that it is possible to stitch across the pins (with care!), as

they will go under the machine foot. The usual pins are an inch long, but my especial

favourites are the Quilters Resource ones I was given in Toronto - 1.25"long.

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