Fabric Collage under a Sheer
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
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.
Return to Faces
or go to Layering
or go to Bark, Lichen and Fungi
or return to Machine Embroidery