A Fiber Art Quilting Project for Beginners

fiber art mixed media
One square of Mary Hettmansperger's
Collaged Fabric Panel.

cate pratoI have a confession to make. I have worked for Cloth Paper Scissors and Quilting Arts Magazine for more than seven years and only made my first quilt a month ago.

It's not that I don't know how to sew. And goodness knows it's not for a lack of fabric. But the word "quilt" just intimidated me: it seems like such a big, formal project.

But when challenged to make a patchwork quilt for a special event, I took a deep breath, chose a simple pattern, and plunged in. And what I discovered is that if you take it slow and break the project into chunks, making a quilt is a very satisfying experience.

In fact, it's not that much different than making the mini fiber art collages I'd done and enjoyed in the past. You just make more of them and then stitch them together.

If you've never tried making a quilt, might I suggest starting with a mixed-media wall-hanging? This one by Mary Hettmansperger combines found objects with simple machine stitching and hand sewing. Best of all, you make one section at a time and then join them together in a line.

Mary's specialties are jewelry and fiber basketry weaving, but she also makes mixed-media fiber art and art quilts. Her Collaged Fabric Panels, featured in the new book The Best of Quilting Arts: Your Ultimate Source for Art Quilt Techniques and Inspiration by Pokey Bolton, are perfect for someone who wants to make the transition from mixed-media to contemporary fiber art. You can use any or all the elements of mixed media and surface design and combine them with Mary's simple construction methods.

All you need to begin are some fat quarters or large scraps of fabric; batting or interfacing (you could even use a piece of fleece); a sewing machine, thread, beading or other strong thread, and a hand sewing needle; and found objects.

fiber art mixed media wall hanging
Mary's linear fiber art collage wall hanging.

Making a Collaged Fabric Panel

1. Decide on the panel size you desire. Cut 2 pieces of fabric (the front and back) according to the dimensions you've chosen.

2. Cut the batting or interfacing the same size.

3. Pin all 3 layers to hold the fabric in place, or baste if you prefer. Begin at one end of the quilt sandwich and quilt vertical lines. These lines can be evenly spaced, overlapped, or wavy.

4. Bind the piece with strips of the same fabric. (You could also leave raw edges or zigzag them.)

5. Cut the decorative fat quarter fabrics into random-sized squares and rectangles. Sew the fabrics together using straight seams. (Note: no measuring!)

6. After you have a variety of fabrics sewn together in no particular order or measurement, cut the pieced fabric, then sew these pieces back together in a new arrangement. Make only squares, rectangles, and straight strips. Decide on the final shape of the collage fabric at this point (e.g. series of squares, one long panel, etc.). Once you have a successful collage of pieces sewn together and the shape decided, square up the decorative fabric to begin the surface design.

An array of found objects you could
add to your fiber art wall hanging.

7. Arrange your found items on the fabric, leaving some of the spaces empty to show off the fabric. Attach the items to the squares by hand, using beading thread. Make stacks of flat items to give dimension. Attach small beads for added detail.

8. Add some hand embroidery for more interest, if desired.

9. Once the surface embellishment is complete, fold the raw edge of the collaged fabric to the back side and place the embellished fabric on the panel. Sew the embellished pieces of fabric onto the panels with a buttonhole stitch.

You can add loops of fabric or ribbon to the top for hanging, or just attach café curtain rings. A painted dowel or stick serves as the hanger.

When I saw Mary's piece in The Best of Quilting Arts, it was one of those smack yourself in the forehead moments: why hadn't I tried that project earlier? I'm sure that if I had, it would have eased me into quilting sooner.

Don't wait like I did! The Best of Quilting Arts is full of techniques and projects that can help you enter the joyous world of contemporary fiber art and improve the skills you already have right now.

P.S. Are you a non-fiber artist who has made a quilt or fiber art wall hanging? What prompted you to try it? What were your results? Share your experience in the comments section below.

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Blog, Fabric Art

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