Embroider Your Fabric Collage with Wit and Whimsey

Many years ago I began collecting examples of vintage embroidery such as tea towels and napkins, little pieces of fabric art from the past. I particularly liked the ones with a tea-theme; I had a notion to cut out the motifs and incorporate them with other vintage fabrics to make tea cozies.

fabric collage with redwork donabed
Two different Redwork pieces were used
in this fabric art by Sandy Donabed.

I got as far as cutting out the embroideries. It turned out that many people with far better sewing and piecing skills than I had already thought of this idea. Plus, tea cozies are not in hot demand. (Except in my house.)

So now I have all these tea-themed (and a few bird-themed) pieces of embroidery with no project. They've been kicking around for years. But given that I have about a thousand other abandoned projects I could work on, this hasn't really been a problem.

Over the years I've thought I could make them part of a quilt, but for some reason it never occurred to me to use a mixed-media approach. Until I saw some of Sandy Donabed's work.

curiouser fabric collage
"Curiouser" fabric collage by
Sandy Donabed.

Sandy has a love of vintage embroidery, especially Redwork (loosely defined as an embroidered design stitched in red on muslin). But her appreciation of Redwork's rich heritage doesn't prevent her from taking an irreverent approach to using it in her fabric art.

She cuts out the embroidered motifs from stained or ripped textiles she's collected and rearranges the images in a fabric collage, often to comic effect. For example, in her piece called "Attack Rabbits" where giant bunnies are bounding over fences through a toile landscape where small Victorian children play.

Sometimes Sandy takes a mixed-media approach to fabric collage. In her "Curiouser" piece, she mixes Alice in Wonderland fabric with Redwork embroidery and modern image transfers and cutouts fused or glued onto marbelized fabric. This technique gives the Cheshire cat an appropriately surreal (paper) smile. She also stamped stitch lines and added a signature made out of glued-on alphabet macaroni.

In other pieces, Sandy has glued the embroidered motif to a stretched canvas or board, applied a thick coat of paint around it and embedded buttons and other small found objects into the surface.

cheshire cat from fabric collage
Cheshire cat from "Curiouser."

I love the idea of creating different fabric collages with my vintage embroidery, especially witty scenes. And now I'm thinking about combining some of these pieces with encaustic techniques. Hmm. Looks like the other thousand projects may be going on the back burner for now.

Sandy has written a history of Redwork, complete with a slideshow of images, for the interactive eMag, Quilting Arts In Stitches, Vol. 6. Although I've always loved the look of Redwork, I had no idea of the fascinating aspects of this style of embroidery. If you love textile art and stitch, you'll want to download your own copy to your PC, Mac, or iPad.

Do you collect vintage embroidery? What do you do with it? Leave your comment below.


Blog, Collage, Fabric Art, Mixed-Media Techniques


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