Expressive Surface Design with Deborah Boschert

Deborah Boschert’s fabric collages are full of color and texture. In the December Art Lesson, Deborah shares some of her favorite surface design techniques for creating the unique fabrics she uses in her collages. She also shows how free-motion stitching adds even more design interest and texture. Given this lesson involves two of my favorite things, fabric and stitching, it was something I had to try. I decided to go with holiday motifs.

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I used a variety of household items to print designs with acrylic paint on several fabrics I had on hand. Like Deborah, I employed a jar for some great circle printing. I also cut a star shape from a kitchen sponge, used the ends of a Paper Mate® Flair® marker to create small dots, the end of a strip of cardboard to print lines to create more stars, and did some loopy handwriting with both a Sharpie® Stained Fabric Marker and a white Sakura Gelly Roll® pen. Deborah suggested having words in mind as you add handwriting to the fabric, and I did: Christmas carols. If you look closely, you can probably read some of the words.

Use your imagination to find or make tools for printing on commercial fabrics to make them your own.
Acrylic paint and simple household tools are all you need for these simple surface design techniques.

After adding fusible webbing to all of the fabrics, I ripped and cut a variety of shapes from them. I auditioned the shapes on the white fabric I had chosen for the background, and decided to cut a tree and a star for my focal images. For some of the fabrics, I discovered that I didn’t have the fusible all the way to the edge of the piece. Under ordinary fusing situations that may be a problem, but not here. Because the edges were free of fusible, I could easily pull some threads and fray those edges—a look I like.

A variety of surface design techniques add color, texture, and interest to these fabric collages.

I tried out my focal pieces in a few different positions and determined I liked them best just about front and center. Once everything was in place, I placed the background fabric on a piece of felt (You can also use batting), put parchment paper on top, and ironed the pieces in place. Ironing also adhered the background to the felt and the felt to the backing fabric. The different fabrics and designs added a lot of physical and visual texture.

The holiday colors really pop against the white background.

Free-motion stitching came next. I stitched the focal pieces first, staying close to the edges to start, as Deborah suggested. On the next pass, I stitched close to the first lines in some areas, and then, looking to make the stitched shapes a little wonky, I stitched away from the first lines, here and there, intentionally wandering onto the background. On the other fabric shapes, I added some circles within circles, lines, and free-motion stars. Sometimes I outlined the fabric shapes, other times I just added a design within the shape. I love the way the stitching sinks into the felt layer, adding even more texture.

The last step was to add acrylic paint along the edges of the collages to tie everything together. I put some dark green and medium green acrylic paint on my palette and dabbed lightly into each color with a sponge. Holding one collage at a time, I dabbed the paint all along the edges, lightly in some areas, a little heavier in others. I like the mix of color and the unevenness of the application. Bonus: Adding paint to the edges also corrals the loose threads, locking them in place.

surface design

surface design
A variety of surface design techniques, a few paint colors, and free-motion stitching came together nicely to create these textural collages.

Imagine the array of colorful, textural collages you can create with these simple tools and techniques. Make a collection, in a variety of sizes for added fun.


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