There’s something about winter that makes me so eager to create fabric collages. Must be the cold weather and long nights that compel me to rummage through my fabric scraps and get into the rhythmic calm of hand stitching. For a recent project I decided to create a fabric collage with something practical in mind—a handmade book cover. I incorporated a variety of new and vintage fabrics, stitching, and two types of printing. I love how it turned out!
The textures and dimension of a fabric collage make you want to touch it—another reason I decided to turn this collage into something that could be handled. Despite the fact that fabric is the main material, for fabric collage no special sewing skills are necessary. A simple running stitch (hand or machine) will serve you well, and you can even go stitch-free, holding fabric and other elements in place with fabric glue or fusible web. Or devise other ways of connecting pieces using materials like wire, brads, or by needle felting. You can also create in any style and palette you like: contemporary, with pops of bright neon; nature-themed, with neutrals; or vintage, with a subdued color scheme.
Printing is a great way to start a fabric collage. You can create custom patterns and visual texture, and it’s easy. I started with a piece of hand-dyed blue linen that measured 14″ wide by 5″ tall, for a 7″ x 5″ book. There are tons of options for printing fabric (stamping, gelatin plate printing, image transfers, eco-printing), but I decided to go with a collagraph. I glued a piece of crocheted lace onto a piece of corrugated cardboard. Dark blue fabric paint (you can also use acrylic paint) was applied to the lace with a cosmetic wedge, then pressed onto the fabric for an allover design. I always do a few test prints to make sure I have enough paint applied to the plate, that I’m using enough pressure, and that the color works. I love that the printing comes out uneven—it looks so funky and rustic.
When the paint dried, I adhered a piece of fusible cotton batting to the wrong side of the linen.I like book covers with a little heft, and the batting did the trick. You can use regular batting or felt for this, too, with or without a piece of lightweight fusible webbing in between.
Next, I auditioned pieces for the collage. I always try to trust my intuition when choosing items for collage, and I leave myself open to changing something if it’s not working. Sometimes I start with a palette in mind, and other times I let one or two standout items dictate the color scheme.
I tacked down a piece of vintage lace to the cover, using sewing thread. To that I added a vintage stamp image fussy cut from some Tim Holtz fabric, holding it in place with a bit of glue stick first, then blind stitching around the edges. When that piece was attached I realized I had my color scheme: French blue, muted red, and ivory/taupe.
For a little extra texture and interest I embroidered a few feather stitches and French knots in deep red perle cotton, then attached some sequins, using French knots to hold them. Mid-way through a project I often find myself digging through my stash again, remembering some great bit of something that would be the perfect fit for what I’m working on.
I fussy cut a red flower and some leaves from more fabric, tacked them in place with sewing thread, then added a few French knots to the flower center.
For a closure, I tore strips of beige linen and sewed them on to the front and back with ‘X’; stitches, adding an antique mother-of-pearl button to the front.
To give the back of the book a little interest I fussy cut an airmail letter from another piece of Tim Holtz fabric, and blind stitched it in place.
I used a different printing method for the fabric covering the inside of the book: rust printing. This method can be used on fabric and paper, and the results are incredible. I placed a few rusty hardware bits on top of a piece of linen, folded it up, placed it in a zip-top bag, and saturated the piece with vinegar. It’s best to let this sit at least 24 hours; I was impatient, and removed it after about six hours. I still got a nice print, though, and a great jumping-off point for further embellishment. And don’t worry about that vinegar smell—after you rinse the fabric, it disappears.
The wrong side of this printed piece was adhered to the batting with Mistyfuse. I then sewed around the perimeter of the cover by hand with a running stitch.
For the inside pages, I tore 140-lb. watercolor paper into three 13 ½” x 4 ½” sheets, and cut two pieces of the beige linen the same sizes. I folded the pages and nested them together, alternating fabric and paper, and sewed them into the cover, using a pamphlet stitch and sari ribbon. The fabric pages will make great substrates for more collages.
Looking at the book the next day, I decided to add a few stitches to the cover in dark blue thread. Since I sewed through the cover, I hid the stitches on the inside cover by appliquéing a few pieces of an antique quilt block and some fussy-cut flowers.
Even though the book is ready to be worked in, I may continue to add to the covers. Sometimes collage is an ongoing process, and I like leaving my options open.
It doesn’t take much to get started making fabric collages, and we have great projects from top artists that will inspire and guide you through the process. Here’s another great tutorial on making fabric collage tags!
Take a look at these fantastic resources for fabric collage, which are filled with techniques, tips, and projects for all levels.