Paint and Stitch a Colorful Spring Garland

Springtime is just around the corner, and Danielle Donaldson’s colorful spring garland is just what you need to celebrate the new season. Featured in the March/April 2016 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors magazine, this floral garland incorporates painting and stitching and is perfect for repurposing scraps from other projects. Follow Danielle’s tutorial below to get started!

spring garland
Turn creative scraps into art with Danielle Donaldson! (Photos by Sharon White Photography, unless otherwise noted.)

Tumbled Blossom Garland by Danielle Donaldson

I have been known to be quite a perfectionist, often to the point that I can’t move forward in my creative process. Throw in a good dose of impatience, and the piece is doomed. I didn’t sketch it out beforehand, I pulled the artist tape off before the paper was fully dry, I added way too much white ink to cover up something instead of leaving it alone. Been there, done that.

Because I deeply value my creative time, I have come up with the perfect solution to projects and practices gone awry. I simply cut up the offending piece. There is amazing beauty to be found in little bits and pieces cut into wonky circles and hearts, or strips of brilliant color combinations that I couldn’t see before. I now have jars and bowls and pretty containers filled with stashes of my colorful rejects, test runs, and well-intentioned ideas that give me the opportunity to let go of the old and usher in the new. I call it creative repurposing.

Creative repurposing with bits and pieces from my stash gives me the freedom to take my so-so art to a new level by adding layers of goodness or, in this case, creating a lovely, upcycled garland.

NOTE: While the instructions show you how to make all of the components for this project, my garland is made with saved paper towels that are filled with watercolor paint from cleanup from lots of past projects.

This garland can be made from a variety of materials. Try some of these to put a new spin on the project:

  • Substitute coffee filters or white sheets ripped into strips for the paper towels.
  • Use liquid watercolors or spray inks for a more vibrant color palette.
  • Sew watercolored fabric scraps together.
  • Adhere watercolored fabric scraps to sturdy paper and cut out shapes.


  • Protected work surface
  • Spray bottle with water
  • Pan watercolor set (I used Sennelier pan watercolors.)
  • Watercolor brushes (I use a Winsor & Newton Cotman Water Colour ¾″ flat brush and ¾″ angled brush.)
  • Lap-sized white board or palette tray
  • Square-ish paper towels, white (2-ply)
  • Jar of clean water
  • Heat tool (I used a Ranger Heat It™ Craft Tool.)
  • Scissors
  • Sewing machine
  • Thread (I used white for the garland and gray for basting the blossoms.)
  • Sewing needle
  • Crinkle ribbon (woven-edge rayon seam binding), white, 4½–5 yards (I used .625″-wide ribbon.)
  • Watercolor paper (I used 140-lb. cold-press watercolor paper.)

Paint some paper towel strips

1. Lightly spray water on the pan watercolors. This will activate the paint and make it easier for you to grab color with your brush. Once activated, load your brush with color and some clean water and place a pool of color onto the white board. Repeat until you have several different pools of color on the board. (FIGURE 1)


2. Scrunch up a clean, white paper towel and mop up the color. Repeat this process until your paper towel has lots of fun colors and a cool pattern. Gently flatten out the paper towel every once in a while to see what it looks like. (FIGURE 1) Repeat with several paper towels.

TIP: If the colors on the paper towels seem too bright or too opaque, try adding water to your pools of color with the spray bottle. Or, spray your paper towel with clean water before you pick up the colors from the white board.

3. Place the painted paper towels on a protected or disposable surface, as the color may bleed onto whatever is below it. Let dry completely. Alternatively, speed up the process with a heat tool.

4. Pull apart the 2 layers of the dry paper towels. Fold each paper towel in half. Fold it in half again on the long side, and in half a third time. Cut each folded paper towel into strips approximately ¾″-1½″ wide. (FIGURE 2) No need to use a ruler; it really is better if the strips are a little wonky and unplanned.


5. Thread your sewing machine, and set it for straight stitching. Layer 2 strips on top of each other and begin stitching down the center of the strips. Randomly crinkle and fold the top strip to create a gathered and messy look. (FIGURE 3) Add strips as needed to create one continuous strip. Work at a slow speed until you get the hang of it. It will take a bit of practice, but really, the messier the better. Two 2-ply paper towels will yield approximately 2½–3 yards of strips.

FIGURE 3 (Sewing photos by Danielle Donaldson)

Make the ribbon blossoms

NOTE: Each blossom requires approximately 24″ of crinkle ribbon to make a 2″–2½″ blossom.

1. Lay the crinkle ribbon flat on the white board. Load your paintbrush with water and paint, then paint the first 6″–8″ of the ribbon. (FIGURE 4)


2. Clean your brush, load another color, and paint the next 6″–8″, layering a small amount over the previous color so the colors blend where they meet. Repeat this process with different colors for the entire length of the ribbon.

NOTE: If you are not sure what colors to work with, you can’t go wrong with a rainbow effect. Start with yellow and follow with orange, red, violet, indigo, blue, teal, and green.

3. Place the ribbon on a protected surface to dry. Be sure to let it dry completely. Use a heat tool, if desired, to speed up the process.

TIP: If you aren’t happy with the colors once they dry, brush on some extra color and dry again. This will result in a tie-dyed effect.

4. Tie a loose knot in the end of the ribbon. Choose a thread color that blends with the painted ribbon (I usually use gray or taupe). Twist and turn the ribbon in a circular fashion to create the blossom, spiraling outward and basting the ribbon in place with the needle and thread as you go. (FIGURE 5) Be patient and go slowly; these blossoms take practice. Don’t get too caught up in making them uniform or perfect though; they look much better messy.


NOTE: I leave some threads hanging from the blossoms for an even messier look.

Create watercolor leaves

1. Using an angled watercolor brush, play with your watercolor palette and make a grid of squares in lots of fun colors on some watercolor paper. (FIGURE 6) Remember to mix colors as you go to discover new combinations. Notice how the colors change as they dry. Add splashes of clear water and other paint colors to some of your first squares to see what other colorful magic you can come up with. Not a fan of squares? Try circles or stripes. Let dry.


2. Cut the dry paper into simple leaf shapes. Be sure to turn the paper in different directions to get a variety of patterns and color combinations.

3. Feed the leaves into the sewing machine the long way, one after the other, to create a long line of stitched leaves. Cut them apart and store the extras in a cute jar for future use. Alternatively, leave them stitched together for a colorful leaf garland. (FIGURE 7)


Make a spring garland

1. Choose 2 watercolor leaves and tuck them behind one of the ribbon blossoms. Using your sewing machine, add a few stitches to keep the leaves in place. (FIGURE 8) Repeat for as many blossoms as you want on your garland. I created 6 blossoms with leaves for this 108″ garland.


2. Put a paper strip on your work surface and choose a spot for your first ribbon blossom. Place the blossom on the strip and, using your sewing machine, stitch a simple “X” through the center of the blossom, attaching it to the strip. (FIGURE 9) Continue to add blossoms every 10″–12″, or so, to complete your garland. (SEE OPENING IMAGE.)

Hang your garland on your mantel, use it to embellish a gift, or add it to one of your mixed-media paintings.

spring garland

Danielle Donaldson’s love of watercolor and illustration, paired with her skills as a graphic designer, has provided her with an uncommon combination of intuition and practicality. Using a color palette and delicately drawn details, Danielle spins the ordinary into imaginative and balanced compositions. Check out her videos, kits and books here, and visit her website at

Ready for more? Try out Danielle’s watercolor lettering technique in this blog post!

Plus, don’t miss Danielle’s books The Art of Creative Watercolor and creativeGIRL for much more inspiration.

In her new book The Art of Creative Watercolor, Danielle teaches you how to create illustrations with the wonderfully spontaneous medium of watercolor.
Discover your creative happy place in between the covers of creativeGIRL.


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