Fall is just around the corner, and that means it’s prime time to infuse some autumn-themed projects into your mixed-media art. If you’re not sure where to begin, look no further than fall’s beautiful blooms for inspiration. In this tutorial from our September/October 2015 issue, artist Diana Trout shows you how to use muslin and paper to create a garden of paper cloth flowers in rich autumn hues. Fair warning: Once you make a few of these blooms, you’re going to want to make lots more!
Autumn Bloomers by Diana Trout
Flowers give us beauty and fragrance, yet ask nothing in return. The flowers that bloom in autumn share a pop of glorious fall color before everything fades to black and white.
I love painting, drawing, and making flowers from fabric, so it wasn’t a stretch when I began to make them from paper cloth. Paper cloth is comprised of a layer of thin fabric, such as muslin, layered with glue and lightweight paper, like tissue paper. It is a sturdy yet flexible material and it’s easy to manipulate. Anything you can do with paper or fabric, you can do with paper cloth. Additions of metallic sewing or embroidery threads and metallic paints or inks are a reminder of the summer sun, with silver leading us into the dark and winter’s magical moonlight.
- White glue (I used Mod Podge®)
- Plastic cup for mixing the water and glue
- Protected work surface (I cut plastic bags open and cover my table. You can also easily lift the plastic off to move the papers for drying.)
- Lightweight cloth, such as muslin or other lightweight fabric (I used five 5″ x 9″ pieces of muslin.)
- Lightweight papers: napkins (Pull apart the layers), Japanese papers, tissue papers, or monoprints on deli paper. (Avoid shiny magazine papers. They are heavy and the shine prevents a good bond.)
- Foam brush or paintbrush (I use a 1″ or 2″ brush.)
- Sharp scissors
- Craft mat or freezer paper
- Blending tool with foam tip
- Ink pads (I used Colorbox® ink pads in Moss, Chianti, Lavender, and Mango; Tsukineko® Brilliance ink pads in Galaxy Gold and Coffee Bean; and Ranger Distress® Ink in Pumice and Walnut Stain.)
- Rubber stamps with small-scale patterns
- Gold and Silver acrylic inks (I used Liquitex® brand.)
- Pens: gel and metallic, a variety of colors (I used Sakura® Gelly Roll® pens.)
- Glue stick (I prefer UHU® brand.)
- Sewing machine
- Embroidery thread, metallic (I used silver and gold.)
- Awl (or thumbtack)
- Washi tape
- Needle and thread
- Wood panels
- Mounting foam
- Sawtooth hangers
Create the paper cloth
1. Mix glue with water in even amounts. Start with 1/4 cup of glue and add water until it’s the consistency of skim milk. Lay the muslin on the plastic-covered surface and brush it liberally with the glue mixture. Lay the paper on your first piece of muslin, making sure the edges are even, and brush the surface liberally with the glue/water mixture. Set it aside to dry.
NOTE: Don’t worry about wrinkles in the paper cloth. Wrinkles are to be expected with this technique, and they add interest.
2. Once the paper cloth has dried (it may take several hours, depending on weather conditions), trim any uneven edges. (FIGURE 1)
Cut the flower and leaf shapes
1. Decide the approximate size of your flowers. If mounting them to a board or other substrate, use that as your guide.
2. Create layers of graduated circles. Working fabric-side up (This is the “back”), draw loose circle shapes on the paper cloth with pencil. Starting with the largest size first (You can also use a circle stencil), draw 2–5 circles for each flower, creating as many layers as you like. (FIGURE 2) Use the largest circles as a guide for cutting the smaller circles. Draw and cut leaves in various sizes and shapes.
NOTE: I cut my shapes larger than I ultimately want them to be, so I can trim and adjust as I work.
Add color, pattern, and texture
1. Working on a craft mat or freezer paper taped to your work surface, start layering color onto the paper-side (the front) of the flowers and leaves. Tamp the blending tool into a pigment inkpad. Starting on the craft mat, begin swirling the loaded blender tool onto the mat, gradually swirling it onto the leaf or flower. Take your time and you’ll get nice, even color. Build layers of colors by allowing each layer of pigment ink to dry before adding another, or use a heat gun to speed the dry time.
- Applying liquid inks
- 1. Squirt out a puddle of ink onto your craft mat or freezer paper.
- 2. Run the edge of a credit card through the puddle of ink, and run the ink-loaded edge along the paper.
- 3. You can also use the ink-loaded credit card as a stamp, and create a grid, herringbone pattern, or lines on the flowers or leaves. (FIGURE 3)
NOTE: I use pigment inks for good coverage and dye inks to darken or unify the colors.
2. Add more color and detail. I used Pumice and Walnut Stain inkpads to blend the colors and add shadow effects after all of the pigment ink was dry.
3. Stamp random patterns on the paper cloth. You can mix colors, but since you are creating a background, keep the colors in the same family. For example, use light, medium, and dark shades of rose.
4. Layer pigment inks over the dye-based inks for more coverage and to add metallic shine. I used Brilliance inks in Coffee Bean and Galaxy Gold. You can also use stencils to decorate the paper. Allow to dry.
5. Refine the shapes of the flowers and leaves with scissors. You can also do this after you stitch the pieces. I do some refining now, and some after stitching.
TIP: Look at flowers and plants in your garden or on the Internet for inspiration. I viewed such autumn bloomers as asters, chrysanthemums, and a pod plant called Thysanocarpus radians, or ribbed fringepod.
6. Decorate the flowers and leaves with doodles and designs using metallic and gel pens. When the ink is dry, layer the pieces. Lightly dab glue stick on the center of each layer to hold the pieces in place for stitching. Allow the glue to dry thoroughly before stitching.
Assemble the flowers and leaves
NOTE: I find it easiest to leave the feed dogs engaged when stitching the flowers and leaves. The paper cloth is stiff and it’s easy to create simple circles and other shapes, as long as you stitch slowly. If you are a wiz with free-motion stitching, that might work better for you.
1. Practice sewing on some scraps of paper cloth. The machine will pull the material through easily, and you can guide it with your hands to make circles, curved lines, or other organic shapes. (FIGURE 4)
NOTE: You can vary the stitch length as long as the stitches are not so close that the paper tears.
2. Decorate some of the leaves with couched thread. Position the embroidery thread where you want it on the leaf. Use a zigzag stitch to attach it to the leaf using the smallest zigzag setting and a medium stitch length. (FIGURE 5) Stitch slowly to make sure the embroidery thread stays in place. You may have to adjust your stitch length so that it covers the couched thread.
TIP: Lightly tape down the embroidery threads before couching them; remove the tape as you go along. Low-tack washi tape works well for this. (FIGURE 5)
3. Optional: Hand stitch the flower and leaf pieces together. If your paper is difficult to pierce with a needle, use a needle awl to make pilot holes, and then stitch as usual, using a running stitch.
4. Optional: Attach the flowers to a board or other substrate with foam mounting tape to add more dimension (ABOVE).
Diana Trout’s professional life is divided equally between her twin passions for teaching and creating. Her artwork and articles have appeared in national magazines, and she exhibits regionally in the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, area. Diana teaches in person and online, as well as maintaining an active blog and YouTube channel. She is the author of Journal Spilling: Mixed Media Techniques for Free Expression from North Light Books. Visit Diana’e website at dianatrout.typepad.com.