Tips for Using Fusible Web in Fabric Collage

When I first came to work at what was then Quilting Arts, I heard a lot about WonderUnder®. I honestly thought it was some kind of bra for about a week. Turns out (for those of you as clueless as I was), it's a brand of fusible web that holds two textiles together, instead of stitching, for quilting and other fabric art.

fused fabric collage by bethan ash
'Color Composition' fused fabric collage by Bethan Ash.

The only personal experience I had with a product like this was Stitch Witchery®. I used this fusible tape in 7th grade to hem my skirts. I thought I was clever, but my home ec teacher criticized me, as she considered it "cheating."

Imagine my delight in discovering that in art quilting, fusing was not only not frowned upon, it was encouraged! Fusing fabric makes it easy to appliqué or create a fabric collage without having to stitch a million little seams. You just press your fabric into place.

Well, it's almost that easy. Each fusible product works slightly differently, so it's important to read the manufacturer's instructions. And you want to match the fusible to the fabric. WonderUnder and similar products work well for cotton fabrics. MistyFuse, a gossamer fusible with no backing paper, works best for sheer or lightweight fabrics, such as silk.

In her comprehensive book Vibrant Quilt Collage: A Spontaneous Approach to Fused Art Quilts, artist and author Bethan Ash offers tips on how to get the best results from fabric fusing. Here are some I think are most helpful.

  • Wash and iron your fabric to remove any starch before fusing-do not use fabric softener.
  • Fuse your fabrics by ironing the rough side of the webbing to the reverse side of the fabric, using a dry hot iron (cotton setting). Evenly press from the center to the outer edges and iron for seven secondsif unsure, follow the instructions that come with the webbing.
  • Too much heat applied repeatedly will weaken the glue, burn it into the fabric, change the fabric color or make the fabric stiff. Also, over-fused fabric will no longer adhere to other fabrics.
  • To protect your ironing board and iron, place a sheet of baking parchment under and on top of the fabric when fusing.
  • Fabric that bubbles or ripples when fused will flatten out when the release (backing) paper is peeled off.
  • Always let the fabric and webbing cool before you come to remove the release (backing) paper.
  • Remove the release (backing) paper in one piece by first fanning with a finger and then swiping your hand between the fabric and paper. Feel for any gummy areas that the iron didn't cover and re-fuse these.
  • If the webbing separates from the release (backing) paper, it is still usable. Just place the webbing on the fabric, put the release (backing) paper on top and fuse into place.
  • Save the release (backing) paperit can be fused to over and over again. Use it for assembling fused collages, storing fused scraps, protecting the ironing board, and pattern-making. You can fuse to either side of WonderUnder release (backing) paper.
  • Cut webbing-backed fabrics webbing side up when using a rotary cutter, so the glue side does not stick to the mat and cause the fabric to fray when it is removed. It is also easier to see the areas where there is no glue.
  • When cutting a pile of webbing-backed fabric, do not stack with the webbing sides together or the pieces may be difficult to separate. Up to three layers of backed fabric shapes can be cut out at one time.
  • Save all your fused scraps. They are great for tiny elements and collage work.

Once you have your fabric fused, you can use the series of simple hands-on exercises in Vibrant Quilt Collage to help you develop your instincts for free-cut and fused fabric collage.

I call that "liberating," not "cheating"!


P.S. Have you ever had an instructor call you out for taking a shortcut that you considered a creative or liberating choice? Tell me about it! Leave a comment below.

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Blog, Collage, Fabric Art, Mixed-Media Techniques

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