Stitch Up Some Versatile Mixed-Media Art Papers

7 Jan 2013

I just learned a quick and easy mixed-media art technique to use in a variety of art projects, and I couldn't wait to share it with you.

detail of road trip mixed media collage by jenny cochran lee
Detail of a mixed-media collage
by Jenny Cochran Lee.

This technique, which I learned from mixed-media and collage artist Jenny Cochran Lee, involves paper crafts and stitching. The results make great textured backgrounds, can be used in collage and art journaling, and can also be combined with other mixed-media art techniques and projects.

What I like most is that this technique allows you to use a variety of papers from your stash: art papers, painted papers, printed papers, scrapbook and found paperseven scraps from other art projects.

To make these stitched papers you'll need:

  • Papers (see examples above)
  • Sewing machine and thread
  • Tissue papers and other lightweight papers
  • Matte medium and a brush for spreading
  • Scissors


stitch a grid on the collages papers
After stitching the papers together to form a
sheet, you stitch them again to form a grid.

1. Cut your papers into squares or rectangles approximately 3" - 4" wide by a similar length. The number of pieces you need depends on the size of the finished stitched paper, but try starting with enough pieces to create a finished pieces that's approximately 9" x 12".

2. Take your cut pieces of paper to the sewing machine and begin stitching one piece to another, both pieces face up, overlapping them slightly. Use a large needle (such as a jeans needle) and go fairly slowly. Keep adding pieces until you've stitched a patchwork of papers to create a sheet of your desired size.

3. Now, stitch over the paper to create a grid: Start at one end of the paper and stitch down the length of it. Turn the paper around 180 degrees and stitch the length again, approximately ½" - ¾" away from the first line of stitching. Continue until you come to the other edge of the paper. Then, start stitching the lines across the width of the paper (perpendicular to the first set of lines) until you have completed the grid.

applying tissue paper to the stitched paper
In a still from her WorkshopTM video, Jenny shows
how to add tissue paper shapes to your stitched paper.
Thread color is up to you; choose black for a graphic quality or a matching color if you prefer. Also, don't worry if the lines of stitching aren't exactly evenly spaced.

4. Take your tissue papers and cut them into shapes, such as circles, thin rectangles, etc. Alternatively, you can tear the papers into small pieces. You might want to mimic some of the patterns in the papers you've stitched.

5. Spread matte medium on the tissue pieces and place them here and there on your stitched paper, whatever looks best to you. Let dry.

6. At this point, you can use the stitched paper as a background for collage, journaling, and mixed-media art-drawing and painting over the piece as you desire. Or, you can cut shapes out of the stitched paper to use as a focal point in other art projects. The grid stitching will hold the cut pieces together. You can leave the cut edge as is or stitch around the perimeter, just inside the edge, to create a more finished piece.

cut out shapes from stitched paper
You can cut shapes out of the stitched paper to
create embellishments for your mixed-media
collages and other art projects.
What a great way to get your paper stash out of the bin and into your art! I have plans to create a lot of these stitched papers with my gelatin prints and watercolor experiments. Making up a bunch of these stitched pages for future use is a great way to spend an hour or two in the studio when you just want to relax and play.

If this technique intrigues you, you will love Jenny's new Cloth Paper Scissors WorkshopTM video, Add to, Undo, & Redo: Stress-free Collage Techniques. In it she demonstrates fun, no-mistake collage and mixed-media art techniques with paint and stitch, layering and un-layering to create unusual mixed-media textures. You'll want to play all day!

P.S. How do you store your art papers? Bins, files, drawers? Piled up on your work surface? Do you separate them by category? Share your storage advice below.

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Make the perfect imperfect collage in this workshop with Jenny Cochran Lee!


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jclee wrote
on 7 Jan 2013 12:03 PM

Thank you so much for the lovely article Cate!

grammasue9 wrote
on 7 Jan 2013 1:47 PM

Re: storing papers...  I just got a 10-drawer storage cabinet on wheels & sorted my stash of smaller papers by color:  red, pink, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple, multicolor, neutrals, and then gel mono prints. There were some judgement calls since many of my hand-died papers are multicolored and I couldn't put them ALL in the "multicolor" drawer, but I tried to go with the color that was dominant when I squinted at it. The drawers are semi-opaque white, which means I can see what I'm reaching for.  I can wheel the cabinet over to my work station when I'm laying out a project, then tuck it back against the wall when I need elbow room.  Loving it!  Of course, in a month, they'll be back in mixed-up piles on my desk, but it was a great exercise to remind me of what I have -- and it helped me see where there are some gaps in my collection.

JT4784 wrote
on 7 Jan 2013 5:04 PM

Grammasue, I bet you got your cart at Ikea.  They have great stuff.  I keep my scraps in a hanging file folder by color, so I can pull out a file when I'm looking for a specific color.  They won't stay that neat for me either, but it is a great opportunity to remind myself of what I've stashed away.

slswope wrote
on 8 Jan 2013 11:58 PM

Paper storage, that's a big problem!  I have some old store shelves for larger paper.  Smaller pieces and scraps go into some clear folders nearer to my workspace.  All paper is sort of color sorted, but that order is never fixed.  My favorite thing in the world is to have my sister sort through my paper.  It's fun for us both.  I like to find paper in this way, seen through another person's eye.

sue.plahn wrote
on 15 Jan 2013 12:44 AM

I store full sheets of paper by color, with a general mix in the same drawer: reds, pinks oranges in one, blues aquas, purles in another, yellows and greens in another.

One drawer is for very dark paper: blacks, dark browns, deep reds, navy blues,  and greens.

And in another: the whites and amost whites, ivory, hand-made papers, vellums...

I also keep a number of drawers with partial sheets and scraps, and I rummage through for just the right chunks.

I keep a shoe-box ready with card-face size chunks precut, in a mix of colors, ready for making a quick card.

4Beauty wrote
on 15 Jan 2013 8:00 AM

I will definitely give this a go.  At the moment I'm thinking of jump-starting for next Christmas (as I clean up from this one).  I have some adorable Christmas cards I hated to put in the recycling bin.  

As for paper storage, drawers and folders are good for the bigger pieces, but I use a large binder with a see-through page protector sleeve for each color of "snippets".   It's pretty managable, even my daughter keeps it in order without much effort.

fpeets wrote
on 15 Jan 2013 9:10 AM

Right now I store all my paper together - recycled, artist papers, mailers etc. in plastic zippered bags from store bought comforters and sheets.  These bags are a great way to keep things clean and visible.  Tried out your suggestion and stitched up some of my papers in grid format and going to post to the gallery now.  Thanks Cate for the great article!!

suezoo wrote
on 21 Jan 2013 4:45 PM

I have two hard-back accordion folders. The blue one is for cool colours, the brown one for warm.  I coloured a post-it note to the top of the folder with the colours inside and in the order that they're filed.

I also had a blast punching out circles and gluing them to the tab portion covering up whatever text was underneath. The objective was to cover the irrelevant text, the result is an instant recognition guide.  

Once pieces are too small to find in the folders, they get tossed into two un-used pizza delivery boxes.  [Friendly local pizza place donated them to the cause!]  

We also have one pizza box that holds ugly scraps for collecting embossing powders or glitter, anything powdery that we sprinkle and tap off.  

One final pizza box is our "spray booth".  Usually for spray colours like Tattered Angels Glimmer Mist but I also have miniature spray bottles for watercolour paint mixes for spraying too, easier for me than the toothbrush sprinkle though Kidlet has used the spray booth for doing that as well.

Finally, much to my surprise, hubby came home one day with two translucent boxes of 16 boxes.  I spent quite  a few days filling them with shapes from my paper punches and organized them to match [sort of -- almost -- kinda] the order of the colours in my accordion folders.  So there are always circles, hearts, flowers and butterflies ready to go.  In the second box, I finally organized all my eyelets and brads in the same colour families.

When the "bling" collection started to grow out of hand, I dusted off four old square glass candle jars that came with ugly metal lids.  I had many fun craft days colour-coding the lids reds-oranges-yellows, blues-greens, pinks-purples, and browns-champagnes-creams.  All the clear stuff lives in a large old clear peanut butter jar and I just found a black jar for the few black blings I have.  

All of these sit on one bookshelf and it's too easy to grab a few papers, a box of shapes, a box of brads, one jar of bling and to the work table we go.

We have my grandmothers large footed fruit bowl that holds all of our adhesives and a few more peanut butter jars that hold the pokey-sharps [scissors, knives, razors, awls] and they all live on the work table.

Each of the 3 of us that usually craft together has her own "workspace" which is the lid of a pizza box.  It's fun to look at them now and see who uses what the most often and what colours spill off 'round the edges.  After one messy glueing session we thought we'd need new ones but a putty scraper from the hardware store knocked off the blobs and globs.  We've written funny notes to each other on the back side of our "workspaces" and they are growing into their own mixed media works of art.

We have our monthly Ugly Paper Game scheduled for next week - can't wait to see what bits are left behind from that one!

Oh and the buttons.  My grandmother was a seamstress by trade and had an extraordinary button collection that I inherited a few years ago.  It's in a huge tin that's battered and worn and makes me feel like I'm five years old again when I open it just for fun or when I'm looking for inspiration.  We have a hook-and-eye collection that will still be amazing for my grandchildren's grandchildren!

on 1 May 2013 2:59 AM

When I need a quick fabric fix, I turn to felt . Felt crafts are like comfort food for me. Working with felt is easy and satisfying, because it comes in a huge array of colors, has enough heft to stand on its own, and the cut edges don’t fray.

on 10 Jul 2013 8:23 AM

When I was a little girl, I couldn't wait for my mom's monthly McCall's magazine to arrive. The moment she brought it in from the mailbox we flipped to the page of Betsy McCall paper dolls. Pretty Betsy--with her headbands and plaid dresses