Applique Quilting: Adding Sequins, Beads And Other Accessories

Simple embellishments can make a difference in your quilt. Crazy quilting and how those techniques can be used on other quilts.

Art quilting seems to be more popular than ever these days. Quilts are no longer utilitarian items needed to keep us warm at night; they are creatively embellished works of art combining fabric, different colors of thread, beads, buttons, lace, ribbon and all sorts of other bits and bobbles to make a unified mosaic that is nothing short of art.But how do you get started embellishing quilts? The good news is it looks a lot harder than it is. The bad news? Once you get the hang of the techniques you'll find it difficult to stop.

Perhaps the most famous style of this highly embellished art quilt is the crazy quilt. Crazy quilts have been around for hundreds of years. Enterprising young women who didn't want to lose a scrap of fabric saved even the smallest bits and designed quilts with pieces of all shapes, sizes and colors, whatever they had on hand. There's no "pattern" to a crazy quilt and every single one of them is different.

What made (and makes) these quilts so unique (besides the use of tons of different fabrics) is the embellishments. Women wanting to show off their embroidery skills would make crazy quilts with a different kind of stitching over every seam. It takes a great deal of knowledge to be able to pull of this type of quilt, but you can make a simpler version of a crazy quilt just by following the old-fashioned style and adding a few unique elements.

The easiest way to start making a crazy quilt "block" is to start with several decent sized pieces of fabric. Sew the pieces together, not worrying too much about straightness or seam allowances. Now start cutting the fabric apart. You might start by cutting your initially stitched piece in half horizontally and then stitching it back together with the fabrics in the opposite order. Then cut and stitch, cut and stitch some more, until you are happy with the look of the piece you have pieced. If you want you can add some other fabrics to the edges or keep it simple (this is a great way to make a block to practice your embellishing techniques on, because you won't waste any of your good fabrics).

The simplest embellishment to add to your quilt is colored thread. You can freehand machine quilt squiggly lines or use a small pattern that fills up most of the space in one of your scraps. Or you can stitch something by hand, such as a blanket stitch running along a seam or a freehand flower on one of your patches. You can tie decorative knots, such as a French knot (pull the thread through to the front of the quilt, wrap the thread around the needle a few times and put the needle back through the quilt fabric as close to the other hole as possible) to embellish another design or on their own. Even simple Xs (like those used in cross-stitching) can be used for a cute effect.

The next step up on the embellishment scale is buttons. There is such a wide variety of buttons available these days, from plastic and metal buttons molded in whimsical shapes to handmade wooden and glass buttons to buttons made of polymer clay. If you have a particular motif in mind for the design of your quilt, chances are you can find a button that will correspond without having to look very hard. Buttons can be sewn randomly onto the fabric, either in the main part of the fabric scrap or along the seams (think about putting a button at the intersection of a group of seams). You could also combine a button with a stitching technique by using the button as the center of a flower and embroidering petals and a stem around it. Buttons can also be grouped or used as a pattern that repeats across the piece for a pleasing effect.

Sewing buttons on is usually quite simple, but there can be different options depending on the type of button used. If it is a standard button with holes, you can sew it on (by hand is easiest but it is possible to sew on buttons with some of the newer sewing machines) making straight horizontal or vertical lines between the holes or by forming an X. Some buttons have shanks (looped pieces of metal) on the backs. If you are using this kind of button you simply sew around the shank several times until the button is firmly attached to the quilt. These buttons are nice because the thread does not show and they appear to be floating on the quilt top. Some suppliers also offer buttons without holes and without shanks; they have flat backs and can be applied to your quilt top with adhesive (there's a special kind of glue made for attaching buttons to fabric that is also washing machine safe).

Another fun and easy way to add pizzazz to your quilt tops is with lace and ribbon. This is a great use for all the little random bits you might have been hanging on to (lace from your wedding gown, a ribbon from your daughter's dress) and never knew what to do with. If you plan ahead you can stitch these items onto the quilt top at the same time you are putting the pieces together (provided the piece of lace or ribbon is the same length or shorter than the seam you are stitching). Simply sandwich the piece between the two pieces of fabric you wish to sew together and sew all three layers at once.

If you haven't planned ahead you can add lace or ribbon by hand sewing (or machine sewing, if you use a decorative stitch). If you don't want your stitches to be visible you can sew the piece like you would hand sew a hem on a skirt, carefully picking up only a few strands of the fabric weave at a time. This is very time consuming but important if you don't want the stitches to show.

Other great additions to quilt tops are beads, charms and sequins. You can sew on individual beads or charms (pass the thread through the hole in the bead or charm several times to make sure it's secure) or a whole string of beads or charms (like a charm bracelet). It is possible to sew a string of beads onto a quilt using your sewing machine using a special presser foot with a channel in it (often called a pearls and piping foot or a bulky overlock foot). Use a zigzag stitch that is wide enough to sew just between the beads (you'll want to sew very slowly so as not to hit the beads with the needle). Of course you can easily sew a string of beads on by hand in the same manner.

Sequins are great for highlighting a pattern in the fabric. Again, you can use them individually or even sew a string of sequins along a seam or in a pattern (starburst, spiral, etc.) for added effect.

There's really no limit to the things you can add to a quilt to decorate and embellish it. Anything you find in your sewing basket can be attached or incorporated into your crazy quilt. Of course these techniques can be used on more conservatively pieced projects as well. Your imagination is the limit when it comes to embellishing quilts. Have fun playing with the possibilities.

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