The more I work with the Babylock Embellisher the more excited I become regarding the potential that these types of machines hold for fiber artists, quilters, and artisans. Every thread, yarn, fiber, and fabric becomes the basis for experimentation, producing unique results that cannot be produced by other means. But I digress. . .
In part one I promised to share with you a technique that I call “shadow felting,” since the resulting fabric takes on a suede-like appearance and renders a muted form of the original base fabric. Also, when used as a 3D object on a quilt or other project, it casts a shadow.
For the best results with this process, you will need a batik, a hand dyed, or a hand painted base fabric that has individual motifs you can use for appliqué. Using a one-sided commercial fabric doesn’t work well owing to the pale underside that obscures the original design when needle felted.
Additionally, you will need a very light stabilizer. I experimented with several and found two that worked quite well: Carriff .50 weight and Gerber EZ-liner disposable diaper liners. Here are the reasons why these work for this particular project:
1. They are both very lightweight.
2. The Carriff stabilizer will remain in the project, adding strength and a good foundation with which the fibers can mesh. Its non-woven wispy appearance also mutes the surface ever so slightly.
3. The Gerber EZ-liner provides a foundation for the felting process but afterwards is melted with an iron or heat gun, so it disappears. (If you cannot locate this product, call 1-800-4-GERBER for product availability in your area.)
If neither of these products are available to you, try a very light weight used dryer sheet (some are too dense) or a water soluble mesh stabilizer such as Vilene. I haven’t experimented with the wash-aways because they involve the extra step of removal, but they should work.
Begin by hooping your stabilizer and placing a cut motif on top. If one side of the design motif is more pronounced, place that side face down. Starting in the center, tack the motif to the stabilizer and needle felt the entire motif. It only requires a light felting.
Next, place a small amount of roving on the surface of the motif. Again, start in the center and needle felt roving over the entire design motif. Use a roving that matches the color of your motif. You may also like to mix in other colors that blend well. For example, I added a darker shade of green on one of my leaves.
Make sure you felt the edges of the motif adequately.
Check the back side (which will be the front side when you’re finished) to see if more felting is required. The goal is a motif with a suede-like appearance. Make sure enough roving has meshed through to produce this look.
When your motif is completely felted, remove it from the hoop and cut away the surrounding stabilizer. Set your iron on the “cotton” setting. Sandwich your motif between nonstick pressing sheets (or parchment paper) and iron on both sides. Let the pressing sheet cool and then take a peak. The Carriff motif should be ready to cut. The EZ-liner may take a few more seconds to melt.
As an alternative, you can melt the EZ-liner with a heat gun set to its lowest heat setting. Do this outdoors if possible, but always in a well ventilated area. Do not place the gun too close to the motif and keep it moving across the surface until you see the liner begin to melt.
Regardless of which method you use, a quick pressing flattens the motif (to about the thickness of craft felt) and helps to set the fibers. Now you are ready to cut your motif with a sharp pair of craft scissors.
I placed my leaf motifs here and there on the surface of my quilt. I chose to appliqué two of the leaves, simply doing a few rounds of straight stitches. When the sewing machine needle punctures the edge of the “shadow felt,” a slight bit of fraying takes place.
However, on the leaves that I applied as 3D objects (with stitching on the interior of the leaves), there was no fraying.
Notice the difference in appearance between the thread painted leaves and the appliquéd/3D leaves. They all share color and shape similarities, yet they each have unique properties that add visual interest to the whole piece.
I hope you enjoy playing with this technique and discovering new possibilities for your work. Relax and have fun!
N. Rene West