Embellishment Techniques to Make your Pet Portraits Pop

clarence, embellishment techniques
Who could resist a face like Clarence’s?

pokey boltonYou know I’m passionate about my pets; I’m particularly taken at the moment with the newest addition to my menagerie, Clarence. With those soulful eyes, it’s only a matter of time before he becomes the subject of a mini-quilt or two.

Isn’t it funny how animals have their own personalities? And isn’t it amazing how quilters can convey attitude, expression, and sentiment through thread and fabric?

Sometimes, though, you need to use embellishment techniques to achieve the right texture of the animal, communicate humor, or put the pet in the proper setting.

A perfect example of this is “The Iconic Miss Isabella (Iguana)” by Jill Packer. Miss Isabella graces the cover of the 2012 Quilting Arts Calendar, and is it any wonder why?

As Jill describes her pet, “Isabella Iguana is magnificently prehistoric, haughty, sumptuously textured, and fascinating. A gentle vegetarian, she can change color on a whimmy kind of girl!”

beaded embellishment iguana quilt
Our cover girl, ‘The Iconic Miss Isabella (Iguana)’
by Jill Packer.

Jill achieved Isabella’s regal demeanor through beaded embellishments, French knots, and fabric embellishing with paint.

Jill used large and small beads, plus leather cutouts, to embellish Isabella and give her skin that encrusted look. Varying the colors of the beads and the embroidery floss for the French knots adds to the depth of the texture.

But my favorite embellishment details are what Jill did to give her pet personality: the long eyelashes made from fringed leather and the beaded embellishment bracelets Isabella flashes on her wrist.

Here are a few tips for sewing beads on your quilts.

1. Use strong thread. Experienced embellishers rarely use regular sewing thread for beading, as it’s not strong enough, especially for heavy embellishments like found objects. Instead they chose Irish waxed linen, Silamide thread, embroidery floss (several strands together), or another kind of thread designed for beading.

2. Have an array of needles available. Depending on the size of the beads or found objects you’re embellishing with, and the proximity of the embellishments, you’ll want to have beading needles, between needles, and embroidery needles available for sewing embellishments on your quilt.


beaded embellishments
Miss Isabella’s head is encrusted with
beaded embellishments.

3. Double strand and knot. Two strands are better than one; if one breaks the other strand will keep the bead in place. And be sure to knot your thread.

4. Support your beaded embellishments. If the quilt design will be heavily embellished, consider supporting the quilt top with heavy interfacing so the beads won’t pull on the fabric you’ve so carefully cut and quilted.

5. Get a grip. If you need help pulling your needle through heavy or painted fabric, try using craft pliers to grasp the needle.

You can enjoy Isabella and 12 other stitched, painted, and embellished quilts featuring animals, with the Quilting Arts 2012 Calendar. Each month, plus the cover, offers inspiration for your own quilting and celebrates the variety, humor, and colors of the animal kingdom.

P.S. What member of the animal kingdom inspires you most? Leave a comment below.

Other topics you may enjoy:


Embellishing, Quilting Daily Blog, Sewing Techniques

9 thoughts on “Embellishment Techniques to Make your Pet Portraits Pop

  1. I’m the doting mother of cats, three dearly departed, and one in the present. I was thinking last night Bushy just might become a “quilt” subject this year.

  2. Hi I’m from New Zealand. I love all animals but horses have to be my ultimate inspiration. Especially my special boy Yogi. a 17hh Thoroughbred. Who usually follows me everywhere.

  3. My son’s dog of 17 yrs died this past yr; so AFTER seeing the wonderful pets on my new Calendar- I am blowing up pic’s to make a wall hanging of his beloved TOBY for him. WHAT AN AWESOME CALENDAR!!