I’m New to Surface Design – Got Any Advice?

One of the things I'm looking most forward to as editor of Quilting Arts Magazine is learning more about surface design.

painted surface design fabrics
Surface design fabrics by Julie Fei-Fan Balzer.

Techniques like fabric painting, dyeing, printing on fabric, and foiling are all familiar to me and I admire other artists' use of them. But I haven't explored surface design techniques much myself.

I love the idea of being able to create fabric that is uniquely mine. As fabric collage is one of my favorite styles of fiber art, I thought I would start by looking for surface design inspiration from artists who mix their media. There are so many to choose from: Judy Coates Perez, Kerr Grabowski, Jane Dunnewold, Melanie Testa, just to name a few, and I'm planning on learning from all of them. I'd also like advice from you.

In the meantime, because I'm just beginning to branch out, I thought I'd take some tips from mixed-media collage artist Julie Fei-Fan Balzer. Her free-wheeling, no-rules/no special equipment approach appeals to a relative newcomer like me.

surface design quilt balzer
Painted collage quilt by
Julie Fei-Fan Balzer.

Julie likes to work with watercolor and acrylic paints, gesso, stencils, and "tools" like paper towel rolls, plastic forks, masking tape, and bubble wrap to make designs.

On an episode of "Quilting Arts TV," Julie created a quilts from scraps of painted, stenciled, and stamped fabric. She then lightly painted over a piece of fabric with gesso and used watercolor paints on top to create a face and a message as the focal point.

Her anyone-can-do-it style of teaching really appeals to my sense of adventure. Julie's first Cloth Paper Scissors WorkshopTM video, "Collage Fast and Furious," gave me some great ideas for painting, stenciling, and stamping. And her new video, "All About Faces: How to Draw, Paint, Stencil, and Collage Faces in Mixed-Media Art," focuses on ways to create a pleasing face and incorporate it in paper and fabric art.

I can't wait to start exploring!

P.S. Do you have any tips for learning surface design techniques? What is your favorite surface design medium? Please give me some guidance in the comments section below.

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Fabric Painting & Dyeing, Quilting Daily Blog

5 thoughts on “I’m New to Surface Design – Got Any Advice?

  1. It’s easy to forget most of us come to surface design and art quilts via fashion and/or home decor and/or quilt sewing. While these new and interesting techniques look interesting and, even, fun some are intimidating and frequently require outlays of cash for media we may never use again. I suggest a technique that uses what we have on hand. When starting out, we want to dip out toes in the water, not cannonball into the deep end screaming, “I wonder if I can swim?” I came up with the following technique by serendipity: a bunch of crazily shaped batik scraps and a new sewing machine with hundreds of stitiching designs. Here it is.
    1 Piece of muslin (suggest 15″ x 30″ *)
    A LOT of small scraps, any kind of fabric (silk, rayon, cotton, linen) as long as they are the same weight
    A LOT of leftover snippets of ribbon, fringe, etc.
    Any spools of thread with a little bit of thread left that need to be emptied, especially polyester or rayon or metallic embroidery threads

    *You want to end up with a useable piece of fabric, but a really large pieces of muslin is too much. The first time I tried this I used a yard. I didn’t sound like that much, but it WAS way too much. 15″ x 30″ makes a nice size tote bag.

    Note re: bobbin thread: This is the perfect opportunity to use up small amounts of thread on bobbins. It doesn’t matter what color is on the back side of the muslin.

    For this application and for my machine, a number 11 sharp needle works for me. Your machine, fabric, and thread choices may require a different size.

    Thread your machine and select any fancy stitch. Lay a scrap of fabric on the muslin (you can start at the center, at the side, wherever you want) and pin at center. Lay another scrap along a side edge. Edges are NOT turned under and the second piece need not cover an entire side of the first piece. Work with pieces that are no longer than 5″ – 6″ on any side. Sew the overlap with the fancy stitch. Remove the pin. You wont need it again. Lay down the next scrap on top of an edge and stitch. Use the same fancy stitch until you decide you want a different one. Or give yourself a rule .. the same stitch until I run out of thread. Or not. Just have fun seeing what your sewing machine can do. If you find a stitch you like and a thread you love, meander down several of the fabric pieces just because it’s pretty! Have an odd side you can’t quite cover? Add one of those snippets of ribbon or fringe. End up with a crease, wrinkle, or tuck on a scrap? Who cares, this is part of surface design. Do some deliberate pleating for dimension.

    The result is a very useable piece of fabric that was fun to create and used only bits and pieces you had on hand. I’ve seen raw pieced cotton fabric sell in fabric stores for $12 yard and yours will be much better because it has fabrics and trims you selected!

  2. I use squeeze bottles with various-sized tips to write Stacked Journaling on fabric with both paint and fabric dye. Also, I love to use grocery store bleach pens (find them in the clothing detergent aisle) to discharge hand-dyed fabrics.

  3. I have always been a machine quilter because it happens so quickly, but took up hand quilting when a grandson was wrestling every Saturday and I definately needed something to do with my hands. I am now hand stipling a Round Robin quilt project that I was in a few years back (8 yrs or so). I am truly enjoying the calmness of hand quilting, although it sure does take many hours to get the effect. My 16 year old granddaughter and 17 year old grandson are both very interested in designing, sewing and have both tried their hands at hand pieceing and quilting. Who knows were that will go for them, but at least I know the art is not lost in my family. fungram