When someone asks me what's the difference between contemporary art quilts and traditional quilts, one of the first things I think of is embellishment, especially beads and encrustation.
Beaded embellishment is just not something you are going to see on a traditional quilt, but it does pop up in the art quilt world. And it makes for eye-popping quilts.
Two of my favorite articles from Quilting Arts on beaded embellishment are Andrea Stern's pieces, Extreme Embellishment I and II from the Spring and Summer 2004 issues. Andrea mixes beads of all kinds, found objects, laminated images, copper mesh, wire, and more to encrust and embellish the surface of a quilt.
Here are some of her tips for sewing beads on fabric and making your quilt embellishment more interesting and personal.
Andrea's Embellishment Tips
Add visual interest by mixing beads. Make custom mixes using beads with different finishes (matte, shiny, opaque, rainbow) as well as by throwing in beads of contrasting colors.
A transparent bead will often appear darker when sewn down. Try to match your thread color to the bead to enhance the color or produce contrast. Background fabric color or pattern will also affect the bead's appearance.
Beads can be altered using etching cream.
Have several needles threaded so you don't have to stop after each thread to start a new needle.
If you're using different size beads in the same piece, it may be easier to sew the flat beads first, then the bulky ones. Threads tend to catch on bulky items such as buttons or sequins.
Another of my favorite beaded embellishment articles is the one featured on the cover of our Spring 2005 issue, Fun with Silk Rods, Cocoons, and Bark by Stef Francis. I just fell in love with the bell-like "embellished jesters." Others must agree, because this one on of our most asked-for issues.
Here are Stef's directions for layering the cocoons to make the "jester."
1. Using sharp scissors, take one cocoon and cut a zigzag pattern into it, beginning at the open end. Slide an intact cocoon into the cut one.
2. With a sharp hand needle and metallic thread, stitch through the center of both cocoons so that the thread emerges on the outside at point A (see figure 1).
3. Push the needle back into the inner cocoon at B and come out again at A. Enter the inner cocoon at C, come out at A. (You may find a thimble is useful.)
4. Continue around until the cocoons are safely joined. Then embellish with beads, sequins, and stitch.
That same year, in the Winter 2005 issue, Margaret Ball offered readers a tutorial on Hyperembellishment, creating layers of hand embroidery, machine embroidery, beading, and found objects. She then covers the area with a sheer layer, such as tulle, and irons it (with parchment paper protection) to fuse it all in place. And that's just the beginning of her embellishment escapades!
When I think about it, 2004 and 2005 were very rich years for beaded embellishment articles in Quilting Arts. If you don't already have these issues, they're now available (eight complete issues, just as printed) on one handy CD, the 2004 – 2005 Quilting Arts CD Collection.
So, what are your favorite embellishment techniques? Have you ever made these jesters or done encrusted embellishment? Leave your tips and suggestions below!