Embellishment has been popular in art quilting for years but dimensional fabric and fiber art quilts have really taken off lately, as if the artists’ creativity couldn’t be contained to the flat surface of a quilt. 3D is everywhere in art and contemporary quilting!
Manipulating the surface of art quilt patterns is one way to obtain depth and dimension. Quilters also add on to the surface, like with dimensional appliqué. Or, with the help of structural elements and supports, the quilt surface can become just about any shape and size you can dream of.
It’s not just the world-class quilt artist creating dimension in quilts. Chances are you’ve also worked in 3D. Have you ever added beads, buttons, ruched flowers, or hand embroidery to your work? The answer is likely yes. See, working in 3D isn’t as intimidating as you thought, is it?
Of course, an argument can be made that quilts are already dimensional; the very art of quilting, layering fabric with batting and then stitching the layers together, creates a dimensional object. But what we’re talking about are added elements and features that are less subtle than that and really add depth and dimension to quilt art.
Add Texture to the Surface
Manipulating fabric and experimenting with it is a great way to begin adding dimension to your work or create your very own 3D quilt patterns. Try folding fabric in pleats—placed horizontally, this can be a great way to interpret water or mountains. Turn the fabric vertically and you may see trees or tall grass in the pleats. Now try squeezing or bunching the fabric; what does that look like? Perhaps distant mountains or bushes or rocks.
Using fabric of different fiber content can result in interesting creations. Try sewing different fibers together and then wash them—one might shrink while another stays stable. Or try manipulating your fabric in other ways like by tearing, cutting, or layering.
In her book Exploring Dimensional Quilt Art, quilt artist C. June Barnes shows the many ways she works in 3D. Her invitation to create “what if?” experiments with different-shaped pieces will expand your creativity. June’s book is an excellent resource and problem-solving guide. She’s even done much of the math for you!
Stuffed appliqué and trapunto add dimension to art quilt patterns.
Try putting batting or polyester stuffing under gathered or bunched fabric and then appliquéing it down. Instant dimension! Trapunto, a tried-and-true technique featuring a high-relief element on fabric outlined in stitch to accentuate it, is making a comeback with unique results.
Diane Savona takes the concept of layered embellishment to a whole new level by embedding objects in her quilted work under a layer of fabric.
In a Quilting Arts Magazine article about Diane (August/September 2012) she said, “This variation came about while experimenting with ways to create visual layers in order to give depth to my artwork. Embedding objects under cloth was just another sewing option that created depth.”
This very unique “option” has high impact and her work is inspiring!
Working in 3D is all about experimentation.
Diane Núñez wrote eloquently about her process of creating 3D quilts in the February/March 2013 issue of Quilting Arts Magazine. Diane talked about her process and how she creates drawings and paper models before moving on to fabric.
Diane often uses stiff fusible interfacing rather than batting in her quilt sandwich. This gives the piece the body and stiffness she is after.
“Depending on how it is mounted,” wrote Diane, “each piece looks different in various settings. (A piece) hung on a wall under a spotlight looks different than if it is displayed sitting on a table by a window in natural light. The piece also changes depending on the time of day, since shadow and light always fluctuate.”
Diane enjoys the variety of depth, dimension, and texture her 3D quilt patterns achieve, mixing soft materials like fabric along with harder elements such as metal rods, acrylic, and other items that find their way into her quilted work.
Barbara Schneider makes beautiful dimensional artwork in her DVD video, Three-Dimensional Fiber Art. These sculptural pieces are fabric collages that are stiffened and shaped with interfacing, batting, fabric stiffener products, and stitch.
Barbara begins with a photograph—for example, a leaf—and then creates a photocopy to the actual size she will work in. She makes note of unusual or interesting aspects of the leaf, such as a lacy effect made by Japanese beetles’ chew marks or intricate patterns of veins. She will add these details later.
She uses her photocopy as a visual guide and recreates the marks and veins of the leaf with stitch. She might use colored pencils or a layer of tulle to tone or shade areas and snip away fabric with her scissors to imitate the chew marks of the beetles.
When her stitch work is complete, she paints stiffener on the leaf until saturated, forms it into the shape she desires, and lets it dry completely.
Large pieces can become wall art all on their own. Smaller works can be stitched onto a quilt surface or used as embellishments elsewhere. Appliquéing 3D leaves onto a landscape quilt will give it instant appeal and liveliness.
Stitch as Embellishment
You can enhance a quilt top myriad ways with hand and machine embroidery. Jane LaFazio offers her fresh and creative approach to embellishment in her DVD video, Layered & Fused Appliqué Quilts: From Fabric Scraps to Recycled Circles. Jane uses buttons and beads as well as hand and machine stitching in her quilts.
The final quilting of a piece offers yet another opportunity to add texture, depth, design, and emotion to a piece. Bethan Ash integrates stitch effectively in her quilts, which you can see in her book Vibrant Quilt Collage. Practically every example in these pages uses the quilting stitch as a significant design element. The diversity of the quilts in this book is inspirational.
Examples of dimensional and 3D contemporary quilting designs are as varied as subtle folds and tucks on a quilt surface up to show-stopping art pieces. Whether you’re looking to create a freestanding quilted sculpture or just add a few 3D items to your next quilt surface, enjoy taking the art of quilting to the next dimension.