Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Sew and burn away - short tutorial

 Did I tell you about my cousin John?  He takes the most amazing photos of birds - and has a site devoted to them which you can see here.  You will come away from it inspired, I'm sure!

I decided to try out my 'sew and burn' technique to try and reproduce one of his photos to use as a cushion front.  I took some photos along the way in case you wanted to try out something that you feel drawn to too.

This is the finished cover, showing the Nashville Warbler in all its glory.


This is how I started.  I made a fine line tracing of the image, showing just the main areas.  I then turned this over and masking taped this to the back of the fabric that I was going to use.  This time I used linen.

 This is the other side - I covered the bird shape with yellow and brown organza and pinned them into place.  You need to think carefully about which colours you use and in which order!

Sewing from the back, I FMQed the basic bird shape and the main areas inside the bird shape.

Next I heated up the soldering iron, and carefully burnt away the brown organza around the shape. You can see all the yellow still untouched.

Next I burned away the yellow all around the bird, and the brown from over the yellow belly of the warbler.  I should have taken photos of this bit (it can be tricky to lift the top layer of organza far enough off the bottom layer so that you only burn through the layer that you want to.  It helps to use a pin or even a darning needle to give you that lift.) but I was using both hands and couldn't hold the camera as well!

Then it's a question of layering more colours on as required.  Pin them to cover the area you want, sewing around them from the back before burning away the excess fabric from the front. 

Although it's called 'burning' the fabric away, really it's more like cutting with heat, as you only make a narrow cut, you don't burn away the whole of the excess fabric.
This is the warbler once I'd applied white and silver layers for the beak, lower belly and legs.  After I'd done that I added a little background detail - again sewing from the back following the original tracing which was still taped onto the back.

Finally I took the paper off the back (easy, as it was perforated along the stitched lines).  The last steps were to add some 'thread painting' over the top of the organza colour blocks to blend them a bit better - the colours are fairly true on this photo.
I then went on and created a quilt 'sandwich' with this basic picture, wadding and a backing fabric, before stipple quilting around the motif and adding the name of the bird (look carefully, bottom right).
Fancy trying this?  I just use an ordinary battery soldering iron (less than £10 from my local electrical store) rather than one of the fancy fine tipped craft ones.  Normal rules apply: be careful where you put the hot tip down (inside an empty mug on it's side works well), clean 'gunk' off the tip regularly (I use wire wool stuffed into a small pot), your workspace should be well ventilated.
Once again apologies for the odd banding on the photos.  I STILL don't know why it's happening!
If you give this a whirl let me know how you get on - it's a really fun way to make quick applique with almost no preparation!



  1. Ah this is gorgeous! Such an adorable little bird. You are very clever :-)

  2. Lovely bird; I've never seen this type of work before. Very tricky...have a super Thanksgiving Julierose

  3. That is so lovely Plum. My brother is an ornithologist in his non-working life, so I could be asking for a live demo of this!

  4. Amazing technique - never seen it before. Thanks for pics,


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