Here's a kind-of, not-really-a-tutorial-at-all
how-to-do-it, in case you would like to have a go at appliqué flowers. Eek! - sorry - no how-to
photos (because they are all old projects) but we should do fine without.
You can put flowers on clothing to provide a bit more coverage on semi-sheer fabrics, like this top...
Or on curtains to create lovely pictures with the light...
In fact, put them anywhere you like really!
OK, so as I've said, this isn't really a tutorial, more of an I-did-it-like-this but I hope it will be enough for you to go off and try some for yourself.
I've only used cotton fabrics so far, but I would think any semi-sheer or sheer fabric would work fine, although you might find synthetics a bit slippery to sew. You might, for instance, have that problem with Ikea's Sarita or Virka fabrics, although they would probably look brilliant when finished. I would suggest muslin as a good first choice and you can always dye when it's finished it if you don't like white or natural.
The thing that makes this method of decoration so easy is Bondaweb (which is made by Vilene). It's basically the same stuff that comes as inch wide tapes to iron up hem allowances. It's a fine web of heat-activated adhesive which you can use to attach fabrics to each other, or to something else. You can get it on-line (Google it, there are loads of people who do it, such as U-handbag, Stichykits and Sew Essential to name but three). Your local fabric shop probably does it to, but I've found that you need to ask for it (it can easily get mashed up so they tend to keep it behind the counter). You'll find it's pretty expensive per metre (I think the last time I got some it was about €7 or £6) but you won't need much for curtains or a top. Some people on-line sell it in sheets, but I've always found it on a roll (around 45cm wide) at my LYS and had it cut for me.
If you're doing tops, I think about 25cm would do two tops similar to mine. If you're doing curtains (see this post here ), it will depend on the number of flowers you want; half a metre will probably do to get a similar result to my second curtain. Get a metre if you want to go crazy and have flowers like my first curtain.
The Bondaweb comes sandwiched between two pieces of paper, so cut a piece to cover the fabric you want to appliqué, peel off one side of paper and iron it on. If you have any bondaweb hanging outside the fabric, be careful not to iron that because it will stick to your ironing board! I use my iron on the hottest setting, and sometimes I find that having it in steam mode helps, so do a trial and see how it works best for you.
Once you have ironed it on leave the paper on the other side - don't pull it off because this is the side to draw on. You can draw anything you want, as complicated as you like (but remember if you do anything too fiddly, you may find yourself weeping at your sewing machine when you go to sew it on!).
You can be very precise and cut every petal the same if you want, but I think the slightly random look works better. By the way, doing petals like this is a very efficient method of using the fabric, so if you're trying to eek out as many petals as possible, I suggest that this is the best way to do it.
Now play around with your petals and decide how many you want per flower. I seem to always use five, but you could do more or less depending on how fat the petals are, whether you want them to overlap and of course, what kind of effect you want in general. You may want to match petals of similar length or width too, so group your petals into individual flowers and pin them onto your top or curtain or whatever.
With curtains, I like to create a kind of snow fall effect, where there are a few flowers at the top, and more at the bottom, like snow piling up...
And if you find at the end that you don't have enough petals to make a full flower, make flowers on the edge by cutting the petals in half, like this...
Once you're happy with the placement of the petals, you can start to iron them on. If you're doing something large, you might want to pin and iron in phases. Once that's done, peel off the remaining paper and now you can start to sew.
I have always used a machine zigzag stitch to cover the edge of the petals, but you could use a straight stitch (which would eventually produce a frayed edge effect after a couple of washes - you might like that, you might not) or you could even sew them on by hand (use small, even stitches and be careful when washing!).
If you are using a delicate fabric, you may find that keeping the fabric taut in an embroidery hoop will help avoid snagging it when you sew. This would have been very useful when I made my red bias top. With the muslins however, I have found that so long as I keep the fabric taut with my hands, there shouldn't be any problems. Using a sharp needle helps too!
Sewing the petals on is the most tedious part of the process, and this is where you may start cursing yourself for over-enthusiasm, so start with just a few flowers; you can always add more when and if you decide your patience and nerves can stand it!
You don't need to stop sewing and start again after each petal, just work your way round each flower, crossing over in the middle. and if a few flowers touch or overlap, just keep on going.
And that's pretty much it. Once you have sewn the petals on, knot and snip off the end threads and you're done.
There are, of course, many variations on the general theme.
You could have flowers and leaves, with zigzaged stems, you could use different coloured fabrics, you could use any shape (letters for example). How about musical notation on a striped fabric? Or with very sheer chiffon-type fabrics, you could have several layers overlapping each other, and visually play with changes in tone. And of course, you can use this Bondaweb technique with any fabric, it doesn't have to be sheer. The one caveat I can think of is try to keep to fabrics of a similar weight, or at least, use lighter fabrics on a heavier background. Using a heavy fabric as the appliqué will pull the curtain or garment out of shape.
So there you have it, I hope that all made sense! Please let me know if it didn't, and I'll amend and edit as necessary. And if you do use this technique, do let me know. Send me a link to your blog post or your Flickr photostream, or just send me a photo! I'd love to see what you do.
24-05-10 Apologies to anyone who was trying to comment on this post, I've been having problems with it. Hopefully that's all sorted now and you can comment as normal.