How to make fabric collage using Applique

How to make fabric collage using Applique for crafty moms and kids alike!

Hi Creative mamas! I want to share with you why I am so passionate about using applique and creating fabric collages. I also want to share with you how fabric collage has changed my life and the life of other women. I will show you how to make fabric collage using applique and the creative process I go through.

I will provide you with a step by step process for you to follow so that you can also get started in the wonderful creative sewing world of applique and fabric collage. You can download the Free Collage Applique Patterns (available in my free resource library — get the password for free by filling out the form below)


Why Fabric Collage?

All my life I have been involved in the fashion industry in one way or another, but I always felt that I wasn’t doing enough, that I wasn’t contributing enough.  I guess that’s what created this passion I have for teaching since I feel its a way of passing on knowledge and facilitating the environment for people to learn and absorb knowledge of their own.

The passion to contribute has been the guiding force behind my role as a teacher and as an educator. After many years of reflecting on how I could best use my fashion and textile background to create wellness and happiness amongst society.

I drafted the first copy of what it then became “The Traveling Sewing Box Project” (C) which was based on making meters and meters of fabric collage using applique as the main technique.

What is Applique?

Applique is a great technique to make use of fabric scraps. It’s defined as cutting pieces of one type of fabric and sewing them onto another type of fabric. Very similar to fabric collage in the sense that you can create it as you go. It can be a very freeing exercise and you can develop your ideas as you are sewing your piece.

I love applique! You can also do applique and then embroider on top of the appliqued shape to further embellish your shapes. My favorite applique technique is needle turned applique. Great technique to use when making little handmade gifts!

Fun handmade gifts Tutorials using applique:

What is fabric collage?

Fabric collage is a method of quilting that gives every sewer the ability to express personal creativity. I wanted to use fabric collage as a medium to allow migrant and refugee women to express themselves and to communicate through a piece of cloth their experiences as migrant women settling into a new environment. I wanted this process to act as a therapeutic tool and as a self reflection moment to really appreciate their life journey.

When I came up with this project all I wanted to do was to share a method which had helped me navigate through the difficult times that being an immigrant had brought to my life. I have been using fabric collage myself for more than twenty years and it has truly allowed me to express myself and communicate my background stories, my dreams and my hopes.

But what I got in return was much more than sharing, I got to know amazing women who have faced a lot of adversity and have grown stronger because of it. I got to hear first hand stories about courage, strength and adversity and of course a lot of dreams and hopes for the future in this new beautiful country of adoption New Zealand.

fabric collage, the traveling sewing box
The Traveling Sewing Box Project, 2018, Auckland New Zealand

I also got to witness the transformation that took place within the group and within the women themselves as the project evolved from week to week. I know first hand that when you arrive in a  new country, no matter the surrounding circumstances, you are forced to evolve, develop and review your position in the world.

In my case this generated a main shift in my own identity which created a horrible sense of dislocation, disengagement and an identity crisis which took me many years to overcome. This project gave me the opportunity to make other women’s journeys a little bit better and to share my own story of migration with them.

Fabric collage ideas

The best thing about fabric collage is that there are no rules. You don’t need to have much sewing knowledge or experience. You can use hand sewing or machine sewing. You can draw first and work from there or you can freely start layering fabrics and allow the process to flow.

It can be figurative or abstract. you can use all sorts of fabrics, embroidery, quilting and patchwork techniques. In fabric collage everything goes.

How to get started with fabric collage

First of all you need a story, an idea, something worth sharing and telling. Also, it needs to be something that you are really passionate about sharing. Think of something or someone important  in your life. I am always telling stories through my creative sewing, embroidering thoughts, ideas and dreams in the form of poems and documents.

I keep a diary and I make lots of notes about my thoughts, creative ideas, things my kids say or do that I find interesting… so let me share with you my creative process of making a fabric collage. The picture below is a page from my creative journal with little swatches of my natural dyeing fabrics, my drawings, sewing techniques etc.

fabric journal

How do you make fabric pictures

In this tutorial I will show you how you can use the applique free patterns and transform your fabric into beautiful fabric pictures. Free Collage Applique Patterns are available in my free resource library — get the password for free by filling out the form below.

Fabric collage tutorial

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Over the years I have developed a little system. As a mom I am forever giving away clothes that don’t fit my kids any more. So, if there is an item that I love or that brings me nice memories I will keep it and I will put it in my creative mama toolkit box. Some ideas of fabric collage materials:

Materials: (You can upcycle any of these)

  • Old linen
  • Old table cloths,
  • Outgrown kids clothes
  • Old adult clothes
  • Fabric scraps from old projects,
  • Old pillows and cushions.
  • Free Collage Applique Patterns are available in my free resource library — get the password for free by filling out the form above.


In my live workshops we always through these stages:

  • Start with an idea. Write it down and reflect upon its significance for you.
  • Sketch some drawings. You don’t need to be a drawer, some stick figures will do I always give my students some templates and patterns to make their lives easier. If you have a template place it on top of the chosen fabric, draw around it with a pencil and cut the shape.
  • Place the cut out shapes on your base fabric. Start playing around with your concept, your ideas, the fabric textures and color. Allow your story and your message to come through. Let your message guide you.

Lets get started with the step by step tutorial!

How to make a fabric collage

Step 1 : Preparing the material for the fabric collage

Gather your upcycled material and fabric scraps that you want to work with. In this case I have chosen a combination of fabrics.

Download and print the Free Applique Patterns and cut the pattern shapes. The fabric collage patterns are all geometric shapes. this is a great way to get started because there are no curves to deal with. I have included a house, a tree and a mom and a dad. If you would like to create more advances applique fabric collage visit La Creative Mama Shop.

Choose your embroidery threads. Make sure you think about the relationship between the colors of the fabric and the thread.

Step 2: Making fabric pictures

For this fabric collage I wanted to tell a little story about the houses that I have lived in when I first came to New Zealand. The houses here look very different to the houses in Argentina and it’s a recurring theme in my fabric collages. I am using the applique patterns to help me tell my story and then I will embellish further with other fabrics and threads 🙂

Place the pattern shapes on the chosen fabric and cut around it.

Place the fabric shapes on the base fabric and start creating the fabric pictures. This is the fun part!

A great way to use little fabric pieces that don’t fray is to fuse them with adhesible fusing.

Using adhesible fusing, apply it to your fabric scraps. Place your fabric with the wrong side up and draw your little detail on the piece paper side up. The fusible side of the paper that has the glue needs to be in contact with the wrong side of the fabric.

Now place a hot iron on top of the drawn piece making sure the iron is set on no steam. Always follow the fusible adhesive manufacturers instructions during this step. Cut around the marked pencil lines and place your applique pieces on your page.

Step 3: Sewing the fabric collage

Thread a hand sewing needle with embroidery thread. Start by sewing the details such as the doors to the house rectangle.

Place the houses on the base fabric and make sure that you are happy with the design.

Go ahead and sew the houses to the base fabric. You can do this by hand or with a sewing machine. I actually love to mix both techniques. Feel free to go with whatever feels more natural for you.

For hand sewing I am using whipstitch, backstitch and running stitch. Check out the Guide to Embroidery stitches to learn how to do these stitches.

If you sew by sewing machine a nice zig zag stitch looks great!

I am using my little fused scraps for the house chimney, the concrete path and the tree leaves.

Peel off the paper backing from the fused fabric scraps and start placing them within your fabric collage picture. Press them with a hot non steam iron, hold for 4 seconds and repeat. The fabric should stick to the base fabric nicely. This is a great way to use little scraps that are not going to fray in the future.

Cut and place the tree trunk in the middle of the houses. Cut and place the round shapes as flowers and leaves. Be creative with the shapes. I have used the circles as a starting point and then I ended up cutting them in oval shapes.

I hope this tutorial inspires you to get started in the beautiful craft of fabric collage. It’s a fantastic way to use fabric scarps, to practice slow stitching and to start telling stories through your creative sewing :).

Download your free Fabric Collage Patterns now!

I also want to share with you the fantastic work of Mandy Patullo, a great fabric collage artist. She has written a  lovely inspirational book called “Textile collage, using collage techniques in textile art”. Here is my review of it. 

Fabric collage book recommendation and review

My favorite book in terms of fabric collage is “Textile collage, using collage techniques in textile art” by Mandy Patullo. I have it on my coffee table and I have read it many times. It’s got gorgeous images, its written by a very clever woman and I just love it.

In this book Mandy Patullo goes through the whole process that she uses to create wonderful fabric collages. She uses techniques such as embroidery, quilting and applique to enhance and upcycle old vintage quilts and patchwork which she personally hunts from the local thread and thrift stores.

The book is divided into sections. My favorite section is “Portray” in which she shows her creative process to create her signature series “Enchanted Forest” as well as her birds series. There is also a great section on textile books as well as a section called “Worn” which is dedicated to upcycled clothes though the application of collage details .

This is a fantastic book as a resource and pretty enough for the coffee table too 🙂

Fabric collage ideas for kids

When I work with kids I go through exactly the same process. Depending on the age I get them to use fabric glue or they may do some basic running stitches. Here are some examples of the work achieved by a group of eight year old kids. Check out the article GET YOUR KIDS CRAFTING WITH FABRIC COLLAGE for a step by step tutorial on how to do fabric collage for kids,

How to make a fabric journal book

You can easily make a fabric journal or a fabric book by putting two or three of your fabric collages into a book. In the illustration below I show you the last fabric journal that I made which tells a story about my home in different countries and my story of migrating from Argentina to New Zealand.

This book was made by using fabric scraps and ulcycled material from my home and it was a labor of love. I loved every minute of the making process and it was a great joy for me.

This book is also part of the work I do in the community through my cultural sustainability program, “The Traveling Sewing Box Project”. I love making my own labels for my books out of calico or cotton fabric and I love to embroider the tittle of the book as well.

I hope you make your own fabric collage and that you get as much joy as I do!

Want to remember this? Save this tutorial to your favorite Pinterest board!

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