Fabric Paper or Paper Fabric?

by Maureen Curlewis

Two articles in Cloth, Paper, Scissors Magazine convinced me to break a long-held aversion to working with glue: “Making Fabric from Paper” by Beryl Taylor in Winter 2004 and “The Paper Quilt” by Kelli Perkins, where she proposed combining quilt, collage and painting in one item: the paper quilt. I flew into action!

I like to devote a full day to making a stash of fabric paper. This gets all the messy stuff over and done with and ensures that I have a sufficient ready-to-use stash of fabric paper when inspiration strikes.

Lacy paper doilies with a special motif or text positioned in the centre works well. Foreign language newspapers are a favourite of mine. You can work with a predetermined pattern in mind or choose random placement as you go — have fun while being your creative self! Now, let’s get started.

Gather the supplies

1. Sheet of plastic large enough to protect your work area.

 Note: Photos show that I used bubble wrap. The bubbles made it difficult to embed the paper into the base fabric so I won’t repeat this.

2. Open-weave fabric such as gauze, cheese cloth or cotton scrim, no larger than a fat quarter. Since I am normally using the fabric paper in postcards, I tend to create with a 14″ square. Using larger than a fat quarter can be messy and difficult.

3. Tissue paper, white, coloured and patterned.

Tip: Don’t try the metallic tissue papers as they remain fairly opaque.

4. Specialty papers such as old sheet music, texts, maps, paper serviettes, excerpts from magazine & newspapers, lacy paper doilies, hand-made papers.

5. White craft glue mixed with water to create an easy-flowing consistency. The more dilute the mix, the softer the resulting “fabric.” Most craft glues dry clear and flexible and most I have tried have a low pH which is archival (acid free) quality.

6. Small dish for glue

7. 2-inch paint brush, foam or bristle.

8. Sponge, small

9. Liquid acrylic paint or other fabric paint, optional

Note: I have experience using Jacquard Lumiere and Pebeo Transparent paints for this process. I prefer the Lumiere for the pearlescent and metallic effects obtained. I generally dilute my Lumiere paint to get a “wash” effect.

10. Masking tape to secure plastic sheeting and base fabric to work surface.

11. Disposable rubber gloves, optional.

Creating Fabric Paper

1. Lay your piece of fabric on the plastic sheeting. Because gauze, scrim and most cheesecloth have no definite right or wrong side, it doesn’t matter which side lies nearest to the plastic sheeting. If you have a patterned cheesecloth make certain that the pattern is facing up so that it will be visible under the tissue paper layers.

2. Paint the entire surface of fabric with the diluted glue.

3. Arrange the specialty paper pieces on the wet fabric base. Using a small damp sponge, press paper firmly into the glue to eliminate bubbles and ensure a good seal. Work quickly while the glue is wet. If it begins drying, lightly brush more glue where required.

4. Brush the entire surface of papers with the diluted glue.
5. Layer the tissue paper over the specialty paper. I generally add two or three layers of tissue. Experiment to discover your ideal number of layers. Don’t worry about crinkles in the tissue — they add extra impact and as the fabric is flexible, it is easy to sew through.

Several layers of tissue paper

Using larger sheets here

Optional: While still wet, use a sponge applicator and wash over the “fabric” with liquid acrylic paints that complement your colour scheme. Allow the paints to run and blend for a more interesting look.

Fun idea: If using complementary shades in the tissue papers, alternate the placement of the paper from horizontal to vertical to achieve a woven effect.

6. Allow the fabric paper to dry completely. This could take several hours, or over night, depending upon the weather. You can leave the piece on the plastic sheeting but I prefer to remove it and place it on a clothes rack to dry. If I’m impatient, I peg my “fabric” to a trellis on my back patio where the wind helps it dry more quickly.

So, is this fabric paper or paper fabric? Whatever you choose to call it, you are ready to sew. Enjoy!

Cut fabric paper, embellished for postcards