Layering With Sheers

by Kathie Briggs

Working in layers can add an exciting new dimension to your fiber art. Sheer fabrics can be used in a variety of ways to add both visual and tactile texture to your work. I first started using tulle and organza to “trap” small scraps of fabric but have also enjoyed working with scrim, cheesecloth, ribbons, lace and an assortment of polyester sheer fabrics. Each type of sheer fabric creates a different effect when layered over a background or another sheer. The fun is in the play.

Tulle, also known as bridal tulle or fine netting, is readily available at larger all-purpose fabric stores. It comes in a variety of colors. For creating shadows the darker tulle colors are the most effective. I try to keep a good supply of black, dark blue, brown and dark olive green. Mauve can also give an interesting effect on certain backgrounds. In “Deer Parade” (detail of quilt below), blue and brown tulle pieces were layered over the background image (a Photoshop enhanced picture printed onto fabric) to give shadow and depth to the piece.

Tulle should be pinned in place since fusing tulle can be messy and change the soft appearance of the shadows. Excess tulle can be trimmed away with embroidery or appliqué scissors after stitching.

Tulle, especially black, can also be used to dull down fabrics that are too bright.

Tulle is also a great way to capture snips of fabric and trims. The postcard above shows fabric, Japanese papers and trim layered over old kimono fabric then held in place with a layer of tulle. I learned this technique from Yvonne Porcella and have had a lot of fun with it. Anything you can sew through works with this method.

Even fairly large objects such as stones can be encased in a layer of tulle. When making a pocket for larger objects I find it is a good idea to stitch a pocket using a very small (tight) machine stitch then insert the objects and sew the pocket closed by hand. For heavier objects like the stones at the base of the vessel “Loon’s Eye View” (detail above) I used two layers of tulle. Cheesecloth over the tulle gives another dimensional layer to the piece.

Cheesecloth is perhaps my favorite sheer fabric. It is available in packages at grocery stores and hardware stores (check the cleaning supplies aisle) and is sometimes available by the yard at larger fabric stores. Cheesecloth is 100% cotton and takes both dye and paint extremely well. I always have several packages ready on dye day. I dye it right along with my other fabrics and find it especially useful for cleaning up the last of the dye bath. Cheesecloth is also a great tool for the fabric painter. I layer damp cheesecloth over my dampened fabric and paint with a wash. The cheesecloth acts as a resist on the fabric so I wind up with an interesting design on my fabric as well as some colorful cheesecloth.

Dyed or painted cheesecloth will become soft and weave a bit distorted after being wet. I like the organic look but if I want a flatter layer I can iron it under a press cloth or baking parchment paper.

The postcard below shows several pieces of dyed and painted cheesecloth laid directly on Fast2fuse interfacing. I used parchment paper to fuse them in place then stitched a grid design. I really love the interplay of the sheers over each other. The same effect can be achieved with nearly any type of sheer fabric in this article.

Scrim, sometimes called drapery scrim, is another loose weave cotton fabric. It is a somewhat tighter weave than cheesecloth and is more stable. It can be purchased by the yard at stores that sell fabrics for home decorating. It is sometimes available in colors but more frequently is white or off-white. It also takes paint and dye extremely well. It shrinks quite a bit in the dye process when you wash out the excess dye in hot water and will create a more opaque layer. The postcard below shows a layer of green scrim I purchased from a fabric store placed over the pieced background and then overlaid with dyed cheesecloth. The top layer is Tyvek that has been painted and shrunk using an iron.

Silk Organza is a very sheer silk that is readily available in white and colors at fabric stores that sell fine fabric for clothing construction. It is also available ready-to-dye. It can be dyed, painted, stamped, and stenciled for a variety of effects. Like cheesecloth and tulle, I always have some available when I paint or dye fabric. For example organza with a light blue wash can add wonderful dimension to “sky” in a pictorial quilt.

Since it ravels quite a bit, I generally lay a layer of silk organza over my piece, stitch the design I want and then use appliqué scissors to carefully cut away the excess. I did this in the example here, a detail from “Ghosts of the Forest”.

Polyester Sheers come in a vast array of colors, designs and opacity. Check the “fancy dress” aisle of large fabric/craft stores, especially during the holidays and prom/wedding season. Also check the drapery section for more lovely sheer fabric. Second hand stores can also be a good and inexpensive source of novelty sheers.

You may find some that are flocked or have a thread design. The sheers used on “February North of the 45 Parallel” are from an old curtain.

The grid was already stitched on them. Polyester sheers also ravel easily. The edges can be sealed by passing them through a candle flame. (Caution: Watch your fingers and always do this over a non-flammable surface like a cookie sheet with a bucket of water right next to you.)

Ribbon and lace are also fun to work with.

Large craft stores have a dizzying array of sheer ribbons. Lace colors are somewhat more limited but cotton lace can be dyed or colored with fabric markers. Most lace can be painted with diluted acrylic paint.

I hope this gives you some ideas about incorporating sheers into your fiber art.

Kathie Briggs lives in Charlevoix Michigan. Her work can be seen on