I tried a collage quilt for the first time and found out it is actually super beginner friendly!
Collage quilts are made by layering small pieces of fabric to make a design in an artistic fashion and are surprisingly forgiving (as in it’s hard to make a real ‘mistake’).
Collages can be made from different colors and types of fabric, as well as many different shapes and sizes of fabric. I think this technique makes a great scrap quilt!
They are a great way to use up fabric scraps which is what drew me to this method in the first place!
There are so many different types of collage quilts. You can buy patterns for them and take courses and the design can be as simple or as complex as you’d like it to be (I’ve linked to some collage quilt pattern designers below if you are interested).
For my first collage quilt, I decided rather than following a pattern I would just dive right in (though I did watch a lot of free tutorials beforehand).
I wanted to make a wall hanging based on a friend’s business logo.
Materials I Used – Collage Quilt
- Homemade pattern template (more below)
- Fabric Scraps (I had some with fusible already on the back of the fabric – see below)
- Lightbox (optional) or window
- Wool Pressing Mat or Ironing Board
- Fusible Product – I used both Heat n’Bond Lite and Steam-a-seam 2 (this is the one most serious collage quilters recommend).
- Iron – You’ll need a hot iron for adding the fusible to your fabric.
- Baking Parchment – Parchment paper is so useful for putting between the iron and the Steam-2-Seam to make sure none of the sticky stuff gets on your iron or your pressing mat.
- Thread – I used over 10 colors of thread for this project. You don’t have to do that but I wanted to coordinate with the different colors in the different sections of my collage. I used Isacord Thread for the whole project.
- Scissors – I use three types of scissors to make this collage quilt. Two small sharp ones, and one for paper. I used my Karen Kay Buckley scissors a lot, they’re so great. I also used my trusty Prym Embroidery scissors. I have a whole post on the best scissors for quilters if you are looking to figure out which scissors to invest in.
- Collage Base or Foundation Fabric – I used cheap cotton fabric to stick the collage pieces on to make my design. If you are following a designer’s pattern you can often buy a kit with a piece of fabric that is both the collage base and the background fabric. I did it separately.
- Background Fabric, Batting & Backing Fabric – like with any quilt you will need to eventually make your quilt sandwich. I approached this by quilting a plain piece of background fabric with batting and backing on my longarm and adding the collage piece after (that’s where the 10 threads came in!)….p.s. you don’t need a longarm you can do this on a domestic machine.
- Washable Fabric Pens – I used these ones
- Sewing Machine – You can 100% do this on a domestic sewing machine, but I used my Moxie Longarm Machine. There were some advantages to this, but also some disadvantages with this kind of quilt.
- Handiquilter Microfoot (totally optional) – The microfoot gave me a better vision as I was quilting the collage so I could get to the tricky bits (but it isn’t essential), in fact. Is suspect many long-arm quilters would recommend a glide foot for a project like this that.
Collage Quilt Video Instructions
You will find written instructions with detailed information below, or you can watch the video here if you prefer.
This is my ‘confident beginner experience’ to help you gain confidence that you can try new things, and turn out good things you’re proud of, even if you haven’t taken all the courses or know ‘all the things’!
The best way to learn a new technique is to just have a go!
Step 1: Print your Reference Design
The first thing you’ll need to do is choose the design you want to make into a fabric collage and print it out or draw it to a real-life scale of how big you want the collage quilt to be.
I chose my design based on my friend’s logo which is basically a picture of a bunch of flowers (the wall hanging is for her office).
I copied the logo as an image from my friend’s website and printed it at 500% scale then taped the printer sheets together and used it to trace my pattern on to fabric.
I cut off a bit of the excess white background just to make it easier to move around and this became the pattern for my fabric collage quilt.
Step 2: Tracing the Pattern
The next step for me was to get the design onto the collage base fabric.
Note: this isn’t something I saw in anyone else’s tutorial – truth is there is a method using parchment paper as the base for making the collage element but I couldn’t figure out how to get my design on the parchment paper so this was my workaround!
I pinned a cheap cotton fabric to the paper printout to use as my foundation fabric and set it on top of my light box to trace the design on top of the fabric.
If you don’t have a light box just tape everything to a window on a bright day and you can do the same thing.
I used different colors to draw my design on to indicate which colors I was going to use for each segment, but you don’t have to do that – you can just keep looking back at your reference photos.
These are the fabric pens I was using.
You can make the trace as detailed as you’d like it to be. I began by tracing out all the different shades of color in my design.
This turned out to be a bit ambitious. I ended up taking a bit of artistic license with it and making it a bit more simplified!
Step 3: Cut Out the Pattern
Once my outline was finished, I cut out the excess white fabric so that I was left with just the collage design outline.
As I said above, this method I came up with wasn’t exactly what was recommended by others but it made sense to me and meant I wasn’t being held up from starting my project.
I’d encourage you to do the same—find a way that works for you, and you’ll learn as you go!
Step 4: Sorting Scraps & Treating with Fusible
Next, you want to find a range of different fabrics to use and treat them with some sort of fusible.
The fusible is used so that you can stick each small piece of fabric down in place and it won’t move around before you stitch it.
I already have a tub of all sorts of leftover fusible scraps from applique projects, so I took a lot of my fabrics from there.
These scraps already had Heat n’ Bond applied to the wrong side of the fabric.
Heat n’ Bond isn’t the top recommended fusible for collage quilting as it isn’t sticky until you apply heat and iron it in place. And once you do that you can’t move it.
For that reason, most collage quilters recommend Steam-a-Seam 2 which is sticky without heat but can also be picked up and repositioned until you apply iron heat and steam to it, at which point it is fixed in place.
I seperated my fabrics into piles of colors based on the image I was trying to recreate. Where I found I was missing a color I used the Steam-a-Seam 2 on the back of scraps from my other scrap bins.
You can use a mix of solid fabrics and print fabrics in your project. I used both, including some fabrics with multiple colors in them.
I’ve used a mixture of fabrics and a range of colors, too. There are plain fabrics, flower fabrics, some with different patterns, I used some Kaffe Fasset scraps too…his fabric is super popular with collage quilters because of all of the colors and shapes in it.
It is really hard to know ahead of time exactly how many bits of fabric you will need in each color – so just make a start and if you need to treat some more scraps with fusible to finish your collage you can do it as you need to.
Step 5: Make the Collage
To start your collage simply place a scrap of fabric of the designated color on a part of your base fabric.
You can trim it with some fine-point scissors (see supply list above) to make fabric shapes that fit the different parts of your design – like the curved edges for the flower petals in mine for example.
Take the time to fussy cut pretty bits of your fabric to add interest or just the right pop of color. Playing with different fabric combinations is a big part of the fun of this.
If you are using Steam-a-Seam 2 on all your fabric you can temporarily stick it in place and move it around.
If you are using another type of fusible you will need to have your iron on hand to secure the small bits of fabric when you are happy with the placement so that they don’t shift around on you as you work.
Keep adding your scraps until your design is completely covered.
Be warned-making a collage quilt can be a labor of love – this one took far longer and created a lot more mess than I anticipated!
I found the process really fun and relaxing though – kind of like doing a jigsaw puzzle without any ‘right answer’. Plus it looks so amazing once it’s finished—so it’s worth the time and effort.
Step 6: Add the Collage Piece to the Background
Some collage quilt patterns and kits will have you collage the background fabric as well as the central image.
For my project I chose to keep it simple and quilt my background fabric with a simple design before adding the collage element on top.
So by the time I added the collage piece I already had a completely quilted quilt sandwich including batting and backing fabric. I was just adding the collage on top.
See the video version of this tutorial for my failed attempt at gluing the collage piece in place in the middl of my background to perpare it for quilting. I would recommend you simply pin it in place for simplicity!
Step 7: Quilting the Collage Quilt
After putting the collage on the background in the place I wanted it, I started stitching.
I basically quilted the outline of each of my fabric pieces with a coordinating color thread until the entire collage was secured and quilted on to the quilt top.
I wanted to make sure each piece of fabric was secured. I didn’t want any of it to come off should the bonding become unstuck for any reason.
I used the Handi Quilter Micro Foot to give me better visibility but I am still new on my long arm so this isn’t necessarily the best foot for the job – a glide foot is often recommended for applique.
You can totally use free motion quilting on a domestic machine for this too – I used the long arm because I have it not because it is necessary!
I changed tread a lot during this project! I wanted the design to be the centerpiece so I didn’t want contrasting thread colors to distract the eye.
So I used different threads for different color elements of the design including using more than one green, more than one blue and more than one pink!
I used all Isacord threads for the quiltng of this project. It has a pretty sheen to it which I like.
One great thing about improv quilting, and picture quilts in general, is that you can add fabric scraps as you go along.
There were a few places where I noticed holes in small areas of the design as I was quilting, and the background fabric was showing through too much for my liking. I just added some small scraps to fill these holes, stiched them down and moved on.
The Finished Collage Quilt!
Once the design was quilted, I trimmed it down to the size I wanted for the wall hanging. I
had made the backing much larger than it needed to be so that I had room to square it up.
I faced the wall hanging and used a dowel to hang this collage quilt. Facing is just an alternative to binding a quilt but binding would work fine too!
If you don’t want to use facing or binding, you could frame your wall-hanging quilt too!
Top Quilting Tips:
- Sizes of Fabric: I used some pieces of fabric that in hindsight I think were too small. Smaller pieces are more fiddly, and I made a bit of a mess on a couple of bits because of it. It ended up looking ok, but it took longer than if the pieces had been bigger.
- Thread Tension: I had a couple of issues with thread tension, which meant I had to unpick some bits on the orange flowers especially, re-thread, and restitch it. I recommend taking things slow and paying attention to your threads – especially when you’re changing them as frequently as I was in this project!
- Changing Threads: Another super Handi Quilter trick I’ve been using is to change threads without having to re-thread the whole machine. Basically, you want to cut your current thread near the spool on the top of the machine, replace the spool with the new thread you’re going to use, and tie the end of the new thread with the end of the old thread. Pull on the old thread from the needle, and if you’re gentle enough, the old thread will pull the new thread into the machine and through the eye of the needle. It’s so cool when it works, and it’s totally hassle-free. This worked for me 8 times out of 10, so it saved me a lot of time on completely rethreading the machine!
- Transporting a Quilt: To send the finished product to the recipient, I rolled it and put it in a poster tube to send it in the post!
Quilting this design took me less time than making the actual fabric collage.
It was quite an intricate design with quite a few small pieces of fabric.
It wouldn’t take as long with a more simple design. Nevertheless, it was super fun to make and turned out beautifully – even if there were some mistakes here and there. And my friend loves it!
Where to Buy Collage Quilt Patterns
If you would feel better starting your collage quilting journey with a proper pattern I don’t blame you!
Here are some super well known collage quilters and where you can buy their patterns and kits:
- Laura Heine Collage Patterns
- Crazy Quilts Lab Art Quilt Patterns
- Collage Quilter Techniques Book – Emily Taylor