Master Foiling Techniques Easily – Quilting Daily

I love the soft shimmer of metal embellishment on a quilted surface. Just a touch of metal can act as an elegant focal point. An all-over quilting pattern of metallic thread, couched wire, or foil can add texture and make the quilt seem to glow from within.

Two fiber artists who are renowned for their use of metallic elements in fiber art  are Jane Dunnewold and Mary Hettmansperger. Mary is known for her artful way of combining stitch and jewelry techniques to apply metallic embellishments. Jane is one of the masters of complex cloth and an expert at using foils in surface design.

Foiling on fabric is one of the easiest ways to add a metallic shimmer to your art quilts. Essentially, you just apply glue to the fabric surface, let dry, iron on the foil, and you’re done. (You can also apply foil with fusible web.)

However, there are some tricks to foiling success and use of the right materials is key. Jane has the following tips and recommendations, adapted here from The Quilting Arts Book.

Tips for Successful Foiling
By Jane Dunnewold

Choosing an adhesive. Selecting the right adhesive for foiling is critical to your success. The glue must meet two main criteria: it must be water-soluble (not solvent based) and it must be permanent when dry. If you aren’t able to wash off the wet glue with water, then you will have to use paint thinner, and that is hazardous to your health and your tools. If the glue isn’t permanent when dry, then if you fabric gets wet after foiling, the foil will wash off.

Choosing a fabric. Smooth, tightly woven fabrics are best for foiling. It’s hard to apply foil to a textured surface and it’s difficult to get a smooth, even result. Also, be sure to wash your fabric before foiling, and if you are going to dye or paint the fabric with acrylics, do so before foiling and make sure the color has stabilized before adding foil.

Applying the adhesive. Adhesives have a consistency similar to that of fabric paints, and you can apply them in the same way, using stamps, stencils, through silk or Thermofax® screens, or directly onto the fabric with a brush. However, be careful to spread the adhesive evenly to avoid irregular application of the foil. Also, heavy glue applications can change the hand of your fabric.

Trouble-shooting tips:

  • Make sure the fabric is clean, dry, and ironed before applying glue and foil.
  • Glue must be completely dry before the foil is applied.
  • You must work on a hard, padded, stable surface, like a counter or table with several layers of muslin on top.
  • High heat is required (you may want to test to find the best setting on your iron, medium or high)
  • Work on small areas and in sections.
  • Remember to “see the color” to avoid the common mistake of turning the foil color side down onto your fabric. It doesn’t work that way.
  • Use the side or tip of the iron to avoid melting. Push the side or tip of the iron very hard over the foil, away from your body as you count to three. That should be about enough time to set the foil.

If you want to punch up the texture and surface design in your art quilts, be sure to check out our two new Quilting Arts WorkshopTM videos, Metal Embellishments: Incorporating Wire, Foil, Metal Sheeting, & More into Fiber Art with Mary Hettmansperger and Screen Printing Sampler: 4 Fun & Innovative Ways to Make Artful Cloth with Jane Dunnewold.


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