Glitz and Glam: Quilt Embellishments with Unusual Materials

Detail of "The Source of Her Magic" by Susan Brubaker Knapp

Have you ever seen the costumes from the Mardi Gras parade and thought, ‘Wow, I wonder if I can put that on a quilt?’ Glam and sparkle, not to mention bright jewel tones can really bring an art quilt to the next level. Whatever your tradition for this time of year, read on for some amazing ideas for glitzy handmade embellishments developed by Susan Brubaker Knapp.

“The Source of Her Magic” • 9½" x 22" | Photos by Hornick Rivlin Studio

“The Source of Her Magic” • 9½” x 22″ | Photos by Hornick Rivlin Studio

I dabble in many materials and techniques; my curiosity takes me in lots of different directions, and I find it productive to allow myself to play and experiment. As a result, I end up with lots of bits and pieces of stuff that are lovely, but I don’t quite know what to do with them. I’ve recently discovered that this detritus can find a home—in mixed-media fiber art pieces.

“The Source of Her Power,” and “Magpie’s Hoard” are examples of recycling my studio leftovers. Most of these pieces start with a base of bright, hand-dyed and batik cotton fabrics sewn together—sometimes in a tidy grid, and sometimes rather haphazardly. Then, I dump out my studio leftovers on my workspace and start positioning them on the surface until I come to an arrangement I like. Sometimes I work at my sewing machine, adding bits and pieces as I stitch things down, using a combination of free-motion machine stitching and hand stitching.

“Magpie’s Hoard” • 12" x 15½"

“Magpie’s Hoard” • 12″ x 15½”

These art quilts contain a multitude of materials, all playing nicely together: Mylar, Angelina fiber and film, felted wool beads, metal washers from the hardware store colored with alcohol inks, heated and bubbled Tyvek, melted CDs, silk sari waste, polymer clay embellishments, hand-dyed burlap, beads, charms, hand-dyed cheesecloth, wire, glass beads, and special buttons. I use a mixture of hand and machine stitching to pull all the disparate elements together. I stitch by hand with colorful perle cotton and on the sewing machine using free-motion stitching with cotton thread.

Left: Melted Tyvek. Right: Tyvek melted by hovering iron

Left: Melted Tyvek. Right: Tyvek melted by hovering iron


Start with hard structure Tyvek (also called “paper Tyvek”). The cheapest source is to use your own recycled Priority Mail envelopes, but plain, white Tyvek mailers are available at office supply stores. Paint one side of the Tyvek (both sides are the same) with a fluid, soft-bodied acrylic paint.

I like to use metallic or pearlescent paints. Metallic paints create the look of gold or copper leaf. Don’t paint too heavily or the Tyvek will not melt as easily. Cut into pieces no larger than 3″ square. Place the Tyvek piece between two pieces of baking parchment paper and heat with an iron on the hottest setting. Move the iron slowly, in a circular motion. Bubbles should form in 10–15 seconds. Pressing flattens the piece with smaller bubbles; further heating causes holes and the bubbles will not be as distinct.

Hover the iron rather than pressing down on the Tyvek to create a piece with big bubbles. You will find that there is no way to totally control the process. To some extent, Tyvek will do as it pleases, and that’s part of the fun.

If the Tyvek is very melted, causing/it to be thick and stiff, use a heavier needle (such as a denim needle) when machine stitching. Go slowly to avoid breaking the needle.

CAUTION! Use a mask or work outside when heating Tyvek. I set up my ironing board outdoors.

Melted CDs

Use CDs or DVDs that are damaged or not needed to make interesting embellishments. (Remember all those promotional CDs that used to come in the mail?) The color they become depends somewhat on the color of the metallic or colored backing.

Cut the CDs into small pieces using heavy-duty scissors, and use a drill with a small bit to create a hole for attaching to the quilt later. Place on aluminum foil with the clear plastic side of the CD/DVD facing up.

With the toaster oven set for 400°F, place the foil with the CD/ DVD bits on top inside, and bake for 10–20 minutes. Check the progress of the melting often, and remove the discs when you are happy with the effect. Allow the bits to cool before you touch them.

Use a nail file to file off any sharp bits. Re-drill the holes that filled with melted plastic.

Embossed washer

Embossed washer

Embossed Washers

Believe it or not, this embellishment starts as a regular metal washer from the hardware store. Stamp it with alcohol inks, then sprinkle with ultra thick embossing enamel powder (I used Melt Art™ Ultra Thick Embossing Enamel™) and heated with it a heat gun.

Embossed Angelina

Embossed Angelina

Embossed Angelina

Embossed Angelina fiber adds sparkle, texture, and shine without a lot of weight to an art quilt. Fluff up a small amount of Angelina fiber to the size of 2 cotton balls, and place on top of a rubber stamp.

NOTE: Use a real rubber stamp that can take the heat. Cover the setup with parchment paper and heat with an iron until the design is embossed into the Angelina.



Textiva or Fusible Iridescent Film

This is the raw, uncut material used to make Angelina or Crystallina. It comes in rolls about 4″ wide. Like Angelina, heat it between parchment paper. The embellishment shown was made by layering small squares of several different colors of Textiva on top of each other, and heating them with an iron.

Find Tyvek® at your local office supply store. Find Angelina®, and Textiva® at specialty fiber art retailers.   

Susan Brubaker Knapp is a studio artist who loves art and traditional quilts. She is the author of two books, has produced five video workshops, and is the host of “Quilting Arts TV.” Susan lives near Charlotte, North Carolina, with her husband and two daughters. She teaches internationally. Visit her website to learn more.

Want to see Susan demonstrate some more embellishment ideas with Mylar®? Download a copy of “Quilting Arts TV” Series 1500, or subscribe to Quilting Arts Magazine for many more embellishment techniques!

Sew long,

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