Texture, bling, bedazzle and brighten up your outfits with fabric manipulation and fabric embellishment ideas! Try these techniques on something old that just needs a bit of bedazzling or something new that you want to see sparkle and shine. There are so many exciting options and additions to choose from that will just make all the difference to dresses, jackets, tops, jeans and even shoes!
What is Fabric Manipulation?
Fabric manipulation is the technique of creating sculpturing and embellishing effects on fabric in order to give it texture and unique appearances. From a flat 2 dimensional piece of fabric, you can manipulate it to become 3 dimensional and bring it to life.
There are three basic ways of achieving fabric manipulation.
- FABRIC TEXTURING: Using the fabric of the garment you are making.
- STITCHING: Sewing on additional decorative stitches or accessories. This includes embroidery and adding trims.
- BLING: Creating additional accents with sequins, rhinestones and beads.
Fabric Manipulation | TEXTURING
A garment can be embellished with tucks, pleats, ruching and gathered frills. These types of fabric manipulation make use of the fabric and the cut and style of the garment.
Idea #1: Pin Tucks
Pintucks are a method of creating ridges in fabric with tiny little pleats. They can be used horizontally, vertically or mixed to create different looks. Placing pin tucks in different directions causes the light to hit it in different ways producing an interesting display of light and shade.
Further reading: How to Sew a Pintuck
Idea #2: Ruching
Ruching is a way of gathering a strip of fabric and can be done with stitching, elastic or even threaded cords. Ruching is a very versatile fabric manipulation made popular in Victorian times and remaining popular today.
Ruching is often used as an additional flair of couture for wedding dresses and ballgowns. If you are planning to add a ruched detail, the pattern needs to be widened at the area you plan to sew ruching to increase the quantity of fabric required.
Further Reading: Ruching
Idea #3: Pleats
Pleats add interest, shape and volume to skirts, dresses and trousers. They can be closed pleats or open. There are different types of pleats such as single pleats, box or knife pleats as well as accordion and sun-ray pleats.
Idea #4: Gathering
Gathering is an easy fabric manipulation option to add fullness and creativity to all kinds of patterns. Gathers can be made by hand or machine.
Gathering with elastic gives the added stretch needed for a skirt or the end of a sleeve. Gathers can also be created by using a thin cord and zig-zaging over the cord to create a casing. Drawing up the cord creates a soft gathered look and is ideal for difficult fabrics such as tulle.
- How to Gather by Machine
- How to Gather by Hand
- Shirring (Sewing with Elastic Thread)
- Gathering with a Serger
- How to Sew Ruching
- Gathering with Cord
- Gathering with Elastic
- How to Gather Tulle
- Gathering Foot
- Gathering Fabric
Idea #5: Shirring
Shirring (also called elastic thread) creates fullness and some stretch at the same time.
The shirring elastic is wound onto the bobbin while the top spool holds a regular thread. Shirring elastic can be used in waistbands, on necklines and under a yoke for dramatic effect.
Several rows of shirring about 1/2” (12mm) apart give an overall ruched effect and at the same time help a garment to fit better.
Further Reading: Shirring Fabric
Idea #6: Color Blocking
Adding cuffs and bands of different colors can also help embellish an outfit. Contrasts can be created with pockets and using different fabrics for a yoke or for sleeves and collars.
Idea #7: Applique
Appliqué different motifs or cut-outs from other prints onto a yoke or pocket to embellish a plain fabric and add interest to a garment.
There are three ways to add applique to a garment. Hand stitching, machine stitching or using fusible applique pieces. The use of applique can enhance pockets, hems and various types of home furnishings.
Idea #8: Patchwork
Pieces of material sewn together to create a new cloth are known as patchwork. The shapes and designs of the patchwork may differ. Some shapes, for example, the hexagon, are well suited to patchwork designs.
The choice of fabric is important as fine materials or very thick materials are not well suited to patchwork.
Idea #9: Fraying
Fraying fabric is popular as a way to add interest to an item of clothing made out of denim. A row of stitching will mark where the fraying would stop. Different types of fraying make this an interesting shabby chic look.
Further Reading: How to Fray Fabric
Idea #10: Fabric Flowers
Fabric flowers make interesting additions to dresses and home furnishings. Lightweight fabrics are best suited to making your own DIY fabric flowers. Organza, for example, makes up into beautiful flowers.
Store-bought flowers make all the difference to children’s party dresses and bridal fashions.
Further Reading: DIY Fabric Flowers
Idea #11: Fabric Bows
Fabric bows are really fun to make. This is a great way to use up all your fabric scraps. Bows can be made in all sorts of sizes and look good on clothes, hats, bags and home furnishings too.
Further Reading: How to Make Fabric Bows
Idea #12: Fabric Yo-Yos
Making fabric yo yos is another way to add variety to dressmaking and accessories. Fabric yo yo’s make use of your scraps and can be enhanced with buttons and beads. A circle of fabric twice the size of the finished yo yo is all it takes to create this fabric add-on.
Further Reading: How to Make Fabric Yo Yos
Idea #13: Scalloped Hems
Cutting scalloped edges along the hem of a garment adds interest and variation to the finished item. Scallops look good on hems of dresses or skirts as well as the hem of a sleeve. Necklines, pocket edges, and the edges of tablecloths all benefit from a scalloped edge.
Scallops can be cut in a semi-circular pattern arched or dome-shaped. They create an interesting edge to fabrics and are commonly used for fabric manipulation.
Fabric Manipulation | TRIMS
Every fabric store and haberdashery has a wealth of trims to offer for embellishing an outfit and enhancing your fabric manipulation.
Idea #14: Piping
Piping is a tailored way to accentuate the line and form of an item. Piping is available in plain colors but it is also possible to make your own to match your color scheme.
DIY piping is made by cutting fabric on the bias and folding it over some cord to stitch the cord inside the fabric. The encased cord makes the inner part of the piping. Piping has an element of stretch because it is made with bias cut fabric.
Idea #15: Adding Lace
Lace is guaranteed to add grace and beauty to any article you choose. Lace may be added to sleeves, hems, pockets, frills and sewn into inserts too. Lace is especially popular for wedding garments. Lace can really be added to almost anything and can be used for fabric manipulation as it adds texture and interest.
Idea #16: Adding Ric Rac
Ric rac is the ultimate fun trim. It never looks dull and it is easy to sew onto the fabric. Ric rac comes in a wide range of colors, sizes and textures. Ric rac can be added onto the top of the fabric or inserted under a seam or below a hem.
Further Reading: Sewing Ric Rac
Idea #17: Pom Pom Trim
Pom pom trim as its name implies is a row of pom-poms attached to a braided edge. The braid can be sewn into a seam or put on top of your sewing project at the end. Pom pom trim makes a particularly interesting edging to cushions and soft furnishings.
Further Reading: Sewing PomPom Trim
Idea #18: Bias Trimming
Bias tape (or bias binding) is a useful trim. It has some stretch in it and can fit around curved edges. Bias trim is used to bind curved edges and to make facings for curved edges.
A bias tape trim ads decor value to dressmaking and home furnishings. It can be bought from haberdashery stores or made at home.
- How to Make Bias Tape
- How to Sew Single Fold Bias Tape
- How to Sew Double Fold Bias Tape
- Sewing Bias Tape
- How to Make Continuous Bias Tape
- How to Sew Mitred Square Corners with Bias Tape
- How to Sew a V Neck with Bias Tape
Idea #19: Adding Pockets
Fake or real, patched or set in a seam, pockets are a good way to bring about some variety. Pockets can be set in the seam of the garment or attached to the outside with a decorative purpose. Pockets are a practical and decorative addition to your garment and are great for fabric manipulation. Pockets can be combined with other effects such as pin tucks and pleats.
Idea #20: Embroidery
Embroidery, using different colored cotton, can add a whole range of ideas to the embellishment and fabric manipulation of a garment.
Embroidery can create a delicate flower to a yoke or a pattern around a cuff or hem. A little touch of embroidery round a buttonhole is a great way to embellish a part of the garment that is normally a utility portion of the dressmaking process.
Further Reading: Hand Embroidery Stitches | 21 Easiest for Beginners
Fabric Manipulation | Bling
Sequins, rhinestones and beads for embellishing fabrics are an art form all of their own. There are different varieties of sequins and rhinestones and shapes and sizes of beads.
These additions to your garment will bring out the creative genius and really add bling and dimension to any outfit. Knowing the different methods of sewing these items to your garment is worth noting here. Most of the types of sequins and beads require hand-sewing. Rhinestones can be attached with types of glue and some rhinestones have a hole in the side of the stone to sew by hand.
Idea #21: Sequins and beads.
Sequins can be purchased in strips or in ready-made motifs. It is advisable to sew the sequins by hand using a beading needle or Crewel size 10 that will go through the sequin’s holes.
Use a matching cotton thread or a strand of embroidery thread. Invisible thread works well too. There are different methods of stitching the sequins and keeping the direction of the stitches facing in the same direction is important for the overall look.
Here are some suggestions for attaching sequins:
- Attach a long line of sequins with a backstitch.
- A cup-shaped sequin is best attached with a bead in the middle to secure the sequin.
- Large sequins known as spangles usually have two holes, one on each side.
- Fabric glue can be used as a quick fix, but this may not withstand wear and tear or washing.
- Sequin trims, a long line of sequins, can be attached by machine using a very wide zigzag to go over the braid and stitch on either side.
- Motifs with a backing can be sewn on by hand, catching the motif around the edges to attach to the fabric.
- Beads are similar in their stitching to sequins, but elaborate beadwork is quite a skill in itself and probably not one for the amateur seamstress. Beautiful beadwork is often used on wedding dresses and dance dresses.
Idea #22: Rhinestones
Rhinestones can be used to embellish all kinds of clothing items and even shoes. Rhinestones look beautiful on denim jackets, pockets and jeans.
There is a wide range of rhinestones ranging from Swaroski rhinestones at the top of the range to plastic and acrylic options.
Rhinestones are attached in different ways according to the variety purchased.
- Flatback rhinestones have a peel and stick method. They adhere to the fabric via the sticky portion on the back of the stone. It is important to know exactly where the stone is to be placed as it can not be moved once the peel and stick have happened.
- Hotfix rhinestones need to have a hot iron to fix them to the fabric. Set up your ironing board and have your fabric ready with the rhinestones and another piece of fabric to use for pressing.
- Fabric glue or sparkle glue can stick rhinestones to the fabric. Using sparkle glue means that if some glue spreads under the stones it still looks good.
- Sew-on rhinestones have two holes on either side to enable a needle to go through and stitch the rhinestone firmly in place.
- Mesh backed rhinestones are easy to hand stitch to fabric because they are contained on the mesh in a strip or in a design.
- If you are stuck for a pattern for your rhinestones then try some embroidery patterns.
Further Reading: How to Attach Rhinestones
Word of advice. If rhinestones are new to you it is always a good idea to experiment on a scrap of fabric before attempting to apply them to the real garment.
Fabric Manipulation | In Conclusion
Creating decorative additions to your garments or to your children’s wear is always going to be rewarding. The extra spot of glitter, with a sequin or some shiny rhinestones, will always attract attention. So get adventurous and try fabric manipulation and embellishments for fun and a sense of fashion.