3-D Embellishments: Cutouts & Couching in Sewing

Flat is out. 3-D is in. It seems everything 3-D is in vogue these days: televisions, movies, printers. etc. This exploding trend of turning 2-D things into 3-D wonders can even be applied when it comes to sewing. Whether it is to embellish a pocket, collar point, or to accent a print on a pillow, adding three-dimensional elements to an otherwise flat fabric is a great way to take any ordinary project to the next level. It adds a bit of creativity and individuality to any project, and believe it or not, is amazingly easy to do.

Flower Sewing Project with 3D Embellishments

While there are a gazillion ways to embellish any project, here are two super simple ways that don’t require any fancy materials or a sophisticated machine.

An ordinary sewing machine, zigzag stitching and some careful preparation is all you need to add some personalization and 3-D elements to a project.

Method No. 1: Sewing couching

This first method is to accentuate lines of a print, such as a leaf or flower, with cording or ribbon. The key here is to plan ahead. Any 3-D application is best done while fabric is still in a flat state, and before any facings or style details are applied that will interfere with the application.

Step 1:

Pick the lines you want to accentuate. Then decide what you plan to use to draw out those lines. The options here are endless: cording, ribbon, beading, in matching or contrasting colors, you name it. In the example above, I used a matching color for the cording and a contrasting color for the stitching, with both replicating the colors used throughout the print.

Adding Cording to Sewing Project

Step 2:

Then simply stitch the cording using a zigzag stitch that straddles the cording. This form of embellishment is called, couching. The cording follows the line on the print. At the start and end, I set the stitch length to 0 to secure the cording to the fabric. Set the stitch width wide enough to straddle the cording rather than to penetrate it. Depending on your machine and size of cording, you may also have to adjust the tension for an even stitch.

Method No. 2: Sewing cutouts

This next method is to replicate a shape used in a print, like the leaf used in the example here, to make an appliqué that is then attached to the print, which creates a 3-D element. This is a great way to enhance the look of a throw pillow or craft item, but certainly has application in any type of project.

In this example, I used a complementary print from my stash to create the appliqué, but a cutout of the leaf elsewhere from the fabric was another option.

Step 1:

Trace the shape from one of the leaves on the print onto tracing paper.

Step 2:

Prepare the fabric by sandwiching stabilizer or any type of sewing or craft interfacing between two layers of the fabric so the top and bottom look finished.

Step 3:

Using transfer paper, apply the leaf design onto the fabric. It is now ready for stitching.

Preparing the Appliqué

Sewing the Appliqué

Cutting out the Appliqué Embellishment

Step 4:

Using a zigzag stitch with the stitch length set to 0, and the width set to whatever width you like (I used 2mm), stitch around the design following the transferred markings.

Step 5:

Trim around the design with a small pair of appliqué or regular sewing scissors. Cut very close to the stitching, while being very careful not to cut the stitching itself.

Step 6:

Stitch a second time around the design, but this time raise the stitch width a half millimeter (2.5 in my case). This will help encase the edges, preventing it from fraying. It will also mend any stitches you may have accidentally snipped when trimming the piece.

Step 7:

Here’s how to sew the appliqué onto the fabric: Sew a tiny tuck on the back of the appliqué. This will help give it the desired 3-D effect once attached to the flat fabric.

Step 8:

The final step is to apply the appliqué to the print. Here, I simply stitched it in place with a straight stitch.

Completed Piece: Sewing with Appliqué Embellishment

Sign up for the new Craftsy class Hand-Embellishing Knit Fabric: Stenciling, Appliqué, Beading and Embroidery with Natalie Chanin to learn how to mix and match hand sewing and embellishment techniques to create timeless pieces of clothing.

How do you add 3-D embellishments to your sewing projects?

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